Operation Frequent Wind

Operation Frequent Wind was the final phase in the evacuation of American civilians and "at-risk" Vietnamese from Saigon, South Vietnam prior to the takeover of the city by the North Vietnamese People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) in the Fall of Saigon. It was carried out on 29–30 April 1975, during the last days of the Vietnam War. More than 7,000 people were evacuated by helicopter from various points in Saigon. The airlift resulted in a number of enduring images.

Evacuation plans already existed as a standard procedure for American embassies. At the beginning of March, fixed-wing aircraft began evacuating civilians from Tan Son Nhat Airport through neighboring countries. By mid-April, contingency plans were in place and preparations were underway for a possible helicopter evacuation. As the imminent collapse of Saigon became evident, Task Force 76 was assembled off the coast near Vũng Tàu to support a helicopter evacuation and provide air support if required. In the event, air support was not needed as the North Vietnamese paused for a week at the outskirts of Saigon, possibly waiting for the South Vietnamese government to collapse and avoiding a possible confrontation with the U.S. by allowing the mostly-unopposed evacuation of Americans from Saigon.[1][2]:14

On 28 April, Tan Son Nhut Air Base (lying adjacent to the airport) came under artillery fire and attack from Vietnamese People's Air Force aircraft. The fixed-wing evacuation was terminated and Operation Frequent Wind commenced. The evacuation took place primarily from the Defense Attaché Office compound, beginning around 14:00 on the afternoon of 29 April, and ending that night with only limited small arms damage to the helicopters. The U.S. Embassy in Saigon was intended to only be a secondary evacuation point for embassy staff, but it was soon overwhelmed with evacuees and desperate South Vietnamese. The evacuation of the embassy was completed at 07:53 on 30 April, but some Americans chose to stay or were left behind and some 400 third country nationals were left at the embassy.

Tens of thousands of Vietnamese evacuated themselves by sea or air. With the collapse of South Vietnam, numerous boats and ships, VNAF helicopters and some fixed-wing aircraft sailed or flew out to the evacuation fleet. Helicopters began to clog ship decks and eventually, some were pushed overboard to allow others to land. Pilots of other helicopters were told to drop off their passengers and then take off and ditch in the sea, from where they would be rescued. During the fixed-wing evacuation 50,493 people (including 2,678 Vietnamese orphans) were evacuated from Tan Son Nhut.[3] In Operation Frequent Wind a total of 1,373 Americans and 5,595 Vietnamese and third-country nationals were evacuated by helicopter.[3]:258 The total number of Vietnamese evacuated by Frequent Wind or self-evacuated and ending up in the custody of the United States for processing as refugees to enter the United States totalled 138,869.[2]:92 This operation was the debut combat deployment of the F-14 Tomcat aircraft.


NSC Meeting, April 9, 1975 (topic- Vietnam, Cambodia)(Gerald Ford Library)(1552383).pdf
Minutes of President Gerald Ford's National Security Council meeting on 9 April 1975 when evacuation plans were extensively discussed

Planning for the evacuation of the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies from South Vietnam had begun prior to April, 1975. When U.S. President Gerald Ford met with the National Security Council on 9 April 1975 he was told by Henry Kissinger that a maximum of 1.6 million people had been identified as possible evacuees and that these included: American citizens and their relatives, the diplomatic corps, the ICCS, third country nationals under contract by the U.S. government and the employees the US and their dependents (estimated at about 200,000 people). In addition, the Vietnamese relatives of American citizens and senior Govt. of Vietnam officials and their dependents (apx. 600,000 people) were also identified as potential evacuees, along with Vietnamese formerly employed by the U.S. and their dependents.[4]

Although American officials at the highest levels of the intelligence community (e.g. CIA Director William Colby) were certain that the South Vietnamese government would collapse, everyone in the U.S. government underestimated the speed of the North Vietnamese advance during the 1975 Spring Offensive and how quickly South Vietnam's Army would collapse.[5]

Evacuation plans are standard for American embassies.[6] The Talon Vise/Frequent Wind plan had been developed over a number of years.[7] Originally codenamed "Talon Vise", the operation was renamed "Frequent Wind" when the original codename was compromised.[8]

By 1975 the Frequent Wind plan had an estimate of approximately 8,000 US citizens and third country nationals to be evacuated, but it was never able to estimate the number of South Vietnamese to include.[7]:8 There were approximately 17,000 at-risk Vietnamese on embassy rolls, which, using an average of seven dependents per family, meant that the number requiring evacuation was 119,000. Taken with other categories of Vietnamese, the number quickly increased to over 200,000.[7]:40 The Frequent Wind plan set out four possible evacuation options, as follows:[7]:9

  • Option 1: Evacuation by commercial airlift from Tan Son Nhut and other South Vietnamese airports as required
  • Option 2: Evacuation by military airlift from Tan Son Nhut and other South Vietnamese airports as required
  • Option 3: Evacuation by sea lift from Saigon port
  • Option 4: Evacuation by helicopter to US Navy ships in the South China Sea

With Option 4, the helicopter evacuation would be expected to be similar to Operation Eagle Pull – the American evacuation by air of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on 12 April 1975.[9]

Preparations on the ground

On 1 April an evacuation control center manned by U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force (USAF) and U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) personnel began operating at the Defense Attaché Office (DAO) compound on 12-hour shifts, increasing to 24-hour shifts the next day.[7]:22 Also on 1 April, Plan Alamo was implemented to utilize and defend the DAO compound and its annex as an evacuee holding area, intended to care for 1,500 evacuees for five days.[7]:27 By 16 April, Alamo was complete: water, C-rations, petroleum, oil and lubricants had been stockpiled, backup electricity generators had been installed, sanitary facilities were completed, and concertina wire protected the perimeter.[7]:35

On 7 April Air America pilot Nikki A. Fillipi, with USMC Lt Robert Twigger, assigned to the DAO as the US Navy liaison officer, surveyed 37 buildings in Saigon as possible landing zones (LZ), selecting 13 of them as fit for use.[10] Workers from Pacific Architects and Engineers visited each of the 13 LZs to remove obstructions and painted H's (the exact dimensions of a UH-1 Huey helicopter's skids) on each of the LZs.[7]:37 President Gerald Ford, in an address to the American public on 11 April, promised to evacuate Vietnamese civilians of various categories. The 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (9th MAB), which was to supply helicopters and a security force for the evacuation, sent a delegation to consult with Ambassador Graham Martin on current plans on 12 April. Ambassador Martin told them that he would not tolerate any outward signs that the United States intended to abandon South Vietnam. All planning would have to be conducted with the utmost discretion. Brigadier General Richard E. Carey, commander of the 9th MAB, flew to Saigon the next day to see Ambassador Martin; he later said that "The visit was cold, non-productive and appeared to be an irritant to the Ambassador".[10] Thirteen Marines from the Marine Security Guard (MSG) detachment were deployed to the DAO Compound on 13 April to replace the eight Marine Guards withdrawn from the closed Da Nang and Nha Trang consulates who had been providing security up to that point.[7]:35

By late April, Air America helicopters were flying several daily shuttles from TF76 to the DAO Compound to enable the 9th MAB to conduct evacuation preparations at the DAO without exceeding the Paris Peace Accords' limit of a maximum of 50 U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam. The US Government was continuing to observe its obligations under the Accords, notwithstanding the North Vietnamese invasion.[11] In late April the MSG Marines were ordered to abandon Marshall Hall/Marine House, their billet at 204 Hong Thap Tu Street (now 204 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street), and move into the recreation area in the Embassy compound.[3]:86

