- THE VIETNAM CENTER AND ARCHIVE
- Texas Tech University
US Marines wait for the order to board helicopters on the deck of a carrier in the South China Sea for the flight to Saigon where they will guard evacuations
The DAO building on 30 April 1975, after the US Marine demolitions team fired the charges. In the foreground is the office and hangar of Air America.
Meanwhile, the embassy personnel had begun their evacuation as well. The original plan called for only a small group at the embassy needing to be evacuated, but as the day wore on more and more people made their way to the embassy desperate to get out. As the DAO evacuation wound down, many of the Marines securing the airport were moved to the embassy to provide more security for the crowds. Ambassador Graham Martin tried his best to evacuate as many Vietnamese refugees as possible; throughout the day whenever the Navy command asked how many people remained at the embassy for evacuation he always claimed he had 2,000 evacuees for airlift in an effort to keep the helicopters coming. At 3:00 a.m. April 30, this message was broadcast to the helicopters in the airlift: "The following message is from the President of the United States and should be passed on by the first helicopter in contact with Ambassador Martin. Only 21 lifts remain. Americans only will be transported. Ambassador Martin will board the first available helicopter and that helicopter will broadcast 'Tiger, Tiger, Tiger' once it is airborne and en route." Martin was left with no choice and at 4:45 a.m., he boarded a helicopter and left the embassy. The remaining Americans also boarded helicopters with the final flight leaving at 7:53 a.m. carrying the last of the Marine guards. The Americans had finally left Vietnam, leaving over 400 Vietnamese refugees, who they had promised to get out, on the grounds of the embassy. A few hours later the communists arrived in Saigon with their tanks and troops. All in all over 130,000 people were evacuated from South Vietnam. On that last day over 662 helicopter missions were flown evacuating over 7,000 people; during the entire operation only three helicopters and two crewmen were lost, a truly amazing feat given the desperate circumstances.