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MEMORIES OF THE FALL OF SAIGON - APRIL 29, 1975 - Fred Walker's Diary
- E. G. Adams
By Capt. Fred Walker
April 15 10:30 PM Tremendous explosion. Our 70 apartment building moved. Ammo dump, Bien Hoa, went. Lots of secondary explosions. Heard today that evacuation fleet lying off Vung Tau left station and went back to Philippine Islands to replenish supplies. That will leave all Americans uncovered for 7-10 days.
16-18 NVA advancing everywhere. Massing divisions N., W. & SW. of Saigon. Tension. Helicopter pads set up at various points. Many C-141ís daily. Phnom Penh fell on the 17th. Received emergency evacuation aircraft assignments. I have C-47 #43-16147.
21 Jim Voyles shot up in VTB today vicinity Phan Rang (enemy airport) put out may day. I called for helicopters, 2500, 2000, 1000 ft. but landed OK at Vung Tau, VO5. RON V32 Caribouís N11014. Went swimming on perfect beach. C-130 and seven jolly green H/C passed overhead Con Son Island this morning at 10:30 heading NE Inspiring sight and extremely good for morale. Indicates 7th Fleet in area.
22-23 Situation very tense; something imminent. Pres. Thieu resigned.
24 1:30 PM Red alert for two hours, attack expected.
Steveís restaurant asked to house entire 40 man ICCS delegation. ICCS
O.I.C. said attack coming in next hour (he should know). Nothing happened,
25 NVA army was to attack at 0600L this morning, but didnít. Thatís nice. Now hear it was pro-Chinese NVA Gen. Truong Chinh who was shot and not Gen. Giap (shooting Gen. Giap would have been like shooting Geo. Washington in 1780). U.S. making many helicopter pads at airport. Moving structures, bulldozing buildings, surfacing dirt areas, cutting trees and telephone poles, etc. PX and Stop & Shop items at Ĺ price or less. No More U.S. beer for sale "quelle tragedy!" Same for liquor and wine.
26 Hear lots of bombing SW of town. Have for several days now. Many 100ís of SVN refugees around main gate at airport this past week. Complete news blackout on SVN on U.S. run Saigon FM 99.9 for last six days (censorship). Some getting a bit irritable lately. In addition to not knowing whether or not we are going to get out of SVN safely, thereís a constant threat of SA-7 Strela missiles when flying and new, unplotted AAA positions. Reds now have 57-MM firecan radar position 290 degrees, eight miles from airport. Thatís just great news. Probably others around Saigon. Most of us have been living out of an airline handbag for weeks now. All other possessions sent away, given away or in one suitcase at airport. Atrocities at Phnom Penh public beheadings, which gives us something more to think about.
27 Tension building. Lots of rumors. Thoughts of TSN going up and us being unable to fly out. 200 police strung together at Ban Me Thuot and shot.
28 1820L Had Reed Chaseís car. Left airline bag at 87 Nguyen Din Chieu and took car back to airport. Got 100 yards short of gate when heard six explosions, 500# bombs. Three NVA in VNAF A-37ís from north. Three Americans in car ahead literally fell out onto ground with panicky looks and crawled around to rear door and pulled out flak jackets. Drove up beside them and asked what was problem. Unintelligible answer. Asked again and one shouted Small arms fire. I didnít hear any, nor did Capt. John Fonburg, who was with me. ARVN guard rushed up and told us to beat it. Superfluous instructions, Iíd say. Drove across grass, down a one-way street the wrong way and headed for town. Both of us seriously doubted small arms report, as it was very doubtful NVA could be in that section of town.
Halfway in town tremendous traffic jam. Lots of inbound cars doing 180ís and heading back to airport, which indicated 1. A traffic snarl or 2. Some terrorist activity. Just prior to reaching heavy traffic, heard multiple explosions and saw hundreds of anti-aircraft (37 & 40 mm) bursts around 2 A-37ís. They missed. Re: traffic jam, not wishing to get stuck in that or to encounter terrorists, did fast 180 and drove back to 259, a USAID billet housing about 40 AAM pilots and supervisory personnel. Seven story building located about one kilometer from airport.