The two major evacuation points chosen for Operation Frequent Wind were the DAO Compound adjacent to Tan Son Nhut Airport for American and Vietnamese civilian evacuees, and the US Embassy, Saigon for Embassy staff.[11]:196 The plan for the evacuation included buses positioned at 28 buildings throughout metropolitan Saigon designated as pick-up points, with American civilian bus drivers standing by at those buildings. The buses would follow one of four planned evacuation routes from downtown Saigon to the DAO Compound, each route named after a Western Trail: Santa Fe, Oregon, Texas, etc.[7]:38[11]:178–179

Options 1 and 2 – fixed-wing evacuation

By late March the Embassy began to reduce the number of US citizens in Vietnam by encouraging dependents and non-essential personnel to leave the country by commercial flights and on Military Airlift Command (MAC) C-141 and C-5 aircraft, which were still bringing in emergency military supplies.[7]:20–21 In late March, two or three of these MAC aircraft were arriving each day and were used for the evacuation of civilians and Vietnamese orphans.[7]:24 On 4 April a C-5A aircraft carrying 250 Vietnamese orphans and their escorts suffered explosive decompression over the sea near Vũng Tàu and made a crash-landing while attempting to return to Tan Son Nhut; 153 people on board died in the crash.[7]:30–31

Following the C-5 crash, and with the cause still unknown, the C-5 fleet was grounded and the MAC airlift was reduced to using C-141s and C-130s; rather than loading as many evacuees as possible, each evacuee required a seat and a seatbelt, reducing the number of passengers that could be carried on each flight. Each C-141 would carry 94 passengers while each C-130 would carry 75, although these restrictions were relaxed, and then ignored altogether as the pace of the evacuation quickened.[7]:69 Armed guards were also present on each flight to prevent the possibility of hijacking.[7]:34 American commercial and contract carriers continued to fly out of Tan Son Nhut, but with decreasing frequency. In addition, military aircraft from Australia, Indonesia, Iran, Poland, UK, France, and other countries flew in to evacuate their embassy personnel.[7]:34

Throughout April the "thinning out" proceeded slowly, largely because of difficulties experienced by Americans in obtaining the necessary paperwork from the South Vietnamese Government to enable them to take their Vietnamese dependents with them, with the result that MAC aircraft were often departing empty.[7]:44 Finally, on 19 April, a simple procedure was implemented that cleared up the paperwork jam and the number of evacuees dramatically increased from 20 April onwards.[7]:46 The fall of Xuân Lộc on 21 April and the resignation of President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu on 21 April brought greater crowds seeking evacuation to the DAO Compound as it became apparent that South Vietnam's days were numbered. By 22 April 20 C-141 and 20 C-130s flights a day were flying evacuees out of Tan Son Nhut to Clark Air Base,[7]:60 some 1,000 miles away in the Philippines. On 23 April President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines announced that no more than 2,500 Vietnamese evacuees would be allowed in the Philippines at any one time, further increasing the strain on MAC which now had to move evacuees out of Saigon and move some 5,000 evacuees from Clark Air Base on to Guam, Wake Island and Yokota Air Base.[7]:62 President Thiệu and his family left Tan Son Nhut on 25 April on a USAF C-118 to go into exile in Taiwan.[7]:67 Also on 25 April the Federal Aviation Authority banned commercial flights into South Vietnam. This directive was subsequently reversed; some operators had ignored it anyway. In any case this effectively marked the end of the commercial airlift from Tan Son Nhut.[7]:66

On 27 April NVA rockets hit Saigon and Cholon for the first time since the 1973 ceasefire. It was decided that from this time only C-130s would be used for the evacuation due to their greater maneuverability. There was relatively little difference between the cargo loads of the two aircraft, C-141s had been loaded with up to 316 evacuees while C-130s had been taking off with in excess of 240.[7]:69

Task Force 76

CH-53 helicopters on USS Midway (CV-41), April 1975
US Air Force HH-53 helicopters on the deck of USS Midway during Operation Frequent Wind, April 1975
Operation Frequent Wind ship disposition 1975 - Recreated map
Map showing the disposition of U.S. Navy ships at the start of Operation Frequent Wind
TF76 waits off Vung Tau
Ships of TF 76 wait off Vũng Tàu for the start of the operation

With the fall of Saigon imminent, between 18 and 24 April the U.S. Navy concentrated a large assemblage of ships off Vũng Tàu under Commander Task Force 76 comprising:[9]

Task Force 76 USS Blue Ridge (command ship) USS Oklahoma City (Seventh Fleet flagship)

Task Group 76.4 (Movement Transport Group Alpha)

Task Group 76.5 (Movement Transport Group Bravo)

Task Group 76.9 (Movement Transport Group Charlie)

The task force was joined by:

each carrying Marine, and Air Force (eight 21st Special Operations Squadron CH-53s and two 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron HH-53s[12]) helicopters.

Amphibious ships:

A guided missile frigate:

and eight destroyer types for naval gunfire, escort, and area defense, including:

The USS Enterprise and USS Coral Sea carrier attack groups of Task Force 77 in the South China Sea provided air cover while Task Force 73 ensured logistic support.

The Marine evacuation contingent, the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade (Task Group 79.1), consisted of three Battalion Landing Teams (BLT); 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines (2/4), 1st Battalion 9th Marines (1/9), 3rd Battalion 9th Marines (3/9) and three helicopter squadrons HMH-462, HMH-463, HMM-165 along with other support units from Marine Aircraft Group 39 (MAG-39).

In addition, a flotilla of Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships were assembled and these carried out seaborne evacuations from Saigon Port, this fleet comprised: Tugboats:

  • Asiatic Stamina
  • Chitose Maru
  • Haruma
  • Osceola
  • Shibaura Maru

and the following large transport ships:

Tan Son Nhut under attack

Freq% 20Wind% 20and% 20Eagle% 20Pull% 20001
RVNAF C-130A burns at Tan Son Nhut after rocket attack on 29 April

On 28 April at 18:06, three A-37 Dragonflies piloted by former Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVNAF) pilots, who had defected to the Vietnamese People's Air Force at the fall of Da Nang, dropped six Mk81 250 lb bombs on Tan Son Nhut Air Base destroying several aircraft. RVNAF F-5s took off in pursuit, but they were unable to intercept the A-37s.[7]:70 C-130s leaving Tan Son Nhut reported receiving North Vietnamese Army (PAVN) .51 cal and 37 mm anti-aircraft (AAA) fire,[7]:71–72 while sporadic PAVN rocket and artillery attacks also started to hit the airport and air base. C-130 flights were stopped temporarily after the air attack but resumed at 20:00 on 28 April.[7]:72 At 21:00 on 28 April Major General Homer D. Smith, the Defense Attaché, informed the evacuation control center that 60 C-130 flights would come in on 29 April to evacuate 10,000 people.[7]:73

At 03:30 on 29 April a PAVN rocket hit Guardpost 1 at the DAO Compound, instantly killing Marine Corporals McMahon and Judge. They were the last American ground casualties in Vietnam.[15]

At 03:58, C-130E, #72-1297, flown by a crew from the 776th Tactical Airlift Squadron, was destroyed by a 122 mm rocket while taxiing to pick up refugees after offloading a BLU-82 at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. The crew evacuated the burning aircraft on the taxiway and departed the airfield on another C-130 that had previously landed.[11]:182 This was the last USAF fixed-wing aircraft to leave Tan Son Nhut.[7]:79 Between 04:30 and 08:00 up to 40 artillery rounds and rockets hit around the DAO Compound.[7]:80

At dawn the RVNAF began to haphazardly depart Tan Son Nhut Air Base as A-37s, F-5s, C-7s, C-119s and C-130s departed for Thailand while UH-1s took off in search of the ships of TF-76.[7]:81 Some RVNAF aircraft stayed to continue to fight the advancing PAVN. One AC-119 gunship had spent the night of 28/29 April dropping flares and firing on the approaching PAVN. At dawn on 29 April two A-1 Skyraiders began patrolling the perimeter of Tan Son Nhut at 2,500 feet (760 m) until one was shot down, presumably by an SA-7 missile. At 07:00 the AC-119 was firing on PAVN to the east of Tan Son Nhut when it too was hit by an SA-7 and fell in flames to the ground.[7]:82

