Operation Frequent Winds 29-30 April 1975 closed the US involvement in the Vietnam War.
Appletons Biography - Kit Carson edited by Stanley L. Klos
The conquest of Vietnam by France began in 1858 and ended
with the Fall of Saigon.
Vietnam became part of French Indochina in 1887. Vietnam
declared independence after World War II, but France continued to rule until its
1954 defeat by Communist forces under Ho Chi MINH. Under the Geneva Accords of
1954, Vietnam was divided into the Communist North and anti-Communist South. US
economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew through the 1960s in an attempt
to bolster the government, but US armed forces were withdrawn following a
cease-fire agreement in 1973. Two years later, North Vietnamese forces overran
the South reuniting the country under Communist rule. Despite the return of
peace, for over a decade the country experienced little economic growth because
of conservative leadership policies. However, since the enactment of Vietnam's "doi
moi" (renovation) policy in 1986, Vietnamese authorities have committed to
increased economic liberalization and enacted structural reforms needed to
modernize the economy and to produce more competitive, export-driven industries.
The country continues to experience protests from various groups - such as the
Protestant Montagnard ethnic minority population of the Central Highlands and
the Hoa Hao Buddhists in southern Vietnam over religious persecution. Montagnard
grievances also include the loss of land to Vietnamese settlers.
Closing Down - Fall of Saigon
On 27 January 1973, the Paris agreement on Vietnam was concluded, providing
for the withdrawal of American troops. The following month, a cease-fire
agreement was signed in Vientiane, leading to the formation of a coalition
government for Laos. Although the end of the war was clearly in sight, Air
America continued to lose people. Indeed, it is somewhat ironic that Air America
suffered its heaviest losses in the two years following the CIA's decision to
terminate the company. Between April 1972, when Helms issued his orders, and
June 1974, when Air America left the country, 23 crew members died in flight
operations in Laos.
On 3 June 1974, the last Air America aircraft crossed the border from Laos
into Thailand. The end went well, Air America's operations office in Vientiane
informed Washington ". . . .and the departure of AAM from Laos was without
incident, although some lumps are visible in the throats of those who put so
much of themselves into the operation over the years. . . .We grieve for those
missing and dead in Laos and regret that they too could not have enjoyed today."
In all, 100 Air America personnel had died in Laos. 56
The base at Udorn was shut down at the end of June. Operations in Vietnam
continued until the fall of Saigon in April 1975. When plans for a new
stay-behind company in Thailand, staffed by a contingent of select helicopter
and transport pilots, fell through, all Air America personnel were discharged.
The company finally closed its doors on 30 June 1976, returning more than $20
million to the US Treasury. 57
The Fall of Saigon was the capture of
Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, by the North Vietnamese army on
1975. It is
called Sự kiện 30 tháng 4 (April 30 Incident) or Giải phóng
miền Nam (The liberation of the south) by the current Vietnamese
government and Ngày mất nước (The day of losing the nation) by
the overseas Vietnamese community. The event marked the end of the
War and the start of a transition period leading to the formal
reunification of Vietnam under
Communist forces under the command of the Senior General
Van Tien Dung began their final attack on Saigon, which was commanded by
Nguyen Van Toan on
with a heavy artillery bombardment. By the afternoon of the next day, North
Vietnamese troops had occupied the important points within the city and raised
their flag over the South Vietnamese presidential palace. South Vietnam
capitulated shortly after. The city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. The fall of
the city was preceded by the evacuation of almost all the American civilian
and military personnel in Saigon, along with tens of thousands of South
Vietnamese civilians. The evacuation culminated in
Operation Frequent Wind, which was the largest helicopter evacuation in
In addition to the flight of refugees, the end of the war and institution of
new rules by the communists contributed to a decline in the population of the
The rapidity with which the South Vietnamese position collapsed in 1975 was
surprising to most American and South Vietnamese observers, and probably to
the North Vietnamese and their allies as well. For instance, a memo prepared
and Army Intelligence and published on
indicated that South Vietnam could hold through the current dry season—i.e. at
least until 1976.
