Operation Frequent Wind

It was 35 years ago today . . .

Operation Frequent Wind . . . as told by Chris Woods, Crew Chief of Swift 2-2.

“Gentlemen, start your engines.” The laconic command copied from the Indianapolis 500 auto races, echoed from the 1MC, the public-address system of the U.S.S. Hancock. Moments later, the Commanding Officer of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, LtCol. Herbert Fix, lifted his CH-53A Sea Stallion off the deck of the aging carrier. When the other seven choppers in his squadron had left the deck, they fluttered off in a tight formation through blustery winds and dark, ominous rain clouds that hovered over the South China Sea. Operation “Frequent Wind,” the emergency evacuation of the last Americans in Saigon was under way.

The rescue operation had been delayed as long as possible-too long, in the view of many Pentagon officials. In recent weeks 44 U.S. Navel vessels, 6,000 Marines, 120 Air Force combat and tanker planes and 150 Navy planes had been moved into the area. Nevertheless, Secretary of State, Henry Kissenger and the U.S. ambassador in Saigon, Graham Martin, argued that the final withdrawal of the American community would probably set off a wave of panic in Saigon and hasten the fall of the South Vietnamese government.

During the preceding eight days, U.S. planes had evacuated almost 40,000 American and South Vietnamese refugees from Tan Son Nhut airbase near Saigon. By last week, the airlift was growing increasingly dangerous. Artillery shells and rockets closed Tan Son Nhut airport Monday morning, April 28, 1975. The next day, an U.S. C-130 transport was hit by a rocket on the runway and burst into flames as the crew escaped. A short time later, two Marine Corporals, Cpl. N. McMahon of Massachusetts and LCpl. D. Judge of Iowa, guarding the US defense attache’s compound at Tan Son Nhut, were killed by Communist artillery.

News of the destruction of the C-130 and the Marines’ deaths reached President Ford during a meeting with his energy and economic advisers. He scribbled a note to the deputy director of the National Security Council, LtGen. Brent Scowcroft: “We’d better have a NSC meeting at 7.”

Plainly, evacuation by commercial flights, by military airplanes or by sea was no longer feasible. The security advisers discussed whether conditions might permit a resumption of the military airlift. If not, they would have to go a fourth option, the riskiest of all: evacuation by Marine helicopters. Scarcely two hours after the meeting ended with no decision, Ford learned that two C-130s attempting to land at Tan Son Nhut had been waved off; the airport was blocked by thousands of panicky South Vietnamese, by then all of Ford’s advisers, including Martin agreed that it had to be “Option Four.” At 10:45 p.m., the President ordered Operation Frequent Wind to begin.

Kissinger telephoned Ford to report that a fleet of 81 helicopters was about to embark on its mission, then, at 1:08 a.m. Tuesday, he called again with the news that the evacuation had begun. In Saigon, the center of activity for much of the day was the landing at Tan Son Nhut airport, a tennis court near the defense attache’s compound. Landing two at a time, the helicopters unloaded their squads of Marines- 860 in all, who reinforced the 125 Marines already on the scene- and quickly picked up evacuees.

As the operation continued, many helicopters came under fire. Most evacuees sat in cold panic as their choppers took off. “For the next three minutes as we gained altitude,” reported TIME Correspondent William Stewart, “we held our breaths.” We knew the Communists had been using heat-seeking missiles, and we were prepared to be shot out of the sky. As I turned around to see who was aboard, Buu Vien, the South Vietnamese Interior Minister, smiled and gave a thumbs-up signal. “Forty minutes later we were aboard the U.S.S. Denver, a landing-platform dock, and safe.”

By nightfall, the mission had been completed at Tan Son Nhut, but the evacuation of the embassy was still to be accomplished. Sheets of rain were pelting the city, and visibility had dropped to barely a mile. Some choppers had to rely on flares fired by Marines within the embassy compound to find landing zones; others homed in on flashlights.

Through Tuesday night, the Vietnamese crowd grew uglier, hundreds tried to scale the ten-foot wall, despite the barbed wire strung on top of it. Marines had to use tear gas and rifle butts to hold back the surging mob. Some screamed, some pleaded to be taken along. Floor by floor, the Marines withdrew toward the roof of the embassy with looters right behind them. Abandoned offices were transformed into junkyards of smashed typewriters and ransacked file cabinets. Even the bronze plaque with the names of the five American servicemen who died in the embassy during the 1968 Tet offensive was torn from the lobby wall. Marines hurled tear-gas grenade into the elevator shaft; at time the air was so thick with tear gas that the helicopter crews on the roof were effected.