At 07:00 on 29 April, Major General Smith advised Ambassador Martin that fixed-wing evacuations should cease and that Operation Frequent Wind, the helicopter evacuation of US personnel and at-risk Vietnamese should commence. Ambassador Martin refused to accept General Smith's recommendation and instead insisted on visiting Tan Son Nhut to survey the situation for himself. At 10:00 Ambassador Martin confirmed General Smith's assessment and at 10:48 he contacted Washington to recommend Option 4, the helicopter evacuation.[7]:90 Finally at 10:51 the order was given by CINCPAC to commence Option 4; due to confusion in the chain of command, General Carey did not receive the execute order until 12:15.[11]:183 At 08:00 Lieutenant General Minh, commander of the RVNAF and 30 of his staff arrived at the DAO compound demanding evacuation, signifying the complete loss of RVNAF command and control.[7]:85–87

Option 4 – White Christmas in April

In preparation for the evacuation, the American Embassy had distributed a 15-page booklet called SAFE, short for "Standard Instruction and Advice to Civilians in an Emergency." The booklet included a map of Saigon pinpointing "assembly areas where a helicopter will pick you up." There was an insert page which read: "Note evacuational signal. Do not disclose to other personnel. When the evacuation is ordered, the code will be read out on Armed Forces Radio. The code is: The temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising. This will be followed by the playing of I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas."[16] Frank Snepp later recalled the arrival of helicopters at the Embassy while the song was playing over the radio as a "bizarre Kafkaesque time".[17] Japanese journalists, concerned that they would not recognize the tune, had to get someone to sing it to them.[15]:63

After the evacuation signal was given, the buses began to pick up passengers and head to the DAO Compound. The system worked so efficiently that the buses were able to make three return journeys rather than the expected one. The biggest problem occurred when the ARVN guarding the main gate at Tan Son Nhut refused to allow the last convoy of buses into the DAO Compound at about 17:45. As this was happening, a firefight between two ARVN units broke out and caught the rearmost buses in the crossfire, disabling two of the vehicles. Eventually the ARVN commander controlling the gates agreed to permit the remaining buses to enter the compound. General Carey's threat to use the AH-1J SeaCobra helicopter gunships flying overhead may have played a role in the ARVN commander's decision.[11]:179–181

Security and air support

It was not known whether the PAVN and/or the ARVN would try to disrupt the evacuation and so the planners had to take all possible contingencies into account to ensure the safety and success of the evacuation. The staff of 9th MAB prescribed altitudes, routes, and checkpoints for flight safety for the operation. To avert mid-air collisions, the planners chose altitudes which would provide separation of traffic and also a capability to see and avoid the enemy's AAA, SA-2 and SA-7 missile threat (6,500 feet (2,000 m) for flights inbound to Saigon and 5,500 feet (1,700 m) for those outbound from Saigon to the Navy ships). These altitudes were also high enough to avoid small arms and artillery fire.[11]:188

In the event that the PAVN or ARVN shot down a helicopter or a mechanical malfunction forced one to make an emergency landing in hostile territory, two orbiting CH-46s of MAG-39 each carrying 15-man, quick-reaction "Sparrow Hawk" teams of Marines from 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, from USS Blue Ridge, were ready to land and provide security enabling a search and rescue helicopter to pick up the crew. In addition, two CH-46s would provide medical evacuation capabilities while AH-1J SeaCobras would fly cover for the transport helicopters and for any ground units who requested support. The SeaCobras could also serve as Forward Air Controllers.[11]:187

The air wings of USS Enterprise and USS Coral Sea, were ready to provide close air support and anti-aircraft suppression if required with their A-6 and A-7 attack aircraft, and would provide continuous fighter cover the evacuation route including by VF-1 and VF-2, flying from Enterprise with the first combat deployment of the new F-14 Tomcat.[7]:98–99 USAF aircraft operating out of Nakhon Phanom Air Base, Korat Air Base and U-Tapao Air Base in Thailand were also overhead for the duration of the helicopter evacuation. A C-130 Airborne Command and Control controlled all US air operations over land. USAF F-4s, F-111s and A-7s provided air cover during daylight, being replaced by AC-130s from the 16th Special Operations Squadron at night. Strategic Air Command KC-135 tankers provided air-to-air refueling.[7]:92

The evacuation proceeded without interference from the PAVN. Aircraft flying air cover for the evacuation reported being tracked with surface to air radar in the vicinity of Biên Hòa Air Base (which had fallen to the PAVN on 25 April), but there were no missile launches.[7]:99 The Hanoi leadership, reckoning that completion of the evacuation would lessen the risk of American intervention, had apparently instructed General Dũng not to target the airlift itself.[18] Members of the police in Saigon had been promised evacuation in exchange for protecting the American evacuation buses and control of the crowds in the city during the evacuation.[19] Disgruntled ARVN troops repeatedly hit American helicopters with small arms fire throughout the evacuation, without causing serious damage. Despite receiving sporadic NVA AAA fire, USAF and USN aircraft made no attacks on AAA or SAM sites during the evacuation.[7]:111

Despite all the concern over these military threats, the weather presented the gravest danger. At the beginning of the operation, pilots in the first wave reported the weather as 2,000 feet (610 m) scattered, 20,000 feet (6,100 m) overcast with 15 miles (24 km) visibility, except in haze over Saigon, where visibility decreased to one mile. This meant that scattered clouds existed below their flight path while a solid layer of clouds more than two miles above their heads obscured the sun. The curtain of haze over Saigon so altered the diminished daylight that line of sight visibility was only a mile. The weather conditions deteriorated as the operation continued.[11]:188

Air America

Vietnamese refugees on US carrier, Operation Frequent Wind
South Vietnamese refugees arrive on a U.S. Navy vessel during Operation Frequent Wind.

As part of the evacuation plan agreed with the DAO, Air America committed 24 of its 28 available helicopters to support the evacuation and 31 pilots agreed to stay in Saigon to support the evacuation; this meant that most helicopters would have only one pilot rather than the usual two.[7]:36 At 08:30 on 29 April, with the shelling of Tan Son Nhut Airport subsiding, Air America began ferrying its helicopter and fixed-wing pilots from their homes in Saigon to the Air America compound at Tan Son Nhut, across the road from the DAO Compound.[20] Air America helicopters started flying to the rooftop LZs in Saigon and either shuttled the evacuees back to the DAO Compound or flew out to the ships of TF76.[20]:22 By 10:30 all of Air America's fixed-wing aircraft had departed Tan Son Nhut, evacuating all non-essential personnel and as many Vietnamese evacuees as they could carry and headed for Thailand.[20]:21 At some point during the morning VNAF personnel took five ICCS UH-1H Hueys and one Air America Bell 204 from the Air America ramp.[20]:20

Air Vice Marshal Ky arrives on the USS Midway
Air Vice Marshal Ky arrives on USS Midway.

