OPERATION FREQUENT WIND
Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of Vietnam in April 1975, moved over 50,000 people. The initial decision to depart Saigon was made to evacuate the Defense Attaché's office by fixed-wing aircraft. This fixed-wing evacuation was determined impossible when hostile artillery and rocket fire closed the air base at Tan Son Nhut. The decision to evacuate the entire US presence by helicopter under Operation Frequent Wind was made late morning, 29 April 1975, Saigon time. Due to the delayed timing of the order, the capability for rapid response to such an order was imperative. The deteriorating situation at the Defense Attaché location required the Embassy to become a major site.
The evacuation of the Defense Attaché people proceeded smoothly. Total casualties were relatively light: two USMC Embassy Security Guards killed in an attack by ground fire, and two USMC CH-46 search and rescue helicopter aircrews presumed dead following a crash at sea. Total evacuation helicopter sorties from the US Defense Attaché compound numbered 122. The sorties from the US Embassy numbered 72. The evacuation of 7,806 US citizens and foreign nationals from these two places by the US Air Force and Marine Corps helicopters was supported by a major air effort by the Air Force and Navy. This effort consisted of: 444 USAF/USMC helicopter sorties; 204 TACAIR sorties; 24 AH-1J (Cobra) combat escort sorties; 8 AC-130 gunship sorties; 5 EC-130 (ABCCC) sorties; 44 KC-135 tanker sorties; and 2 HC-130 search and rescue support sorties.
The 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade, a task force of the III MEF successfully extracted by helicopter more than 7,000 Americans and Vietnamese from Saigon, Vietnam, in Operation Frequent Wind. In conjunction with this operation, Marine detachments from III MEF provided security of U.S. ships engaged in carrying Vietnamese refugees to Guam.
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About a week after Eagle Pull we departed NKP for U-tapao, AB, Thailand we didn't know what was going on until we got to U-tapao. Of course we heard of the events in Viet Nam from our Armed Forces Radio. At any rate we got the aircraft bedded down at U-tapao and we got the word of where we were headed, the aircraft carrier group off the coast of Viet Nam. Just about everyone made a trip to the class 6 store to stock up for the TDY.
We left U-tapao the next morning this must have been around the 18th of April 75, We flew direct to the USS Midway seems to me it took about 8 hours of flying time. We of the 56 SOW had 650 gallon drop tanks versus the 450 on the 40th aircraft so they had to refuel in flight to the Midway.
I flew on the CH-53 with the CO of the 21st Lt. Col John Denham (who incidentally was the wing Stan Eval pilot when I was in 43's at Zaragoza Spain and Bitburg Germany, got a couple check rides with him). When we got on the Midway we found out the Navy was a whole different world than that of the Air Force. They treated us well and we were all assigned to different organizations on the ship that were compatible with our AFSCs.
However we did screw up there whole operation and about ran them out of fresh water the first day we were there. When they had a drill we mostly went the wrong way through the passages and up and down the ladders. It was a great experience and I think just about everyone appreciated the AF a little more after our stay there.
I think we were out there about 12 days before the American ambassador gave us the ok to launch into Viet Nam. Until that day we had a few training flights but mostly sat around after inspecting and re-inspecting and running up the aircraft every few days. Oh the Navy liked us to move the helicopters a lot. We would tow them to the bow, then to the canted deck, then the fantail, then start over again.
And any time there was a black cloud out there in the Gulf they would sail the ship right under it and we would all get wet. We first took 6 CH-53's from the 21st and 4 HH-53's from the 40th. After the 56th got two more aircraft operational they came to the Midway and 2 of the HHs went back to Thailand. The Admiral made the decision after he found out how much more the CH could carry, after all we didn't have PJ's and all their luggage.
I think we stared Frequent Wind on around the 29th, Saigon fell on the 30th. We carried over 2000 people out and my aircraft, with Maj. Carson flying it, flew 20 hours straight. We did hot refueling and running crew changes. One time it landed with 91 or 92 people on it. We didn’t have troop seats and everyone was standing.
We even carried the last of the Marines out, they even had the Embassy shield off the Embassy. Told us they shredded over 6 million in US currency. The civilians were handing out Dong (Vietnam currency) as it was now worthless.
It was a time to be proud to be part of this but at the same time it was sad seeing all these people fleeing for their lives with little or nothing. After the evacuation was over we put all our aircraft towards the bow and the Hueys and Chinooks started coming in. You could not believe it, there were helicopters everywhere.
General Key landed there and one of his Generals walked up to me and asked Air Force? U S Air Force? as I was wearing Jungle fatigues. He just couldn't believe the Air Force was out there.
We even had a Vietnamese 0-2 land on the deck with pilot, wife and 3 or 4 kids in it. It is now at the Pensacola Naval museum. The Midway is a floating Museum in San Diego now and I need to go see her.
The ship sailed to off the coast of Thailand and all told we were on it 18 days. We flew into U-tapao once again and could see the ship sitting off the coast, it was big.
There were planes everywhere at U-tapao, from Viet Nam they flew anything out they could get their hands on. They were on the ramps, in the grass everywhere, have never seen anything like it, C-46, C-47, C-119, C-123’s, commercial aircraft, T-37 and T-38's and many more. There were a lot of Hueys and as soon as a Huey landed painters were out there painting Thai markings on them and flying them out to other bases.
We got the job of slinging T-37 and 38's to the Midway to return to US. After we dropped two in the Gulf they trucked them to Sattihip and hoisted them aboard with cranes. We punched one when the 53 blew a damper and one had the sling break. This was really neat being part of history. Every once in a while I see videos of our helicopters on TV.
The Mayaguez was next. It is hard to believe these same helicopters now called Pave Low are still flying, 32 years later. I hope every one of them gets a reprieve and a home in a museum with the honor they deserve. (Jim Duffy)