These predictions proved to be grievously in error. Even as that memo was
being released, General Dung was preparing a major offensive in the
Highlands of Vietnam, which began on
and led to the capture of
Ban Me Thuot. The ARVN began a disorderly and costly retreat, hoping to
redeploy its forces and hold the southern part of South Vietnam, perhaps an
enclave south of the
Supported by artillery and armor, the North Vietnamese continued to march
towards Saigon, capturing the major cities of northern South Vietnam at the
end of March—Huế
on the 25th and
Da Nang on the 28th. Along the way, disorderly South Vietnamese retreats
and the flight of refugees—there were more than 300,000 in Da Nang—damaged
South Vietnamese prospects for a turnaround. After the loss of Da Nang, those
prospects had already been dismissed as nonexistent by American
Central Intelligence Agency officers in Vietnam, who believed nothing
B-52 strikes against
possibly stop the North Vietnamese.
By 8 April,
the North Vietnamese
which in March had recommended caution to Dung, cabled him to demand
"unremitting vigor in the attack all the way to the heart of Saigon."
On 14 April,
they renamed the campaign the "Ho Chi Minh campaign," after revolutionary
Ho Chi Minh, in the hopes of wrapping it up before his birthday on
Meanwhile, South Vietnam failed to garner any significant increase in military
aid from the United States, killing President
Nguyen Van Thieu's hopes for renewed American support.
PAVN forces reached
Xuan Loc, a strategic gateway situated on the highway into Saigon, on
battle of Xuan Loc lasted until
and though the
ARVN fought with extreme tenacity, the communists captured the town. The
North Vietnamese front line was now just 26 miles (42 km) from downtown
The victory at Xuan Loc, which had drawn many South Vietnamese troops away
Mekong Delta area,
opened the way for PAVN to encircle Saigon, and they soon did so, moving
100,000 troops in position around the city by
With the ARVN having many fewer defenders, the fate of the city was
The rapid North Vietnamese advances of March and early April led to
increased concern in Saigon that the city, which had been fairly peaceful
throughout the war and whose people had endured relatively little suffering,
was soon to come under direct attack.
Many feared that once Communists took control of the city, a bloodbath of
reprisals would take place. In 1968, PAVN and
National Liberation Front (NLF) forces had
occupied Hue for close to a month. After the Communists were repelled,
American and ARVN forces had found mass graves. A study prepared for the U.S.
mission in Vietnam indicated that the communists had targeted ARVN officers,
Catholics, intellectuals and businessmen, and other suspected
More recently, eight Americans captured in Ban Me Thout had vanished and
reports of beheadings and other executions were filtering through from Hue and
Da Nang, mostly spurred on by government propaganda.
Most Americans and other Westerners wanted to evacuate the city before it
fell, and many South Vietnamese wanted to leave as well.
As early as the end of March, some Americans were leaving the city. For
instance, ten families departed on March 31.
Flights out of Saigon, lightly booked under ordinary circumstances, were full.
Throughout April the speed of the evacuation increased, as the Defense
Attaché's Office (DAO) began to fly out nonessential personnel. Many Americans
attached to the DAO refused to leave without their Vietnamese friends and
dependents, who included common-law wives and children. It was illegal for the
DAO to move these people to American soil, and this initially slowed down the
rate of departure, but eventually the DAO began illegally flying undocumented
Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.
On 3 April,
Gerald R. Ford announced "Operation
Babylift", which would evacuate about 2000 orphans from the country. One
C-5A Galaxy planes involved in the operation crashed, killing 138
passengers and seriously reducing the morale of the American staff.
In addition to the 2000 orphans evacuated by Babylift,
Operation New Life resulted in the evacuation of over 110,000 Vietnamese
plans for final evacuation
By this time the Ford administration had also begun planning a complete
evacuation of the American presence. Planning was complicated by practical,
legal, and strategic concerns. The administration was divided on how swift the
evacuations should be.
