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Training Branch, Operations and Plans Division, DAO, and Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Lukeman, Chief, VNMC Logistics Support Branch, Navy Division, DAO, during April 1975, reflected the magnitude of the events transpiring in South Vietnam. Lieutenant Colonel Lukeman spent most of his daylight hours in April in Vung Tau refitting and resupplying the Vietnamese Marine units evacuated from Da Nang. In the evenings he would spell Lieutenant Colonel McKin-stry In the Evacuation Control Center. That was how he spent his last 30 days in South Vietnam, splitting the 24-hour days equally between the VNMC in Vung Tau and the ECC at the DAO. Sometime in between he might catch a few hours of sleep and something to eat. At the same time, Lieutenant Colonel McKin-Stry almost lived in the ECC. Responsible for controlling the waiting evacuees, McKinstry worked hand-in-glove with the processing center and maintained close contact with the planning group and the evacuation council. Both of these officers also supported the 9th MAB's advance command element and its daily visitors who would fly from the task force to the DAO on Air America helicopters, spend the day, and then return at night. Most importantly, all of the Marines at the "Alamo" dedicated many hours to assisting the Special Planning Group in its mission.28
The SPG viewed the evacuation from Saigon as a three-phase operation, dealing first with the daily removal of selected candidates, especially those South Vietnamese who because of their previous activity or occupation could die at the hands of their would-be captors. The Communist execution of South Vietnamese Air America workers in Ban Me Thuot, after the NVA victory in March, intensified this concern. The DAO soon added Americans working on various agency staffs and similarly employed citizens of other nations to this fixed-wing commercial aircraft extract.
The second phase of the evacuation concerned the surface and air movement of potential candidates from the city of Saigon and the American Embassy to the DAO Compound. Upon completion of this movement, the third and final phase of the operation would begin, the massive air evacuation of all of the remaining personnel occupying the DAO installation.
The SPG and its members focused on the second phase of the evacuation with its primary emphasis on resupply, reinforcement, and retrograde. Major Sabater undertook the task of fortifying the perimeter and reinforcing the DAO's security contingent while Captain Wood concentrated on resupply, surface and air evacuation of the city, and the most important part of that movement, identification of the evacuation candidates,
From the outset, Colonel Howard, Major Sabater, Captain Wood, and the other planners made three assumptions: the NVA would not interfere with the U.S. effort to fulfill its treaty and moral obligations, removing other nations' citizens from Saigon; the greatest threat would come from the collapsing city and the South Vietnamese; and the South Vietnamese Air Force would remain loyal to the end and defend Tan Son Nhut Air Base and its adjoining installation, the DAO Compound. Aware of the debacle at Da Nang, the SPG knew that the dynamics of a dying city would preclude normal ground transportation and operations. As a consequence, they would need an alternative which could be communicated and controlled under the worst conditions.30
The SPG undertook as one of Its first tasks the improvement of communications. General Smith arranged for the delivery of a U.S. satellite communications unit from California, one of only four in the world (all American-owned). Capable of communicating with any installation worldwide, it enabled the Special Planning Group to talk to Travis AFB in California and rearrange flights and flight loads to accommodate its supply and logistical needs.
The DAO used these flights and other aircraft carrying military supplies for the ARVN to remove its personnel designated for evacuation in the "thinning out" process ordered by General Smith. To further reduce the excessive American and other nationalities population (one estimate placed the number at 13,000), the Defense Attache Office encouraged all Americans residing in South Vietnam to leave as soon as possible. General Smith added emphasis to this request by cancelling the exchange privileges of retired American veterans living in Saigon. In addition, in early April, the United States authorized the acceptance of South Vietnamese orphans, especially those of mixed blood. One of the supply flights, a C-5A carrying 105mm howitzers for the beleagured ARVN, was tapped to support this transfer of children known as Operation Baby Lift. For this particular flight, the DAO sought volunteers to accompany the children, and 37 women from the DAO staff willingly offered their services. Although in consonance with the gradual drawdown of the office's civilian workforce, the reassignment of these DAO members meant a substantial reduction in expertise, experience, and energy.
Shortly after takeoff, the C-5A experienced an explosive decompression during which the rear doors
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