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[Image 1: Photo courtesy of Capt Russell R. Thurman, USMC (Ret).
Evacuees ride a
Marine CH-53 to
another ship in
the formation. Because of the tempo of operations and the number
of refugees,
most of them had
to be repositioned
from a tactical
ship to a non-tactical vessel. ]

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With the Embassy's security high on his list of priorities and very much on
his mind. General Carcy departed the compound at 2250, leaving Colonel Gray
in command of the withdrawal of the ground security force. When he arrived
on the Blue Ridge, having made an intermediate stop on the Midway, General
Carcy wasted no time in attempting to discover why the sortie rate had decreased.
Admiral Whitmire (CTF 76), out of concern for flight safety, had halted all
flights to the Embassy. (The only flights arriving there during this period
were ones which had been diverted from the DAO Compound for lack of passengers.)
Pilots had been flying for over 12 hours, weather conditions had deteriorated,
and lighting in the zone had become either poor or nonexistent. To make matters
worse, there were reports that the Embassy was on fire. In fact. Embassy personnel
were burning American money in a barrel next to the landing pad on top of
the building. Additionally, navigation to Saigon had become even more difficult
as a line of thunderstorms Stood astride the flight path, and upon arrival,
the pilots would often have to use their instruments to land. Considering
all these factors, the commander of Task Force 76 thought a halt to flight
operations was warranted, even though he had not consulted with General Carey.*53


With the Cobra helicopters acting as pathfinders, the pilots had been able to navigate under adverse conditions with success. Knowing this, General Carey believed that the flights could be continued safely. Captain Ritchie remembered the same thoughts, "We had flown so many sorties over the same route already that the weather was less a factor than finding a place to land once we got to the Embassy."54


Learning that serious consideration was being given to discontinuing all flights
until first light, General Carey, a Marine aviator confident in the skills
of his fellow pilots, felt that Saigon would be in the hands of the North
Vietnamese by dawn. He knew that he had to press for immediate resumption
of all helicopter flights to speed up the lift from the Embassy. He convincingly
argued in favor of continuing flight operations and when Admiral Whitmire
agreed, he promptly ordered the launch of Marine Corps CH-53s and
additional CH-46s. In General Carey's words, "I was damned angry at his stopping my helos, and I made this point in no uncertain terms. Had I not had to return to the Blue Ridge it was my intention to go to the Embassy to straighten that mess out." The
9th MAB commander learned later that at approximately the same time he was
having his discussion with Admiral Whitmire, Lieutenant General Louis H. Wilson,
Jr., FMF Pacific commander, was addressing the same problem (halt in flight
operations) in the CinCPac command center where he spent the evening of 28-29
April (Hawaii time) with Admiral Gayler, CinCPac.55


The command center had a landline hookup with Admiral Steele's immediate commander, Admiral Maurice F. Wcisncr (CinCPacFlt), located down the street in Pearl Harbor, and radio communications with Admiral Steele, the Seventh Fleet commander. It was from Admiral Steele that General Wilson learned that flight operations had been terminated for administrative restrictions on the maximium number of flight hours allowed in one 24-hour period. General Wil-

 




*Thc post-operational JCS investigation, conducted to determine why L-Hour was postponed and why there was a two-hour gap in flight operations (from 0100 to 0300 Saigon time on 30 April), confirmed that Admiral Whitmire made an independent decision to halt flight operations. The report Slated: "Following the extraction of the GSF from the DAO Compound at 1612Z [0012 Saigon time] all H-53 helicopters were directed by CTF 76 to return to base for aircraft servicing and crew rest. Although instructions were given to continue evacuation of the Embassy with CH-46s, CTF 76 decided it was necessary to shut down for required maintenance checks which took the better pan of an hour to complete." Cleland Report.








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