By that time, tempers were frayed in Washington as well as in Saigon. Martin had drawn up a list of 500 Vietnamese to be evacuated; he refused to leave until all were safely gone. His delay prompted one Administration official to quip, “Martin got all 600 of his 500 Vietnamese out.” Finally, at 5:00 p.m., Washington time- it was 5:00 a.m., in Saigon- Kissinger told the president that Martin was closing down the embassy and destroying its communications equipment. Minutes later, Lady Ace 09 landed on the embassy helo pad and Ambassador Martin boarded the helicopter as Major James Kean urged the CH-46 pilot Captain Berry, to please be sure someone comes for them. After lift off, Captain Berry broadcast the message; “Lade Ace Zero Nine, Tiger-Tiger-Tiger.”

As many as 130 South Vietnamese planes and helicopter, including F-5 fighter-bombers, transports and attack planes, were reported meanwhile to have reached the US run Utapao airbase in Thailand with about 2,000 soldiers and civilians; already some 1,000 Cambodian refugees were crowed into tents there. Alarmed, the Thai government announced that the refugees had to leave within 30 days and that it would return the planes to “the next government in South Vietnam.” Defense Secretary James Schlesinger firmly advised Bangkok that it should do no such thing; under aid agreements, the equipment cannot be transferred to a new government but must revert to U.S. possession.

By the end of the week, another seven or so South Vietnamese helicopters had landed or tried to land on the U.S. naval vessels. One South Vietnamese pilot set his chopper down on top of another whose blades were still turning. Others ditched their craft and had to be fished out of the water. An American search-and-rescue from the U.S.S. Hancock crashed at sea, and two of its crewmembers, Captain William C. Nystul and First Lieutenant Michael J. Shea were listed and missing, possible the last American fatalities of the war. The Crew Chief, Cpl. Steve Wills and the left gunner were rescued by another CH-46, Swift 0-7, during a zero visibility, night water landing to pick up the two wounded Marines.

“The last days of the evacuation were very hairy indeed,” Ford confesses afterward. “We were never sure whether we were going to have trouble with the mobs.” As Ford noted, the whole operation had gone better “than we had any right to expect.” According to the Defense Department, 1,373 Americans and 5,680 South Vietnamese- many more that the US had originally intended- had been removed. Another 32,000 desperate Vietnamese had managed to make their way by sampan, raft and rowboat to the US ships offshore, bringing to about 70,000 the number evacuated through the week.

For the next three hours the Marines wait, and grow more concerned as they discover no one responds to their radio signals. Finally, after they have resigned that they will not be rescued, and have voted to make an Alamo-like stand, the Marines hear the familiar sound of rotor blades slapping the humid air, a CH-46 Sea Knight, and two AH-1G Cobra escorts come in to view.

Dodging small arms fire and using riot control agents against people attempting to force their way to the rooftop, Major Kean and his 10 Marines boarded a HMM-164 CH-46 helicopter, Swift 2-2. After closing the ramp, Swift 2-2 (piloted by Captains Holden and Cook, and crewed by Sergeant Stan Hughes, left machine gunner and Sergeant Chris Woods, Crew Chief and right gunner) lifted into a hover and the pilots were overcome by CS gas had to set back down on the embassy helo pad. Regaining their composure, Captain Holden lifted the helo and departed the embassy rooftop. The last American helicopter to leave South Vietnam, Caption Holden radioed the last official message from Saigon: Swift 2-2 airborne with 11 passengers, ground security force onboard. Clearing antennas and church steeples, Swift 2-2 picked up the Saigon River and descended to tree top level and followed the river out to the awaiting American Forces. During the flight along the river, Sergeant Woods sighted approximately eight communist tanks, parked side-by-side, waiting until the eighth hour to enter the city. Checking his watch, Major Kean noted that it was two 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. Only 32 minutes later on that unforgettable day, 30 April 1975, the 11 Marines exited Swift 2-2 onto the deck of the U.S.S. Okinawa.

Disembarking, many on board the Okinawa, the consensus was 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. 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 was 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 USS Okinawa. Subsequent to his landing at approximately 0700, the command realized that Captain Walters did not have the remaining Marines on board. Due to a misunderstanding and miscommunication, they were still at the Embassy. General Carey immediately recycled the HMM-164 CH-46 “Swift 2-2”, but by this time due to the ships’ offshore movement, the time required to reach the Embassy exceeded 40 minutes. With two hours of fuel on board, the CH-46 did not have any room for error. Swift 2-2 landed on the USS Okinawa with two “LOW FUEL” lights, or 20 minutes of fuel remaining.

To the Marines waiting in Saigon, attempts by the South Vietnamese to reach the rooftop 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 Marine 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.”

See aslo:
OPERATION “FREQUENT WIND,” EVACUATION OF SAIGON, SOUTH VIETNAM
Operation Frequent Wind
Operation Frequent Wind
Operation FREQUENT WIND Photo Gallery
A Vietnam War Lesson
Fall of Saigon revisited
Fall of Saigon

/well, hopefully, as a country, we’ll never have to experience anything like that again

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Hey Obama, Thanks For The Naval Escort!

