When the US military pushed helicopters overboard to make room for the last evacuees of the Vietnam War, 1975


In the final two days in April 1975, Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of Vietnam, ended twenty years of suffering for the United States. There was a test for America. The last 45 days of his presence in South Vietnam may seem almost insignificant compared to the pain of previous decades.

But, under ever-increasing pressure, the US embassy in Saigon and its Defense Attaché Office (DAO) helped plan, prepare, and ultimately conduct the eventual evacuation from South Vietnam. Operation Frequent Wind evacuated 130,000 people, including: Vietnamese citizens, third country citizens and US citizens - a truly significant achievement.

Faced with hundreds of tough decisions, overwhelming military requirements, continuing security problems and the threat of enemy military action, American civilians and military men conducted an efficient evacuation.

Graham Martin, the last US ambassador to South Vietnam and the person in charge of the evacuation overall, said the evacuation in Saigon would certainly be considered "one hell of a good job" in the long run.

The US embassy previously distributed a pamphlet called "Standard Instructions and Advice to Citizens in an Emergency" (SAFE) to its citizens.

This included a map of Saigon showing the areas where they would be raised if given a signal. The signal being broadcast on Armed Forces radio was "Saigon temperature rises to 105 degrees Celsius," followed by "White Christmas".

Between 29 and 30 April 1975, American helicopters landed at 10-minute intervals on the roof of the US embassy in Saigon to evacuate American diplomatic staff and at-risk Vietnamese.

The helicopters that were built for 10 people were taking five times more than that. Excited and confused men, women and children carried what amounted to property in their arms until they were ready for take-off to await American warships.

Helicopters began to clog the deck of the ship and, eventually, some were pushed overboard to allow others to disembark. Pilots of other helicopters were told to drop off their passengers and then take off and ditch in the sea, from where they would be rescued.

There are many reasons why Americans chose to ditch some helicopters in the water. Aircraft carriers were running out of room to park these machines, most helicopters were technically from South Vietnam, so US military assets were not being destroyed, many refugees needed more space, helicopters needed more space for flight operations. was a liability. deck, etc.

At the end of the day, Americans decided indisputably that saving human lives was more important than trying to keep these machines. There was no hesitation in throwing high-tech vehicles worth nearly $10 million overboard.

In fact, a general absence in hearing post-action reports and stories from that day is that no one was reprimanded or questioned for destroying so much military equipment.

At 7:53 a.m. on 30 April, the last helicopter lifted off from the embassy's roof and headed out to sea. The US military flew more than 1,000 planes over Saigon on this final day, saving thousands of lives. A few hours later, North Vietnamese tanks hit the gates of the Rashtrapati Bhavan - the war was over.

A total of 1,373 Americans and 5,595 Vietnamese and third country nationals were evacuated by helicopter in Operation Frequent Wind.

The total number of Vietnamese expelled by frequent wind or self-evacuation and ending up in United States custody for processing as refugees in the United States was 138,869. The operation was the most ambitious helicopter airlift ever in history, which also marked a desperate American withdrawal from Vietnam.

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