(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: