U.S. Marines and the Fall of Saigon (2)

Yesterday, I told how toward the end of April 1975 U.S. Marines, under the command of Colonel Al Gray, flew into Saigon from the U.S. 7th Fleet, cruising in the South China Sea out of sight from land, to prepare for the evacuation of the remaining U.S. citizens and as many Vietnamese as possible. Continuing my quote from “Bitter Memories: The Fall of Saigon”:

But the Ambassador was doing everything he could to throw roadblocks in Al’s way. He wouldn’t allow Al’s Marines to dress in uniform, fly their own helicopters into the country, or stay overnight. So Al and his troops, in civilian clothes, had to fly in and out each day from the 7th Fleet, cruising in the South China Sea, via Air America slicks, the little Hueys, the UH-1 choppers that could only carry eight to fourteen people.

It didn’t matter. Ambassador or no Ambassador, the Marines had landed. They’d be ready for the evacuation the instant it was ordered.

During my next daylight recon of the compound, I saw 55-gallon drums ranged along the perimeter fence. I asked one of Al’s buzz cuts why they were there. He said the drums were filled with combustible material, probably gasoline, and wired: if the North Vietnamese penetrated the perimeter, the barrels would be detonated to wipe them out.

Another tour of the parking lot took me into a surreal world. Marines and civilians were cramming cars, my small white sedan among them, onto the side of the building by driving them into one another so that they formed a compacted mass. That done, the drivers turned their attention to the half-dozen cars still in the parking lot, large black sedans (including mine) and one jeep. These they used as ramming devices, crushing the heap of cars more tightly together. Then they turned the now-mangled sedans on the tennis courts. Again and again, they backed their vehicles to the perimeter and burned rubber to smash into the poles holding the fence around the courts until they tore out of the pavement. Next they used the cars as battering rams, flattening the nets and court fencing against the building. Lastly, they ground the vehicles they were driving into the jumble of mashed automobiles. The area between the fence and the wall of the building was now clear.

It dawned on me what was going on. The small Air America slicks had been able to get into and out of the compound one at a time, without hitting parked cars or the tennis courts, but the much larger Marine CH-53’s—each could carry 55 troops loaded for combat—needed more unobstructed space, especially if two or three were in the compound at the same time. One more obstacle to our escape had been removed.

More tomorrow.

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