This is nationally embarrassing, can someone please check Michelle’s purse for her husband’s balls?

US will not use force to inspect NKorean ship

The United States will not use force to inspect a North Korean ship suspected of carrying banned goods, an American official was quoted as saying Friday.

An American destroyer has been shadowing the North Korean freighter sailing off China’s coast, possibly on its way to Myanmar.

Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy met with South Korean officials in Seoul on Friday as the U.S. sought international support for aggressively enforcing a U.N. sanctions resolution aimed at punishing Pyongyang for its second nuclear test last month. The North Korean-flagged ship, Kang Nam 1, is the first to be tracked under the U.N. resolution.

North Korea has in response escalated threats of war, with a slew of harsh rhetoric including warnings that it would unleash a “fire shower of nuclear retaliation” and “wipe out the (U.S.) aggressors” in the event of a conflict.

On Thursday, the communist regime organized a massive anti-American rally in Pyongyang where some 100,000 participants vowed to “crush” the U.S. One senior speaker told the crowd that the North will respond to any sanctions or U.S. provocations with “an annihilating blow.”

That was seen as a pointed threat in response to the American destroyer.

Flournoy said Friday that Washington has ruled the use military force to inspect the North Korean freighter.

“The U.N. resolution lays out a regime that has a very clear set of steps,” Flournoy said, according to the Yonhap news agency. “I want to be very clear … This is not a resolution that sponsors, that authorizes use of force for interdiction.”

Flournoy said the U.S. still has “incentives and disincentives that will get North Korea to change course.”

“Everything remains on the table, but we’re focused on implementing the resolution fully, responsibly and with our international partners,” she said.

Flournoy’s trip came as the U.S. sought international support for aggressively enforcing the U.N. sanctions.

It is not clear what was on board the North Korean freighter, but officials have mentioned artillery and other conventional weaponry. One intelligence expert suspected missiles.

The U.S. and its allies have made no decision on whether to request inspection of the ship, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday in Washington, but North Korea has said it would consider any interception an act of war.

If permission for inspection is refused, the ship must dock at a port of its choosing, so local authorities can check its cargo. Vessels suspected of carrying banned goods must not be offered bunkering services at port, such as fuel, the resolution says.

A senior U.S. defense official said the ship had cleared the Taiwan Strait. He said he didn’t know whether or when the Kang Nam may need to stop in some port to refuel, but that the ship has in the past stopped in Hong Kong’s port.

To recap, we’ve had one U.S. destroyer or another shadowing the Kang Nam for more than a week now, ever since it left North Korea. We’re almost positive she’s carrying banned weapons or technology but we refuse to board her and find out because, the U.N. resolution says we can’t, China says no, and we’re scared to death that North Korea might retaliate.

In fact, our entire strategy is that we’re hoping that the Kang Nam has to stop to refuel in a port that will enforce the U.N. sanctions and inspect her cargo. Gee, don’t you think the North Koreans already know this and have factored it in, what if the Kang Nam doesn’t have to stop to refuel? There might be a reason she’s proceeding along at 10 knots, to conserve fuel, or maybe she has extra fuel aboard. And what if the Kang Nam does pull into, let’s say, Singapore, where she will be searched, might not the North Koreans respond in the same manner as if the United States had boarded her at sea? One thing’s for damn sure, if the Kang Nam makes Myanmar without having to refuel, there isn’t going to be any inspection of her cargo as per the U.N. sanctions.

Likely Destination of N Korean Ship Often Used for Weapons Deliveries

The Myanmar International Terminals Thilawa (MITT), believed to be the destination of the Kang Nam 1, a North Korean cargo ship being tracked by the US Navy, has often been used for deliveries of weapons, according to sources at the facility.

The Kang Nam 1, which left a North Korean port on June 17, is believed to be carrying weapons, missile parts or possibly even nuclear materials.

“There are two reasons to use Thilawa,” said an MITT operator. “First, it is not too close to Rangoon, and second, it is easy to increase security here so people don’t know what is being unloaded.”

The international multi-purpose container port, Burma’s largest deep sea port, is located about 30 km south of Rangoon.

According to other MITT employees, the facility has often been used for deliveries of weapons since it was built in the mid-1990s.

“Cargo ships carrying many kinds of weapons from Russia, China, North Korea and the Ukraine have docked at Thilawa,” said an MITT worker.

Normally, the source explained, the ships are offloaded around midnight to avoid attracting attention. Then, around 2 a.m., convoys of trucks deliver the weapons to a military depot at Intaing, about 25 km north of Rangoon.

“When cargo ships carrying military equipment dock at the port, naval personnel based near Thilawa take over port security and coordinate the unloading of the ships,” he said. “No unauthorized personnel are allowed near the port when cargo ships carrying weapons dock here.”

