Saigon Embassy Evacuation cover

Saigon Embassy Evacuation

By


This is an excerpt from the ninth volume (US Marines in Vietnam: The Bitter End, 1973-1975) in a nine-volume operational and chronological historical series covering the Marine Corps' participation in the Vietnam War.
This is a story about commitment, sacrifice, and the price America and its ally, South Vietnam, paid. It answers no questions, places no blame, and offers no prophetic judgement, but provides an historical account of the end of a state and the beginning of new lives for those fortunate enough to escape that upheaval.
The authors, Major George Ross Dunham and Colonel David A. Quinlan, individually worked on this volume while assigned to the History and Museums Division, Headquarters Marine Corps.
Colonel Quinlan, who is now retired and resides in Hartford, Connecticut, began the book in 1976. Major Dunham, who recently retired and resides in Dunkirk, Maryland, inherited his co-author's work and completed the majority of the volume during his tour from 1985 to 1990. Both authors are graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy and have advanced degrees. Colonel Quinlan, who was an infantry officer, has a juris doctor degree from George Washington University (1979) and Major Dunham, who was an aviator, has a master of arts degree in history from Pepperdine University (1976).





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Saigon Embassy Evacuation

2000 People

Soon after BLT 2/4 arrived at the DAO Compound, the American Embassy notified General Carey that over 2,000 people needed to be evacuated from the Embassy.

This came as a complete surprise since no one had planned for a major evacuation from this location. With a landing zone that could only accommodate one CH-53 and a rooftop that would hold only one CH-46 on its landing pad, General Carey ordered an immediate adjustment in the helicopters' assigned priorities.

Cricket, the ABCCC, immediately started directing helicopter traffic to either the compound or the Embassy, depending on the helicopter's size and the space available at the Embassy. Many of the Hancock's 46s started launching approximately one hour before sunset to remove the ever growing crowd of Vietnamese refugees.

Landing Zones

Landing Zones

This is an aerial view of the American Embassy in Saigon, showing Chancery building (left), parking lot (center) and Consulate compound and French Embassy.

The Embassy was never considered a primary helicopter evacuation site because it had a rooftop zone which could handle nothing bigger than a CH-46.

Image courtesy Marine Corps Historical Collection

Challenging Operation

This was to be the most demanding and time-consuming part of the entire operation.

To provide additional security and assistance to the Marines already guarding the Embassy, General Carey removed three platoons (130 men) of BLT 2/4 from the DAO Compound and inserted them into the Embassy Compound between 1900 and 2100. These Marines assisted the Embassy guards in controlling the multiplying Vietnamese crowd.

First Lieutenant John J. Martinoli, Jr., a forward air controller (FAC) from BLT 1/9, joined them with his landing zone control team, bringing the total Marine complement at the Embassy to 171. This team assisted in the landing and loading of the CH-46s, the first of which touched down in the zone at about 1700. Additionally, CH-53s began landing in the small and very confined Embassy parking lot.

Late that afternoon, Ambassador Martin had authorized the removal of a large tree which had been obstructing helicopter access to that area of the compound.*

Differing Opinions

*Opinions vary on the conduct at the Embassy on 29 April concerning preparations of the landing zone. General Smith offered his thoughts: "I wonder if the Ambassador was the authority for cutting down the Baobab tree in the Embassy courtyard. I believe it was otherwise and the tree was cut down in the morning or early afternoon and not necessarily by Marines." Smith Comments.

Admiral Steele remembered it somewhat differently: Ambassador Martin's unrealistic attitude towards the evacuation is exemplified in the delay in his personal authorization to cut down the tree in the Embassy compound that prevented helicopter access. Having failed to initiate the evacuation in a timely way so that the majority of evacuees could be taken from Tan Son Nhut Airfield as the plan envisioned, the Ambassador still was not caking those actions large and small necessary to facilitate matters."

The Seventh Fleet commander added that he "had been urgently recommending that the evacuation occur two days earlier than it did because of the approach of North Vietnamese forces, and on the 27th the forecast of bad weather which could obstruct or prevent flight operations." Steele Comments.

Detriorating Conditions

The landing situation at the Embassy gradually deteriorated as daylight receded. The groups of Vietnamese in and around the Embassy grew in size and aggressiveness as their chances for escape diminished.