Went up on roof and noted many fires and much black smoke at airport. 24-hour curfew immediately imposed, so was stuck at 259. Real bright to leave airline bag at 87, Nguyen Dinh Chieu with passport, checkbook, money and other valuables. Found bed with Capt. Fred Stikkel and another helicopter captain. Met Gen. D. T. Phuong.
7:30 PM Tremendous explosion 10-15 miles NE probably Long Binh ammo dump near Bien Hoa. Helluva explosion our 112 unit apartment building moved. On roof could see many large secondary explosions on this clear night. All AAM personnel remained at point they were caught at. Some ops personnel and helicopter and fixed wing pilots at airport. Telephoned Capt. Art Wilson at 87, Nguyen Dinh Chieu and asked him to get my airline bag. He said, "Donít worry, Freddie Boo (heís an irreverent type), I shall get your bag without fail." In bed about midnight.
April 29, 1975 Awakened at 4:00 AM (J.C.) by nearby and multiple heavy explosions. On roof saw Tan Son Nhut under heavy artillery attack by 130-mm cannon, 122-mm rocket and mortar fire. Many aircraft burning. At that point we all figured that maybe weíd have to walk and swim to the 7th Fleet. Intense fire continued from 0400 to 0830 before letting up somewhat just somewhat. AAM ramp area took one hit that badly damaged 2 helicopters with minor damage to 3 more. No fixed wing a/c hit. Ops reluctant to launch helicopters for fear of drawing fire a head in sand (or some place else) attitude, as without the helicopter pilots at 259 we would not operate. After attack started, many VNAF airplanes took off C-130ís, C-47ís, C-119 gunships, F-5ís, etc. Thought they were going to pound the reds but no such luck as they all scrammed out of the area and went to U-tapao, Thailand. Great support.
The powers-that-be finally decided that they would launch a helicopter and the first one off came to 259 about 0830 and picked 10 helicopter pilots off the roof and took them to the airport. Came right back and picked up 6 more. On third trip at 0845 eight fixed wing pilots, including myself, were taken to airport.
Much activity there plus incoming artillery, rockets and mortars in the immediate area about every minute or so. Many ground personnel in ops. Some pretty shook up. Certain amount of hesitancy about launching fixed wing aircraft, but every explosion outside further convinced me that we had worn out our welcome in Saigon. Waited around and, finally about 0930 we launched C-47 #559 and C-47 #084. Then every 10 minutes or so another AAM fixed wing aircraft took off. I finally got the O.K. to go at 10:05. Checked a/c over very briefly and was about to get aboard when Art Wilson drove up and handed me my airline bag. Extremely glad to see that. Started engines and taxied over by our hangar and boarded 24 passengers very quickly. Watched out cockpit window and as last one got on, saw many refugees climbing high cement wall behind my aircraft. Forgot to mention that during the morning some VNAF pilots stole four of our helicopters. Also, we were all armed and some operations personnel had to standoff some armed ARVN soldiers who tried to board our aircraft. Fortunately, no shooting took place.
As Capt. Ed Adams was about to board his C-46, and ARVN soldier tried to forcibly embark. Ed stopped him and the guy started to swing an M-16 around to point at him. The soldier got the gun about half way around when Ed knocked him on his ass (busting his hand in the process) and disarmed him. That ended that.
We taxied out and, as we rounded our hangar where we could see the taxiways and military and civilian ramps, a scene of utter desolation confronted us airplanes burning, bombed out and burnt out airplanes and helicopters, debris everywhere. Christ, what a sight! Immediately saw that we probably could get to the runway.
A C-130 was burning right next to the taxiway on one side with a wrecked CH-53 twin rotor a/c on the other, which was the civilian ramp. Rather than taxi between the two, which would have forced up to pass close aboard the burning C-130 which was going to blow up momentarily, I went through the civilian ramp area past the gutted terminal picking my way around baggage, wrecked automobiles, bicycles, shell holes, shrapnel you name it and rejoined the taxiway further on.
