High-tech machines and vehicles that the soldiers use during wars are the results of long and extensive research and effort of the people tasked to design such advanced equipment. Moreover, the government’s money was highly invested and utilized to fund the manufacture of these vehicles. That’s one of the reasons why soldiers are not allowed to deface the equipment that was issued to them, something that the soldiers religiously followed.

Vietnam War, however, was a different kind of conflict. Although there were misconceptions that this war was not as intense as World War II, there was no question that it prompted the troops to do things they’d never done before, be it for themselves or for others. Pouring out your creativity on your helmet? Sure. How about dumping almost $10 million worth of aircraft overboard? Why not?

Final Phase of the Vietnam War

The ugly war between North Vietnam and South Vietnam began on November 1, 1955. The North was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies, while the South was backed by the United States and other anti-communist allies. The gruesome conflict in the jungles of Vietnam lasted for almost 20 years, with it spilling over into nearby states of Laos and Cambodia.

Refugees from the Phan Rang area board the USS DURHAM (LKA-114) from small craft to be transferred to a safer area on 3 April 1975. (National Archives and Records Administration, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In April 1975, the fall of Saigon marked the end of the war, with the South Vietnamese officials and civilians hysterically leaving the area as it fell to the hands of the communist forces. North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin accepted the surrender of South Vietnam later that very same day, saying, “You have nothing to fear; between Vietnamese, there are no victors and no vanquished. Only the Americans have been defeated.”

Operation Frequent Wind

Just before the fall of Saigon, Operation Frequent Wind was carried out, which was basically the evacuation of Vietnam on the last two days of April 1975. After twenty years of agony for the United States, they could finally come home. Before that, however, the US Embassy in Saigon and its Defense Attache Office (DAO) helped in planning, preparing for, and conducting the final evacuation from South Vietnam. Thousands of people were extracted from this operation, composed of Vietnamese citizens, Third Country Nationals, and US citizens. The US military still had to face hundreds of problems: hard decisions, logistical requirements, security issues, and the threat of enemy military forces.

Before that, the US Embassy already distributed booklets to the citizens called the “Standard Instruction and Advice to Civilians in an Emergency” (SAFE). SAFE included a map of Saigon, and areas where they would be picked up were marked. It also stated the signal that would indicate when the helicopters would arrive: a radio broadcast on Armed Forces Radio that would say, “The temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising,” followed by the song, “White Christmas.”

South Vietnamese refugees walk across a U.S. Navy vessel. Operation Frequent Wind, the final operation in Saigon, began on April 29, 1975. (U.S. Marines in Japan Homepage, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

As planned, American helicopters landed at 10-minute intervals on the rooftop of the US embassy in Saigon on April 29 and 30, evacuating American diplomats and at-risk Vietnamese. Due to the desperate situation, helicopters designed for 10 passengers were transporting five times their capacity. Men, women, and children held a few possessions that they could carry in their arms. They were taken and transported to American warships waiting for them.

Final “Push”

A South Vietnamese helicopter is pushed over the side of the USS Okinawa during Operation Frequent Wind, April 1975. (U.S. Marines (Official Marine Corps Photo)(http://www.tecom.usmc.mil/HD/Home_Page.htm), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Soon, helicopters began so crowding the ship decks that other pilots were told to drop off their passengers and then take off and ditch in the sea, and they would be rescued later on. The helicopters already landed on the decks were unceremoniously pushed overboard by sailors to make room for more people, some $10 million in equipment was pitched over the side in 1975 dollars, which is worth more than $5.3 billion today.

On the morning of April 30, the last helicopter(belonging to the CIA) took off the embassy roof, rescuing a total of 1,373 Americans and 5,595 Vietnamese and third-country nationals using more than 1,000 aircraft. A few hours after that, North Vietnamese tanks bulldozed the gates of the Presidential Palace, and the war had ended.

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