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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“Of course it is,” Sullivan said.

“I ain’t ending up in no camp,” said another, who motioned toward one of the machine guns. “I got my spot picked out.”

“We better take a vote,” Sullivan said. He had no doubt how it would come out. But he wanted to make it official.

One by one, each man voted to fight.

Kean looked over the rampart and checked his watch. It had been just over an hour.

Sergeant Terry Bennington, squatting behind his M-60, and Corporal Dave Norman, lying on his back on the helipad, spotted it simultaneously: a slender white contrail painting the blue sky far to the southeast.

“Major Kean.”

In the time it took Kean to raise his binoculars, the contours of the CH-46 became visible. Four Marine AH-Cobra gunships flew cover on the compass points— above, below, and to either side of the Sea Knight, criss-crossing in attack formation every half mile.

The sniping turned into a barrage as the chopper banked for its final approach and the CH-46 set its great black tires down on the rooftop helipad. Its crew chief dropped the tailgate. The glass in the side windows had been shot out.

Kean ran to the cockpit and shouted above the beating blades, “Waitin’ for you. Didn’t think you were coming.”

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