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place to go. As an example many have been fleeing since Hue fell weeks ago. First to Da Nang, then to Nha Trang, and finally Cam Ranh and Phan Rang. Some of the areas south of here are already in enemy hands. Only Saigon and some areas in the Delta are open. But the South Vietnamese do not want the refugees to come to Saigon. In fact at 2030 tonight, there are probably over 50,000 people on various ships with no place to go."32 Meeting the Needs
To assist the South Vietnamese government in resolving this crisis and mitigating somewhat the chaos, the United States had called upon the task force to provide for the needs of the thousands of starving refugees under its care. Food and medical attention were the most obvious areas and the Navy responded by providing large quantities of supplies which it had gathered from all over the Western Pacific. One of the most readily available supply sources was ARG Alpha, relatively nearby in the Gulf of Thailand and despite preparations for the impending evacuation of Cambodia, this force readily assisted in the massive effort to relieve the evacuees' suffering.23
Getting provisions into the hands of the Marine security force was one thing, distributing them to the refugees was quite another. Interpreters would announce the serving of meals and their designated distribution points. Armed Marines delivered the food to these locations where refugee leaders then helped distribute it. The sheer weight of numbers continued to present a problem, but this system relieved some of the pressure and, more importantly, made control of the crowds easier and food distribution safer because Marines were able to fulfill their role as security guards instead of acting as food servers.
Medical attention was another critical requirement. Each security force assigned to a ship had its own Navy corpsman. These overworked Samaritans were soon overwhelmed by the scale of the medical problems. To assist them, the doctors attached to the task group from 3d Medical Battalion were quickly pressed into service. Carrying as many medical supplies as could be spared, these doctors ran a traveling MedCap (Medical Civic Action Program) dispensing medical care while rotating between ships. They were confronted with every sort of medical problem; many refugees were simply beyond help, but most benefited significantly from this medical attention. Two Navy doctors, Lieutenant Richard Williams and Lieutenant John Oakland, worked around-the-clock, yielding eventually to exhaustion, but not before they had reduced substantially the amount of suffering.
Improvement of sanitary conditions was one of the major tasks undertaken by the doctors. Using Marines to assist them, the doctors organized the Vietnamese into clean-up squads. To rid the ship of filth and human waste, the Marines supervised the South Vietnamese and when the refugees had completed their part of the task, the Marines used the high-pressure, high-capacity waterhoses to blast the waste from the ship's deck.
There were many demonstrations of ingenuity, creativity, and compassion in dealing with the refugees. In one case, on board the American Challenger, the security force commander, Second Lieutenant Joe Flores, Jr., organized the South Vietnamese Army soldiers into a clean-up force. Using cooperation as a ticket off the ship, he was able to create an enthusiastic response. (In truth, all the refugees would get off the ship, but they did not know when or where, and as a consequence Flores could use this issue as leverage.)24
The total humanitarian and security effort of the task force involved the evacuation, control, and processing of well over 30,000 refugees. Operating from a command center set up on board the Dubuque, Major Carl A. Shaver, the battalion operations officer, coordinated and controlled all commitments involving the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. Logistical support was a mammoth task of coordination handled by Captain William Harley, the S-4, who seemed equally adept at finding supplies, arranging transport of those supplies, and in anticipating new demands. One of his men, Lance Corporal Rtcardo Carmona, an ammunition technician, literally lived in the well of the Du-buque. He remained on board throughout the operation, continuously breaking out supplies to support the evacuation.
HMM-165's noteworthy aviation support throughout this operation also was
the result of a team effort. Despite the adverse effects from saltwater corrosion
and high usage, the Marine maintenance crews and Navy supply clerks combined
forces to achieve a remarkable record, no helicopters down for parts or maintenance*
Incredible under any circumstances, this achievement can only be attributed
to closely coordinated teamwork. At the conclusion of this phase of the evacuation,
when all of the refugees had finally
*Marine Corps aviation squadrons are supported chiefly by [he Navy Supply
System, from which they obtain their spare parts.
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