Next, at the east-west, north-south taxiway intersection, we found it partially blocked by a completely burnt out USAF C-130. There was just room to get by the tail of this hulk and we made it and swung out onto the runway which, by the grace of God, wasnít damaged and without further ado took off. With the reds all around town, we gained some altitude over the city then headed for the open sea about 25 miles away to the southeast. The airport was taking a real shellacking as we taxied out and took off but they missed hitting us. Guess weíve been living right.
As it was probably all enemy territory, we didnít relax until we were well offshore. Then we took stock of our situation. We knew we only had 500 galls of gas so we couldnít go to our originally planned destination of Brunei, some 700 miles southeast. Also, we could not go to a small airstrip 125 miles south of Saigon where we had some emergency gas supplies stashed, so our only option was to head for Thailand, in spite of knowing beforehand that the Thais didnít want any Saigon airplanes landing in Thailand. The Thais couldnít care less about refugees, their main concern was and is not offending the communists. They have now very conveniently forgotten 25 years of assistance.
When I left the ramp at Saigon, there were two C-46ís and two VTBís still there but they got airborne shortly. The bombing attack the night of the 28th stopped all refueling so we ended up with four C-47ís and two C-46ís and one VTB heading for friendly territory in Thailand. Only one C-47, #083, had full tanks and he headed for Brunei. The helicopters continued picking up personnel around Saigon and ferrying them to the aircraft carriers offshore the rest of the morning, finally ceasing operations at 6:30 PM. That ended AAMís flight operations after some 25 years in Southeast Asia. We lost some airplanes and much equipment but, thank God, no one was lost/hurt in this final operation.
The company did a fantastic job in the last 2-1/2 decades and we closed it out with a clean slate. On the debit side, pause and think that the reds have forcibly taken over two countries in the last 13 days. Cambodia on April 17th and South Vietnam on April 30th. Two black dates for millions of people and a real blot on our escutcheon.
Enroute to Thailand we established intership VHF communications and
concluded that we would receive a less hostile reception at the USAF bast
at U-Tapao, some 75 miles SSE of Bangkok, so we all landed there.
Landed at U-tapao and received a warm welcome from the USAF personnel.
The first man I met at the foot of the ladder was a Sergeant and the first
thing he said was that he had seen both me any my copilot many times in
Udorn, Thailand in 1968 and why the hell didnít we stop stocking our
necks out and retire. Good to see a friendly face.
In all we landed four AAM C-47ís and one VTB at U-tapao. One C-47 had a complete hydraulic failure shortly after takeoff at Saigon and after a successful landing at U-tapao, ran off a taxiway and into a ditch, collapsing one main gear in the process as well as tearing off the tail wheel and twisting the tail structure. No one hurt, fortunately.
We stood around in the 100-degree heat for about five hours and then the Base Commander, a full Colonel, advised us that he needed the ramp space and that we would all have to go to Bangkok. That little order made my day as my apartment is in Bangkok. So we finally left U-tapao at 10:15 PM and arrived at 11:00 PM in Bangkok.
All in all, that was quite a month, April was.
April 11, 1975 I guess you have heard about the trouble over here. Iíve tried to call a couple of times but the lines are always busy; Iíll probably get you before you get this letter. Things arenít as bad as they sound. Air Americaís been handling things pretty well, better than anyone else around here (we've got it together). The Embassy has been bad their people have been bad, in Da Nang and Nha Trang. I am really disgusted.
You might have seen me on TV if you saw pictures of that C5A crash. I got to it about an hour after it happened. We came up from down south (Can Tho) and the other AAM chopper had already picked up all the survivors. We were climbing around the tail section looking for the recorder, also going through everything else looking for babies. The pilot did a very good job it could have been a lot worse.
Last week I road up from Can Tho (itís in the Delta) with Gen. Weyand, actually in his Air America airplane. I sat right behind him and talked to him a little (tell him how to straighten out his mess use the bomb). He seemed like a pretty good guy. One of his aides tried to prevent us getting on the plane but we just kept walking toward it and got on. If we didnít get on that one we would have had to spend the night in Can Tho and didnít want to do that. We didnít really care who he was and there was room so we got on.
