Ambassador Graham Martin, a staunch advocate of America's Vietnam policy, had been slow to react to the mounting crisis. Misled by reports from his CIA station chief, Norman Polgar, who had been persuaded by representatives of the Hungarian legation that there were serious prospects for a negotiated peace if President Thieu would resign, Martin refused to face up to the reality of military collapse until the eleventh hour. When President Thieu resigned and departed the country on 22 April, Martin persisted with his inaction to avoid destabilizing the new government headed by General Duong Van "Big" Minh. Unlike John Dean in Phnom Penh, Martin took no effective measures to get those Vietnamese at risk in the event of a communist takeover out of the country and was slow to order the evacuation of non-essential Americans. It was not until 1 April that the embassy set up an evacuation control center at Tan Son Nhut Airport. There was, in fact, an existing plan called FREQUENT WIND for the evacuation of Saigon by helicopter, but no detailed plans had been made for its implementation. On 3 April, a small military planning group was set up within the Defense Attache Office (DAO) staff for that purpose. Working desperately against time, the officers of the group were hampered at every turn by the ambassador's lack of a sense of urgency and, paradoxically, by his unwillingness to announce evacuation measures for fear of creating panic. Some of the initial, tentative measures on hand to reduce the number of U.S. citizens and their dependents smacked of Alice in Wonderland; on 16 April, the DAO commander US Army, Major General Homer Smith, encouraged U.S. retired military personnel and contractors to leave the country by cutting off their military post-exchange and commissary privileges, as if these would have value in a communist Saigon! A handful of Vietnamese intelligence operatives and their families were quietly flown out of Tan Son Nhut airport aboard so-called "black" flights, butt he embassy continued to observe the niceties of South Vietnamese emigration law to the bitter end, and the numbers of refugees remained low. By midnight on 20 April, only some 5,500 evacuees had been flown to safety. At that point the Military Airlift Command increased the number of flights for evacuees, but insisted initially on observing normal regulations, which required each passenger to have a seat and seat belt, so that the number of evacuees moved was still far smaller than it could have been.
It was against this backdrop that the Navy hurriedly assembled a task force with which to effect operation FREQUENTWIND. Clearly, the big H-53s were the best way to move large numbers of people - the DAO planning group had identified some 7,000 candidates for a helicopter evacuation -but HMM 463 had returned to Hawaii and had to be replaced with Air Force H-53s of the 21st SOS and 40th ARRS from Thailand which flew out to the task force on 20 April. The helicopter evacuation was to be commanded by Marine Brigadier General Richard Carey.
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