So Operation Frequent Wind. First thing that needs to be said about it is that fart jokes shouldn't be used as actual operational names. Seriously.
With the NVA heading towards Saigon, it became clear that there were going to be some issues getting the remaining Americans out of the country. So Task Force 76 was assembled and sent off the coast of Vietnam. It consisted mostly of amphibious assault ships designed to ferry Marines on and off a beach via helicopter. Joining them were the USS Hancock, the USS Midway and Task Force 73 to provide naval and air support. As Tan Son Nhut came under artillery fire on the 28th of April, the helicopters of Task Force 76 took off to begin to evacuate US staff from the Defense Attache Office compound and the US Embassy. In the planner's minds this would be a nice simple helicopter rescue. Things didn't go according to plan. The DAO was emptied pretty quickly and went mostly according to plan right up until the last convoy of buses arrived. A fire fight broke out between members of an ARVN unit which caught the last buss in the crossfire and the ARVN refused entrance of the group at gunpoint.
There was a brief diplomatic exchange in which the local commander of the US Forces pointed out that while it was the still the country of South Vietnam and the ARVN did have jurisdiction, if they were going to use the ancient theory of might makes right then perhaps he might want to count how many Cobra gunships the Americans had (5) and how many gunships the ARVN commander had access to (0). Unlike most diplomatic exchanges it ended pretty quickly and the DAO and it's support staff cleared out of Tan Son Nhut by the 29th. They were airlifted by a combination of Marine Helicopters and Air America choppers.
The US Embassy on the other hand was more problematic. They had set up a code phrase and song combination on Armed Forces Radio to let people know to evacuate. When people heard that the temperature in Saigon was 112 degrees and then heard I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas
it was time to head to the US Embassy. Which is a fine plan on paper but when you give this instruction to 2500 people, the odds of them keeping it a secret is next to non-existent. This triggered a panic and by the morning of the 29th, there were 10,000 people waiting outside the embassy. Evacuations moved fairly quickly with a helicopter landing every 10 minutes or so. By 4:30 am on the 30th the gates of the Embassy had fallen with the remaining Marines and staff having withdrawn to the Chancery, then gating the stairwell to keep people from swarming the LZ on the roof. By 7:30 am the last of the Marines were on board the last flight from Embassy. By 11:30 am tanks rolled into the Presidential Compound and South Vietnam ceased to exist.
Marine helicopters making 682 trips managed to evacuate over 7,000 Americans, South Vietnamese and other 3rd party nationals. It was a truly staggering effort, with pretty much every safety regulation ignored. But even with that only two deaths occurred, both pilots. But it's really only part of the story. While the Marines were flying people out, so was just about every other helicopter in South Vietnam. The Helicopter landing craft, the aircraft carriers, and really any platform a pilot could land on was called into service. There were more helicopters then places to land.
45 Hueys, and 1 Chinook were pushed off the sides of ships to make room. Other helicopters dropped off passengers and ditched at sea with all of the pilots recovered. Most of the estimates for the number of helicopters that ditched that way are between 100 to 150. Two pilot managed to land a Cessna on the decks of two of the aircraft carriers.
But it wasn't complete. At the US embassy alone it's estimated that 400 people slated for evacuation were left behind. And the evacuation left us with one of the most iconic images of the whole Vietnam conflict.
This is an Air America Flight landing at the Pittman Apartments. It's commonly misidentified as the US Embassy.
In the end, over 100,000 people were evacuated from South Vietnam. Most of them ended up at Camp Pendleton here: