Hq Co 9th Marines
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Headquarters Company 9th Marine Regiment 3rd Marine Division 
Republic of Vietnam 1964 ~ 1969, 1975
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Matt Phair Timeline
Hq. Co. 9th Marine Regiment
Detachment Victor on board SS Pioneer Contender
Operation Frequent Wind April-May 1975

Spring 1975

The South Vietnamese Armed Forces in the spring of 1975 were rendered useless as a fighting force. No level of training or skill, no program of Vietnamization, no amount of money could have reversed the rampant spread of fear that engulfed all of South Vietnam in March and April of 1975. Incredible acts of courage temporarily checked the nation's slide into oblivion, at places like Xuan Loc and Bien Hoa, but fear ruled the day. Its only antidote, courageous leadership at the highest levels, rapidly disappeared as the NVA war machine gained momentum. As one senior leader after another opted to use his helicopter to evacuate rather than to direct and control the defensive battle, strategic retreats turned into routs and armies turned into mobs of armed deserters. Amidst all this chaos, the U.S. Marine Corps aided its country in the final chapter of the Vietnam War, the evacuation of American citizens, third-country nationals, and as many South Vietnamese as conditions permitted. (2)

March 1975

S.S. Pioneer Contender Background: The 333-foot-long dry cargo civilian merchantman ship captained by Master Edward Flink and hired by the Military Sealift Command (MSC). The ship began its duties in Vietnam in March, 1975, providing non-military, intra-RVN transport for fleeing Vietnamese citizens, and armed, South Vietnamese soldiers. Typical of the cruelty inflicted by the South Vietnamese on suspected North Vietnam sympathizers, there were trials, assassinations, and other gruesome murders on the ship. Leaving Da Nang was the worst. No Marine security was then present. (1)

1 April 1975

The beginning of the final month of the Vietnam War began with a highly aggressive and highly successful effort by the Communist North Vietnamese Army to completely capture South Vietnam. Rumors began to circulate around the barracks that we were going to Vietnam.

A 48-man platoon from 1st Battalion, 4th Marines boards the Pioneer Contender near Cam Ranh Bay to safeguard the merchant marine crew from being commandeered by roughly 16,000 refugees, including hundreds of ARVN deserters. Until April 7, when the load is transferred to barges at Phu Quoc Island, off the southeast coast of Cambodia , roughly 400 adults, children and babies are either killed, or die of starvation or disease. (1)

Q. What types of things did you [Flink] hear had been going on the way to Phu Quoc that you didn't see, and who told you? Crew members and the evidence after the Vietnamese had got off. On the ship they had reefer boxes in the up between decks five and six. In the reefer boxes they had this alloyed aluminum plate as a ramp to get over the sill. What they did was the Kangaroo Court would put the person that they were going to work over between the two plates then set off a couple of hand grenades, so there again, you'd have the victim splattered all over the hatch. Plus the hand grenades would indent these ramp plates.

Q. When you unloaded were their bodies on the ship too? Yes. Then they gave me [Flink] orders to go back to Vung Tau, empty.

Q. What about cleaning the ship? I had one day of cleaning where I just gave it a quickie by the ship's crew, with salt water, and that was it. (4)

10 April 1975

 Received orders to be part of Detachment Victor and began my packing and preparation for going to Vietnam. (1)

18 April 1975

Unaware of the events taking place in Subic in preparation for their arrival, Captain David A. Garcia and his detachment Victor began at 0600 what would become an extremely hectic and demanding day. By 1300, he had mustered his Marines in front of the 9th Marines' headquarters for what seemed an interminably long truck ride to Marine Corps Air Station Futema and an awaiting "Ichi Go Ni" (VMGR-152) KC-130.

After a two-and-one-half hour flight in the Hercules, which began its taxi just as Captain Garcia buckled the two halves of his seat belt together, the detachment landed at Cubi Point. While Captain Garcia unhooked his seat belt, the ramp and cargo door opened the plane's innards to the pitch-black, tropical night. Suddenly, Garcia and everyone on board beheld a strange sight, a Marine standing on the ramp signaling double time. Before anyone could react to this "apparition," it started heaving gear off the back of the plane.