Anyway, donít worry Dad. Iíll be all right. We can make it to the Seventh Fleet with our choppers if it comes to that.
May 25, 1975 Iím sorry I havenít written sooner. I guess youíre wondering about my experience for the last month or so? Well it was interesting!
I was working Nha Trang when Danang went down the tubes,
it was bad. Then Nha Trang fell a few days later. It wasnít as bad but
it wasnít nice. We all felt it was only a mater of weeks until the
people in Saigon turned against us. We couldnít relax, the enemy
situation was getting worse and the friendlies were getting worse. Most of
our American crews were moved into a big USAID building we could land
helicopters on (weíd have one there every night) (except the night
before Saigon fell). We (Izzy Freedmand and myself and other helicopter
pilots) were there for about three weeks. (It was nice living.)
Our Thing was to pick up people all over the city and drop them at areas where the Marines and Air Force choppers could pick them up and take them to ships. By 9:30 AM we finally got picked up off our roof and out to the airfield which was still receiving enemy fire, sporadically. We were ready to go but our boss said wait. They had not received the word to start the evacuation yet. That had to come from Ambassador Martin. So we raised hell (Izzy & I) and the boss told the two of us to go pick up the other crews. Just as I get to my chopper some VNAF pilots drive up and tell me theyíre going to take our choppers. So I point my gun at them and tell them to leave, which they do. Just then a shell exploded pretty close showering us (my Filipino mechanic and me) with dirt and rocks. So we hop in the aircraft, start it, and get out of there. Izzy was headed for the helicopter next to mine, but when the shell exploded grabbed the closest one to him and took off. No one was hit in that one, but it was close.
So we started shuttling from the downtown pads to the airfield and immediately started receiving ground fire from the friendly troops throughout the city (this went on and off all day) but only had one chopper take one hit. They werenít very good shots. After we got most of our crews to the airfield, we were told to find a pad and shut down (the Ambassador still had not given the word to start yet). So I landed at a DAO pad near the airfield (so I could talk to AAM on my radio from the ground if I had to). When I got there an Air Force officer, U.S. type, asked me to take some important papers (800 lbs. worth) out to the USS Blue Ridge. I check with my boss, he said ok so I left with 800 lbs. and five Americans.
When I arrived at the Blue Ridge there were 5 or 6 VNAF helicopters and one AAM ICCS helicopter circling the ship. I couldnít talk to anyone, my radios were bad. I couldnít wait for all these guys to land; I was getting low on gas and had to get back to Saigon. So I just pulled up and hovered off the back of the ship (it was moving) until the chopper on the deck took off than I landed. (The pad is just big enough for one helicopter at a time.) I dropped my passengers and cargo and asked if they could fix my radios and if they had any gas. They could not fix my radios but could give me gas.
All the VNAF choppers that landed on the ship were told to ditch their aircraft after the passengers got off. Then theyíd pick up the pilot in a small boat. They didnít realize the ICCS chopper was an American aircraft or they would not have had him ditch. The ICCS chopper was being flown by a VNAF pilot who stole the aircraft off our other ramp. (Now comes a strange story.)
While my flight mechanic was refueling the aircraft I saw
what I thought was an explosion up at the right forward side of the ship.
A few seconds later I felt a hard jolt in my helicopter. Immediately I
looked at my instruments, about all my caution lights were on, so I shut
the aircraft down. I had no idea what had happened, I looked at the fire
fighting crew and they were just standing ready, so I was pretty sure I
wasnít on fire. I got out to take a look and saw my engine oil just
pouring out of the engine compartment all over the deck and a helicopter
tail rotor sticking out of my engine like a knife blade. I picked up our
bags and brought them up away from the aircraft, just in case she decided
to burn. As I headed back to the cockpit to get the rest of my stuff I
noticed a VNAF chopper very close trying to land next to me. There
wasnít enough room for the two of us but he was going to land anyway. So
I grabbed my stuff and got away from the aircraft. My rotor-blades were
still turning, slowing down but still turning pretty fast. He landed
anyway and locked rotor blades with my aircraft, which almost knocked his
chopper over board. While it was just hanging on the rear of the ship, all
the people jumped out then the crew of the ship pushed it over board. They
took my aircraft and pushed it up on deck and saved it.