Restricted deck space to load passengers, small landing zones, hostile fire, poor communications, and darkness did nothing to make the Marines' job any easier. Exactly the opposite situation existed at Tan Son Nhut. With the evacuation at the DAO Compound proceeding swiftly and flawlessly, General Carey decided at about 1730 to extract the 3d Platoon, Company C of BLT 1/9.

Inserted on 25 April to assist the Marine Security Guard at the compound in maintaining security and control, the 3d Platoon, led by First Lieutenant Bruce P. Thompson-Bowers, had borne the brunt of the rocket and artillery fire directed at the compound on the evening of the 28th and the early morning of the 29th. Yet despite the intensity of the attack Lieutenant Thompson-Bowers' platoon had suffered no casualties.

Marines

Marines

Members of Company G, 2dBattalion, 4th Marines return from Saigon to USS Vancouver on 30 April.

They had reinforced security at the Embassy during Operation Frequent Wind

Photo courtesy of Capt Russell R. Thurman, USMC (Ret)

Smooth

Mindful of the inherent dangers and the political and military implications of augmenting the American security force with additional Marines, the MAB had sought higher approval.

As a consequence, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the Ambassador's expressed agreement, authorized the insertion of a platoon of Marines. Its safe evacuation on the evening of 29 April successfully concluded the effort to bolster DAO security.

Shortly thereafter, General Carey directed that the remaining elements guarding the Annex be withdrawn (at 1930) to the Alamo where the last of the evacuees would await their flight. Once completed, the new defensive perimeter encompassed LZ 36 and the Alamo. Less than an hour later, the Marines at the DAO loaded their last group of evacuees, bringing the total evacuated to 395 Americans and 4,475 Vietnamese and third-country nationals.

Lieutenant Colonel Jim Bolton said it went so smoothly that his only concern was not enemy fire, but running into another helicopter.*

Smooth (Cont.)

*Major Guilmartin, the Air Force HH-53 pilot on Midway, recalled: "I saw numerous 53s' running blacked-out and in order to be seen, I had my wingman, Captain Vernon Sheffield (the only other HH-53 helicopter commander involved in Frequent Wind), turn on, as I had, his top anti-collision lights while leaving the lower lights off so as to avoid an SA-7 lock-on." Guilmarun Comments.

Precautions

He said, "I told all of my pilots to turn on their lights to help avoid a mid-air collision."

At 2250, 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.

Just after midnight (0030) on 30 April, thermite grenades, having been previously placed in selected buildings, ignited as two CH-53s left the DAO parking lot. These helicopters carried the last elements of BLT 2/4, including Captain McManus and Master Sergeant East the EOD Marines.*

Precautions (Cont.)

*These Marines along with Major Sabater and Captain Petry spent many of their last hours in the DAO compound burning some of the 13 million dollars that had arrived earlier that month. Colonel Taylor said, "The EOD duo with the Advance Command Element also destroyed three barrels of money at the DAO Compound." Taylor Comments.

Captain Wood recalled: "When I returned from Saigon with the last convoy around 1800, Major Sabater and Captain Petry were burning money as fast as they could shovel it onto the fire." Wood Comments.

Evacuees

Evacuees

Vietnamese board CH-53s in LZ 39, a parking lot.

The 9th MAB extracted395 Americans and 4,475 Vietnamese and third-country nationals, evacuating the last shortly after 2000.

Image Courtesy Department of Defense Photo (USMC) A150961

Ebbing Helicopter Traffic

Between the time of their departure and the Marines' arrival on Okinawa (at 0046), enemy fire directed at the DAO buildings more than doubled.

The evacuation of personnel from the compound had lasted nine hours and involved over 50 Marine Corps and Air Force helicopters. Prior to leaving the DAO, General Carey talked on the phone with Ambassador Martin and learned that, for unknown reasons, the flow of helicopter traffic had ebbed.

The general attempted, through various channels, to ascertain the reason for what amounted to only a trickle of helicopters arriving at the Embassy. Before relinquishing command of the compound forces to Colonel Gray, General Carey determined that if the flow of helicopters was reestablished, the evacuation could be completed in a relatively short time.

Returned

To insure security at the Embassy until the conclusion of the evacuation, General Carey decided to use platoons from BLT 1/9 as ground security forces in reserve.

At times, they were even sent aloft as heliteams with orders to reinforce the ground security force at the Embassy, but each time, at the last possible moment, they received word to return to the ship. (The last such incident occurred at 0530 on the 3Oth.)

