In April 1975 the War in Vietnam was quickly coming to its end. The North Vietnamese Army had pushed the South Vietnamese forces into full retreat and was finally on the outskirts of Saigon.
They had overwhelmed what remained of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and were about to enter and take the capital city of South Vietnam.
Those who are old enough may remember these tense hours before the fall of Saigon being shown on the evening news programs. The TV news films showed thousands of South Vietnamese civilians desperately trying to climb over the US Embassy walls to be placed on the helicopters that were ferrying people from there to waiting U.S. ships off shore.
Many of those civilians had worked for the U.S. in various capacities or were had been in the South Vietnamese government, or high officers in the military, and all knew that their fates were not going to be good.
They were desperate to get their families out of Vietnam. The desperation and fear in their faces was unmistakable.
One of the Marine Corps helicopter pilots engaged in this operation was Capt. Gerald Berry. He was the first to fly his CH-46 into the embassy compound that day. His mission was to evacuate the U.S. Ambassador. When he landed, the Ambassador refused to get aboard, and instead ordered that Vietnamese civilians be loaded aboard and taken out to the waiting carrier.
That began a monumental effort on the part of Capt. Berry and 74 of his fellow Marine Corps helicopter pilots. It would have them flying back and forth between their carrier and the embassy without rest for the next 18 hours straight.
Capt. Berry would eventually accomplish his mission on his last flight into the embassy compound when the U.S. Ambassador would finally climb aboard for the trip out to the carrier. It was over. Ten years of American involvement, and the loss of over 58,000 heroic lives, the U.S. Embassy fell silent.
Only hours later would the Iron gates of its entrance be knocked down by an NVA tank and the long war was over.
These Marine helicopter pilots conducted themselves in the manner of Marines throughout this final operation. Tired, they were told to keep going. In tradition Marine Corps fashion the were told, “Marines don’t get tired.”
So, they kept going back, each trip involving about an hour long round trip flight.
In this video, Capt. Berry recounts those final 18 hours with humility and grace. He and his fellow Marine helicopter pilots, and the Marine Embassy Guards on the ground, conducted themselves with Marine Corps courage, determination and commitment.
They did their jobs, going beyond the limits of fatigue, because they knew their duty and did it without question.
The Veterans Site honors Capt. Gerald Berry, his fellow Marine Corps helicopter pilots, the Marine Corps Embassy Guards, and the U.S. Ambassador on the ground for their unflinching efforts to save as many people as possible under the most challenging of conditions.
We say “Welcome Home” to all, and Thank you for your noble service.
Semper Fi! OooRah!
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.