But finally, on the morning of 29 April, with Communist forces penetrating the city from all sides, there were no remaining options. American ambassador Graham Martin reluctantly ordered the long-anticipated pullout from Saigon, and “Operation Frequent Wind” was underway.
EXODUS BY AIR AND SEA During the next two days over 7,000 “official” evacuees were flown from the courtyard of the American Embassy in Saigon, and the Defense Attache’s Office (DAO) compound at Tan Son Nhut Airbase on the outskirts of the city 4.
KIRK was eager to pull her weight in the Seventh Fleet, but what began as a “normal” deployment soon changed dramatically.
War was still raging in Vietnam, but it was no longer KIRK’s war, as American combat forces were long gone.
A CHANGE OF PLANS KIRK sailed from San Diego in early March 1975, beginning her second Western Pacific deployment since commissioning in 1972.
She was fully manned, fully trained, and loaded for bear.
HANCOCK then barreled at high speed from Pearl Harbor to the Western Pacific to join the growing evacuation group, receiving additional Marine helicopters along the way from USS MIDWAY (CV-43) in a late-night, high speed consolidation exercise in the San Bernardino Strait.
These desperate aircrews – flying the ubiquitous “Huey” (UH-1) helicopters – were never considered in the detailed planning of the Frequent Wind operation, and they soon proved to be a complication.
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Eventually, more than fifty ships of the United States Navy, plus a large number of Military Sealift Command (MSC) and civilian contract vessels took part in the operations, along with aviation units of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force 1.
One facet of this intricate plan sent the venerable attack carrier USS HANCOCK (CV-19) to Hawaii to offload most of her air wing, trading in her Navy fighter and attack aircraft for Marine heavy lift troop carrying helicopters.
The unmistakable sound of American heavy helicopters thundering in from the sea and across the city signaled to those below that the evacuation was in full swing.