At 11:00 the security situation at the Air America compound was deteriorating as General Carey did not wish to risk his Marines by extending his perimeter to cover the Air America compound (LZ 40), so all Air America helicopters from this time operated out of the tennis courts in the DAO Annex (LZ 35).[11]:192[20]:22 This move created fuel problems for Air America as they no longer had access to the fuel supplies in their compound and at least initially they were refused fuel by the ships of TF76.[20]:22–24 According to US Naval Archives, at 12:30 an Air America Bell 205 landed Air Vice Marshal Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, Madame Kỳ, Dorothy Martin (wife of Ambassador Martin) and others on USS Denver; contemporary reports state and photos show that Marshal Kỳ piloted his own UH-1H Huey to USS Midway.[20]:29

At approximately 14:30, Air America Bell 205 serial number "N47004" landed on the roof of the Pittman Apartment Building at 22 Gia Long Street to collect a senior Vietnamese intelligence source and his family. The Pittman Building was not an approved LZ, but when the agreed pickup point at the Lee Hotel at 6 Chien Si Circle was declared unusable, CIA Station Chief Tom Polgar asked Oren B. Harnage, Deputy Chief of the Embassy's Air Branch to change the pickup to the Pittman Building, which was the home of the Assistant Station Chief and had an elevator shaft believed capable of supporting the weight of a Huey. Harnage boarded an Air America Huey from the Embassy's rooftop heliport and flew the short distance to the Pittman Building. Harnage leaned out of the Huey and helped approximately 15 evacuees board the Huey from the narrow helipad.[20]:27–28 The scene was famously captured on film by Hubert van Es.

Air America helicopters continued to make rooftop pickups until after nightfall by which time navigation became increasingly difficult. Helicopters overflew the designated LZs to check no Americans had been left behind and then the last helicopters (many low on fuel) headed out to TF76, located USS Midway or USS Hancock and shut down. All Air America flights had ceased by 21:00.[20]:28–29 With its available fleet of only 20 Hueys (3 of which were impounded, ditched or damaged at TF76), Air America had moved over 1,000 evacuees to the DAO Compound, the Embassy or out to the ships of TF76.[20]:30

The DAO compound

At 14:06 two UH-1E Huey helicopters carrying General Carey and Colonel Gray (commander of Regimental Landing Team 4 (RLT4)) landed at the DAO Compound.[7]:91 During their approach to the compound, Carey and Gray got a firsthand view of the PAVN's firepower as they shelled nearby Tan Son Nhut Airport with ground, rocket, and artillery fire. They quickly established an austere command post in preparation for the arrival of the Marine CH-53s and the ground security force.[11]:189

The first wave of 12 CH-53s from HMH-462 loaded with BLT 2/4's command groups "Alpha" and "Bravo", and Company F and reinforced Company H arrived in the DAO Compound at 15:06 and the Marines quickly moved to reinforce the perimeter defenses. As they approached the helicopters had taken rifle and M-79 grenade fire from ARVN troops but without causing any apparent damage.[7]:97 The second wave of 12 CH-53s from HMH-463 landed in the DAO Compound at 15:15 bringing in the rest of the BLT. A third wave of two CH-53s from HMH-463 and eight USAF CH-53Cs and two USAF HH-53s of the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (all operating from USS Midway) arrived shortly afterwards.[11]:186

"Alpha" command group, two rifle companies, and the 81 mm mortar platoon were deployed around the DAO headquarters building (the Alamo) and its adjacent landing zones. Companies E and F respectively occupied the northern and southern sections between the DAO headquarters and the DAO Annex. "Bravo" command group, consisting of two rifle companies and the 106 mm recoilless rifle platoon, assumed responsibility for security of the DAO Annex and its adjoining landing zones. Company G occupied the eastern section of the Annex, while Company H assumed control of the western section.[11]:191–192

The HMH-462 CH-53s loaded with evacuees and left the compound, they unloaded the first evacuees delivered by Operation Frequent Wind at 15:40.[11]:191 At about 17:30 General Carey ordered the extraction of 3rd Platoon, Company C of BLT 1/9, which had been landed at the DAO Compound on 25 April to assist the Marine Security Guard.[11]:196 Between 19:00 and 21:00 General Carey transferred 3 platoons (130 men) of BLT 2/4 into the Embassy compound to provide additional security and assistance for the Embassy.[11]:195

At 19:30 General Carey directed that the remaining elements guarding the Annex be withdrawn to DAO headquarters (the Alamo) where the last of the evacuees would await their flight. Once completed, the new defensive perimeter encompassed only LZ 36 and the Alamo. By 20:30 the last evacuees had been loaded onto helicopters.[11]:197 With the evacuation of the landing control teams from the Annex and Alamo completed, General Carey ordered the withdrawal of the ground security forces from the DAO Compound around 22:50.[11]:197 At 23:40 Marines destroyed the satellite terminal, the DAO Compound's last means of direct communication with the outside world.[7]:103 At 00:30 on 30 April, thermite grenades, having been previously placed in selected buildings, ignited as two CH-53s left the DAO parking lot carrying the last elements of BLT 2/4.[11]:197

DAO Compound LZs

9th MAB intelligence photo of the DAO Compound with LZs marked

DAO Compound LZs 2

9th MAB post-operation map of the DAO Compound and Air America Compound with LZs marked

CH-53 landing at Defense Attaché Office compound, Operation Frequent Wind

A Marine provides security as helicopters land at the DAO Compound

USMC CH-53s at DAO Compound LZ38

USMC CH-53s at LZ 38

Evacuation from LZ39

Vietnamese evacuees board a CH-53 at LZ 39

DAO Compound 30 April 1975

Aerial reconnaissance photos of the destroyed DAO Headquarters building with Air America Compound in the foreground

The Embassy

Embassy LZs
Aerial view of the US Embassy, Saigon, showing Chancery building (left), parking lot (center) and Consulate compound and French Embassy (top)
Freq% 20Wind% 20and% 20Eagle% 20Pull% 20012
The last members of the Marine Security Guard land on USS Okinawa

On 25 April 40 Marines from the 9th MAB on USS Hancock were flown in by Air America helicopters in civilian clothes to the DAO compound to augment the 18 Marine Security Guards assigned to defend the Embassy; an additional six Marines were assigned to protect Ambassador Martin. Martin had remained optimistic that a negotiated settlement could be reached whereby the US would not have to pull out of South Vietnam and, in an effort to avert defeatism and panic he instructed Major James Kean, Commanding Officer of the Marine Security Guard Battalion and Ground Support Force Commander United States Embassy Compound, that he could begin to remove the tamarind tree and other trees and shrubbery which prevented the use of the Embassy parking lot as a helicopter landing zone.[21]

By the morning of 29 April it was estimated that approximately 10,000 people had gathered around the Embassy, while some 2,500 evacuees were in the Embassy and consular compounds. The crowds prevented the use of buses for transporting evacuees from the Embassy to the DAO Compound for evacuation and the Embassy gates were closed to prevent the crowd from surging through. Eligible evacuees now had to make themselves known to the Marine guards or Embassy staff manning the walls and were then lifted over the walls and into the Embassy compound. Among those arriving at the Embassy were Dr Phan Quang Đán, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister responsible for social welfare and refugee resettlement,[15]:27 and Lieutenant-General Đăng Văn Quang.[15]:28

From 10:00 to 12:00 Major Kean and his Marines cut down the tamarind and other trees and moved vehicles to create an LZ in the Embassy parking lot behind the Chancery building. Two LZs were now available in the Embassy compound, the rooftop for UH-1s and CH-46 Sea Knights and the new parking lot LZ for the heavier CH-53s.[21]:5 Air America UH-1s began ferrying evacuees from other smaller assembly points throughout the city and dropping them on the Embassy's rooftop LZ. At 15:00 the first CH-53s were sighted heading towards the DAO Compound at Tan Son Nhut. Major Kean contacted the Seventh Fleet to advise them of his airlift requirements, until that time the fleet believed that all evacuees had been bussed from the Embassy to the DAO Compound and that only two helicopters would be required to evacuate Ambassador Martin and the Marines from the Embassy.[21]:6

Inside the Embassy, the evacuees had found whatever space was available inside the Embassy compound and evacuees and some staff proceeded to take alcohol from the Embassy's stores.[21]:6–7 From the billowing incinerator on the Embassy roof floated intelligence documents and US currency, most charred; some not. An Embassy official said that more than five million dollars were being burned.[15]:30