To expedite the transition, First Lieutenant Kinsell, without the approval or knowledge of the aircraft's load-master, had begun throwing Garcia's Marines' gear to an awaiting ground crew. Kinsell's unusual conduct moved everyone to rapid action and ignited a chain of events which gained speed as Garcia spied his welcoming committee: Generals Houghton and Coffman, and Colonel Wyhe W. Taylor. Their presence and words of encouragement only served to underline the importance of the mission and added urgency to the detachment's impending rendezvous with the task force.

 Detachment Victor Captain Garcia and First Lieutenant Kinsell "enjoyed" a quick ride to the MAU camp landing ramp where their waterborne taxi, a "Mike" boat, shuttled them to their ship, already underway. Finally, after chasing the USS Dubuque (LPD-8) across Subic Bay, they entered its well at 2200. (2)

19 April 1975

On route to Vietnam (roughly 1,000 miles): "Training was conducted for embarked detachments in key Vietnamese language phrases, conduct of evacuation operations, rules of engagement, security of vital shipboard spaces, and riot and crowd control to include use of 150 psi hoses."

Additional training in the use of the M60 machine gun, the M79 grenade launcher, and the M72 LAW (light antitank weapon) took place after the AESF commander received word that senior commanders seriously entertained the idea of inserting four detachments of his force onto ships docked at the Newport Pier. This option would involve the insertion of 200 Marines into an extremely hostile environment for a dangerous trip down the Saigon River. During this time, the Marines would provide order among thousands of refugees on noncombatant MSC ships which might come under enemy attack. (2)

20 April 1975

Our first assignment was to be protecting a helicopter full of officials that had been stuck north of Saigon in an open field. The plan was to fly in a replacement helicopter, get out and form perimeter around the two choppers, allow the officials to board and fly away in our chopper, while we awaited arrival of a replacement helicopter to take us out of there. SSgt. L. Rogers of Detachment Victor (two-tour Vietnam vet), said that probably half of us wouldn't come back alive. (1)

21- 22 April 1975

In the evening, the AESF commander deployed three detachments to MSC ships [15 miles off the coast of RVN]: Sierra Detachment to the USNS Sergeant Andrew Miller (T-AK-242), Victor on the S.S. Pioneer Contender, and Papa on board the SS Green Port. From 22 to 27 April, the remainder of the detachments Kilo, Quebec, and Romeo, provided security and working parties for the small boats conducting logistical and administrative runs between the MSC ships and the Dubuque. First Lieutenant Johnnie Johnson, the Romeo Detachment commander, oversaw this exchange of logistical stores, including the transfer of "C" rations, which served as the major source of nourishment for the Marines who slept on the decks of the MSC ships they guarded. (2)

23 April 1975

While over a dozen U.S. Navy ships were anchored roughly seventeen miles off Vung Tau, the civilian ships Pioneer Contender, Pioneer Commander and Andrew Miller awaited roughly ½ mile off shore to load refugees, once the evacuation began fully. Daily mike boat visits from the Navy Ship USS Dubuque supplied Marines with food. "C" rations served as the major source of nourishment for the Marines who slept on the decks of the MSC ships they guarded. (1)

24 April 1975

Daily mike boat visits from the USS Dubuque supplied Marines with food. "C" rations served as the major source of nourishment for the Marines who slept on the decks of the MSC ships they guarded. (2)

25 April 1975

Daily mike boat visits from the USS Dubuque supplied Marines with food. "C" rations served as the major source of nourishment for the Marines who slept on the decks of the MSC ships they guarded. (2)

26 April 1975

Daily mike boat visits from the USS Dubuque supplied Marines with food. "C" rations served as the major source of nourishment for the Marines who slept on the decks of the MSC ships they guarded. (2)