Pentagon sought to evacuate as fast as possible, to avoid the risk of
casualties or other accidents. The U.S Ambassador to South Vietnam,
Graham Martin, was technically the field commander for any evacuation,
since evacuations are in the purview of the State Department. Martin drew the
ire of many in the Pentagon by wishing to keep the evacuation process as quiet
and orderly as possible. His desire for this was to prevent total chaos and to
deflect the real possibility of South Vietnamese turning against Americans,
and to keep all-out bloodshed from occurring.
Ford approved a plan between the extremes in which all but 1,250
Americans—few enough to be removed in a single day's helicopter airlift—would
be evacuated quickly; the remaining 1,250 would leave only when the airport
was threatened. In between, as many Vietnamese refugees as possible would be
Meanwhile, Martin began (in his words) "playing fast and loose with exit
needed] to allow any and all who wished to leave Saigon
to depart by any means available in the early days. Without the Pentagon's
knowledge, Martin and Deputy Chief of Mission Wolfgang Lehmann had already
begun allowing thousands of South Vietnamese nationals to depart.
American evacuation planning was set against other administration policies.
Ford still hoped to gain additional military aid for South Vietnam. Throughout
April, he attempted to get Congress behind a proposed appropriation of $722
million, which might allow for the reconstitution of some of the South
Vietnamese forces that had been destroyed. Kissinger was opposed to a
full-scale evacuation as long as the aid option remained on the table, because
the removal of American forces would signal a loss of faith in Thieu and
severely weaken him.
There was also concern in the administration over whether the use of
military forces to support and carry out the evacuation was permitted under
War Powers Act. Eventually
House lawyers determined that the use of American forces to rescue
citizens in an emergency was unlikely to run afoul of the law, but the
legality of using military assets to withdraw refugees was unknown.
The evacuation of Saigon also had to compete for resources with the imminent
Penh, the capital of
which fell on
While American citizens were generally assured of a simple way to leave the
country just by showing up to an evacuation point, South Vietnamese who wanted
to leave Saigon before it fell often resorted to independent arrangements. The
under-the-table payments required to gain a passport and exit visa jumped
sixfold, and the price of seagoing vessels tripled.
Those who owned property in the city were often forced to sell it at a
substantial loss or abandon it altogether; the asking price of one
particularly impressive house was cut 75 percent within a two-week period.
American visas were of enormous value, and Vietnamese seeking American
sponsors posted advertisements in newspapers. One such ad read: "Seeking
adoptive parents. Poor diligent students:" followed by names, birthdates, and
identity card numbers.
movements and attempts at a negotiated solution
As the North Vietnamese chipped away more and more of South Vietnam,
internal opposition to President Thieu continued to accumulate. For instance,
in early April, the Senate unanimously voted through a call for new
leadership, and some top military commanders were pressing for a coup. In
response to this pressure, Thieu made some changes to his cabinet, and Prime
Tran Thien Khiem resigned.
This did little to reduce the opposition to Thieu. On
8 April a
South Vietnamese pilot bombed the presidential palace and then flew to a PAVN-controlled
airstrip; Thieu was not hurt.
Many in the American mission—Martin in particular—along with some key
figures in Washington believed that negotiations with the Communists were
possible, especially if Saigon could stabilize the military situation.
Ambassador Martin's hope was that North Vietnam's leaders would be willing to
allow a "phased withdrawal" whereby a gradual departure might be achieved in
order to allow helpful locals and all Americans to leave (along with full
military withdrawal) over a period of months.
Opinions were divided on whether any government headed by Thieu could
effect such a political solution.
Provisional Revolutionary Government's foreign minister had on
indicated that the PRG might negotiate with a Saigon government that did not
include Thieu. Thus, even among Thieu's supporters, pressure was growing for
President Thieu resigned on
His remarks were particularly hard on the Americans, first for forcing South
Vietnam to accede to the
Paris Peace Accords, second for failing to support South Vietnam
afterwards, and all the while asking South Vietnam "to do an impossible thing,
like filling up the oceans with stones."
