[Image 1: Photo
courtesy of Capt Russell R. Thurman, USMC (Ret). BLT 2/4 Marine
sleeps on hangar deck of USS Okinawa prior to the word to
execute Operation Frequent Wind. Well into the evacuation
at 2205, control of operational phases at the DAO compound
shifted to BLT 2/4 as the landing zone control teams departed.]
Page 194(The Bitter End)
Both during the day and at night, upon initial radio contact, the Alamo and
Annex controllers would provide the inbound pilots with the latest winds and
landing zone conditions including enemy fire and any unusual activitity along
their intended route of flight. Soon, even with the threat of deadly SAM missiles,
darkness became the most important consideration, especially during the approach
to the zone. The pilots could no longer see the landing area, and even worse,
they had no way to distinguish nearby obstructions from the surrounding darkness.39
Existing lighting in LZs 36 and 37 at the Alamo, augmented by automobile headlights and portable lighting equipment, was enough to at least keep these two zones illuminated. For guidance into the zone the controllers initially used a strobe light, but its effectiveness was limited by the large number of fires and the flashes of tracer rounds and antiaircraft fire near the DAO Compound. Worse, the strobe light posed a threat to some of the Marines on the ground. Major David E. Cox and his team of controllers shared the rooftop of a DAO building with the strobe light, further exposing a position already highly vulnerable to attack. While the strobe flashed its welcoming beacon to inbound pilots, it also sent an invitation to snipers and enemy small arms. Consequently, the radio soon replaced the strobe as the method for terminal guidance. As a means of identification, flight leaders would turn on their landing lights in a set sequence of short flashes, to which Major Cox and the controllers would respond with radio-transmitted vectors to the landing zone. Major John F. Guilmartin, Jr., the senior Air Force pilot on the Midway, related his impressions of this process: "Major Cox and his people were very cool and professional. Their landing procedure worked like a champ."40
After arriving, and during the process of loading, the pilots would request clearance to depart. Unless crowded skies made it more judicious to hold on the ground, the helicopters were immediately granted permission to takeoff. Once clear of the zone, the pilots would switch to Cricket for vectors and the passing of extraction totals to General Carcy. The ABCCC relayed the same totals to General Burns as well* Each flight repeated this cycle while Major Cox and his controllers watched from their "box seats," atop the DAO building.
Throughout the period they controlled the air traffic at the compound. Major Cox and his team observed extensive enemy fire throughout Saigon including the artillery and rocket fire impacting at nearby Tan Son Nhut. Numerous South Vietnamese pilots attempted to escape by flying their aircraft off the Tan Son Nhut runway for a one-way flight to either Thailand or the sea and the waiting American fleet. Adding to the excitement of this spectacular show was the occasional round which would hit near the DAO Compound, but not close enough to damage the compound's buildings.** Numerous blazes, so intense
*Major Guilmanin offered his recollections of this phase of the operation: "This part of the system had broken down by dark and we were not even bothering to pass totals on to 'Cricket.' I can testify from personal observation that 'Cricket' had no evident command of the tactical situation." Guilmanin Comments.
**Captain Wood recalled years later the consequences of the shelling of
the DAO Compound: "When I returned to the DAO that afternoon (29 April) with
the last convoy. I discovered that my quarters (a trailer) had taken a direct
hit and everything had burned. All I had left were the clothes on my back."
Wood Comments. Major Guilmanin noted: "When we began our initial descent into
the DAO Compound at around 1530 hours local, our radar homing and warning
device was indicating the presence of three SA-2 batteries to the north and
nonhcast of Tan Son Nhui. all of them within range. In commenting on the hostile
lire l would note that . . . I and my crew saw a fair amount of fire and returned
it. . . ." Guilmanin Comments.
Page 194(The Bitter End)