All this happened about 12:00 noon, Tuesday April 29, 1975. I stayed on the USS Blue Ridge for seven days and it was pretty nice. The Ambassador and Ky and a few other VIPís were on board also.
It was quite an interesting few days; it could have been a lot worse getting out of Saigon if the bad guys wanted to make it that way.
As the last [or one of the last] fixed wing types to depart Saigon on 29 April 1975, I have been asked to jot down my recollections of what went on during that confusing and, for me, memorable time. I would like to beg forbearance ahead of time for those of you that saw things differently - recall the exact dates better than I do - and for the, I am sure, many misspellings of the names of people and places. Through the rosy glasses of memory, I have attempted to recall things as they happened. There may be a small amount of artistic license infused in the narrative, brought about by time - and the retelling of the story at Max's on Pat Pong, the Go Down in Hong Kong, Harvey's in DC and other watering holes frequented by those of our ilk. But - that be as it may - here is my tale.
For me the last days of Saigon began a month or so before
April 29, 1975. At that time, I was Station Manager at Nha Trang - and Air
Liaison for II Corps. Our first indication that things were not going well
was when the NVA crossed out of Cambodia and overran Ban Me Thuot. I was
rousted out early one morning and advised that the senior U.S. rep. in BMT
had radioed that the city was being overrun and things looked bleak. I
called Manny DeGusman, my Lead Mechanic, and asked that he startup N-54U,
my Station VTB-18, for an immediate departure. Within minutes I was
airborne for the 30-minute flight to BMT. Arriving overhead, I established
contact with the Rep. [Ron Struheric] who reported he was safe in his
villa/office - but was surrounded by NVA. I could see an M-54 Russian tank
parked in front of his house with the cannon barrel pointed at the gate.
At about that
I told the guys to get ready, and plunked my aircraft on the end of the runway, screeched to a halt beside the bunker, and they jumped out. Leaving the aircraft running, I also got out. By actual count, I noticed 14,428 locals headed toward us - all ARVN or civilians. The first group to reach the plane, were a group of 5 ARVN. I asked them [Ugh Ugh and Pointy-Talky] if they wanted out. They emphatically indicated that they did. I again P-T'd to them that if they kept the other 14,423 people away from the aircraft, they were more than welcome to accompany us. With a few well chosen bursts from their M-1 carbines [overhead the crowd] they stopped the horde in their tracks. About that time there was a rather large explosion in the bunker [which caused me to damn near jump out of my boots] and my two original guys came sprinting back and climbed aboard. I was already in the cockpit and yelled for them to let the 5 ARVN on board - which they did - and we were rolling before the door was fully closed, and airborne just as it was.
The next day, I was advised that I had to go to DC, and so packed a suitcase and left. I was there for just a few days, and was getting ready to return when I was advised that we had lost Nha Trang. For the second time - there went all my stuff - with the biggest loss, my cat. This was the end of the beginning of the end.
Upon arrival back in Saigon, with no clothes or a place to
hang them, I was advised that an apartment near the airport and across
from a USAID high rise apartment was available. I took it - and settled in
for what was the
That evening, while sitting in the bar at the Ambassador Hotel, Zimmerman pulled out this humongous set of keys - threw them on the bar - and said "it's all yours - I'm not going back". I said "OK", and put the keys in my pocket. They were to his apartment - which was in the same complex as mine - and just a few doors down, as well as his car.
A few days later Paul Velte, our CEO, arrived in Saigon.
His stated intention was to be the Last Man Out. Needing a place to stay,
I noted to him that Zimmerman's place was fully furnished - food in the
kitchen - and vacant. Being sensible, he said OK, and I gave him the key.