The presidency was turned over to Vice President
Tran Van Huong. The Communist line, broadcast by Radio Hanoi, was that the
new regime was merely "another puppet regime."
A Marine provides security as helicopters land at the DAO compound.
Before daybreak on
Tan Son Nhut airport was hit by rockets and heavy artillery. In the
initial shelling, C-130E, 72-1297, c/n 4519, of the 314th Tactical
Airlift Wing, out of Clark Air Base, Philippines, was destroyed by a rocket
while taxiing to pick up evacuees. The crew evacuated the burning aircraft on
the taxiway and departed the airfield on another C-130 that had previously
landed. The continuing rocket fire and debris on the runways caused General
Homer D. Smith, the U.S. defense attaché in Saigon, to advise Ambassador
Martin that the runways were unfit for use and that the emergency evacuation
of Saigon would need to be completed by helicopter.
Originally, Ambassador Martin had fully intended to effect the evacuation
by use of fixed-wing aircraft from the base. This plan was altered at a
critical time when a South Vietnamese pilot decided to defect, and jettisoned
his ordnance along the only runways still in use (which had not yet been
destroyed by shelling).
Under pressure from Kissinger, Martin forced Marine guards to take him to
the air base in the midst of continued shelling, so he might personally
ascertain the situation. After seeing that fixed-wing departures were not an
option (a mammoth decision Martin did not want to make without firsthand
responsibility in case the helicopter lift failed), Martin gave the green
light for the helicopter flights to the embassy to begin in earnest.
Reports came in from the outskirts of the city that the North Vietnamese
At 10:48 a.m., Martin relayed to Kissinger his desire to activate "the
FREQUENT WIND" evacuation plan; Kissinger gave the order three minutes later.
The American radio station began regular play of
Irving Berlin's "White
Christmas," the signal for American personnel to move immediately to the
Under this plan,
CH-46 helicopters were used to evacuate Americans and friendly Vietnamese
to ships, including the
Seventh Fleet, in the South China Sea.
The main evacuation point was the DAO compound at Tan Son Nhut; buses moved
through the city picking up passengers and driving them out to the airport,
with the first buses arriving at Tan Son Nhut shortly after noon. The first
CH-53 landed at the DAO compound in the afternoon, and by the evening, 395
Americans and more than 4,000 Vietnamese had been evacuated. By 23:00 the U.S.
Marines who were providing security were withdrawing and arranging the
demolition of the DAO office, American equipment, files, and cash.
UH-1s also participated in the evacuation.
The original evacuation plans had not called for a large-scale helicopter
operation at the U.S. embassy. Helicopters and buses were to shuttle people
from the embassy to the DAO compound. However, in the course of the evacuation
it turned out that a few thousand people were stranded at the embassy,
including many Vietnamese. Additional Vietnamese civilians gathered outside
the embassy and scaled the walls, hoping to claim refugee status.
Thunderstorms increased the difficulty of helicopter operations. Nevertheless,
the evacuation from the embassy continued more or less unbroken throughout the
evening and night.
Vietnamese refugees arriving on a U.S. Navy vessel.
At 03:45 on the morning of
the refugee evacuation was halted. Ambassador Martin had been ordering that
South Vietnamese be flown out with Americans up to that point. Kissinger and
Ford, livid with Martin's regard for the lives of the Vietnamese being equal
to those of the Americans, quickly ordered Martin to evacuate only Americans
from that point forward.
Reluctantly, Martin announced that only Americans were to be flown out, due
to worries that the North Vietnamese would soon take the city and the Ford
administration's desire to announce the completion of the American evacuation.
Ambassador Martin was ordered by President Ford to board the evacuation
The call sign of that helicopter was "Lady Ace 09", and the pilot carried
direct orders from President Ford for Ambassador Martin to be on board. The
pilot, Gerry Berry, had the orders written in grease-pencil on his kneepads.
