WILLIAM A. BLOOMER
Fairfax Station, VA
September 13, 2003
c/o ESU Archives
1220 C of E Drive
Emporia, KS 66801
This is just to explain a little further, the pictures that are included with the letter I wrote to my wife and family on April 30, 1975.
The picture of the refugees is self explanatory. Most of the refugees arrived on our aircraft carrier on the evening of April 30 and the early morning hours of May 1, 1975. The picture of the map of South Vietnam and the scrawled note on it and the O-1 Birddog plane is explained later on.
We had been floating around the South China Sea for a couple of weeks waiting for the evacuation to commence. The operation was named Frequent Wind. Our aircraft carrier was the USS Midway, CV-41. It was home based in Yokosuka, Japan, which is near Tokyo, and my squadron was land based in Iwakuni, Japan about 300 miles to the southwest on the island of Honshu. The normal rotation was 20 days at sea and 10 days in port. We departed Japan on about March 15, 1975 for some operations in the vicinity of the Philippine Islands. We knew that something was out of the ordinary when we passed by Okinawa and received orders to fly off about 2/3 of our Air Wing to NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines. The reason for this was to load all the Marine helicopters we could bet on board for transit down to the Philippines. When we arrived just off the Philippines we rendezvoused with the USS Hancock which was just arriving in WestPac from San Diego. Unbeknownst to us the Hancock had been converted into a helicopter carrier as it passed by Hawaii and picked up all the Marine helicopters in Hawaii. Upon meeting the Hancock all the helicopters we picked up on Midway from Okinawa were transferred over to the Hancock.
It wasn't too long after that the Hancock proceeded to the waters west of Cambodia and conducted the evacuation of the U.S. embassy at Pnomh Penh. After that, a rather large task force was assembled with several aircraft carriers, the USSS Enterprise, the USS Coral Sea, the USS Midway and several helicopter carriers including he USS Blue Ridge, and the USS Hancock which had been converted from a fixed wing carrier to a helicopter carrier. Part of the drill was also to partially convert our carrier, the Midway, into a helicopter platform as well with 10 U.S. Air Force Jolly Green Giant helicopters flying all the way from Udorn, Thailand to our location in the South China Sea about 60 miles east of Saigon. We knew that the time was getting close to H-Hour when Nuygen Cao Ky, the former Premier of South Vietnam, flew out to the Midway on April 29 in a Vietnamese helicopter with several of his Generals.
The Air Force guys had never operated from a carrier before and we waited for a least a week after their arrival on Midway before the order was given to evacuate Saigon. Elements of a Marine Regiment were inserted into the embassy compound to provide security for the helicopters doing the evacuation. The first wave was launched at 1600 (4:00 pm). By the time they returned to the ship it was becoming dark. Originally, we had only anticipated having about 300 U.S. citizens or other third country nationals on Midway. The Air Force pilots had a real baptism in night carrier aviation as they continued to fly until 0400 (4:00 am). The majority of the evacuees turned out to be Vietnamese. It was the next day, May 1, that things really began to get interesting. That was when the Vietnamese began to flee the country with any kind of helicopter they could get into the air. It was a miracle that no one was killed on our ship. At one time there were as many as 20 Huey helicopters trying to land on Midway. Very few of them had an operating radio and many were very short of fuel. We only had to push about three of them over board. Many of these helicopters were loaded down with as many as 50 Vietnamese. This is a helicopter that normally only holds about 10 people. Many of these were children. We wound up with about 2,000 Vietnamese on our ship. It didn't take long for the sanitation facilities to be overwhelmed and the ship's crew with its Marine Detachment ws hard pressed to meet all of their needs. On May 2, we began transferring the evacuees off Midway by helicopter to other troop carrying type ships such as APA, LST and LSDs which would later transport them to staging places at Wake Island, the Philippines, and at Camp Pendleton in California. You know the rest of the story as the Vietnamese have been integrated into U.S. society across the entire United States.
The story of the O-1 Birddog began on May 1 as things were settling down a little bit and all of the Air Force helicopters were tied down on our flight deck. This small two-place airplane used as an artillery spotting plane began flying over the Midway in circles. There was no radio contact with the pilot until we were able to crank up the radio is one of the Vietnamese helicopters that had landed on Midway. The Vietnamese used a VHF radio and our standard was on UHF frequencies. We found a Vietnamese woman who spoke English fairly well to translate and make contact with the pilot of the O-1 from the Vietnamese helicopter on our flight deck. In the meantime, the pilot was able to drop the note scrawled on a map of South Vietnam on our flight deck. I think our ship's Captain, Larry Chambers, was startled to find out the guy had his wife and 5 children in this two-place airplane. This cruise was Captain Chamber's first one as the ship's Captain. Larry is an African American and was later promoted to Rear Admiral. He made some gutsy decisions by ordering all of the Air Force helicopters off the deck to orbit near the ship and turned the ship into the wind to give this Vietnamese Major the best chance for landing his airplane on an aircraft carrier. Bear in mind that this airplane did not have a tailhook to stop him as did our other fixed wing airplanes that normally flew from the carrier. However, he did have the benefit of a very slow landing speed of about 75 knots, which coupled with the 30 knots of wind over the deck, would make it feasible for him to stop the plane on the 900 feet of deck used for landing. It was a very exciting thing to witness. My major concern during his approach to landing was that he was too low and might fly into the back end of the ship. A carrier landing is very illusory as the ship is moving away from you and it appears that you are too high. But Major Buong handled it very well and came to a stop without hardly having to use the brakes. He was immediately surrounded with wailors who were grabbing the wings and the tail to help stop and hold the plane on the deck.
I have a couple of pictures of me standing beside the plane after it was tied down and we were headed up to the Gulf of Thailand to recover more of the Vietnamese planes that were flown into Utapao, Thailand. This particular airplane, the O-1, is in the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. It is the only airplane in this museum that is not a Navy or Marine Corps airplane.
When the operations concluded the Midway had recovered 100 Vietnamese airplanes and helicopters which we transported to Guam and off-loaded. As we were heading back to the Philippines for some R&R we got the call to head back out to where we had come from and respond to the Mayaguez incident. This was a U.S. merchant ship that had been taken over by pirates in the Gulf of Thailand. We were about 6 hours short of the action on this one as our sister ship, USS Coral Sea, got to do some bombing in Cambodi as the Air Force helicopters that were originally on Midway transported Marines in an assault on the island where the ship had been taken to and recovered the vessel.
I think we returned to Iwakuni, Japan about the end of June. I had two more at-sea periods with my squadron prior to returning to the United States by a Trans-Pacific flight in an EA-6A airplane. We were in a flight of four and had to air refuel once between Japan and Midway Island. We flew the second day from Midway Island to Hickam Field in Hawaii without air refueling. Our third leg was from Hawaiia to El Toro in California and that required one air to air refueling. The last leg was non stop from El Toro to Cherry Point, NC without air refueling. That concluded my flying as a LtCol and I was bound to a desk for the next four years which included my time as the Special Assistant and Marine Corps Aide to the Secretary of the Navy.
William A. Bloomer
Brigadier General, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)