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Operation Frequent Wind

April 29th, 1975, marked the beginning of Operation Frequent Wind, the largest helicopter evacuation on record. Nearly 6,000 Vietnamese refugees escaped from Saigon as the North Vietnamese attacked the outskirts of the city. For nearly 30 hours, 81 American military helicopters flew refugees to aircraft carriers offshore. Helicopters that were built for 10 people were taking five times as many. More than half of the refugees landed on the USS Midway, now stationed in San Diego. They arrived with only the belongings they could carry in their hands or fit in a pillowcase, in the middle of the ocean, with no known destination.

USS Midway crews had trained Air Force helicopter pilots for several days prior to the start of Operation Frequent Wind.  Here, one of the first Air Force helos departs for Saigon.

USS Midway crews had trained Air Force helicopter pilots for several days prior to the start of Operation Frequent Wind. Here, one of the first Air Force helos departs for Saigon.

Credit: Courtesy of the USS Midway Museum

Once they landed on the USS Midway, refugees had to get off the four-acre flight deck quickly.  At times, more than a dozen helicopters filled with refugees hovered over the aircraft carrier, waiting for permission to land.

Once they landed on the USS Midway, refugees had to get off the four-acre flight deck quickly. At times, more than a dozen helicopters filled with refugees hovered over the aircraft carrier, waiting for permission to land.

Credit: Courtesy of the USS Midway Museum

Many South Vietnamese refugees arrived on the USS Midway with a single suitcase and sometimes not even that, desperate for a new start in America.

Many South Vietnamese refugees arrived on the USS Midway with a single suitcase and sometimes not even that, desperate for a new start in America.

Credit: Courtesy of the USS Midway Museum

At times it was “controlled chaos” on the USS Midway’s flight deck as some sailors escorted refugees below while others cleared the flight deck to make room for inbound choppers.  More than 3,000 refugees landed on the Midway in little more than 24 hours.

At times it was “controlled chaos” on the USS Midway’s flight deck as some sailors escorted refugees below while others cleared the flight deck to make room for inbound choppers. More than 3,000 refugees landed on the Midway in little more than 24 hours.

Credit: Courtesy of the USS Midway Museum

The relief could be seen on both the pilots’ and refugees faces when they safely landed on the USS Midway.  Some had departed Saigon without knowing whether they would find an aircraft carrier willing to let them land before they ran out of fuel.

The relief could be seen on both the pilots’ and refugees faces when they safely landed on the USS Midway. Some had departed Saigon without knowing whether they would find an aircraft carrier willing to let them land before they ran out of fuel.

Credit: Courtesy of the USS Midway Museum

Many of the refugees rescued during Operation Frequent Wind were very young.  In some cases, parents were forced to stay behind after placing their children in evacuation helicopters that were already filled beyond capacity.

Many of the refugees rescued during Operation Frequent Wind were very young. In some cases, parents were forced to stay behind after placing their children in evacuation helicopters that were already filled beyond capacity.

Credit: Courtesy of the USS Midway Museum

Many Vietnamese experienced terror and panic during their flight to freedom. They were leaving their homes, businesses, and relatives behind, fleeing toward an uncertain future in America.

Many Vietnamese experienced terror and panic during their flight to freedom. They were leaving their homes, businesses, and relatives behind, fleeing toward an uncertain future in America.

Credit: Courtesy of the USS Midway Museum

South Vietnamese pilot Bung Ly made a miraculous landing on the USS Midway’s short “angle deck” without the benefit of a tailhook.  It was the only known landing of an aircraft on the Midway without a tailhook.

South Vietnamese pilot Bung Ly made a miraculous landing on the USS Midway’s short “angle deck” without the benefit of a tailhook. It was the only known landing of an aircraft on the Midway without a tailhook.

Credit: Courtesy of the USS Midway Museum

South Vietnamese pilot Bung Ly may have been in shock after landing his tiny observation plane aboard the USS Midway. His wife sat in the backseat of his aircraft, holding an infant, and four other children were crammed inside the luggage compartment.

South Vietnamese pilot Bung Ly may have been in shock after landing his tiny observation plane aboard the USS Midway. His wife sat in the backseat of his aircraft, holding an infant, and four other children were crammed inside the luggage compartment.

Credit: Courtesy of the USS Midway Museum

Once the USS Midway completed its humanitarian rescue in Operation Frequent Wind, it picked up a number of aircraft and helicopters that had flown out of South Vietnam just before it fell to the communists.  Most of these aircraft were headed for an American base in Guam.

Once the USS Midway completed its humanitarian rescue in Operation Frequent Wind, it picked up a number of aircraft and helicopters that had flown out of South Vietnam just before it fell to the communists. Most of these aircraft were headed for an American base in Guam.

Credit: Courtesy of the USS Midway Museum

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