Ambassador Martin's wife, Dorothy, had already been evacuated by previous
flights, and left behind her personal suitcase so a South Vietnamese woman
might be able to squeeze on board with her.
"Lady Ace 09" from
piloted by Berry, took off around 05:00 - had Martin refused to leave, the
Marines had a reserve order to arrest him and carry him away to ensure his
The embassy evacuation had flown out 978 Americans and about 1,100 Vietnamese.
The Marines who had been securing the embassy followed at dawn, with the last
aircraft leaving at 07:53. A few hundred Vietnamese were left behind in the
with an additional crowd gathered outside the walls.
The Americans and the refugees they flew out were generally allowed to
leave without molestation from either the North or South Vietnamese. Pilots of
helicopters heading to Tan Son Nhut were aware that PAVN anti-aircraft guns
were tracking them, but they refrained from firing. The Hanoi leadership,
reckoning that completion of the evacuation would lessen the risk of American
intervention, had instructed Dung not to target the airlift itself.
Meanwhile, members of the police in Saigon had been promised evacuation in
exchange for protecting the American evacuation buses and control of the
crowds in the city during the evacuation.
Although this was the end of the American military operation, Vietnamese
continued to leave the country by boat and, where possible, by aircraft. South
Vietnamese pilots who had access to helicopters flew them offshore to the
American fleet, where they were able to land; those who left South Vietnam
this way include at least General
Nguyen Cao Ky. Most of the South Vietnamese helicopters were dumped into
the ocean to make room on the decks for more aircraft.
South Vietnamese fighters and other small planes also landed on American
Ambassador Martin was flown out to the USS Blue Ridge, where he
pleaded for helicopters to return to the embassy compound to pick up the few
hundred remaining hopefuls waiting to be evacuated. Although his pleas were
overruled by President Ford, Martin was able to convince the
Seventh Fleet to remain on station for several days so any locals who
could make their way to sea via boat or aircraft may be rescued by the waiting
Decades later, when the U.S. reestablished diplomatic relations with
Vietnam, the old U.S. Embassy property was returned to the U.S. The historic
staircase that led to the rooftop helicopter was salvaged and is on permanent
display at the
Gerald R. Ford Museum in
Grand Rapids, Michigan.
At 06:00 on
General Dung was ordered by the Politburo to "strike with the greatest
determination straight into the enemy's final lair."
After one day of bombardment and general offensive, the North Vietnamese
were ready to make their final push into the city. In the early hours of
Dung received orders from the Politburo to attack. He then ordered his field
commanders to advance directly to key facilities and strategic points in the
The first PAVN unit to enter the city was the 324th Division.
Duong Van Minh, who had been president of South Vietnam for only three
days, at 10:24 announced a surrender and asked South Vietnamese forces "to
cease hostilities in calm and to stay where they are," while inviting the
Provisional Revolutionary Government to engage in "a ceremony of orderly
transfer of power so as to avoid any unnecessary bloodshed in the population."
However, the North Vietnamese were uninterested in a handover and simply
took the city, arresting Minh. The gates of the
Independence Palace were destroyed by PAVN tanks as they entered, and the
NLF flag was raised over the Palace at 11:30. At 15:30, Minh broadcast over
the radio, stating "I declare the Saigon government...completely dissolved at
needed] The dissolution of the South Vietnamese
government effectively ended the Vietnam War.
The Communists renamed the city after Ho Chi Minh, former President of
North Vietnam, although this name was not frequently used outside of official
Order was slowly restored, although the by-then-deserted U.S. embassy was
looted, along with many other businesses. Communications between the outside
world and Saigon were cut. The Communist party machinery in South Vietnam was
weakened, owing in part to the
Phoenix program, so the North Vietnamese army was responsible for
maintaining order and General
Tran Van Tra, Dung's administrative deputy, was placed in charge of the
The new authorities held a victory rally on
According to the Hanoi government, more than 200,000 South Vietnamese
government officials, military officers, and soldiers were sent to "reeducation
camps", where torture, disease and malnutrition were widespread.
