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size=5>CHAPTER 12

size=5>Refugee Operations

A Link to

Freedom: The Exodus and a New Beginning-Way Stations-Preparations: 1st

Battalion, 4th Marines and the Task Force-Evacuation and Passage: Frequent Wind

and the AESF's Final Chapter A Vietnamese City in Guam-The final Link: Camp


'Operation New Arrivals will commence

Phasedown incrementally when directed about 15 September (75). As presently

planned, refugees at Camp Pendleton, California will be reduced to approximately

6800 on or about 30 September 1975.'1 With those words Brigadier General Paul G.

Graham published his final order in the final chapter of the Marine Corps'

official involvement in the South Vietnamese refugee operation. He concluded

this assignment by submitting an after action report to the Commandant of the

Marine Corps in November 1975. It marked the completion of more than six months

of refugee operations for the Marine Corps which began in March with Staff

Sergeant Walter W. Sparks and his detachment assisting evacuees in Da Nang

Harbor. Those 200 days consumed the lion's share of the daily lives of the

Marines participating in the rescue and resettlement of Vietnamese refugees.

Sandwiched between the initial security

force (the Amphibious Evacuation RVN Support Group) and General Graham's Refugee

Receiving Center were the efforts of the Marine Security Guard Detachments in

South Vietnam; the Amphibious Evacuation Security Force; 1st Battalion, 4th

Marines; Marine Barracks Guam; MCAS El Toro; and Marines from various commands,

primarily units located on the West Coast. Highly publicized, very visible, and

extremely sensitive, this undertaking represented an event as complex,

complicated, and expensive as a major battle, and in essence had many of the

trappings of warfare. To say it was disruptive and changed America belies the

magnitude of the event. The refugee story, especially the story of their

resettlement, is the Vietnam War's living legacy. In effect, it symbolized the

Marine Corps' final Vietnam battle; the bitter end to a bitter struggle, but as

in the case of a bitter end of a rope, that same end can also be a beginning, a

rescue line, and a link to freedom.

A Link to Freedom: The Exodus and a New


Admiral Steele's Seventh Fleet,

including Admiral Whitmire's Task Force 76 and General Carey's 9th MAB,

extracted more than 7,000 fleeing South Vietnamese, providing them a new

beginning. In addition, Colonel Frank G. McLenon's Provisional Marine Aircraft

Group 39's helicopters removed 395 U.S. citizens and 4,475 refugees from the DAO

compound and 978 Americans and 1,120 evacuees from the American Embassy.* These

numbers did not include the American security force or Embassy Marines. Using 34

CH-53s, 29 CH-46s, 8 AH-lJs, and 6 UH-lEs, the ProvMAG flew 682 sorties (360 at

night) and 560 hours [CH-53, 314; CH-46, 206; AH-1J, 34; UH-lE, 6], while the 10

Military Sealift Command ships continued, along with some 45 Navy ships, to pick

up refugees escaping from Vietnam in everything from helicopters to sampans. The

count for this four-day period put the total at over 40,000 evacuated with a

final estimate for the month of April of approximately 130,000.2

In applauding the success of this

mission, the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, Admiral Noel Gayler, said, 'This was a

tough one. The job was uncertain, unprecedented, dangerous beyond measure. It

demanded the last ounce of endurance and fortitude and savvy, and you gave it

that and more . . . The rescue was a tremendous and joint enterprise, under the

most difficult conditions. Performance of all hands superb. Well Done.'3

A successful rescue does not always

mean a happy ending. Those rescued on 30 April and the thousands of others who

left South Vietnam during April had to first reach safe haven before they could

even think about freedom. The first link in this chain to freedom, the rescue,

had to be joined to the next link, passage. For the majority of the Vietnamese

evacuees, who had

*Evacuation numbers vary somewhat from

those depicted by the 9th MAB Command Chronology. ProvMAG-39 reported: 'Later in

the day evacuation began at the U.S. Embassy. An estimated 1150 American

citizens and over 6,000 Vietnamese and Third Country Nationals were evacuated.'

ProvMAG-39 ComdC. The JCS investigation of Operation Frequent Wind stated: 'At

approximately 1700, the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy began. During the period

18 CH-53 and 54 CH-46 sorties evacuated 2379 passengers of which 978 were U.S.

citizens, 1228 were foreign nationals and 173 USMC personnel.' In addition it

provided slightly different figures for the DAO: 'A total of 122 sorties were

flown during the evacuation of the DAO with 6416 passengers lifted from that

location. This total includes 395 U.S. citizens, 5205 foreign nationals, and 816

GSF per-tonnel.' Cleland Report.

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