ly one of whom was wounded. To prevent ARVN soldiers from hitching a ride back on the sides of the aircraft, some crews resorted to coating the skids with grease.
By early April the Dust Off and Medevac ships had saved hundreds of lives. In the two-month operation they flew some 1,400 missions, evacuating 4,200 patients. Six crewmen were killed and fourteen wounded. Ten air ambulances were destroyed, about one out of every ten aircraft lost in the operation. On 8 April, once the incursion was over, XXIV Corps gave up its operational control of the MEDCOM air ambulances. Dust Off pilots had seen their last major operation of the war.
Stand-Down and Ship Out
The phased withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam, begun in the summer of 1968, continued until, on 11 August 1972, the last American ground combat unit stood down at Da Nang. The American venture in this small, remote Asian country had come full circle. More than seven years earlier, on 8 March 1965, the first U.S. ground combat forces had landed on these same beaches. In December 1961 the first U.S. military units, two helicopter companies, had arrived in Saigon to aid the South Vietnamese government. It had been the longest war in United States history, and almost half of it had been devoted to the withdrawal.
The drawdown of medical support paralleled that of combat forces, but lasted a little longer because of continuing medical needs of noncombat U.S. forces in Vietnam. In the early months of 1972 MEDCOM air ambulances decreased from forty-eight to thirty, leaving five detachments: the 57th, 159th, 237th, 247th, and 571st. In June 1972 the Air Ambulance Platoon of the 1st Cavalry stood down, leaving all air ambulance missions to the few remaining nondivisional Dust Off units. In February 1973 three of the last four Dust Off detachments - the 237th, 247th, and 571st - stood down. In February the 57th Detachment, the first to arrive in Vietnam and whose early commander, Maj. Charles Kelly, had created the Dust Off mystique, prepared to become the last to leave, closing down its operations at Tan Son Nhut. On 11 March it flew the last Dust Off mission in Vietnam, for an appendicitis case.
After they turned in their aircraft on 14 March, the few remaining members of the 57th had little to occupy their time. Some simply took pleasure in building their sun tans. A few tried to readjust their daily rhythms to Stateside time; they reset their clocks and began to live at their home hours, though this meant getting up in the dark and sleeping part of the day. Every now and then they had to check on their departure date, but no one demanded any work of them. On 28