One objective of the Communist government was to reduce the population of
Saigon, which had become swollen with an influx of people during the war and
was now overcrowded with high unemployment. "Reeducation classes" for former
soldiers in the South Vietnamese armed forces indicated that in order to
regain full standing in society they would need to move from the city and take
up farming. Handouts of rice to the poor, while forthcoming, were tied to
pledges to leave Saigon for the countryside. According to the Vietnamese
government, within two years of the capture of the city one million people had
left Saigon, and the state had a target of 500,000 further departures.
Whether the evacuation had been successful was questioned following the end
of the war. Operation Frequent Wind was generally assessed as an impressive
achievement — Van Tien Dung conceded this in his memoirs, and the
New York Times described it as being carried out with "efficiency and
But the airlift was also criticized for being too slow and hesitant and that
it was inadequate in removing Vietnamese connected with the American presence.
Ambassador Martin shouldered much of the blame, and did so without feeling
the need to explain his motives to the media. Martin's actions had either
allowed thousands of South Vietnamese to escape who otherwise would have been
trapped, or doomed thousands of others who could not escape. The evacuations
might have caused a rash of panic resulting in loss of American lives, or they
might not. Meanwhile, from the onset of the evacuation, President Ford and
Henry Kissinger were only concerned about the evacuation of crucial American
However, many in the
United States Congress (with no first-hand knowledge of the massive
operation) blamed Martin for proceeding too slowly. This was in direct
contradiction to the realities of the situation, since Martin had been the one
who had allowed many to leave the country days before the final evacuation
with little or no official reason.
The U.S. State Department estimated that the Vietnamese employees of the
American Embassy in Vietnam, past and present, and their families totaled
90,000 people. In his testimony to Congress, Martin asserted that 22,294 such
people were evacuated by the end of April.
Of the tens of thousands of former South Vietnamese employees of the State
Department, CIA, U.S military, and countless armed forces officers and
personnel at risk of communist reprisal in the northern two-thirds of the
country abandoned to the communists, nothing is known.
Vietnamese refugees in the United States and in many other countries, the
week of April 30 is referred to as Black April and is used as a time of
commemoration of the fall of Saigon. . The event is approached from
different perspectives, with arguments that the date was a sign of American
abandonment , or as a memorial of the war and
mass exodus as a whole. The term, "Black April", is the namesake for a rock
band which includes two Vietnamese-American musicians
Snepp, Frank. Decent Interval: An Insider's Account of Saigon's
Indecent End Told by the CIA's Chief Strategy Analyst in Vietnam.
Random House, 1977.
Tanner, Stephen. Epic Retreats: From 1776 to the Evacuation of
Saigon. Sarpedon, 2000.
ISBN 1-885119-57-7. See especially p. 273 and on.
Todd, Olivier. Cruel April: The Fall of Saigon. W.W. Norton &
Company, 1990. (originally published in 1987 in French)
Tucker, Spencer, ed. The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War.
Oxford University Press, 1998.
Van Tien Dung. Our Great Spring Victory: An Account of the
Liberation of South Vietnam. Monthly Review Press, 1977.
Weinraub, Bernard. "Attack on Saigon Feared; Danang Refugee Sealift is
Halted by Rocket Fire", The New York Times,
1975. p. 1.
"The Americans Depart", The New York Times,
1975. p. 40.
24/4/1975 Mỹ - Hương đề nghị xin ngưng bắn... Diễn biến dồn dập ấy diễn ra
cùng lúc với 5 cách quân gồm 270.000 bộ đội chủ lực và 180.000
người khác phục vụ chiến dịch đang từng bước chiếm lĩnh các vị trí xuất
phát tiến công vào Sài G̣n.
^ Trong chiến
dịch Hồ Chí Minh, riêng quân dân Sài G̣n - Gia Định đă diệt và làm tan ră
31.000 tên địch
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