27 April 1975

On the evening of 27 April, thinking his work done, Johnson retired to his "bed" on the USS Dubuque. His sleep was short lived as he was awakened by a one-hour alert "to assume evacuation stations. By this time Major Quinlan's AESF was spread throughout the South China Sea, already assisting in the rescue of thousands of evacuees who had elected the open sea and starvation over Communist hospitality. (2)

28 April 1975

On 28 April, the disposition of Major Quinlan's forces read more like a cruise novel than a military operation, as most of his detachments were on civilian-run Military Sealift Command ships. Only 12 days earlier, all of these Marines had been on Okinawa. Yet by Monday, 28 April, almost every one of them had shared in the danger and frustration of handling refugees, eyewitnesses to incredible displays, in turn, of courage and cowardice.

On the evening of 28 April, with Saigon nearly surrounded, General Minh took the oath of office. If he harbored any doubts about whether or not Saigon and its beleaguered ARVN defenders could protect the city from the impending Communist onslaught, the sound of exploding bombs quickly removed them. For within minutes of the ceremony, a flight of captured South Vietnamese A-37s bombed Tan Son Nhut. This attack and an early morning rocket attack, which had occurred the day before, marked the first time in five years that the citizens of Saigon had experienced enemy hostilities. The sudden conclusion to the city's five-year "peace" convinced the new leaders of the republic that they had but two choices: negotiate or capitulate.(2)

29 April 1975

One American consulate [remained] in South Vietnam. A detachment of Marines still guarded the Can Tho consulate. (2)


The first people to know that the evacuation of that consulate had begun were not the Ambassador or even the consul general, but the Marines in the AESF (Amphibious Evacuation Security Force). The final supply preparations orchestrated by the AESF's supply officer, Lieutenant Johnnie Johnson, barely had ended when two helicopters appeared on the horizon that Tuesday morning, 29 April. In a matter of minutes, two Air America helicopters landed on the amphibious transport dock ship Vancouver (LPD 2) and discharged the first of Can Tho's evacuees. They included the bulk of the compound's CIA employees, and as far as the Navy knew, these refugees comprised the entire consulate staff at Can Tho. The Navy, using a landing craft, then transferred all of the Vietnamese refugees and one embassy official from the Vancouver to the Pioneer Contender. They chose the Pioneer Contender because it was the only MSC ship in the area. (2)


The "convoy" departed Can Tho for a 60-mile journey down the Bas Sac River through Viet Cong-NVA territory that save for a miracle could have been anyone's last trip. Just as they were entering the most hazardous part of the Journey where the river narrows, the realization that disaster awaited them suddenly flooded their consciousness. Having already suffered through one firefight during which small boats manned by Viet Cong attacked, and without the air cover that the Embassy had promised in earlier discussions over what would happen should the consul and his staff need to conduct a waterborne evacuation, they found themselves in desperate need of help. Unbelievably, it arrived in the form of an intense downpour which obscured their presence from the enemy-infested shoreline. Staff Sergeant Hasty said: "Luckily, we did not take a round into the LCMs, because if we had it would have been like tossing a grenade into a garbage can. After that firefight, we figured we were going to be in for a hell of a time, or we would have to be awfully damn lucky to get out. It rained so heavy and so hard you couldn't see the banks of the river, and that is what saved us.

The American Embassy, Saigon, promised Consul General McNamara that a U.S. Navy ship would be waiting to pick him and his staff up as soon as they reached the coastline. Yet when the two LCMs and its passengers reached the mouth of the river at approximately 1900, they beheld an unnerving sight-empty ocean!  (2)

30 April 1975

The aerial exodus was paralleled by an outgoing tide of junks, sampans, and small craft of all types bearing a large number of the fleeing population. MSC tugs Harumi, Chitose Maru, Osceola, Shibaura Maru, and Asiatic Stamina pulled barges filled with people from Saigon port out to the MSC flotilla. There, the refugees were embarked, registered, inspected for weapons, and given a medical exam. Having learned well from the earlier operations, the MSC crews and Marine security personnel processed the new arrivals with relative efficiency. The Navy eventually transferred all Vietnamese refugees taken on board naval vessels to the MSC ships.(2)


Mouth of the Bassac River

One of the men [on a Can Tho LCM] spotted what appeared to be a ship's light. They headed in the direction of the light, firing clusters of flares at 20 minute intervals. Despite never receiving a radio response or a return signal, the Can Tho Marines and Consul General McNamara pursued the ship for an hour. Finally reaching it, they discovered as Staff Sergeant Hasty described, "They (the Pioneer Contender) were not expecting us, were not waiting for us. They just happened to be there.

