Page 228(The Bitter End)
Processing more than 100,000 refugees, including a one-day camp population high of 7,221 in Asan on lOJune, they expended thousands of hours and helped move the refugees one step closer to the final link in their chain to freedom.49
The Final Link: Camp Pendleton
When the base duty officer at Camp Pendleton answered the phone on Saturday, 26 April 1975, he was intrigued to hear the voice at the other end identify himself as the Headquarters Marine Corps Command Duty Officer. Even more intriguing was what he said next, could Camp Pendleton house and administer Vietnamese refugees? The Pendleton duty officer immediately passed the call to the chief of staff, Colonel TullisJ. Woodham, Jr., who, in turn, notified the base commander, Brigadier General Paul G. Graham.* The duty officer added that headquarters had said it would be very unlikely for Pendleton to be selected because it was a fully operational base, but just the same they still needed the answer to the feasibility question by midnight that day. This unexpected event would serve as General Graham's only advance warning that his base would be used as a refugee processing facility. Despite assurances to the contrary, the inter-agency task force created as a result of President Ford's appeal to Congress on 10 April to help the Vietnamese refugees, eventually chose Camp Pendleton as one of its three receiving and processing sites In the continental United States.
General Graham later recalled: "The first inkling I had of the possibility of establishing a refugee camp was about 1730 on Saturday afternoon on the 26th of April."50 He related that after Colonel Tullis Wood-ham told him of the Headquarters Marine Corps inquiry. Graham told Woodham "we had better get together and talk it over with all the assistant chiefs of staff." He then "set up a meeting for seven o'clock that evening"51 At that meeting. General Graham and the assistant chiefs of staff discussed whether Camp Pendleton could handle such a facility even though Headquarters had said it ". . . really did not have to worry about being selected as a refugee facility because of the size of the base and the amount of training we do here . . . ."52 After exploring the various facets of such a possibility and viewing engineer studies and maps of the base, they decided that the northern section of the base at Camp Talega could handle a refugee center. General Graham stated, "after looking at all the aspects of Talega, we came to the conclusion that we probably could put a facility up there, but it would have to be a tent facility, under field conditions."53 That evening General Graham informed Headquarters Marine Corps that Camp Pendleton could build a facility to handle 18,000 refugees, but under austere living conditions.
At 0720, shortly after arriving at work Monday, 28 April, General Graham received a call from his chief of staff. Colonel Woodham informed him that ". . . Pendleton had been selected as the reception center for the refugees."54 From this point, the news only seemed to get worse as the chief of staff told his base commander that refugees were scheduled to start arriving anytime, and in fact some were already airborne. Indeed, the very refugees Colonel McCain's Marines had processed so quickly through Camp Asan were inbound to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro with a final destination of Camp Pendleton, California.
General Graham quickly moved to action, lining up support and translating his plans into productive results.** He first sought assistance from the 1st Marine Division, whose commander. Brigadier General William L. McCulloch, readily provided two engineer battalions. According to Graham, "We had 1,500 to 1,700 people here about ten o'clock that morning (28 April). We brought about 10 bulldozers in. We just lined them up track-to-track, went right down in an area, leveled it off, brought the graders in and turned to the 1st Force Service Regiment to get the tents."55 After some frantic telephoning that morning, the base commander felt a little more comfortable knowing that either the Marine Corps Supply Depot, Barstow, or the General Services Administration In Ogden, Utah, would provide additional tents and supplies as soon as they were needed. General Graham said, "We knew that if we were receiving refugees as fast as this first group, that we would be one step ahead of disaster unless we got some outside assistance very quick-
*Colonel Woodham first contacted the staff. He stated: "General Graham was not notified immediately. I received the information in the early afternoon, I went directly to my office and attempted to make calls to key staff officers who could answer the basic question 'what if and then told them to prepare for a meeting with [he CG , , , ." Woodham Comments.
**Colonel Woodham related: "Initially, rhe major load rested on the shoulders
of Colonel George A. 'Red' Merrill (assistant chief of staff for facilities)
and Colonel Robert W. Calvert (assistant chief of staff for logistics and
supply). At the JCS level the operation received support from Colonel Kenneth
L. Robinson, Jr,, and at the Headquarters level from Colonel Neil A. Nelson
of the Installations and Logistics Division, HQMC." Woodham Comments.
Page 228(The Bitter End)