At 17:00 the first CH-46 landed at the Embassy. Between 19:00 and 21:00 on 29 April approximately 130 additional Marines from 2nd Battalion 4th Marines were lifted from the DAO Compound to reinforce perimeter security at the Embassy,[11]:195 bringing the total number of Marines at the Embassy to 175.[11]:196 The evacuation from the DAO Compound was completed by about 19:00 after which all helicopters would be routed to the Embassy; Major Kean was informed that operations would cease at dark. Major Kean advised that the LZ would be well lit and had vehicles moved around the parking lot LZ with their engines running and headlights on to illuminate the LZ.[21]:6 At 21:30 a CH-53 pilot informed Major Kean that Admiral Whitmire, Commander of Task Force 76 had ordered that operations would cease at 23:00. Major Kean saw Ambassador Martin to request that he contact the Oval Office to ensure that the airlift continued. Ambassador Martin soon sent word back to Major Kean that sorties would continue to be flown.[21]:6 At the same time, General Carey met Admiral Whitmire to convince him to resume flights to the Embassy despite pilot fatigue and poor visibility caused by darkness, fires and bad weather.[11]:198

By 02:15 on 30 April one CH-46 and one CH-53 were landing at the Embassy every 10 minutes. At this time, the Embassy indicated that another 19 lifts would complete the evacuation.[11]:199 At that time Major Kean estimated that there were still some 850 non-American evacuees and 225 Americans (including the Marines), and Ambassador Martin told Major Kean to do the best he could.[21]:7 At 03:00 Ambassador Martin ordered Major Kean to move all the remaining evacuees into the parking lot LZ which was the Marines' final perimeter.[21]:7 At 03:27 President Gerald Ford ordered that no more than 19 additional lifts would be allowed to complete the evacuation.[11]:200 At 04:30 with the 19 lift limit already exceeded, Major Kean went to the rooftop LZ and spoke over a helicopter radio with General Carey who advised that President Ford had ordered that the airlift be limited to US personnel. Major Kean was then ordered to withdraw his men into the Chancery building and withdraw to the rooftop LZ for evacuation.[21]:7

Major Kean returned to the ground floor of the Chancery and ordered his men to withdraw into a large semicircle at the main entrance to the Chancery. Most of the Marines were inside the Chancery when the crowds outside the Embassy broke through the gates into the compound. The Marines closed and bolted the Chancery door, the elevators were locked by Seabees on the sixth floor and the Marines withdrew up the stairwells locking grill gates behind them. On the ground floor a water tanker was driven through the Chancery door and the crowd began to surge up through the building toward the rooftop. The Marines on the rooftop had sealed the doors and were using Mace to discourage the crowd from trying to break through. Sporadic gunfire from around the Embassy passed over the rooftop.[21]:7–8

At 04:58 Ambassador Martin boarded a USMC CH-46 Sea Knight, call-sign Lady Ace 09 of HMM-165 and was flown to USS Blue Ridge. When Lady Ace 09 transmitted "Tiger is out", those helicopter crews still flying thought the mission was complete, and delayed evacuating the Marines from the Embassy rooftop. CH-46s evacuated the Battalion Landing Team by 07:00 and after an anxious wait a lone CH-46 Swift 2-2 of HMM-164[11]:200 arrived to evacuate Major Kean and the ten remaining men of the Marine Security Guards, this last helicopter took off at 07:53 on 30 April and landed on USS Okinawa at 08:30.[21]:8

At 11:30 PAVN tanks smashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace (now the Reunification Palace) less than 1 km from the Embassy and raised the flag of the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (NLF) over the building; the Vietnam War was over.

Chaos at sea

During the course of the operation an unknown number of RVNAF helicopters flew out of what remained of South Vietnam to the fleet. Around 12:00 five or six RVNAF UH-1Hs and one of the stolen ICCS UH-1Hs, were circling around Blue Ridge. The RVNAF pilots had been instructed after dropping off their passengers to ditch their helicopters and they would then be picked up by one of the ship's tenders. The pilot of the stolen ICCS Huey had been told to ditch off the port quarter of the ship, but seemed reluctant to do so, flying around the ship to the starboard bow he jumped from his helicopter at a height of 40 feet (12 m). His helicopter turned and hit the side of Blue Ridge before hitting the sea. The tail rotor sheared off and embedded itself in the engine of an Air America Bell 205 that was doing a hot refueling on the helipad at the rear of the ship. The Air America pilot shut down his helicopter and left it and moments later a RVNAF UH-1H attempted to land on the helipad, locked rotors with the Air America Bell, almost pushing it overboard.[20]:24–25 The stolen Air America Bell 204, landed on Kirk, from where US Navy pilots flew it to Okinawa.[20]:20

So many RVNAF helicopters landed on the TF76 ships that some 45 UH-1 Hueys and at least one CH-47 Chinook were pushed overboard to make room for more helicopters to land.[7]:118 Other helicopters dropped off their passengers and were then ditched into the sea by their pilots, close to the ships, their pilots bailing out at the last moment to be picked up by rescue boats.[22]

Sea Stallions approach USS Midway

Sea Stallions returning from the DAO Compound approach USS Midway

Evacuees offloaded onto the USS Midway

Evacuees offloaded onto USS Midway

VNAF arrives at USS Midway

RVNAF Hueys and a CH-47 Chinook arrive at USS Midway

VNAF Huey full with evacuees

RVNAF Huey full with evacuees on the deck of USS Midway

Vietnamese UH-1 pushed over board, Operation Frequent Wind

RVNAF Huey is pushed overboard from USS Midway.

VNAF pilot jumps into the sea from his Huey

RVNAF pilot jumps from his Huey after dropping evacuees on USS Midway

One of the more notable events occurred on Midway when the pilot of an RVNAF Cessna O-1 dropped a note on the deck of the carrier. The note read "Can you move these helicopter to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough time to move. Please rescue me. Major Buang, Wife and 5 child." Midway's commanding officer, Captain L.C. Chambers ordered the flight deck crew to clear the landing area; in the process an estimated US$10 million worth of UH-1 Huey helicopters were pushed overboard into the South China Sea. Once the deck was clear Major Buang approached the deck, bounced once and then touched down and taxied to a halt with room to spare.[23] Major Buang became the first RVNAF fixed-wing pilot to ever land on a carrier. A second Cessna O-1 was also recovered by USS Midway that afternoon.[7]:121

Major Buang lands his Cessna O-1 on USS Midway

Major Buang on final approach

Major Buang taxies to a halt

Major Buang taxies to a halt

Midway crew surround Major Buang and his family

Midway deck crew surround Major Buang and his family

At the same time as the aerial evacuation, tens of thousands of South Vietnamese fled towards TF-76 aboard junks, sampans, and small craft. MSC tugs pulled barges filled with people from Saigon Port out to TF-76. A flotilla of 26 Republic of Vietnam Navy and other vessels concentrated off Long Sơn Island southwest of Vũng Tàu with 30,000 sailors, their families, and other civilians on board. On the afternoon of 30 April, TF-76 moved away from the coast, picking up more refugees as they went. On 2 May, Task Force 76, carrying the Operation Frequent Wind evacuees and 44,000 seaborne evacuees and the RVN Navy group set sail for reception centers in the Philippines and Guam.[9]

Results of the evacuation

During the fixed-wing evacuation 50,493 people (including 2,678 Vietnamese orphans) were evacuated from Tan Son Nhut.[7]:122 Marine pilots accumulated 1,054 flight hours and flew 682 sorties throughout Operation Frequent Wind. The evacuation of personnel from the DAO compound had lasted nine hours and involved over 50 Marine Corps and Air Force helicopters. In the helicopter evacuation a total of 395 Americans and 4,475 Vietnamese and third-country nationals were evacuated from the DAO compound[11]:197 and a further 978 U.S. and 1,120 Vietnamese and third-country nationals from the Embassy,[11]:201 giving a total of 1,373 Americans and 5,595 Vietnamese and third country nationals. In addition, Air America helicopters and RVNAF aircraft brought additional evacuees to the TF76 ships. Many of the Vietnamese evacuees were allowed to enter the United States under the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act.

