Last Men Out

As Saigon fell, a small band of Marines pulled off the final evacuation.

During the United States’ final 24 hours in Vietnam, American nationals and Vietnamese refugees were crowded onto Marine and Air Force helicopters that landed within the U.S. embassy compound. (Courtesy Stuart Herrington)
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Carey’s voice crackled over the air. “And I want you, Major, to understand that the president of the United States directs.”

As a dazed, hunched Ambassador Martin shuffled toward the helicopter, one of his bodyguards handed him the folded embassy flag. The ambassador stepped into the waiting Sea Knight. It was 4:58 a.m., April 30, 1975.

As Berry landed on the Blue Ridge, his crew chief’s voice came over the intercom.

“We going back in for those Marines?”

DESPITE THE RADIO conversation with Carey, Kean had not quite given up on the arrival of more rescue helicopters. After Berry’s CH-46 lifted off, he waited in vain for another helicopter.

“No more CH-53s,” Kean announced. “Just Americans now. Roof.”

Kean sprinted toward the Marine security guards. “On my signal we will withdraw calmly in a semicircle toward the embassy front door,” Kean told each squad leader. “No running, no shouting.”

They formed three concentric half-moons of about 15 men each. As the entire mass of Marines edged slowly backward, the 400 or so Vietnamese began to stir.

For one moment it seemed as if events were transpiring in slow motion. The Vietnamese stared blankly at the American troops as the outermost perimeter, its flanks collapsing in on itself, backed into the lobby. Perhaps half of the Marines in the second perimeter had made it inside before a giant roar drowned out even the sounds of artillery falling on the city’s outskirts.

“Here they come!” someone shouted, and the front gates gave way like matchsticks.

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