The first piece I read for this week was a first hand account from MGySgt. John J. Valdez, who was the lead NCO at the US Embassy, over all the Marines that provided the security for the Embassy, and oversaw the evacuation. He goes into detail about the final weeks of the war, and gearing up for evacuation. Preparations were started roughly a month prior to actually leaving at the Embassy. The two week point was when the plan was initiated, and people were actually flown out. Officers mostly left during this time, leaving enlisted personnel to do the work, and NCOs to oversee them.
It was during this transition that it was realized that there was a gross miscalculation. The embassy had only prepared for the evacuation of 7,000 Americans. In a report I read earlier there were well over 12,000 that got pulled out, and that was still leaving people behind. This bit of information adds a lot of clarity to why there was so much panic in the evacuation. We didn’t even have enough room for the Americans, much less their families, or all the Vietnamese that we had plans of evacuating as well.
Bribes were payed to the Vietnamese for people the get their family members out, costing as much as $1,500, and marriage certificates went from $20 to $2,000. There was a movie theater that was converted into a processing center to get people the proper paperwork, visas, etc to leave Saigon. The main focus were Americans and Vietnamese on the communist enemies list. In the last week, there were only 4 Americans left to process people at the center, which only worsened the impending panic of the people waiting.
Nearby in the Embassy during the final week the Marines were fighting the crowds back, and had to lock the gates and barricade entrances. At this point is when people were allowed in only if they had the proper paperwork, and had to be lifted over the wall if garnered leave. On the second to last day, 24 April, rockets, mortars, and artillery fire began to rain on Saigon. The panic in the crowds became too much.
The evacuation began about 3p.m., and lasted for roughly an hour and a half. The Marines on the perimeter were pulled in at this point so that they could leave. Once arriving on the roof, they barricaded the doors and waited till ^p.m. for the final bird that picked them up.