Reason For The Halt

With the Embassy's security high on his list of priorities and very much on his mind, General Carey departed the compound at 2250, leaving Colonel Gray in command of the withdrawal of the ground security force.

When he arrived on the Blue Ridge, having made an intermediate stop on the Midway, General Carey wasted no time in attempting to discover why the sortie rate had decreased. Admiral Whitmire (CTF 76), out of concern for flight safety, had halted all flights to the Embassy. (The only flights arriving there during this period were ones which had been diverted from the DAO Compound for lack of passengers.) Pilots had been flying for over 12 hours, weather conditions had deteriorated, and lighting in the zone had become either poor or nonexistent.

Explanations

To make matters worse, there were reports that the Embassy was on fire.

In fact, Embassy personnel were burning American money in a barrel next to the landing pad on top of the building. Additionally, navigation to Saigon had become even more difficult as a line of thunderstorms stood astride the flight path, and upon arrival, the pilots would often have to use their instruments to land.

Considering all these factors, the commander of Task Force 76 thought a halt to flight operations was warranted, even though he had not consulted with General Carey.*

Explanations (Cont.)

*The post-operational JCS investigation, conducted to determine why L-Hour was postponed and why there was a two-hour gap in flight operations (from 0100 to 0300 Saigon time on 30 April), confirmed that Admiral Whitmire made an independent decision to halt flight operations.

The report stated: "Following the extraction of the GSF from the DAO Compound at 1612Z [0012 Saigon time] all H-53 helicopters were directed by CTF 76 to return to base for aircraft servicing and crew rest. Although instructions were given to continue evacuation of the Embassy with CH-46s, CTF 76 decided it was necessary to shut down for required maintenance checks which took the better part of an hour to complete." Cleland Report.

Leaving

Leaving

Evacuees ride a Marine CH-53 to another ship in the formation.

Because of the tempo of operations and the number of refugees, most of them had to be repositioned from a tactical ship to a non-tactical vessel.

Photo courtesy of Capt Russell R. Thurman, USMC (Ret)

Flights Resume

With the Cobra helicopters acting as pathfinders, the pilots had been able to navigate under adverse conditions with success.

Knowing this, General Carey believed that the flights could be continued safely. Captain Ritchie remembered the same thoughts, 'We had flown so many sorties over the same route already that the weather was less a factor than finding a place to land once we got to the Embassy."

Learning that serious consideration was being given to discontinuing all flights until first light, General Carey, a Marine aviator confident in the skills of his fellow pilots, felt that Saigon would be in the hands of the North Vietnamese by dawn. He knew that he had to press for immediate resumption of all helicopter flights to speed up the lift from the Embassy.

He convincingly argued in favor of continuing flight operations and when Admiral Whitmire agreed, he promptly ordered the launch of Marine Corps CH-53s and additional CH-46s. In General Carey's words, "I was damned angry at his stopping my helos, and I made this point in no uncertain terms. Had I not had to return to the Blue Ridge it was my intention to go to the Embassy to straighten that mess out."

At The Same Time

The 9th MAB commander learned later that at approximately the same time he was having his discussion with Admiral Whitmire, Lieutenant General Louis H. Wilson, Jr., FMF Pacific commander, was addressing the same problem

(halt in flight operations) in the CinCPac command center where he spent the evening of 28-29 April (Hawaii time) with Admiral Gayler, CinCPac.55 The command center had a landline hookup with Admiral Steele's immediate commander, Admiral Maurice F. Weisner (CinCPacFlt), located down the street in Pearl Harbor, and radio communications with Admiral Steele, the Seventh Fleet commander.

It was from Admiral Steele that General Wilson learned that flight operations had been terminated for administrative restrictions on the maximum number of flight hours allowed in one 24-hour period. General Wilson said, "I learned from the Seventh Fleet commander that the Marines had flown their maximum number of hours and therefore he was stopping flight operations."

Immediate Action

Upon receiving this word, which essentially meant that the Marines in Saigon would not be recovered, at least until first light, General Wilson took immediate action.

He informed Admirals Gayler and Weisner that he would prefer charges against any officer who ordered his Marine pilots to stop flying so long as there were Marines still on the ground in Saigon. General Wilson recalled, "If General Carey was damn angry, I was out of my mind. I told Admiral Gayler and Admiral Weisner on the phone, that there was no such thing as Marines not evacuating Marines. We do not understand that."