Some 400 evacuees were left behind at the Embassy including over 100 South Korean citizens, among them was Brigadier General Dai Yong Rhee, the intelligence chief at the South Korean Embassy in Saigon.[24] The South Korean civilians were evacuated in 1976, while General Rhee and two other diplomats were held captive until April 1980.[25] Forty-nine Americans, including dependents, were also left behind or chose to remain in Saigon. They were evacuated to Bangkok on 1 August 1976.[26]

While the operation itself was a success, the images of the evacuation symbolized the wastefulness and ultimate futility of American involvement in Vietnam. President Ford later called it "a sad and tragic period in America's history" but argued that "you couldn't help but be very proud of those pilots and others who were conducting the evacuation".[27] Nixon's pledge of Peace with Honor in Vietnam had become a humiliating defeat, which together with Watergate contributed to the crisis of confidence that affected America throughout the 1970s.[28]


For an operation of the size and complexity of Frequent Wind, casualties were relatively light. Marine corporals McMahon and Judge killed at the DAO compound were the only members of US forces killed in action during the operation and they were the last US ground casualties in Vietnam.[15]:56–7 A Marine AH-1J SeaCobra ran out of fuel while searching for USS Okinawa and ditched at sea, the two crew members were rescued by a boat from USS Kirk.[11]:201 A CH-46F Swift 1-4 of HMM-164 from USS Hancock flown by Captain William C. Nystul[29] and First Lieutenant Michael J. Shea[30] crashed into the sea on its approach to the ship after having flown a night sea and air rescue mission. The two enlisted crew members survived, but the bodies of the pilots were not recovered. The cause of the crash was never determined.[11]:201


During the demolition of the Embassy, the ladder leading from the rooftop to the helipad was removed and sent back to the United States, where it is now on display at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.[31]

The Cessna O-1 Bird Dog that Major Buang landed on USS Midway is now on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.[32] The USS Midway is a museum ship in San Diego. Lady Ace 09, CH-46 serial number 154803, is now on display at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum in San Diego, California.[33]

In popular culture

Rooftop, 22 Gia Long Street, Saigon
Rooftop of 22 Gia Long Street in 2002

On the afternoon of 29 April 1975, Hubert van Es, a Saigon-based photographer for United Press International, took the iconic photo of Operation Frequent Wind of an Air America UH-1 on a rooftop picking up Vietnamese evacuees.[34][35] The building in the photo was the Pittman Apartment building at 22 Gia Long Street (now 22 Lý Tự Trọng Street), which was used as a residence by various embassy, CIA, and USAID employees. It has often been misidentified as the US Embassy.[36] Hubert van Es' photo is frequently used in political cartoons commenting on US foreign policy.[37]

The Second Act of the stage musical, Miss Saigon, depicts events leading up to, and during Operation Frequent Wind, with the main protagonists (Chris and Kim) becoming separated as a result of the evacuation. Writer Claude-Michel Schönberg has acknowledged that the musical was inspired by pictures of the evacuation. Hugh van Es believed that Miss Saigon misappropriated his photo and considered legal action against the show, but decided against it.[38]

In The Simpsons at the end of Episode 16 of Season 6, "Bart vs. Australia", the Simpsons are evacuated from the American Embassy as angry Australians gather outside in a scene reminiscent of Hubert van Es's famous photo. Homer asks the helicopter pilot if they are being taken to an aircraft carrier and is told that "the closest vessel is the USS Walter Mondale. It's a laundry ship".[39][40]

The operation was the subject of the 2014 PBS documentary Last Days in Vietnam.[41]

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.

  1. ^ Summers, Harry G. (1995). Historical Atlas of the Vietnam War. Houghton Mifflin. p. 202. ISBN 9780395722237.
  2. ^ a b Thompson, Larry (2009). Refugee Workers in the Indochinese Exodus: 1975–1982. MacFarland & Co. ISBN 9780786445295.
  3. ^ a b c Drury, Bob; Clavin, Tom (3 May 2011). Last Men Out: The True Story of America's Heroic Final Hours in Vietnam. Simon and Schuster. p. 258. ISBN 978-1-4516-1025-3.
  4. ^ NSC Meeting, April 9, 1975, pg. 26
  5. ^ NSC Meeting, April 9, 1975, pg. 26
  6. ^ US Army Field Manual 90-29: Embassy Emergency Action Plan Retrieved April 28, 2015
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar Tobin, Thomas (1978). USAF Southeast Asia Monograph Series Volume IV Monograph 6: Last Flight from Saigon. US Government Printing Office. ISBN 978-1-4102-0571-1. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  8. ^ Butler, David (1985). The Fall of Saigon: Scenes from the Sudden End of a Long War. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-46675-5.
  9. ^ a b c "Chapter 5: The Final Curtain, 1973 – 1975". history.navy.mil. 2000. Retrieved 24 July 2007. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  10. ^ a b "Air America: Played a Crucial Part of the Emergency Helicopter Evacuation of Saigon p.1". History Net. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Dunham, George R (1990). U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The Bitter End, 1973–1975 (Marine Corps Vietnam Operational Historical Series). History and Museums Division Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-16-026455-9. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  12. ^ Tilford, Earl (1980). Search and Rescue in Southeast Asia 1961–1975. Office of Air Force History. p. 143. ISBN 978-1-4102-2264-0. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  13. ^ "Operation Frequent Wind: April 29-30, 1975". Naval History Blog. US Naval Institute – Naval History & Heritage Command. 29 April 2010. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  14. ^ "USS Bausell Operation Frequent Wind". Archived from the original on 24 July 2011. Retrieved 11 April 2011.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Pilger, John (1975). The Last Day. Mirror Group Books. pp. 56–57. ISBN 978-0-85939-051-4.
  16. ^ Schudel, Matt (31 March 2014). "Thomas Polgar, CIA official during the fall of Saigon, dies". The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  17. ^ "Interview with Frank Snepp, 1981". WGBH Media Library & Archives. 14 October 1981. Retrieved 3 November 2010.
  18. ^ Snepp, Frank (1977). Decent Interval: An Insider's Account of Saigon's Indecent End Told by the CIA's Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam. Random House. p. 478. ISBN 0-394-40743-1.
  19. ^ Tanner, Stephen (2000). Epic Retreats: From 1776 to the Evacuation of Saigon. Sarpedon. p. 314. ISBN 1-885119-57-7.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Leeker, Dr Joe F (2009). "Air America in South Vietnam III: The Collapse" (PDF). University of Texas at Dallas. p. 19. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 November 2010.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Major James H, Kean SSN/0802 USMC, After Action Report 17 April-7 May 1975 p. 3". Fallofsaigon.org. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
  22. ^ Bowman, John S. (1985). The Vietnam War: An Almanac. Pharos Books. p. 434. ISBN 0-911818-85-5.
  23. ^ Warren, JO2 Kevin F (July 1975). Naval Aviation News: Set Down to Sanctuary. Chief of Naval Operations and Naval Air Systems Command. pp. 32–33.
  24. ^ Isaacs, Arnold (1998). Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia. JHU Press. p. 473. ISBN 978-0-8018-6107-9.
  25. ^ "Former South Korean diplomat reconciles with his Vietnamese captors". Yonhap News Agency. 11 March 2005.
  26. ^ "38 Americans evacuated from Vietnam". Rome News-Tribune. 1 August 1976. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  27. ^ "Interview with Gerald R. Ford, 1982". WGBH Media Library & Archives. 29 April 1982. Archived from the original on 19 December 2010. Retrieved 3 November 2010.
  28. ^ Horne, Alistair (2010). Kissinger's Year: 1973. Phoenix Press. pp. 370–371. ISBN 978-0-7538-2700-0.
  29. ^ "Capt William C Nystul". The Virtual Wall.
  30. ^ "1LT Michael J Shea". The Virtual Wall.
  31. ^ "Gerald R. Ford's Remarks at the Opening of the Ford Museum's Saigon Staircase Exhibit, Grand Rapids Michigan". Fordlibrarymuseum.gov. 10 April 1999. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  32. ^ "OE-1 Bird Dog". National Museum of Naval Aviation. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
  33. ^ "Lady Ace 09 unveiled at aviation museum". United States Marine Corps. 30 April 2010. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  34. ^ "Corbis Image archives: Helicopter evacuating crowd from rooftop". Corbisimages.com. 29 April 1975. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  35. ^ Hubert van Es (29 April 2005). "Thirty Years at 300 Millimeters". The New York Times.
  36. ^ Butterfield, Fox; Haskell, Kari (23 April 2000). "Getting it wrong in a photo". New York Times. Retrieved 20 May 2010.
  37. ^ "Fall of Saigon in Cartoons". Cagle Cartoons. 30 April 2012.
  38. ^ "Photographer who took famous Vietnam War image dies". the Guardian. 15 May 2009. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
  39. ^ "[2F13] Bart vs. Australia". The Simpsons Archive. 14 June 2009. Archived from the original on 25 January 2010.
  40. ^ Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia (eds.). The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. p. 167. ISBN 978-0-06-095252-5. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M.
  41. ^ "Sundance 2014: Documentary Premieres". Retrieved 7 May 2014.

