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[Image 1: Photo
courtesy of BGen
William A. Bloomer,
USMC (Ret). A
Cessna 0-1 Bird
Dog lands on
the USS Midway
without benefit
of a tailhook
or barricade.
The pilot, a
Vietnamese major,
brought with him his wife
and five children.]

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in less than 48 hours. Already, thousands of refugees were on board ships headed
for Subic at near flank speed.

Although the numbers of evacuees on these ships far exceeded initial estimates, the total did not surprise the Navy and Marine Corps. They had anticipated the worst. On 22 April, Admiral Maurice F. Weisner, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, sent a message to Admiral Gayler requesting guidance on how to handle what he expected to be an onslaught of refugees attempting to board Navy ships from every type of craft imaginable. Additionally, he addressed the aspect of safe havens. He said: "Consider it likely that a substantial number of Vietnamese may attempt to flee the coast of South Vietnam in small craft and assorted boats ... a number of them will approach USN and MSC ships and request refuge .... These personnel must also be considered in planning for safe haven, designation of which remains an urgent requirement. Request policy guidance in this matter."7

The Navy's Pacific headquarters then queried JCS as to what they should tell Admiral Weisner. Unfortunately, the response came in the form of a message on 27 April, and was of little help. It did not even mention the possibility of Vietnamese heliborne refugees. It only said, "Suggest such persons be delivered to Phu Quoc."8

The designation of Grande Island as the first stop to safe haven and the simultaneous establishment of Guam as another "way station" and a refugee receiving center went a long way toward addressing Admiral Weisner's concerns. The answer to his question of who should be granted permission to board American ships never came and eventually events made a response unnecessary. On 29 April, when the first Vietnamese helicopters (Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky flew his helicopter to Midway shortly after noon on 29 April) began landing on any floating platform they could find, authorized access became a mute issue. Unknowingly and certainly unintentionally, these Vietnamese helicopter refugees helped the Americans. They alerted and thereby prepared the crews for the imminent crisis that Admiral Weisner had anticipated, literally thousands of small craft overflowing with frantic Vietnamese seeking refuge. They tried to board the ships in any manner possible, but received an unexpected reception. Before any ship would permit entry, each refugee had to submit to a screening. Marines checked each one for weapons and once cleared, then permitted them to board. In this way, the Americans attempted to insure safe passage for all.

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