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size=5>CHAPTER 9

size=5>Planning the Evacuation


Planning and Liaison -The Restructured 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade -The

Concept Additional Forces, Plans, and Liaison - DAO Planning: The SPG and

Project Alamo

South Vietnam in April 1975 offered few

opportunities for U.S. Marine planners to control and direct events precipitated

by North Vietnam's highly successful invasion. The absence of a strong U.S.

military presence in Southeast Asia only compounded this already complicated

crisis situation. In the Pacific command, operational forces belonged either to

the Seventh Fleet or USSAG/Seventh Air Force, and if any jurisdiction-al

disputes arose, CinCPac would have the final word. The Seventh Fleet's

amphibious force included the Navy amphibious task force, Task Force 76 (TF 76);

the 9th MAB, designated Task Group 79.1

(TG 79.1);

and the MAB's parent organization, III

Marine Amphibious Force, Task Force 79 (TF 79).

American Marines in South Vietnam in

1975 came under the jurisdictional control of two persons, the Defense Attache

or the Ambassador. The Marines guarding American facilities took their orders

from Ambassador Graham A. Martin while those at the DAO received their

directions from General Homer D. Smith, Jr., USA, the Defense Attache. As early

as February, General Smith had instructed Colonel Eugene R. 'Pat' Howard, the

senior Marine in South Vietnam and a DAO staff member, to begin planning for the

evacuation of Saigon. Both General Smith and Colonel Howard knew that ultimately

the final decisions concerning the evacuation would come to rest with the senior

military officer in the Pacific, Admiral Gayler. Unless the final evacuation

occurred without military support, it would be at a minimum an air and naval


To oversee and control such an event,

CinCPac, the overall commander in the Pacific theater of operations, designated

Lieutenant General John J. Burns, the commander of USSAG, to be his coordinating

authority for any emergency evacuations conducted in Southeast Asia. Already the

tactical commander of all U.S. forces assigned to Thailand, this additional duty

placed General Burns in the position of controlling any evacuation force once

that unit entered the Indochinese peninsula. This meant that the 9th Marine

Amphibious Brigade while afloat served under the amphibious force commander and

the Commander, Seventh Fleet, but once ashore belonged to General Burns.'

The geographic point marking the change

in operational control from the Seventh Fleet to USSAG was the Southeast Asian

coastline. Once past that imaginary line, the units were deemed 'feet dry'

having left their 'feet wet' status at the water's edge. Thus the Commanding

General, 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade, Brigadier General Richard E. Carey,

operated within a dual command structure, although most of the time the Seventh

Fleet exercised control over his forces.2

General Burns' decision on 5 April 1975

to employ Marines of Task Force 79 as a ground security force and Marine

helicopters to evacuate South Vietnam actually began the 9th MAB's compressed

planning phase. Prior to this, the evacuation options included only the use of

either commercial air transports or sealift or the employment of military

transport aircraft or sealift. These options anticipated the use of only limited

numbers of ground forces, if any, in South Vietnam. After the collapse of Da

Nang, however. General Burns realized that he needed some additional


Adding Marine helicopters and ground

forces to the plan signified an escalation in requirements. It caused III MAF

and the 9th MAB to mobilize their forces, and with the assistance of the Navy

amphibious ready groups, to relocate off the coast of South Vietnam. Planning

for the use of helicopters in such a large evacuation assumed that the maximum

number of helicopters would be available to launch if execution became


On 5 April 1975, there was only one

amphibious assault ship, USS Okinawa (LPH 3), in the Western Pacific. The attack

carrier USS Hancock (CVA 19) had been summoned from the West Coast and was due

to arrive off the coast of South Vietnam in the next few days. The Midway (CVA

41), homeportcd in 'Ybkosu-ka, Japan, also was available.4

As the month of April progressed, other

changes took place and were reflected in new directives received by the brigade

from General Burns' headquarters. Most were amplifying instructions pertaining

to the original courses of action, while others simply defined

Page 143(Planning the Evacuation )