Four decades after the April 29, 1975, evacuation of Saigon, Americans are marking the 40th anniversary of Operation Frequent Wind.
"It was traumatic," Sailor Bill Hawkins recalled in an interview with The Desert Sun
. "I was really astounded by the plight of the Vietnamese. They came aboard and … all they had in their possession was what they carried on their backs."
With North Vietnamese troops assembled outside the city, thousands of South Vietnamese people gathered to wait for a lift from rooftops to U.S. aircraft carriers in the largest helicopter evacuation in history.
Eighty-one aircraft were involved in the mission, which evacuated more than 1,000 Americans and nearly 6,000 Vietnamese.
"At the time, you realized it was historic," retired Col. Gerry Berry told CNN
The number of evacuees was overwhelming.
"It actually just went beyond chaos," helicopter pilot Tony Coalson told CNN. "It was indescribable. And it was like a tsunami of people."
The evacuation marked the United States’ final 24 hours in Vietnam.
More than 5,000 people gathered at the USS Midway aircraft carrier at a San Diego museum this week to commemorate the 40th anniversary, The Orange County Register reported
Broadcasters also were marking the anniversary, with programs such as Rory’s Kennedy’s “Last Days in Vietnam” airing on PBS on Tuesday and “The Spy in the Hanoi Hilton airing on the Smithsonian Channel.
The anniversary sparked comments on Twitter.
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