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Cambodian capital, each succeeding one followed at 10-minute intervals. The first helicopters crossed the coast-line north ofKompong Som, penetrating Cambodian airspace at 0743, proceeding along a track parallel to Route 4.*
Their flight path took them to the final checkpoint, Point Oscar, approximately 30 miles from the capital. It marked the holding area for the final approach to Phnom Penh and while inbound to Point Oscar, the pilots announced their arrival by checking in with "King,"** After the first division of helicopters checked in with the airborne HC-130, "King" instructed them to proceed directly to the landing zone, ahead of schedule. Upon completing this transmission, he then radioed the leader of the division, Lieutenant Colonel Bolton (commanding officer of HMH-462), to switch frequency and contact landing zone control, Phnom Penh. At the other end of the new frequency, Lieutenant Colonel Lawson and his landing zone control team waited for their firsr call. Bolton's helicopter with Colonel Roche (the MAU commander) embarked, touched down in Landing Zone Hotel at OoM. The troops quickly debarked and sprinred to their assigned sectors in the perimeter. Lieutenant Colonel Slade, the battalion commander, immediately reported to Colonel Batchelder, the senior ground force commander. At the same time, his air liaison officer. Captain Kermit C. Corcoran, assumed the duties of landing zone controller.42
Large crowds of Cambodians confronted the Marines, but for the most part they came out of curiosity and not to interfere. Having established the perimeter defense, the Marines began the process of moving the crowds back in order to keep the landing zone clear. The teams of Marines designated for evacuee control then began moving their groups to the awaiting helicopters. Once loaded, the HMH-462 helicopters launched for the return flight to the Gulf of Thailand and the waiting ships of ARG Alpha. In the event no evacuees materialized for loading, then that helicopter took off and entered a holding pattern over the zone. This became necessary in order to ensure that succeeding waves of security forces could enter the zone on schedule, thereby guaranteeing a proper build-up of the perimeter defense. With only enough room in the zone for three CH-53s, flights arriving after the initial build-up had to be held at Point Oscar, even though the delay put them beyond their scheduled estimated time of arrival. This decision ensured minimum congestion in the zone and allowed the controller the flexibility of calling in helicopters as passengers appeared. The ability to anticipate allowed everyone more time to adjust to the situation in Phnom Penh. The American Embassy did not officially close until 0945, nearly an hour after the first helicopters landed. As evacuees from the Embassy arrived at the zone, the controller called in the orbiting helicopters, loaded them, launched them back to the ship, requested reliefs from Oscar, and began again the same process. Continuing like clockwork, this operation moved every available evacuee, but almost disappointingly the numbers were far less than anticipated.43
The last diplomatic report just prior to D-Day had indicated 590 evacuees, 146 Americans and 444 third-country nationals. HMH-462 actually removed 287, of which 84 were U.S. citizens and the rest, 205, foreign nationals. On the morning of the scheduled extraction, Ambassador Dean's note to key Cambodian officials advising them to be at the Embassy by 0930 ready to leave produced a stinging reply from Sirik Matak, a former prime minister and a driving force behind the formation of the Khmer Republic. He explained to Ambassador Dean that not only would he not leave with him ". . . but mark it well that, if I shall die here on the spot in my country that I love, it is too bad because we arc all born and must die one day. I have committed this mistake of believing in you, the Americans."44
The paucity of evacuees did not affect the press coverage. Colonel Roche remembered an Associated Press photographer who pestered him the entire time, repeatedly asking what would happen next. The colonel finally stopped, turned to him, and said, "If I knew that, I probably would not have come in the first place."45
Twenty-five minutes after the last three HMH-462 helicopters left Oscar for Phnom Penh, Lieutenant Colonel Fix, the commander of HMH-463, launched the first of his four three-helicopter divisions, and a
*ln accordance with che War Powers Act, a message with Flash precedence was sent to President Rird through the JCS notifying him of the precise penetration time.
**0ne of the Air Force helicopter pilots in Thailand at thai time, a member of the 40th ARRS who participated in the initial hour of the evacuation, then-Major John F. Guilmartin, Jr., remembered one of the "King Bird's" other contributions thai day: " 'King' was controlled by 'Joker,' the 3d Acrospace and Recovery Group at Na-khon Phanom, In this operation, the formally prescribed USAF communication channels became saturated and the 'King-Joker' link served General Burns and his staff as the primary source of infor-maiion." Guilmartin Comments.
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