The Pioneer Contender did not "just happen to be there”, instead, it had been sent there to pick up the Can Tho refugees. The truth was that Captain Garcia's Marines had seen the flares and reported the sighting to the ship's crew, but the crew chose to disregard them, assuming the flashes to be ARVN fire on the shore. Reassured in the thought that they already had their consulate evacuees on board, they ignored such strange sightings. (2).

I [CIA Officer James E. Parker Jr.] circled slowly while the first boat rubbed against the ship's sides. The sea was getting rougher. Suddenly, rope slings were dropped into the boat's well deck, to my astonishment, appeared along the freighter's rail. They began to lower themselves into the LCM. Soon they were expertly whisking the Vietnamese into slings and up to the ship's deck. [with the captain asking the Marines to leave behind their weapons], I made a made a mental note to ask if the ship had experienced some ghastly event. Little did I know, Pioneer Contender had been at Da Nang.(3)

Captain Garcia's security force would help load the rest of the Can Tho refugees including Consul General Francis McNamara, Can Tho's Marine Security Guard detachment headed by Staff Sergeant Boyene S. Hasty, and approximately 300 Vietnamese refugees (former consulate employees and their families). Among the Vietnamese group were Hasty's mother-in-law and brothers-in-law. He had married a South Vietnamese woman only days before his forced departure from Can Tho. (2)

The Marines assigned to the ship were living in atrocious conditions, with only two C-rations per day per man, and were sleeping on the open decks with no blankets or cover. Although they had little to offer they shared it with us in the traditional Marine manner. (3)


I [Parker] went to the bridge with Hasty. Closer to Vung Tau the sea had slackened. It was still hazy. The low hills near Long Hai were almost invisible. Pioneer Contender slowly commenced to thread her way among an armada of different types of ships anchored well out from the shore. The navy still seemed to think there was danger from long range guns. The big freighter edged almost apologetically between neat lines of warships. It was some time before she found her allotted anchorage, tucked out of the way in the second-class berthing among a motley fleet of merchant ships that had been gathered for the evacuation.

All around, the South China Sea was littered with wreckage and flotsam. No sooner had refugees climbed aboard the Pioneer Contender than Garcia's Marines, armed with M-16 rifles lined the rail, firing single shots in the water, to keep all local boats away. By mid-morning crowded fishing sampans were wandering among the gray steel ships of America's rescue fleet. (5)


By midday April 30, 1975, we [Parker and crew] were near the Pioneer Contender, which sat amid an assortment of oceangoing vessels, barges, fishing boats, and U.S. Navy ships. The harbor was ravaged by the war's end. Refugees were clinging to anything that would float, paddling with their hands and pieces of boards, standing in boats, holding children, arms outstretched to us and oceangoing vessels. Oil spills and litter swirled with the tide. Before me was a crowded, chaotic harbor clogged with thousands of hysterical refugees. When I came alongside the Pioneer Contender, the captain welcomed me over his loudspeaker. Soon the rope ladder dropped over the side. An artillery round whistled overhead and landed in the middle of the harbor. Then another, as if an enemy gunner was registering his rounds. More shells began to land randomly in the harbor.  A U.S. Navy ship moved by us briefly and fired her huge deck guns in the direction of the North Vietnamese gun position, but the ship soon fell back and the incoming rounds continued. A low wail from thousands of desperate people drifted across the harbor. (5)