On Wednesday, officials from the Myanmar Port Authority, which operates under the Ministry of Transport, met with the Thilawa port authorities. It is believed that the meeting was related to the imminent arrival of the Kang Nam 1.

See also:
Whither the Kang Nam, North Korea’s suspect cargo ship?
Why Burma May Be North Korea’s Best Friend
Burma denies link to N Korea ship
Suspect North Korean Ship Has Been Detained Several Times for Maritime Violations
US needs to be able to search NKorea ships: Top lawmaker
Why Are We Not Stomping North Korea’s Guts Out?

C’mon President Obama, grow a pair, we’re still technically at war with North Korea already, are you going to let them intimidate us at will too?

/unless we let our attendant destroyer board and search the Kang Nam, she’ll make Myanmar International Terminals Thilawa, we’ll never find out what her cargo was, and North Korea will just be that much more emboldened to push the envelope further

It Was 20 Years Ago Today

Tiananmen Anniversary Muted in Mainland China

Mainland China remained quiet Thursday on the 20th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown, while tens of thousands of people staged a protest in Hong Kong.

Beijing, the capital, was on virtual lockdown. Key foreign news Web sites were blocked, dissidents were placed under house arrest, and police blanketed the vast square where a still-undetermined number of pro-democracy activists were killed in a violent clash with the military June 4, 1989. Journalists were kept away from the scene.

Several foreign governments called on Beijing this week to revisit its policy of ignoring the crackdown. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement Wednesday that China “should examine openly the darker events of its past and provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal.”

On Tuesday, Congress urged China to agree to a U.N.-backed inquiry into the crackdown, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she had directly petitioned President Hu Jintao to free the estimated 30 people still being held for participating in the protests.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel commented in a speech Thursday that “June 4, 1989 . . . marked a terrible sacrifice in Tiananmen Square.”

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who has pushed for closer ties with the mainland, said: “This painful chapter in history must be faced. Pretending it never happened is not an option.”

Over the years, Beijing has taken a two-pronged approach to the massacre. Domestically, the incident is ignored in history books, and discussion about it is banned to the point that many young people know nothing of what happened. In arguments directed to the international community, Beijing has said the crackdown was necessary to ensure social stability, which it says was a precondition for the market-driven changes that have since transformed China into the world’s third-largest economy.

On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang limited his remarks to a sentence: “On the political incident that took place in the 1980s, the party and the government have already reached a conclusion.”

In the weeks before the anniversary, authorities erased most traces of the massacre from the capital. Twitter and other Internet services that people could have used to coordinate gatherings were blocked, as were news Web sites such as CNN and the BBC. Foreign newspapers and magazines that had been covering commemorative protests in Hong Kong were delivered with pages ripped out. Writers, activists and even mothers of victims were put under surveillance or house arrest.

On Thursday, the only place on Chinese soil where a large-scale protest took place was Hong Kong, the former British colony that has maintained its own legal system since it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

Police estimated that 62,800 people, dressed either in white or funereal black, showed up for a vigil in downtown Victoria Park. Organizers put the figure closer to 150,000. Either way, the turnout was the largest since the annual event was first held in Hong Kong in 1990.

Xiong Yan, one of the 21 student leaders placed on Beijing’s “most wanted” list in 1989 and now a U.S. resident, attended the vigil, but Wuer Kaixi, No. 2 on the list, was back in Taiwan after being denied entry.

The Tiananmen Mothers — a Chinese democracy group led by Ding Zilin, whose teenage son was killed at the square — thanked the Hong Kong people for their support. In a statement, the group accused the Chinese government of using “the economy to lure and buy people.”

Lester Lai, 22, a recent university graduate, said he had come to the vigil because “economic progress is never an excuse for a government to kill its people.”

Deng Ying, a 30-year-old tourist from the mainland, said that in China, the authorities take advantage of the fact that they can ban “anything they are unhappy about.”

In this instance, she said, Hong Kong was acting as “China’s conscience.”

See also:
No ordinary day at Tiananmen Square
Demonstrators honor memory of Tiananmen Square in Hong Kong
Dalai Lama pays respects to Tiananmen Square victims
Tiananmen Mothers Press For Answers, 20 Years On
Thousands turn out to commemorate Tiananmen Square massacre… only in Hong Kong, not China
Tiananmen Square: 20 Years Later
Tiananmen Square: 20 Years Later
Police swarm Tiananmen Square on anniversary
China Blocks Twitter Ahead of Tiananmen Anniversary
China blocks Twitter, Flickr and Hotmail ahead of Tiananmen anniversary
Tiananmen Square protests of 1989

/just say no to the Chinese communists’ attempts to shove their bloody, evil, inhuman massacre of unarmed citizens down the history memory hole