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turned out, all four did not get to Saigon because the CIA people in Can Tho got for sure one, and we're almost positive two, of the helicopters."34
Now with the sea as the only available escape route, everyone climbed into the two LCMs. (They chose not to use a barge they also had purchased, because it would have slowed their speed of movement too much.) A further complication occurred. Hasty said, when the CIA officials left behind some of their local employees in the frantic effort to leave. He stated, "The CIA pulled out, leaving behind their three Filipino employees, some of their Vietnamese employees, and one American CIA agent, their communicator."35 The AESF's report that the Vancouver picked up 68 Vietnamese refugees and one embassy official from Can Tho early on the 29th conflicted with Hasty's statement, and confirmed that the CIA agents must have taken a large number of their employees with them, but nonetheless their actions still left the consul general with serious problems.38
As the last group of people boarded the LCMs, the Marines, and the consulate staff suddenly realized that none of them knew how to drive a LCM. Hasty said:
"The consul general ... a former naval officer was the only one that had any concept whatsoever. So the consul general, wearing the helmet we had given him as a souvenir, got behind the helm of the LCM, looked at it awhile, played with it awhile, and said, 'I can run it.' And he could."*37
Clearing this hurdle, the "convoy" departed Can Tho for a 60-mile journey down the Basaac River through Viet Cong-NVA territory that save for a miracle could have been anyone's last trip. Just as they were entering the most hazardous part of the Journey where the river narrows, the realization that disaster awaited them suddenly flooded their consciousness. Having already suffered through one firefight during which small boats manned by Viet Cong attacked, and without the air cover that the Embassy had promised in earlier discussions over what would happen should the consul and his staff need to conduct a waterborne evacuation, they found themselves in desperate need of help. Unbelievably, it arrived in the form of an intense downpour which obscured their presence from the enemy-infested shoreline. Staff Sergeant Hasty said: "Luckily, we did not take a round into the LCMs, because if we had it would have been like tossing a grenade into a garbage can. After that firefight, we figured we were going to be in for a hell of a time, or we would have to be awfully damn lucky to get out. It rained so heavy and so hard you couldn't see the banks of the river, and that is what saved us-"38
During the conversations in which air cover was discussed, the American Embassy, Saigon, also promised Consul General McNamara that a U.S. Navy ship would be waiting to pick him and his staff up as soon as they reached the coastline. Yet when the two LCMs and its passengers reached the mouth of the river at approximately 1900, they beheld an unnerving sight-empty ocean! As far as the eye could see, not a ship or vessel of any kind was on the horizon. Certain that, as Sergeant Hasty said, "We were on our own," they headed out to sea in their flat-bottomed boats.39
Expecting to see a Navy ship at any moment, they chugged along while sending out "Maydays" every few minutes. For over six hours, they searched the seas for any sign of life and finally well into the seventh hour, one of the men spotted what appeared to be a ship's light. They headed in the direction of the light, firing clusters of flares at 20 minute intervals. Despite never receiving a radio response or a return signal, the Can Tho Marines and Consul General McNamara pursued the ship for an hour. Finally reaching it, they discovered as Staff Sergeant Hasty described, "They (the Pioneer Contender) were not expecting us, were not waiting for us. They just happened to be there."10
The Pioneer Contender did not "just happen to be there." Instead, it had been sent there to pick up the Can Tho refugees; a task it had accomplished earlier that day (or so the ship's captain thought). The truth was that Captain Garcia's Marines had seen the flares and reported the sighting to the ship's crew, but the crew chose to disregard them, assuming the flashes to be ARVN fire on the shore. Reassured in the thought that they already had their consulate evacuees on board, they ignored such strange sightings.
Once on board the Pioneer Contender, Sergeant Hasty said that his men immediately began assisting the Victor Detachment Marines. "I Just attached my Marines to the ship's Marines to assist in loading refugees." His stay on the Pioneer Contender-was very short and after several transfers, he eventually reached a Navy ship.41
On l May, after first riding on a Japanese tugboat and then a Korean LST, he finally placed his feet on the deck of the Blue Ridge, ending three harrowing and tiresome days of fear and frustration, and the official history of the Marine Security Guard Can Tho.42
*Records do not reflect who operated the second LCM and in the book. The Fall of Saigon, the author described them using two LCMs and a rice barge.
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