On the afternoon of 30 April, Task Force 76 and the MSC group moved away from the coast, all the while picking up more seaborne refugees. Many of the "boat people" as well as all of the refugees in the 29-30 April air evacuation ended their initial journey from South Vietnam on an American naval vessel. In order to place these refugees with those forces best prepared to handle them, the Navy transferred the majority of them to MSC ships. These ships stood ready to receive the maximum number of evacuees.(3)

1600, 30 April 1975

Arrive a new holding area. [Parker's] two LCM-8s are secured along the [port] side of the ship. A large ammo barge loaded with refugees is tied along the starboard side. The barge's dimensions are 250' x 75' and carried about 4,800 people. Loading commenced about 1700 and ended about 0330 the following morning.
Barge towed to SS Pioneer Contender

On the evening of 30 April, the deluge began. Thousands of desperate South Vietnamese engulfed the MSC ships. To the Amphibious Evacuation Security Force Marines guarding these ships, the waves of approaching refugees meant the waiting was over. Their job had begun. (1)

1 May 1975

[Flink] Then they had a last group of Vietnamese military who were floating around in landing craft and were shooting up in the air. They finally decided to divide up the group that came down and put them on the ships. The group I got, I put them on top of the mast houses to keep them separate from the rest of the Vietnamese.

Q. Why was that? They were a little on the rowdy side.

Q. Officers or enlisted men? Some officers. Each boat had an officer and he had his group of men that he had with him. (4)

Evening, 2 May 1975

When this human tide ceased on the evening of 2 May, Task Force 76, carrying 6,000 passengers; the MSC flotilla of Sgt Truman Kimbro, Sgt Andrew Miller, Greenville Victory, Pioneer Contender, Pioneer Commander, Green Forest, Green Port, American Challenger, and Boo Heung Pioneer, with 44,000 refugees; and the Vietnamese Navy group set sail for reception centers in the Philippines and Guam. (2)

As I [Parker] turned to leave the bridge I looked around. With the advantage of the Pioneer Contender's height, I could see the U.S. Navy ships out at sea, the chaotic harbor, and the beaches crowed with people and personal belongings. (5)

1800, 3 May 1975

Pioneer Contender docks at Subic Bay, RP. 2025 refugees are offloaded. (6)

0200, 4 May 1975

Pioneer Contender departs for Guam.  (6)

1330, 7 May 1975

Pioneer Contender docks at Agana, Guam. Refugee off-loading is completed by 1700.  (6)


Marine Detachment Victor is off-loaded and transferred to Marine Barracks, Guam. (6)


1. Personal Account – PFC Matthew Phair, Hq. Co., 9th Marines/Detachment Victor

2. The Bitter End: U.S. Marines in Vietnam 1973-1975, official USMC history

3. Escape With Honor: My Last Hours in Vietnam, by Ambassador F.T. McNamara

4. December, 2012 interview with SS Pioneer Contender Captain Edward Flink

5. Last Man Out, A Personal Account of the Vietnam War, by James E. Parker, Jr.

6. Detachment Victor After Action Report, Captain David A. Garcia, USMC

9th Marines
RVN Operations
Apache Snow
Big Horn
Big Lodge
Cameron Falls   
Chinook II   
Con Thien
County Fair
Dawson River
Dawson River
Deckhouse V
Dewey Canyon I
Double Eagle   
Double Eagle II
Eagle Pull
Frequent Wind
Georgia Tar
Harvest Moon   
   Deckhouse II
   Beau Charger
Hickory II  
Khe Sanh
Lancaster I
Lancaster II
Montana Mauler
   Saline II
Neosho II
Prairie II
Prairie III
Prairie IV
Prairie V
Scotland II
Utah Mesa
Virginia Ridge
War Bonnet 

TAOR-Tactical Area of Responsibility

I Corps, Da Nang, Red Beach, China Beach, Hill 55, Hill 327, Hill 282, An Hoa, Leatherneck Square, Dong Ha, Camp Carroll, Con Thien, Gio Linh, Cua Viet River, Quang Tri, Khe Sanh, Rockpile, Vandergrift, Ashau Valley, Dai Loc