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U.S. MARINES IN VIETNAM: THE BITTER END 1973-1975

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Page 174(The Bitter End)

staff and the Marine detachment to begin preparations for the consulate's closure. Gunnery Sergeant Robert W. Schlager, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the detachment, ordered his Marines to assist the Staff in this effort. During the three days preceding and following the end of the battle for Xuan Loc, the Marines in the Bicn Hoa Detachment (Sergeant Ronald E. Duffy, Sergeant James M. Felber, Corporal Carlos R. Arraigna, Corporal Gary N. Lindholm, and Lance Corporal Dean M. Kinzie) either destroyed or transferred to Washington every piece of sensitive gear and all classified documents. On 24 April, Consul General Peters, his staff, and the Marine detachment closed the consulate and returned to Saigon. Due to confusion and uncertainty over how the war would end, the Consul's staff closed and locked the facility, but left the American flag flying. A few days later, when it became obvious that there would be no negotiated settlement, the consul general's deputy, Charles Lahiguera, and two of the detachment's Marines returned to Bien Hoa and properly retired the colors. This event and the Bien Hoa detachment's incorporation into the Marine Security Guard, Saigon, officially ended its history, leaving only one American consulate in South Vietnam. As of 29 April 1975, a detachment of Marines still guarded the Can Tho consulate.

The first people to know that the evacuation of that consulate had begun were not the Ambassador or even the consul general, but the Marines in the AESF. The final supply preparations orchestrated by the AESF's supply officer, Lieutenant Johnnie Johnson, barely had ended when two helicopters appeared on the horizon that Tuesday morning, 29 April.29

In a matter of minutes, two Air America helicopters landed on the amphibious transport dock ship Vancouver (LPD 2) and discharged the first of Can Tho's evacuees. They included the bulk of the compound's CIA employees, and as far as the Navy knew, these refugees comprised the entire consulate staff at Can Tho. The Navy, using a landing craft, then transferred all of the Vietnamese refugees and one embassy official from the Vancouver to the Pioneer Contender. They chose the Pioneer Contender because with the American Challenger still unloading refugees at Phu Quoc island, the Contender was the only MSC ship in the area.

Later that evening, (actually 0200 on 30 April) Captain Garcia's security force would help load the rest of the Can Tho refugees including Consul General Francis McNamara, Can Tho's Marine Security Guard detachment headed by Staff Sergeant Boyene S. Hasty, and approximately 300 Vietnamese refugees (former consulate employees and their families). Among the Vietnamese group were Staff Sergeant Hasty's mother-in-law and brothers-in-law. He had married a South Vietnamese woman only days before his forced departure from Can Tho. Their surprising arrival on the Pioneer Contender culminated a series of strange events which had begun several days earlier. It started with the Can Tho Consulate's Marines' efforts to prepare for the expected evacuation.

Staff Sergeant Hasty and his five Marines, Sergeant John S. Moore [his assistant]. Sergeant John W. Kirch-ner. Sergeant Terry D. Pate, Corporal Lee J. Johnson, and Corporal Lawrence B. Killens had prepared for over two weeks for the inevitable word "to evacuate the consulate."30 What they had neither prepared for, nor anticipated, were the unusual circumstances which would confront them in their attempt to depart Can Tho. Staff Sergeant Hasty recounted, "At that time, we didn't know they (CIA) were pulling their own bug-out, and we were a tittle bit worried about them, but it finally dawned on us they were not coming back." He said the CIA staff also had commandeered two of the consul's four LCMs previously purchased from the Alaska Barge and Transport Company.31

Hasty had prepared the LCMs as an alternate means of escape should an air option suddenly disappear. In preparation, he had even equipped the LCMs with M60 machine guns. Days earlier, in anticipation of using fixed-wing as a means to evacuate Americans from Can Tho, the consul general and Staff Sergeant Hasty had gone to the Can Tho Airfield and asked the base commander if he could provide protection for an air evacuation. He replied, "No! You'll be overrun as soon as the first plane lands."32

With this option eliminated, they decided to use either the Air America helicopters or the LCMs. Thus when Saigon called at 1030 on 29 April and asked to talk with Mr. McNamara, neither the call nor the instructions surprised Staff Sergeant Hasty. The consul general told him, " 'Yes, we've received the word. We're to evacuate by helicopter immediately.' " That was not to be, as less than 30 minutes later Saigon called back and ordered them to send the helicopters to them-empty" 33

In relating this peculiar turn of events, Sergeant Hasty stated: "I was called back upstairs and the consul general told me that Saigon had called; Saigon needed our four helicopters to help them evacuate. So we sent our four helicopters up to Saigon. As it



Page 174(The Bitter End)
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