249. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam Evacuation


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • Robert Ingersoll
  • Amb. L. Dean Brown
  • Philip Habib
  • Robert Miller
  • Defense
  • Secretary Schlesinger
  • William Clements
  • Robert Ellsworth
  • Morton Abramowitz
  • JCS
  • Gen. George S. Brown
  • Lt. Gen. John W. Pauly
  • CIA
  • William Colby
  • Ted Shackley
  • William Christison
  • NSC Staff
  • W.R. Smyser
  • William Stearman
  • Col. Clinton Granger
  • James Barnum

Secretary Kissinger: Bill . . .

Mr. Colby began to brief from the attached text.2

Secretary Kissinger: I’m in a great position. Thieu accuses me of being too soft and the liberals in this country accuse me of being too tough. (In reaction to President Thieu’s resignation speech).

Mr. Colby finished his briefing.

Secretary Kissinger: Are any South Vietnamese units still fighting?

[Page 872]

Mr. Colby: Yes. There is still some fighting going on south of Saigon along Route 4 and in the Bien Hoa area. But, it’s a pretty hopeless situation.

Secretary Kissinger: There is no question that it is hopeless. The only question now is whether there is going to be anything left to negotiate over.

Mr. Colby: There is nothing left to negotiate except maybe to avoid panic and perhaps the destruction of the city (Saigon). The Communists can achieve a clear-cut military victory, and it looks like that is what they want.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay, we’ll be down to 1,000 evacuees by tomorrow morning, right? Have you been in touch with (Amb.) Martin?

Mr. Habib: Yes, yesterday.

Secretary Kissinger: And they are coming out by fixed-wing aircraft (the remaining Americans) right?

Amb. Brown: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: Is there anything else anybody wants to bring up?

Gen. Brown: We have one concern. We were going over the risks involved in a helicopter evacuation this morning. General Smith (DAO, Saigon) talked with General Vien (General Staff) to get ARVN’s reaction to the helicopter lift and whether or not we can expect interference or mob action. Vien said that the incidents in Nha Trang speak for themselves. If you will recall, three generals were killed trying to get on helicopters at Nha Trang—their own men shot them.

Secretary Kissinger: Shot them?

Gen. Brown: Yes, dead. Vien thinks there is every likelihood of armed mobs, and no leadership. What I’m saying is that it could be a very hairy operation. I think the risk is even greater than Smith and Vien think. What we concluded this morning is that we think it would be ridiculous to think that we could continue an airlift all day (referring to a question from the April 20 WSAG as to the feasibility of evacuating 10,000 Vietnamese).3 We think that we will be lucky to get away with two cycles carrying the remaining Americans alone. We would have to do it quickly, with few landings, and at designated zones.

Secretary Kissinger: Can you reduce the number of landing zones?

Gen. Brown: Well, there are really only two zones—the Embassy compound in Saigon and the roof of the Embassy, and at the DAO compound at Tan Son Nhut.

Secretary Kissinger: Is the DAO compound safer than the Embassy?

[Page 873]

Gen. Brown: I would assume so. I’m just terribly pessimistic about this operation. You know, we do practice operations lifting people from areas all the time. But, this one is going to be in the city. We have no experience at that. In practices you don’t have anybody shooting at you. Here you will. They are going to have to do it bare-chested. Now, we could get lucky like we were in Phnom Penh. But, I’m just very pessimistic about this.

Mr. Colby: One other possibility is that of leaving the remaining Americans there under some sort of understanding by all sides that they would be evacuated at a later date.

Gen. Brown: Yes, but then you are subject to blackmail, international humiliation, and all the rest.

[Secretary Schlesinger entered the room at this point—10:46.]

Secretary Kissinger: What do you want to do about it?

Gen. Brown: I think we should let Martin know of the risks involved and have no more than two cycles.

Mr. Colby: You’ve got that linkage through the Hungarians for negotiations and a more gradual evacuation.

Secretary Kissinger: There is nothing practical that we can do today. They are going to take out 1,100 more today.

Gen. Brown: You could take out a lot more than that.

Mr. Abramowitz: You could hold it to one cycle.

Gen. Brown: You could cut the size of the security force at the same time.

Mr. Stearman: If you cut to one landing zone you could cut the size of the security force too.

Mr. Clements: You could cut it to 500 people and only one landing zone.

Gen. Brown: Yes, if everybody were at one place. But, Tan Son Nhut and the Embassy are about four miles apart, as I recall. If everybody were at one place, we could do it, but they won’t be.

Secretary Schlesinger: I think that Tan Son Nhut is on the verge of being closed down. We should get some C–130s there to take out those people at the DAO compound. They are not doing anything there anyway. What are they doing, dispensing military aid? I think we should get everybody away from that DAO compound.

Gen. Brown: We’ve already done that in part. All non-essential people have been moved out and they have set up a rear office someplace else. There are only about 60 people left at the compound.

Secretary Schlesinger: Well, you still have those people at the compound. Fly a C–130 in there and ship them all to Clark (AFB).

Secretary Kissinger: How many people are there at Tan Son Nhut?

[Page 874]

Gen. Brown: Of the DAO people, there are 352 civilians, 169 military, and 68 dependents. The civilians are not all at Tan Son Nhut. They’re spread out all over the place.

Mr. Clements: Henry, I think we ought to get those people out of there. It’s not worth the risk.

Secretary Kissinger: I’ll check with the President.

Mr. Clements: Getting those people out would sure ease our problems.

Secretary Schlesinger: Or, when Tan Son Nhut is on the verge of closing, take all the rest out in a C–130.

Amb. Brown: Are you saying that DAO should be closed down?

Secretary Schlesinger: I’m saying that there should only be an absolute minimum number of people there. What are they doing, anyway?

Secretary Kissinger: I’ll get back to you in an hour on that.

Amb. Brown: Are you thinking of dropping the idea of getting those 10,000 Vietnamese out.

Gen. Brown: The Ambassador has a scheme whereby they would make their own way to Vung Tau.

Secretary Kissinger: That’s insane. Vung Tau has been insane from the start.

Gen. Brown: Those three ships are still in Saigon. Some of those Vietnamese that Martin believes should go could be put on those ships.

Secretary Schlesinger: Are there any Marines on those ships?

Gen. Brown: No.

Secretary Schlesinger: You had better put some on.

Amb. Brown: The trouble with those ships is that they are right under the main bridge. People would see what is happening. You would have to do it at night.

Secretary Schlesinger: Look, there are all kinds of armed, undisciplined people running around Saigon, and they are going to see what is going on no matter what you do. You are gong to have a mess. I believe at the last meeting you (Secretary Kissinger) said that we do not want the world to carry the image of U.S. troops shooting Vietnamese.

Mr. Colby: Your best hope of getting any significant number of Vietnamese out is through negotiations with the other side. If you can get some sort of negotiations over a set period of time, you avoid the mob problem.

Amb. Brown: In any event you have to move to the next stage. Where are you going to put all these people?

Mr. Smyser: You also have the problem that the Ambassador has told Embassy employees and their families that we will get them out. That could be upwards of 100,000 people.

[Page 875]

Secretary Kissinger: That’s impossible.

Mr. Colby: An agreement to spread out the . . .

Secretary Kissinger: Let me talk to you in private, Jim (Sec. Schlesinger), in my office.

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box 25, WSAG Meeting Minutes, Originals, April 1975. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. Brackets are in the original.
  2. Colby’s briefing, “Vietnam,” April 21, attached but not printed.
  3. See Document 245.