Operation Frequent Wind Rediscovered, Remembered After 30 Years
by Lance Cpl. T. J. Kaemmerer
Marine Corps News
May 23, 2005
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan - The Marine Corps is full of tradition and Marines pride themselves on maintaining the legacy that was created by those who served before them.
Vietnam veteran and retired Master Gunnery Sgt., Stanley E. Stewart, recently recalled his experiences on April 29, 1975, during the final operation in Saigon; Operation Frequent Wind. Marines with 4th Marine Regiment aboard Camp Schwab also discovered that portion of their unit's illustrious history.
As the situation in Vietnam deteriorated in 1975, elements of the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade, where Stewart was assigned as the communications chief, along with members of the 33rd Marine Amphibious Unit, comprised of various units including 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, from Okinawa, Japan, were given the daunting responsibility of planning the evacuation of American citizens and Vietnamese refugees from Saigon.
Planning ended on April 29, when artillery rounds and rockets landed in the Defense Attaché Office compound at about 4 a.m., instantly killing two young Marines on security duty there. At approximately noon, the order was given to execute Operation Frequent Wind, explained Capt. B. A. Buckel, assistant operations officer with 4th Marines.
"All the planning for the worst-case scenario really paid off," Buckel said. "They planned it out, went in and got the job done. The Marines were the last ones with their boots on the ground in Vietnam. I just learned about it and it makes me even more proud to be a member of 4th Marines."
During the evacuation, military helicopters dropped Regimental Landing Team-4, the ground security component, at seven landing zones near the DAO compound. Once on the ground, they moved to set up security positions. With the planning detailed out to the fire team level, each Marine knew exactly where to evacuate the civilians in a smooth, orderly fashion, said Lance Cpl. Hugh D. Wood, 4th Marines' temporary unit historian.
Though the evacuation efforts were under continuous rifle and artillery fire, the security force had no combat-related deaths or injuries. During a nearly constant barrage of explosions, the Marines loaded American and Vietnamese civilians, who feared for their lives, onto helicopters that brought them to waiting aircraft carriers. The Navy vessels brought them to the Philippines and eventually to Camp Pendleton, Calif.
"When we got on the ship, the South Vietnamese were landing helicopters right on the deck," said Stewart, remembering his actions during the operation. "We'd take the people off and push the helicopters over the side. They tried to land (planes) on the ship and the Navy would wave them off. Then they'd ditch the planes into the ocean and jump out and the Navy would fish them out of the water. It was very hectic."
The planners anticipated they would be moving about 100 people out of Saigon, but when it was over, they had relocated 1,373 Americans and 5,595 foreign refugees.
There came a point during the night when the order was given to only take American citizens because the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong were getting close to the DOA compound and American Embassy.
"I can't imagine what it must have been like to have to look at those people, knowing that if they were caught they'd probably be killed," Buckel said. "As good a feeling as it must've been helping the ones they could, there also had to be a little bit of guilt there too."
The last helicopters were taking off with their Marine passengers as the drone of enemy tanks were heard coming toward the compound.
"The North Vietnamese were sitting right outside Saigon just waiting for us to leave so they could come in and take over," Stewart said. "When we got out of there, we didn't know where we were going. They just set us down aboard whatever ship was available. It was quite an operation. Everyone was a hero that day."
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