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[Image 1: Photo courtesy or
Capt Russell R. Thurman. USMC (Ret). Col
John F. Roche HI, 31st MAU commanding officer, awaits orders to execute Operation
Eagle Pull. The
MAUground'combat element departed the Okinawa on board HMH-462 helicopters
at 0607 on 12 April to provide security for the Phnom Penh evacuation.]

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Dwight R. Alien's HMM-164 on board the Tripoli (LPH-10).
On 8 January, HMH-462's 16 CH-53s flew to Cubi Point adjacent
to Subic Bay by way of Taiwan Air Force Base, Taiwan, from
Marine Corps Air Station, Futema, Okinawa. The 31st MAU
was reconfigured once again with a "dry season" mix of helicopters for the pending evacuation (heavy CH-53s, vice medium CH-46s, providing greater lift capability and range in the event of an evacuation). While the "heavy haulers" were
enroute, BLT 2/4 moved back on board ship from the MAU camps
at Subic. The 31st MAU/ARG Alpha was prepared to get underway
should the situation in Cambodia deteriorate further, but
with the Okinawa (LPH 3) inbound to relieve the Tripoli
(LPH 10), the amphibious ready group remained at Subic.
After completion of the turnover of LPHs on 28 January,
ARG Alpha got underway immediately. The MAU's assignment
was to respond to events in Cambodia and execute Operation
Eagle Pull when directed. In order to accomplish this, the
amphibious ready group with its embarked MAU had to operate
within a 96-hour radius of Kompong Som. Underway and attempting
to maintain the proper distance from Cambodia, Okinawa carried
14 CH-53s, 3 CH-46s, 4 AH-lJs, and l UH-lE from Marine Aircraft
Group 36, all of them assigned to HMH-462.15

By the last week in January, Lieutenant General John J. Burns, USAF, Commanding General, USSAG, decided it was time to host another planning conference at his headquarters in Nakhon Phanom. Colonel Sydney H. Batchclder, Jr., the ground security force commander; Lieutenant Colonel Curtis G. Lawson, his air liaison officer; Colonel John F. Roche III, the MAU commander; and key members of the MAU staff attended the conference. In addition to these Marines, III MAF and 3d Division staffs sent representatives. With all of the key Eagle Pull commanders present, the conference allowed Colonel Roche and Colonel Batchelder, exercising overall operational control, the singular opportunity of discussing in detail the operation's timing, number of evacuees, use of landing zones, and the tactical situation in Phnom Penh. After an on-site reconnaissance of Phnom Penh, the Marines returned to their respective units except for Lieutenant Colonel John I. Hopkins who remained in Phnom Penh to assist on the Military Equipment Delivery Team, Cambodia, responsible for coordinating evacuation plans.*16

On 2 February, as the remainder of ARG Alpha steamed west toward the Gulf of Thailand, the Peoria (LST 1183) headed east, bound for the San Bernardino Strait and thence to the Trust Territory, Mariana Islands. Prior to its departure, members of BLT 2/4 went on board the Peoria. These elements included: Company E, commanded by Captain Matthew E. Broder-ick; the amphibian tractor platoon, led by Second Lieutenant Joseph C. Lotito; and elements of LSU 2/4. They were to participate in Operation Quick Jab II, a combined civic action-amphibious exercise on the island of Tinian during the period 9-15 February.17

The U.S. reaction to the Communists' mining of the Mekong placed the evacuation force in a higher state of responsiveness. On 6 February, Admiral Steele reduced the reaction time of the 31st MAU/ARG Alpha to 48 hours. The same day General Burns requested that the Eagle Pull command element report to his headquarters as soon as possible.

*Lieutenant Colonel Edward A. Grimm, the USSAG Plans Action Officer, recalled
the normal routine at the end ot each Eagle Pull planning conference: "The
USSAG Eagle Pull action officer customarily took (he new participants to Phnom
Penh for an on-thc-ground recon of the LZs and to meet embassy planners. The
January 1975 on-site rccon became particularly important as it included many
who would become key players in the actual operation." Grimm Comments.

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