The Air Force, also over their crew day (i.e. having flown in excess of the 12 hours allowed in one day), did not resume the airlift. Their eight CH-53s and two HH-53s shut down after the final sortie from the DAO Compound and did not launch again.

Surprised

The resumption of flight operations caught many of the Marine CH-53 pilots by surprise.

As Lieutenant Colonel Bolton said, "I was on my way to my quarters when I received word to standby for the possible launch of my squadron's aircraft." By 0215, one CH-46 and one CH-53 were landing at the Embassy every 10 minutes. The Embassy at this point indicated that 19 more lifts would complete the evacuation.*

*Admiral Steele offered his recollections of the nearly endless supply of evacuees at the Embassy: 'One thing not generally known is that Ambassador Martin was attempting to get large numbers of Vietnamese evacuated from the Embassy.

It appeared to be a bottomless pit, and as our men and machines began to tire I began pressuring the Embassy to get all Americans and the Ambassador out. I did not want him captured.

The number three man in the Embassy arrived on board the Blue Ridge and reported the Ambassador to be ill and exhausted. Through loyalty to our Vietnamese colleagues, he was going to keep that evacuation going indefinitely, and in my opinion, force it to keep going by not coming out himself." Steele Comments.

Last Out

Last Out

Last members of the ground security force arrive on board the Okinawa after midnight on 30 April. BLT2/4 Marines provided perimeter security at the DAO until the bitter end.

Photo courtesy of Capt Russell R. Thurman, USMC (Ret)

Ambassador Martin

As this number approached, General Carey notified Captain Gerald L. "Gerry" Berry, a HMM-165 pilot, that his CH-46 would extract Ambassador Martin.

His instructions included the order to remain atop the Embassy building as long as necessary to load him. At 0458 on 30 April 1975 Captain Berry, in "Lady Ace 09," departed the Embassy helipad, and Ambassador Martin bid farewell to South Vietnam.

The American Embassy had officially closed its doors. Unofficially, a handful of American Marines still remained at the Embassy, waiting for their ride to freedom.

(For information on the current role of the Lady Ace 09, click here)

Presidentail Order

Actually, the Ambassador's departure reflected more than the completion of the 19 lifts predicted necessary to finish the evacuation.

It represented the results of a presidential order to Ambassador Martin, passed via a Marine CH-53 flown by Captain Jon M. Walters. At 0327, President Ford ordered that no more than 19 additional lifts would be flown and that Ambassador Martin would be on the last one.

At 0430, General Carey received word that the 19-lift limit had been exceeded and he immediately relayed to his aircraft commanders, via the ABCCC, the order to extract all remaining Americans, and directed the Marine security force to take up positions on the rooftop, awaiting evacuation. After Berry's helicopter departed, the only thing that remained was to extract the Marines still guarding the Embassy.

Top Floor

Major James H. Kean, the Officer-in-Charge of the Marine Security Guard, had with him a small contingent of Embassy and 9th MAB Marines.

Within the next hour this force shrank to 11 Marines. Upon Ambassador Martin's departure, Major Kean moved his Marines inside the embassy, barricaded the doors, and then moved up through the building until they occupied only the top floor. From this location, he had easy access to the helo landing pad.

Dodging small arms fire and using riot control agents against people attempting to force their way to the rooftop, he and his 10 Marines boarded "Swift 2-2," a HMM-164 CH-46, the last American helicopter to leave South Vietnam. Checking his watch, Major Kean noted that it was seven minutes until eight, only 23 hours since the NCOIC of Marine Security Guard, Manila, had called him to relay a message from his wife in Hong Kong that she was pregnant.

"Tiger Is Out"

Only 32 minutes later on that unforgettable day, 30 April 1975, the 11 Marines exited "Swift 2-2" onto the deck of the Okinawa where Gunnery Sergeant Russell R. Thurman captured their weary faces on camera.

Disembarking, many on board the Okinawa, Gunnery Sergeant Thurman included, wondered why so much time had elapsed between the arrival of the Ambassador's flight and Swift 2-2, well over two hours. Had someone forgotten these Marines were still at the Embassy? The answer is no.

The intention was to remove the Ambassador while some security still remained at the Embassy, and then have other helicopters pick up the remaining Marines, but it appears that when Captain Berry's aircraft transmitted "Tiger is out," those helicopters still flying, including Captain Walters who was orbiting the Embassy at the time the Ambassador left, thought the mission was complete.