I also noted to him that if he was going to be the Last Man Out - I would
have a VTB ready, and fly him out. To this he agreed. Later that evening,
the occupants of the complex had a meeting, which reviewed our individual
responsibilities in case of a "TET" type overrun of the city -
and our apartment coming under attack. All individual positions were well
covered except for the main gate into the compound. This entrance was
directly across from Zimmerman's flat - now occupied by Paul Velte. It was
decided that I would approach him to see how things might go. I took an
M-1 carbine, knocked at his door, and
On 28 April, I had a trip to Danang in a C-46. Things were in the process of shutting down and I returned to Saigon early - about 1600 hrs. During that period, we were keeping a 24-hour "Watch" at the airport operations office. I was scheduled to be on duty that night and decided to go home and have an early dinner first. I also had certain classified ideas in mind. Arriving home, I saw Al Brau - a neighbor in the complex, and invited him to eat with me. While we were sitting at the table, we kept hearing what at first I took to be thunder - then realized that it was not. Al and I went to the multi-story building next to my single story wing, and went up to the roof where our helicopter pick-up area was - and where we had a T/R radio. We called the base and were notified that Tan San Nhut was under bombardment by hostile aircraft and to remain where we were. This we did.
The next morning, 29 April, 1975, broke sunny with moderate cumulus clouds at about 3,000'. All seemed quiet. At that time, I still had Zimmerman's car. The first thing I did was load it with everything I could get in it. I had purchased in the local market some large wicker baskets (4 x 3 x 3) and these I stuffed full of my Stuff. I had quite a bit of this because with the exchange rate going out the roof, things in the market were VERY inexpensive those last few days. I then asked if anyone wanted to go to the airport with me. Al Brau was the only one to say yes. There were a lot of people milling around, and it was suggested that we drive across the street to the USAID apartment, where there were many Air America types living as well as USAID staff, and see if anybody there wanted to go. This I did, and it was decided that we would "Convoy" as many cars as we could get and take all that wanted to go. Just as we were getting things lined up - some guy from the embassy came in and said "Nobody go - everybody stay here".
Well, I had all my Stuff in my [Zimmerman's] car, and I wasn't about to lose it. There was talk about the road being overrun with wild guys and maybe Viet Cong. My thought was to go slow, pay attention - and see how far I could get. So - all by myself, I drove down our lane to the main street leading into the airport. All seemed quiet out there, with a small amount of traffic going in both directions, so I proceeded on to the airport. At the Main Gate, there were copious amounts of concertina wire in all directions, and an ARVN policeman guarding it. When I pulled up, he motioned me to turn around and go away. I applied my "Simple Stupid" act [which comes easy to me] and thought I would try to out-wait him. This went on for a few minutes, and then a large blue bus - like our school busses - pulled up behind me. The guard then got more animated about me turning around and getting out of the way and was about to get physical - when I asked him who the people on the bus were. He let me know that the bus was full of people that were going to fly out that morning. At that - I leaned back - pointed to Wings on my uniform - and said, " Well, I am the pilot who is going to fly them out". With that, he jumped to attention - saluted - blew his whistle in an eardrum breaking blast - and waved me through the gate with a flourish.
Upon arrival at the Air America ramp, I drove through the flight line gate and up beside the VTB that I was going to fly Paul Velte out in. I unloaded all my baskets and suitcases on to the VTB and then drove the car back to flight line gate and parked it up against it. Then I went upstairs to the operations section - told Mr. Velte that I was here and ready whenever he was. He said "Very good - I'll let you know" - and with that, I went out by the operations desk to see what was going on. About that time, a helicopter pilot came in and said that he had been mobbed by ARVN and others who wanted him to fly them out. He had an assigned pickup to make and needed help in getting these unauthorized people off his aircraft. I said I would help him, and picking up an M-16 [of which there were many - many laying around] I went down to the ramp with him. As he was getting into his aircraft, which was still running, I slid open the Pax Compartment door - stuck the barrel of the M-16 inside - and motioned everybody to get out. Surprisingly - they all did. The 'chopper then departed to make his assigned pickup.
