|Picture Taken On:
Tuesday, April 29, 1975
22 Gia Long Street (now Ly Tu Trong Street), downtown Saigon where senior Central Intelligence Agency employees were housed.
|Behind the Camera:
Huber Van Es
South Vietnamese refugees fleeing communist forces
|First Posted:May 1, 2007|
Last Updated on 2010-4-17
by Dean Lucas
Taking the Picture
Huber Van Es a dutch press agent was working at the UPI office which was in the penthouse of Saigon's Peninsula Hotel. He was processing pictures from earlier in the day, shots of the evacuation of Foreign personal from Saigon. The "secret" code that was to signal the start of the evacuation was a quote on Armed Forces Radio: the comment that the temperature is rising, followed by eight bars of White Christmas. (Japanese journalists were concerned that they would not recognize the tune and had to get someone to sing it to them). The code was compromised and Van Es had a number of chaotic shots of Marines trying to keep crowds of Vietnamese at bay while only allowing foreigners on the evacuation buses.
Around 2:30 in the afternoon one of the journalists started shouting that there was a helicopter on the roof of another building. Van Es quickly ran to the penthouse balcony and observed that around four blocks away there was indeed a helicopter on a place called the 'Pittman Apartments'. In was well known that the CIA and its officers lived there and it was revealed that several weeks earlier the roof had been reinforced with steel plates so that it could take the weight of a helicopter. Van Es recalls what happened next:
Hubert didn't want to evacuate with the other foreigners instead
choosing to see the war play out. He remembers that, "As a Dutch
citizen, I was probably taking less of a risk than the others.". He
stayed in Saigon until he was invited by the new regime to leave
on June 1, 1975. He has since returned a number of times to Vietnam
but is based out of Hong Kong where he died on May 15, 2009. His wife said that he had suffered a brain hemorrhage a week earlier and never regained consciousness. He was 67 years old.
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Operation Frequent Wind
advised President Ford to start Operation Frequent Wind. At 10:45 p.m. April 29 the President ordered Operation Frequent Wind to commence. During the operation some 6,236 passengers were removed to the safety of American ships off shore, despite severe harassing fire. To some, however, it seemed that the DAO area and the evacuation process itself were deliberately spared by the North Vietnamese.
On April 29 and 30, 662 US military airlift flights took place between Saigon and ships 80 miles away. Ten Air Force HH/CH-53s flew 82 missions, while 61 Marine Corps CH-46s and CH-53s flew 556 sorties. There were 325 support aircraft sorties by Marine, Navy, and USAF aircraft. Air America, the CIA private "mercenary" airline, joined in, even though having flown 1,000 sorties in the previous month.
On April 30 4:58 a.m. a CH-46 helicopter, call sign "Lady Ace 09," flown by Capt. Jerry Berry, transported ambassador Martin from the embassy roof to the waiting US fleet. All that was left in the embassy was a group of Marines left to provide security for Martin's take off. Due to a mis-communication it was assumed that the marines left on this flight. It wasn't until the Ambassador had landed on the USS Okinawa that the mistake was discovered. Almost three hours after ambassador Martin's helicopter lifted off, at 7:53 a.m., the last flight of Operation Frequent Wind took the Marine personnel who had been defending the embassy to the waiting USS Okinawa. They abandoned around 300 South Vietnamese in the embassy and hundreds more outside the embassy who had been promised a way out.