Further reading

  • Engelmann, Larry. Tears before the Rain: An Oral History of the Fall of South Vietnam. Oxford University Press, USA, 1990. ISBN 978-0-19-505386-9
  • Snepp, Frank. Decent Interval: An Insider's Account of Saigon's Indecent End Told by the CIA's Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam. University Press of Kansas, 1977. ISBN 0-7006-1213-0
  • Rhodes, J. E. (1979). The evacuation of Saigon: "Operation Frequent Wind". Marine Corps Command and Staff College. OCLC 14276659.
  • Todd, Olivier. Cruel April: The Fall of Saigon. W.W. Norton & Company, 1990. ISBN 978-0-393-02787-7

External links

Archival collections


22 Gia Long Street

22 Gia Long Street, now 22 Lý Tự Trọng Street, is an apartment building in Ho Chi Minh City, then called Saigon, that became an icon of the Fall of Saigon when chosen as an assembly point for Operation Frequent Wind in 1975. A Dutch photographer, Hubert van Es, working for UPI, took a photograph that captured the chaotic final days of the Vietnam War, which many people believed showed desperate Americans crowding on to the roof of the United States Embassy to board a helicopter. The building in fact was an apartment building that housed employees of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with its top floor reserved for the Central Intelligence Agency's deputy chief of station.The photo depicts an Air America Huey helicopter landing on the roof of the elevator shaft to evacuate employees of the U.S. government as North Vietnamese Army troops entered Saigon.The current address is 22 Lý Tự Trọng Street (named after Lý Tự Trọng, a 17-year-old communist executed by the French) and visitors are allowed access to the roof by taking the elevator to the 9th floor.

Carl W. Hoffman

Carl William Hoffman (December 24, 1919 - May 31, 2016) was a highly decorated officer of the United States Marine Corps with the rank of Major General. He is most noted for his service with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines during World War II or later as Commanding general of III Marine Amphibious Force during Operation Frequent Wind.

Embassy of the United States, Saigon

The United States Embassy in Saigon was first established in June 1952, and moved into a new building in 1967 and eventually closed in 1975. The embassy was the scene of a number of significant events of the Vietnam War, most notably the Viet Cong attack during the Tet Offensive which helped turn American public opinion against the war, and the helicopter evacuation during the Fall of Saigon after which the embassy closed permanently.

In 1995, the U.S. and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam formally established relations and the embassy grounds and building were handed back to the United States. The former embassy was subsequently demolished in 1998 and is currently a park inside of the U.S. Consulate General's compound in what is now called Ho Chi Minh City.

Fall of Saigon

The Fall of Saigon, or the Liberation of Saigon, was the capture of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Viet Cong on 30 April 1975. The event marked the end of the Vietnam War and the start of a transition period to the formal reunification of Vietnam into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.The PAVN, under the command of General Văn Tiến Dũng, began their final attack on Saigon on April 29, 1975, with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) forces commanded by General Nguyễn Văn Toàn suffering a heavy artillery bombardment. This bombardment at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport killed the last two American servicemen killed in combat in Vietnam, Charles McMahon and Darwin Judge. By the afternoon of the next day, the PAVN had occupied the important points of the city and raised their flag over the South Vietnamese presidential palace. The city was renamed Hồ Chí Minh City, after the late North Vietnamese President Hồ Chí Minh.

The capture of the city was preceded by Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of almost all the American civilian and military personnel in Saigon, along with tens of thousands of South Vietnamese civilians who had been associated with the southern regime. The evacuation was the largest helicopter evacuation in history. In addition to the flight of refugees, the end of the war and the institution of new rules by the communists contributed to a decline in the city's population.

Lawrence Chambers

Lawrence Cleveland "Larry" Chambers (born June 10, 1929) was the first African American to command a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and the first African-American graduate of the Naval Academy to reach flag rank. While in command of USS Midway during Operation Frequent Wind, Chambers gave the controversial order to push overboard millions of dollars' worth of UH-1 Huey helicopters so Republic of Vietnam Air Force Major Buang-Ly could land on the aircraft carrier in a Cessna O-1 Bird Dog with his wife and five children, thereby saving their lives.

Non-combatant evacuation operation

A non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) is an operation conducted to evacuate civilians from another country, generally due to a deteriorating security situation.

Pierre Brochand

Pierre Brochand (born 4 July 1941 in Cannes) is a former director of the French Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE). He was previously a diplomat. He was a witness to Operation Frequent Wind and the Fall of Saigon in April 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War.Alumnus of the École nationale d'administration (ENA), he is also a graduate of the École des Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC).

USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19)

USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) is the first of the two Blue Ridge-class amphibious command ships of the United States Navy, and is the command ship of the Seventh Fleet. Her primary role is to provide command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) support to the commander and staff of the United States Seventh Fleet. She is currently forward-deployed to U.S. Navy Fleet Activities, Yokosuka in Japan, and is the third Navy ship named after the Blue Ridge Mountains, a range of mountains in the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States. Blue Ridge is the oldest deployable warship of the U.S. Navy, following the decommissioning of USS Denver. Blue Ridge, now the U.S. Navy's active commissioned ship having the longest total period as active, flies the First Navy Jack. Blue Ridge is expected to remain in service until 2039.

USS Durham (LKA-114)

USS Durham (AKA-114/LKA-114) was a Charleston class amphibious cargo ship named after Durham, North Carolina. She served as a commissioned ship for 24 years and 9 months, and earned a total of 15 awards and campaign ribbons for her service.

She was laid down as AKA-114 at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, VA, and redesignated LKA-114 on 1 January 1969. She was commissioned on 24 May 1969.

Durham was extensively involved in the Vietnam War.

In April 1975, Durham participated in Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of Saigon, Vietnam.In the Gulf War, she was part of an 18-ship amphibious task force that was the largest such force since the Korean War. The task force arrived on station in the North Arabian Sea on 12 January 1991.

The ship was decommissioned on 25 February 1994. She is currently berthed at the Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility (NISMF) awaiting disposal.

There is no DANFS entry for the ship.

