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[Image 1: Photo
courtesy of Capt
James D Tregurtha,
USN (Ret). A
flotilla of Vietnamese
Navy ships sits
at anchor in
Subic Bay. There
was no more room
on Grande Island
for these refugees
so they had to
be loaded directly
to MSC ships.]

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security force and the Navy. All of them had to be moved and as quickly as possible to ships prepared to house them. Once on board, they would then be transported as soon as possible to Grande Island for processing.

The Military Sealift Command's ships had been outfitted, manned, and equipped to handle large numbers of evacuees. Where to transfer them and how quickly became the key questions. Congress had just announced that day, 28 April, the refugees' final destination. House Democratic Whip John J. McFall stated that refugees located in four different areas of Asia would be brought to Camp Pendleton, California;

Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; and Fon Chaffee, Arkansas. Also that day, Admiral Gayler notified the JCS and Seventh Fleet that it was time to begin the refugee air evacuation to Guam and the United States and that within 24-36 hours he expected a rate of 3,000 per day. With a destination finally in hand, the only thing that stood between the refugees and freedom was the Pacific Ocean. With the means available to navigate at least to the island of Guam, the next step for the refugees would be to find a way from the gray Navy ships to the blue MSC ships.18

Admiral Whitmire, the task force commander, had ordered that all of the amphibious ships with well decks (decks that can be opened to the sea and filled with water) be placed in a line landward of the helicopter platforms* This meant the LSDs and LPDs would move their evacuees down to the well decks where they would board LCMs (Mike Boats) for a ride to one of the four MSC ships anchored eastward, seaward of the amphibs. Once a sealift ship was full, it would weigh anchor and make room for an empty one. In order to facilitate the transfer of refugees, the tank landing ships (LSTs) would float their causeway sections. With

*Captain James D. Tregurtha, USN. commander of Task Group

76.5, Surface Evacuation Forces, remembered: "We had to move the holding area
farther out from the coast because of the possibility of attack by North Vietnamese
PT boats and also to discourage (he exodus of fishing boats and other craft
to the Navy ships." Tregurtha Comments.

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