Over the next hour or so - many 'choppers came in with unauthorized pax loads, landed by me, were divested of their load, and went about their business. There were many too many people on the ramp that did not belong there, so I placed a C-46 Pax loading stair up against the wall along the side of the ramp, escorted these people over to it and had them jump over - again, I had no trouble. I then noticed that a C-46 parked behind my VTB had a crowd of locals crammed in it. Figuring that these were not authorized pax - but rather the ones that I had downloaded from the 'choppers - I unloaded them all and had them jump the wall also. Then embassy types started coming from different places and asked me to get the locals that they had with them - out. I said OK, and started putting them on the recently vacated C-46. This went for locals that I recognized as well - the Maitre D' of Fragates restaurant in Nha Trang - a waiter from the airport restaurant - AAM employees not needed at that time - young ladies that spoke good English.
During a quiet spell I was walking around the ramp. I entered the Traffic building - which had a small hallway leading from the passenger lounge area onto the ramp - and ran into a group of 5 ARVN walking through to get on the ramp. I held up my right hand and told them they could not go though. The lead soldier had an M-16 which he started to raise. I had an M-16 also, but it was in my left hand - pointed to the ground - and he had the drop on me. So - before he could get his weapon fully raised - I hit him as hard as I could on the point of his chin - and cold cocked him right there. At the same time I raised my M-16, and motioned for his surprised compadres [who had not been able to see our little drama] to drag him back out of the hallway - out the door to the parking lot - and away - and I then I dropped the 4x6 bar over the door locks. I then said a nasty word, as the pain from the hand I had broken, hit me. This broken hand was - as far as I know - the only casualty of the civilian evacuation of Saigon. I believe that I heard of a Marine pilot having a problem, but I am not certain.
So - with my hand swelling up like a boxing glove, I returned to the ramp. The main noise to be noticed was the constant blast from incoming artillery/rockets. These seemed to be from all directions so I figured that an all-out assault was not in progress, just long distance shelling. Not to worry. But then I noticed that there was a pall upon the ramp - nobody was there - no aircraft were departing - no 'choppers were coming in and out. And about the time I noticed this, a round of incoming artillery hit the main hangar about 35 or 40 feet from me. "Ha" I said, "I best go see if Mr. Velte is about ready to leave." I then went up stairs to the Operations Office - only to discover that the place was empty. Mr. Velte and all the others had cut a chogie and had dee-dee mou'ed. I may not be too swift, but it dawned on me that now might be a good time for me to also depart. With that thought, I went down to the VTB I had placed my Stuff in, and climbed into the cockpit. I then caught a glimpse of the C-46 that I had loaded with all those people. I could not leave them behind. I did not know who was scheduled to take that airplane out, but it was evident that they were not going to.
About that time, I spotted two locals walking across the ramp in my direction. I climbed back out of the VTB, waved them over, asked them if they wanted a ride out. When they replied in the affirmative - which did not surprise me - I noted to them that if they would transfer all the Stuff in the VTB - into the rear belly hold of the C-46, I would indeed fly them out. They accomplished this with great dispatch - and it was time to go.
Doing a quick walk around the aircraft to insure all the
gust locks etc. were removed [More like a "Hustle" around] I
noticed that there were so many people at the aircraft that they could not
all fit inside. With a lot of gesticulating and grunts - all those outside
- were convinced to push enough to get inside. I then made it up and
managed to close the door. This was a "T" category aircraft with
a regular airline interior rather than our standard cargo version with no
seats. With the 52 seats fully occupied - there were about 5 people to
each set of 2 seats, plus people standing in the aisle, plus people in the
toilet and in the baggage area in the rear - I figure that I had about 152
pax in a 52 pax aircraft. Not to worry. With much assistance from the
people in the seats and in the aisle, I managed to make it to the cockpit.
An AAM mechanic was on board - and I am sorry to admit I do not remember
his name. He gave me great moral support.
