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size=5>The Final Days
Loc Remembered Saigon and the Final Preparation Pieces-Consulate Marines
With the battle for Xuan Loc in Long
Khanh Province (40 miles east and north of Saigon) entering its second week.
General Van Tien Dung, commander of the NVA'S Spring Offensive, evaluated his
options. The 18th ARVN Division and other Vietnamese Armed Forces maintained a
tenuous hold on Xuan Loc. NVA forces already had intercepted an ARVN armor task
force attempting to reach the besieged 18th Division. The South Vietnamese,
however, still held and blocked the North Vietnamese advance to Bien Hoa and
Saigon. To avoid a stalemate, Dung decided to enlarge the battle area and
outflank the South Vietnamese while intensifying the bombardment of the
strategic RVN airbase at Bien Hoa. With a significant escalation in pressure.
General Dung hoped to turn the tide of battle and get his stalled offensive back
on schedule. He had to leave Xuan Loc behind and move on to Bien Hoa if he was
going to meet Hanoi's goal of capturing Saigon before the end of April.
As the fighting for the capital of Long
Khanh expanded, politicians in Saigon renewed their calls for President Thieu to
step aside and allow a candidate more acceptable to the Communists to take
power. This political maneuvering only served to make for further insecurity
among the people. Increasingly unruly crowds began to gather each day outside
the DAO Compound and watch their countrymen line up inside for processing, while
flight after flight of commercial and military aircraft departed Tan Son Nhut,
loaded with evacuees. This growing threat to security eventually forced the
Ambassador to authorize the transfer of a squad of Marines to the DAO Compound.
The 'Pentagon East' welcomed this addition to its undermanned security force, a
handful of retired South Vietnamese soldiers.
With the crowds outside the gate
growing larger and more menacing while the DAO began what Captain Anthony A.
Wood described as the 'mobile catch-a-baby drill,' the Special Planning Group
accelerated its efforts. The fortification of the compound had to keep pace with
the evacuation of South Vietnamese or the U.S. installation would be overrrun by
citizens seeking refuge. From this moment on, panicked refugees would represent
the gravest threat to security and to the evacuations. Marines would fill this
need for security.
The AESF On 17 April, the III MAF
Commander, Major General Carl W. Hoffman, activated a new security force to
replace the Marines of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines serving as members of the
Amphibious Evacuation RVN Support Group. The Amphibious Evacuation Support Force
(AESF) was comprised of Marines assigned from the 4th Marines, 9th Marines, 12th
Marines, 3d Engineer Battalion, 7th Communication Battalion, 3d Service
Battalion, Headquarters Battalion, 3d Tank Battalion, and the 1st Amphibian
Tractor Battalion. The specially selected Marines of these units initially were
formed into 10 72-man detachments, comprised of a 12-man headquarters
detachment, and three 20-man sections (two squads of nine men each plus a
two-man section headquarters).
To command these detachments, Major
General Kenneth J. Houghton, the commanding general of the 3d Marine Division,
chose Major David A. Quinlan, the 9th Marines operations officer. At the moment
General Houghton made that decision. Major Quinlan was, by coincidence,
conducting 9th Marines business at the combined headquarters of III MAF and 3d
Marine Division. In an office on the second floor of the Camp Courtney
headquarters building on Okinawa, Major Quinlan was completely unaware of the
activity on the first floor. Not until he returned to neighboring Camp Schwab
did he learn of the division's efforts to locate him.
As he entered Camp Schwab, he noticed a
flurry of activity around the regimental command post, including a CH-46 sitting
in the LZ with its blades idling. Stopping to observe, Major Quinlan spotted the
9th Marines executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wise, who greeted him
with very few but important words:
The [waiting] helicopter is for you.
Your gear is on the bird. Many [Major Martin J. Lenzini, 9th Marines air liaison
officer] has packed for you. You are the commander of the ships' guards. Get
After receiving his .45 automatic and a
box of ammunition from Lieutenant Colonel Wise, Major Quin-
Page 160(The Final Days )