(h/t to Southern Air Pirate for the topic suggestion)

29 April 1975.  South Vietnam is ceasing to exist as a geopolitical entity – Saigon is falling.  Under leaden skies, the assembled ships and aircraft of  TF 76, headed by carriers Hancock and Midway begin executing Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of US personnel along with Vietnamese who might suffer as a result of their past service to the allied effort. 

 

Early on, it is somewhat orderly, except for the evacuation site in Saigon.  The CH-53’s of the TF are soon followed by an armada of desperate South Vietnamese Air Force aircraft – mostly helicopters.  Fuel starved they crowd the ships’ decks, forcing some to be pushed overboard to make room for others hovering on fumes alongside.  

 

Others ditch alongside in hopes that they will be rescued by the small craft in the water.  Many are – some aren’t.  In the midst of this chaos, a light grey O-1 drops out of the overhead and circles Midway.  Onboard is a South Vietnamese pilot and his wife and family – packed into a space where there is room for only one other.  A note is dropped to the flight deck:

Reflecting the heartfelt thoughts of many a naval aviator observing with dismay a flightdeck still in the throes of a respot whilst keeping an eye on dimishing fuel, the note said "Please clear your runway so I can land"

Unable to wait any longer he circled and made his approach:

And with all aboard collectively holding their breath, made a successful landing, coming to a stop at the direction of the ubiquitous yellow shirt…

And for one brief, shining moment on an otherwise gloomy day, full of the overtones of evil portent there was cause for celebration:

So today, tucked away amongst the sleek jets, the huge blue torpedo bombers of WWII and spacecraft that have traveled to the moon and back at the National Naval Aviation Museum, you will find this conveyance to freedom – a symbol and standard bearer if you will for all the others that brought out so many who fled the Communists, but also a sobering reminder of all those left behind:

 

 

8 Comments

  1. another AW1

    Nice story of the debacle of 1975. I just wish that everyone in the US (voters?) had to review the stories of tragic suffering of the Vietnamese. We need to understand the history of this and remember that it was the likes of the Honorable Edward Kennedy and his party that cut and run on a ally. History is trying to repeat, and no one (save for the lucky ones who made it to Camp Pendleton an other refugee centers) seems to remember the immense suffering caused by the altruistic folks who just wanted war to end, no matter the human cost.

    No wonder Iraqi’s and Afghani’s are nervous when dealing with our Government.

  2. Wow, SJS. Powerful stuff. I know “Day of Infamy” is otherwise patented, but I can’t think of another term that fits this particular day…

    Sobering. But: thanks.

    And… Another AW1… your comment is well-taken. In frickin’ spades.

  3. Steeljawscribe

    - Another AW1: Yep — definitely concur.
    – Buck, thanks – props also to Southern for planting the suggestion too. Had been kicking around a couple of ideas that just weren’t working out like we’d wanted when his email arrived…
    – SJS

  4. Fbl

    I was too young to remember that, but seeing those pictures is still a kick in the stomach. Not again, please not again…

  5. chromal

    Ironically, now we’re friends with Vietnam. Makes the whole war seem kind of pointless and wasteful, dunnit?

  6. LCDR Trong Nguyen

    My father knew the pilot who flew that plane cause the guy was trained at Nha Trang Air Base . My father was the CO of the pilot training program there so I remember seeing many of those cadets when I was a little boy. Several of his pilots went on to serve as aviators in the U.S. Navy after the war. Those who say the war was pointless is oversimplifying history. Because the Communist won, they eventually saw that there philosophy cannot be succesfully carried out. Who do they turn to today for economic help? The United States. To me, as a Vietnamese American, I see it as a moral victory. :smile:

  7. ANGLICO

    chromal,

    We are now friends with Germany, Japan, and Italy, should we not try to mend fences? Or should we always remain enemies after the shooting has stopped? LtCdr Nguyen, on the spot correct, well stated. Regarding Iraq, it has been stated that those who fail to pay attention to history are doomed to repeat it, let us hope this is not the case.

    Frequent Wind was a great Humanitarian Effort.

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