USS Enterprise (CVN-65)

USS Enterprise (CVN-65), formerly CVA(N)-65, is a decommissioned United States Navy aircraft carrier. She was the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and the eighth United States naval vessel to bear the name. Like her predecessor of World War II fame, she is nicknamed "Big E". At 1,123 ft (342 m), she is the longest naval vessel ever built. Her 93,284-long-ton (94,781 tonnes) displacement ranks her as the 12th-heaviest carrier, after the 10 carriers of the Nimitz class and USS Gerald R. Ford. Enterprise had a crew of some 4,600 service members.The only ship of her class, Enterprise was, at the time of inactivation, the third-oldest commissioned vessel in the United States Navy after the wooden-hulled USS Constitution and USS Pueblo. She was inactivated on 1 December 2012, and officially decommissioned on February 3, 2017, after over 55 years of service. She was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register the same day.The name has been adopted by the future Gerald R. Ford–class aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-80).

USS Henry B. Wilson

USS Henry B. Wilson (DDG-7), named for Admiral Henry Braid Wilson, was a Charles F. Adams-class guided missile armed destroyer laid down by Defoe Shipbuilding Company in Bay City, Michigan on 28 February 1958, launched on 22 April 1959 sponsored by Mrs. Patrick J. Hurley, daughter of Admiral Wilson, and commissioned on 17 December 1960, CDR L. D. Caney in command.

USS Midway (CV-41)

USS Midway (CVB/CVA/CV-41) is an aircraft carrier, formerly of the United States Navy, the lead ship of her class. Commissioned a week after the end of World War II, Midway was the largest ship in the world until 1955, as well as the first U.S. aircraft carrier too big to transit the Panama Canal. She operated for 47 years, during which time she saw action in the Vietnam War and served as the Persian Gulf flagship in 1991's Operation Desert Storm. Decommissioned in 1992, she is now a museum ship at the USS Midway Museum, in San Diego, California, and the only remaining U.S. aircraft carrier commissioned right after World War II ended that was not an Essex-class aircraft carrier.

USS Mobile (LKA-115)

USS Mobile (AKA-115/LKA-115) was a Charleston class amphibious cargo ship named after the city of Mobile, Alabama. She was the fourth U.S. Navy ship to bear that name. She served as a commissioned ship for 24 years and 4 months. LKAs had the distinction of being the only ships in the "Gator Navy" that were not flat bottom. They would drop anchor several hundred yards offshore and use their Mike 8's (LCM-8) and Mike 6's (LCM-6) to ferry in the Marines and their equipment.

The name was assigned on 6 November 1967, and the ship was laid down at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, VA, 15 January 1968 as AKA-115. As of the date of her article in DANFS, she was still under construction, and was scheduled to be completed in early spring 1969.

Mobile was extensively involved in the Vietnam War.

In April 1975, Mobile participated in Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of Saigon, Vietnam.Mobile took part in WestPac 84 and was involved in numerous operations. In the Gulf War, she was part of an 18-ship amphibious task force that was the largest such force since the Korean War. The task force arrived on station in the North Arabian Sea on 12 January 1991.

The ship was decommissioned on 4 February 1994 at Long Beach, CA. She is berthed at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia, PA.

Mobile earned 15 awards and campaign ribbons for her service.

USS Peoria (LST-1183)

USS Peoria was a Newport-class tank landing ship in commission in the United States Navy from 1970 to 1994. She was affectionately called the "P Boat" by her crew members.In April 1975, Peoria participated in Operation Eagle Pull, the evacuation of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of Saigon, South Vietnam.In October 1979 Peoria embarked on a cruise to the Philippines, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, returning to San Diego, California, in June 1980. Shortly thereafter she went into overhaul at Todd Shipyard in Alameda, California. She departed San Diego again in October 1980 on another cruise in the western Pacific Ocean.Pacific Northwest: In the fall of 1988, the P-Boat headed to the San Francisco Bay Area. Docked in Oakland, CA to pick up Army troops who needed a ride north to Washington state. After off loading the passengers, the ship and her crew visited Seattle, WA and Vancouver, Canada.

1989 Deployment: Departed San Diego, CA in January 1989. Crossed the Pacific Ocean and visited Pearl Harbor, HI and Subic Naval Base, Philippines, then traversed the Strait of Mallaca and anchored near the beach at Phuket, Thailand. Then on to the Persian Gulf: Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai. Left the Persian Gulf to escort three minesweepers back to the United States east coast. Crossed the Red Sea and Suez Canal. Stopped for a day in an Egyptian port at the northern mouth of the Suez Canal-no liberty call. At the Mediterranean, visited Catania, Sicily, Palma de Mallorca and Rota, Spain. Docked at Charleston, South Carolina after crossing the Atlantic Ocean and completing her mission of escorting 3 minesweepers back to CONUS. On the way to Fort Lauderdale, FL, the ship's crew assisted a disabled sailboat and her crew. At the Caribbean visited St. Croix, USVI then headed to the Panama Canal. Stayed at Panama City for a few days before heading north. Last port of call was Quetzal, Guatemala before finally going home to San Diego, CA in June 1989, thus completing a circumnavigation of the globe.

Months later, the ship was drydocked at NASSCO shipyard for six months. Reftra mid 1990.Rose Festival Fleet Week Portland Oregon June 1990; The USS Peoria headed north to Oregon shortly after leaving dry dock. First stop was Astoria, OR, crossing under the Astoria Bridge, where anti-military protesters had gathered to harass passing navy ships. In Astoria, Arnold Schwarzenegger was in town filming his movie Kindergarten Cop. Then the Peoria continued on along the Columbia River to Portland, OR for the Rose Festival Fleet Week.

Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm; Left San Diego, CA December 1990 and returned August 1991 in support of Operation Desert Shield, Desert Storm.Peoria was sunk as a target on 12 July 2004 in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii during the RIMPAC 04 exercise.

USS Vega (AF-59)

USS Vega (AF-59) was a Rigel-class stores ship acquired by the U.S. Navy. Her task was to carry stores, refrigerated items, and equipment to ships in the fleet, and to remote stations and staging areas. She served during the entire Vietnam War and returned home proudly with numerous battle stars and commendations.

The third ship to be named Vega by the Navy, AF-59 was laid down on 7 June 1954 at Pascagoula, Mississippi, by the Ingalls Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 28 April 1955; sponsored by Mrs. Theodore C. Lonnquest; and commissioned on 10 November 1955, Capt. Floyd T. Thompson in command.


Electronic Attack Squadron 137 (VAQ-137) also known as the "Rooks", is a United States Navy electronic attack squadron based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island Washington, flying the Boeing EA-18G Growler. The squadron is attached to Carrier Air Wing 1 (CVW-1), which is currently assigned to USS Theodore Roosevelt. Their radio callsign is "Rook" and their tailcode is "AB" of CVW-1.


Strike Fighter Squadron 2 (VFA-2) also known as the "Bounty Hunters" is a United States Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet strike fighter squadron based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. Their tail code is NE and their callsign is "Bullet". They are attached to Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW-2), a composite unit made up of a wide array of aircraft performing a variety of combat and support missions that deploy aboard the Carl Vinson.


Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 1 (VQ-1) is an aviation unit of the United States Navy established on 1 June 1955. Its role is aerial reconnaissance and signals intelligence. The squadron is nicknamed the "World Watchers" and is based at NAS Whidbey Island, flying Lockheed EP-3E Aries II aircraft.

Vietnam Service Medal

The Vietnam Service Medal is a military award of the United States Armed Forces established on 8 July 1965 by order of President Lyndon B. Johnson. The medal is awarded to recognize service during the Vietnam War by all members of the United States Armed Forces provided they meet the award requirements.

The distinctive design has been attributed to both sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, a former employee of the Army Institute of Heraldry and Mercedes Lee who created the design.

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