Unplanned Pause

Unplanned Pause

A CH-53 departs LZ 39 after depositing its security force. After the withdrawal of the last ground forces at 0030, 30 April, flight operations ceased for nearly two hours.

Image courtesy Department of Defense Photo (USMC) A150962

Tiger-Tiger-Tiger

This particular transmission had been the preplanned code to indicate when the Ambassador was on board a helicopter outbound to the task force.

Having waited so long for his departure, this transmission caused some to conclude that he had departed as part of the last group to leave the Embassy.

Captain Berry later explained that radio message: " Tiger—Tiger—Tiger' was the call to be made when the Ambassador was on board and on his way out of Saigon. It had absolutely nothing to do with the cessation of the operation. We had originally planned to bring the Ambassador out on the afternoon of the 29th."

At this juncture, thinking the mission complete and the Ambassador safe, Captain Walters headed back to the Okinawa. Subsequent to his landing at approximately 0700, the command realized that Captain Walters did not have the remaining Marines on board.*

Tiger-Tiger-Tiger (Cont.)

*Captain Berry recalled the incident somewhat differently. He stated, "When Lady Ace 09 brought the Ambassador out there were only two CH-46s still flying (Lady Ace 09 and wingman). This was because there was much confusion over flight time. When I landed on board the Blue Ridge and informed General Carey of the lack of aircraft he took immediate action with HDC on board the Okznawa—Lady Ace 09 and flight then returned to the Embassy and extracted most of the remaining Marines—as we were departing Swift 2-2 was approaching the Embassy for the final pick-up.

The reason for the long delay between the Ambassador and the Marine pick-up is easy to figure out—only two aircraft flying from the 28 CH-46s and 30 plus CH-53s (CH-53s could not land on the roof.)" Berry Comments.

Never A Doubt

Due to a misunderstanding and miscommunication, they were still at the Embassy.

General Carey immediately recycled a CH-46, but by this time due to the ships' offshore movement, the time required to reach the Embassy exceeded 40 minutes.

To the Marines waiting in Saigon, attempts by the South Vietnamese to reach the roof kept them busy and as a consequence, they did not notice the extended gap between the flights. Major Kean later stated that he and his Marines did not become alarmed because they knew that another CH-46 would arrive: "We never had a doubt that our fellow Marines would return and pick us up. They had been doing it all night long."

The Last To Leave...

The Last To Leave...

Five of the last 11 Marines to leave South Vietnam arrive on board the USS Okinawa prior to 0830 on 30 April. Seen exiting the helicopter are Sgt Terry J. Bennington followed by Cpl Stephen Q. Bauer

Photo courtesy of Capt Russell R. Thurman, USMC (Ret)

The Last To Leave...

The Last To Leave...

Sgt Philip A. Babel

Photo courtesy of Capt Russell R. Thurman, USMC (Ret)

The Last To Leave...

The Last To Leave...

SSgt Michael K. Sullivan and Sgt Steven T Schuller

Photo courtesy of Capt Russell R. Thurman, USMC (Ret)

Leave No One Behind

For the immense size and complexity of this operation, there were few mistakes.

Besides the nearly 5,000 people evacuated from the DAO compound, 978 U.S. and 1,120 third-country nationals were lifted from the Embassy. Despite numerous phone calls and extensive efforts to ensure that all Americans, even deceased ones, were extracted, the bodies of Corporal McMahon and Lance Corporal Judge were left behind. Inexplicably, they had been left at the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital, nearby Tan Son Nhut.

(In phone calls to the hospital on the afternoon of 29 April, the few remaining members of its staff reported that the deceased Marines' bodies had already been delivered to the task force. Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts through diplomatic channels recovered them the following year.)

Lucky Escape

In addition, the Marine Corps suffered the loss of two aircraft.

One of the two was an AH-1J Cobra, whose pilots, Captain John W. Bowman, Jr., and First Lieutenant David L. Androskaut, successfully made a night water ditching after the Cobra's engines flamed out from fuel starvation. Shortly after overflying the USS Kirk (DE 1087) while in search of the Okinawa, Captain Bowman noted that his altimeter read 900 feet and his fuel gauge 200 pounds. In the next instant, he found himself groping with an emergency autorotation to a dark, empty sea.