Now - aware that the chap that was supposed to be flying the communications platform to relay messages from the various rooftop pickup points and aircraft returning from the various ships off shore and the command post at MACV and other as required places had bugged out without doing his assigned task - I checked in and said that I would act as the platform. I did this while circling overhead Saigon in a constant climb - the higher, the better radio range. While passing through 18,000 [in the clouds] I came out into a small clear space [about 100 meters across] the same time two F-4 Phantoms cut through the same small clear space about 100 feet in front of me. My "Holy s---" went out over the airwaves as I had clutched the mike button rather smartly in my shock. When MACV control asked me if I had a problem, I noted to them that I had just shared a 100-meter hole with two F-4's. Control allowed at that time, that they had sufficient radio contact with the USS Blue Ridge - the aircraft carrier accepting most of our helicopter sorties - and I could proceed on my way. I replied that I was indeed on my way.
Now, in that the airport had come under bombardment the day before and the C-46 I was flying had only just before come in from a trip - it had not been refueled. It was not until this time that I thought to check my fuel. It was a bit hard to add 2+2 with the state of mind I was in, but I managed to at least figure out that I did not have sufficient fuel to reach Hong Kong. In our previous briefings, Mr. Velte had advised all pilots that every country in possible range of our aircraft had said we would be welcome to come there if necessary - Except Thailand. Thailand had advised that they were going to have to live with the Vietnamese after we were gone - and did not want any problems with them. So - what to do.
One thing for sure was in my mind - I was not going to fly
extended over water. Taking my options, I turned Northwest for Thailand. I
had no charts - maps - plates or any enroute or destination material. Not
to worry - I was airborne, and still had at least 3 or 4 hours of fuel.
The direct route from Saigon to Bangkok was over Cambodia - very near the
infamous "Parrots Beak". Knowing that this might be a Bad area,
I maintained my altitude, which put most of my passengers to sleep. Nice
and quiet. After 30 minutes or so I pushed the mike button and called on
company frequency - "This is E.G.Adams, is anybody else up
here?" Immediately, about 12 other aircraft responded. I asked where
everybody was going. The standard reply was that being U-tapao was a
U.S.Air Force installation, they were going there. They all figured that
with U.S. personnel, they would have no problem. After a pause - Art
Wilson came on the radio and asked "Where are you going Edward".
My reply was "Bangkok - where are you going" Art's reply was
"Bangkok". With that, it was quiet the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, as I found out later, the other chaps were not doing so well. The guys that went to U-tapao were getting nothing but a bunch of static from the U.S. Air Force personnel there. Some of them were treated rather rudely and did not come away with a good impression at all. Art Wilson, who arrived in Bangkok about an hour and a half before me, had asked for 21 Left - the Military runway. He was still on board his aircraft when I arrived and did not get cleared for another hour. My arrival was a delight.
Upon parking in front of the control tower, we were met by
a Major from Thai Security. His first words were "Welcome to
Bangkok" He then allowed that everybody was welcome BUT, he did not
want to find a single weapon outside the aircraft. In anticipation of
this, while we were enroute I had asked one of the nice young ladies that
spoke English to please have everyone with a gun to please pass it up to
the cockpit. That they did - and we had a pile about 4 feet high of
various arms. I showed this to the Major, and told them they were his. By
then we had all deplaned and he had the passengers all lined up and was
taking names and other information. While standing there talking with him
in a rather pleasant and light vein, a Sergeant came up and excitedly
advised the Major that a weapon had been found. The Major's countenance
immediately clouded over - he rather brusquely asked to be shown where it
was - and was shown to an area where all the bags and baggage from the
aircraft had been lined up [except for my Stuff in the rear Belly ]. The
Sergeant walked down the line, had a soldier hand a 38 revolver to him,
and pointed to an Elephant skin Flight Kit, with CAPT. E. G. ADAMS printed
in bold letters on the baggage tag. I must have turned 18 shades of Red
and advised the Major that it was mine. It was one of our Slick 38's that
I carried under a false bottom in the kit - and they had found it. When
the Major found it was mine, he was all smiles again, handed it back to
me, and said never mind. About that time a jeep arrived at our location
with large water jugs of Hot water. Many of the passengers had Trek rice
packages, and the hot water was for them to prepare it. I was impressed.