Many agonizing moments after impact, Captain Bowman finally managed to unfasten his seat belt on the third attempt while his sinking helicopter filled with water. He recalled, "As I exited the helicopter in the dark, I had no idea which way was up, but I remembered that the helicopter must be sinking toward the bottom, so I swam in the opposite direction and just when I was about to doubt my decision, a sliver of moonlight bounced off the dangling legs of my co-pilot, suspended just above my head."

Soon after Bowman and his copilot linked up, a boat, launched from the Kirk after its officer of the day heard the helicopter's engines quit, picked them up.

Rescued

Rescued

Two Marine pilots were rescued from the sea at night after their Cobra crashed Capt John W' Bowman, Jr., right, piloted the AH-1J, and lst Lt David L. Androskaut was co-pilot

Photo courtesy of Capt Russell R. Thurman, USMC (Ret)

Not All Survived

The other aircraft's pilots were not as fortunate.

A CH-46F from the Hancock flown by Captain William C. Nystul and First Lieutenant Michael J. Shea crashed into the sea on its approach to the ship after having flown a long and exhausting night sea and air rescue mission (SAR). Amazingly, the two enlisted crewmembers survived, but the bodies of the pilots were not recovered. The cause of the crash was never determined, but crew inexperience and unfamiliarity with the mission may have been factors.*

*Captain Berry recently related the flying backgrounds of this crew. He said, "Captain Nystul had just returned from Pensacola fixed-wing instructor duty and had about 20 hours of refamiliarization in the '46.' His co-pilot was First Lieutenant Shea, a CH-53 pilot, who had gotten approximately 25 CH-46 hours with us in Futema before deploying." Berry Comments.

Operation Frequent Wind

Normally, ships carrying helicopters do not use a SAR helicopter. Instead they assume that all airborne helicopters are potential SAR aircraft during helicopter flight operations.

The Hancock, accustomed to fixed-wing flight operations where an airborne SAR helicopter is mandatory, did not modify its procedures. However for an operation of this size, a designated rescue helicopter provided the task force with the capability of responding instantly to any airborne emergency and thus extended its options.

Despite these losses, Operation Frequent Wind accomplished its purpose, the safe evacuation of American, Vietnamese, and third-country citizens from South Vietnam. It stands as the largest helicopter evacuation in history*.

"Distinguished Flying"

*Major General Norman W. Gourley, commanding general of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, later recounted his assessment of the operation.

"I spent 36 years in the Marine Corps; fought WWII in Corsairs; the Korean War as a night fighter pilot flying F-7Fs and F-3Ds; and the Vietnam War flying F-4 Phantoms. I have seen and heard of combat air operations which required all the talent, guts, and nerve available.

Never in the annals of flying, and I am including all U.S. combat air operations of any war, have a group of pilots performed so magnificently as the helicopter pilots who extracted those folks out of Saigon in late April, 1975. The term 'distinguished flying' fits each and every one. These young helicopter tigers did it all—long hours in the cockpit, night operations, terrible visibility and weather, being shot at—the bottom line being 'mission completed,' they did their job. It is indeed unfortunate that more recognition was not forthcoming to this group of Marine aviators." Gourley Comments.

Colonel Edward Pelosky, USA, a member of the DAO staff evacuated to the Vancouver, offered his appraisal of the operation: 'My hat is off to those individual planners and participants who got us out of Saigon. It was a deliberate exercise pulled off with precision, confidence, and the great skill of the aviators—a textbook version." Pelosky Comments.

"Lucky To Be Here"

For the Marine Corps it meant 1,054 flight hours and 682 sorties, 34 of which belonged to Captain Gerry Berry.

He logged the most hours, 183, in a 20 hour period, which reflected the operation's intensity and complexity. For its effort, HMH-463 received the Marine Corps Aviation Association's (MCAA) General Keith B. McCutcheon Award as the 1975 Helicopter Squadron of the Year. In addition, the MCAA chose Lieutenant Colonel James L. Bolton (HMH-462's commanding officer) as the 1975 Aviator of the Year and recipient of the Alfred A. Cunningham Award.

Captain John B. Heffernan, one of Bolton's pilots, recently recalled his thoughts at the conclusion of the operation: "I will never forget one minute of this incredible flying experience. I was lucky to be here."

Surely, the 1,373 Americans and 5,595 non-American evacuees agreed that they too were lucky to be there, on American ships.