266. 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
  • 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
  • LTG Brent Scowcroft
  • W.R. Smyser
  • William Stearman
  • Col. Clinton Granger
  • James Barnum

Secretary Kissinger: Bill . . .

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

Gen. Scowcroft: Excuse me a minute, Bill. I just talked to Graham

Martin out in Saigon. He says that those planes that attacked Tan Son Nhut [Page 915]today were probably South Vietnamese defectors or VNAF pilots disgruntled with the new Minh Government.3 It is also possible that the North Vietnamese held a gun to their head and told them to go down and do some damage. It isn’t clear as to who it was, but they bombed only the VNAF side of Tan Son Nhut. They did not attack the DAO side of the field. Also, our C–130 pilots report that they were trailed by the A–37s. They were not fired on, and there was no damage. The planes flew over the Presidential Palace, but did not release any ordnance. They didn’t hit the Palace.

Secretary Kissinger: Why should they now? They never hit anything before!

Mr. Colby continued to brief.

Secretary Kissinger: Are the South Vietnamese fighting at Bien Hoa?

Mr. Christison: Yes they are. So far they are not doing badly.

Mr. Colby continued to brief.

Secretary Kissinger: Have the Communists captured Vung Tau?

Mr. Colby: No, not yet. They are pressuring Vung Tau. (Continued to brief.)

Secretary Kissinger: That means that ships will no longer be able to get up the Mekong, doesn’t it?

Mr. Colby: Vung Tau should fall—within 24 hours. But, the entrance to the Mekong is farther to the south. Ships will still be able to get up the River. (Finished his briefing.)

Secretary Kissinger: What is (Tom) Polgar (CIA Station Chief in Saigon) saying? What is his estimate of the situation?

Mr. Shackley: He says that the Communists are following two tracks—military pressure and negotiations—simultaneously.

Secretary Kissinger: But Graham (Amb. Martin) has the opposite view. He says they are negotiating.4

Mr. Colby: It looks to us, right now, that they are running along two tracks.

Secretary Kissinger: Graham doesn’t think it will collapse for another one-to-three days.

Mr. Shackley: In the time frame we are talking about, and this is over the last few hours, we see a shift taking place. We believe they are following the negotiating track and are now beginning to apply the military pressure.

[Page 916]

Mr. Colby: We should know for sure by tomorrow morning.

Mr. Christison: Could I ask what Ambassador Martin is saying?

Secretary Kissinger: He says that we will still have negotiations for several weeks.

Mr. Habib: I think the North Vietnamese are putting the military pressure on Minh so that they can get a negotiated surrender.

Mr. Colby: Besides, the demands are going up.

Secretary Kissinger: That’s what I would expect.

Gen. Brown: To show you some of the practical implications of the situation over there now, Henry, we stopped the flights of C–141s yesterday. No more are going in.

Secretary Kissinger: Why did you stop them?

Gen. Brown: Because of the threat from the artillery.

Secretary Kissinger: We weren’t told that you stopped the C–141 flights, were we (to Gen. Scowcroft)?

Gen. Scowcroft: No.

Secretary Kissinger: Why weren’t we told. It used to be that we were asked about these things before the order went out. Who gave the order?

Gen. Brown: I don’t know, but the way we had it pre-positioned was that those C–141 flights would stop when the threat became greater. The C–130s are still flying, we haven’t disrupted those flights. They got something like 6,000 people out of there yesterday.

Secretary Kissinger: Can’t we keep each other informed around here?

Gen. Brown: Tomorrow—this evening, our time—we are prepared to go all-out with the C–130s. We could evacuate as many as 9,000 people tomorrow. What I am also concerned about is that we have told General Smith not to get out of there when the first hit is made on Tan Son Nhut. The problem is that all Smith and his people are doing over there now is evacuating personnel. He and his people are totally involved in the evacuation process. The odds are that Tan Son Nhut will get hit tomorrow. If it’s hit, he has orders to stay, but there won’t be any more C–130s and no more people to evacuate. My question is, at what point do Smith and his people get out of there? They are betting that the negotiations will drag on a few more days, but if the negotiations fail, we can’t get many of those people out. At what point do we pull Smith and his people out? By the way, General Vien has left the country.

Secretary Kissinger: Why?

Gen. Brown: He and “Big” Minh don’t get along. They have been at each other’s throat for years. What this means is that the General Staff will begin to break down and that control over the ARVN weakens.

[Page 917]

Secretary Kissinger: I had better talk to the President. This is in complete contradiction to what Martin is saying.

Mr. Clements: Henry, Bob (Mr. Ellsworth) and I were talking about this on the way over here today, and, well, we think the situation is getting worse. Now, you may know more about it than we do. What I’m saying, is, do you know more than we do?

Secretary Kissinger: I know nothing more than you do.

Gen. Brown: We have a report from a C–130 pilot that he was trailed by an A–37 yesterday. We can patrol the (air) lanes and protect the C–130s from cover, but are we willing to accept the risk?

Secretary Kissinger: So what do you propose?

Mr. Clements: Well, Henry, we’re dependent on information that you may or may not have.

Secretary Kissinger: You have all the information that I do.

Mr. Clements: Then I think we have only twelve to fifteen hours of lift time left.

Secretary Kissinger: You would like to pull Smith and his people out tomorrow?

Gen. Brown: Yes, we would feel more comfortable getting those people out of there.

Mr. Colby: And you would use helicopters after the fixed-wing lift has stopped?

Gen. Brown: Yes.

Mr. Colby: Then you would have only one more day to bring more Vietnamese out.

Mr. Clements: I think we should take a real close look at it tomorrow. By tomorrow we may be able to develop just where we stand, but that’s the information we have now—that’s where we are.

Gen. Brown: My concern on the helicopter lift is the South Vietnamese. Now, they have given us no trouble yet, but they are apt to give us trouble when they see all the Americans leaving.

Mr. Clements: We could go on with the C–130 lift tomorrow and take a look at the situation in this room tomorrow morning.

Secretary Kissinger: I think that we will probably have to go with the helicopter lift at first light Wednesday.5 I’ll talk with the President about it. Our obligations diminish as the governments change. I’ll raise the question again with the President.

Amb. Brown: There are still a lot of interest groups that we haven’t gotten out of there yet.

[Page 918]

Secretary Kissinger: Like who?

Amb. Brown: Oh, the Catholic relief organizations, the Mormons.

Secretary Kissinger: Are the Mormons in danger?

Amb. Brown: There are all kinds of groups like that that look to us to get them out.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, I feel sure that as long as Brent Scowcroft is Deputy Assistant to the President, the Mormons will get out of there. How about the Jews? Does anyone care about the Jews?

Gen. Brown: Two-hundred labor people are getting out of there today. There are 1,400 orphans ranging in age from six to sixteen at Vung Tau that the Ambassador wants to get out. The Vietnamese Navy will take care of them. We made two C–130 runs to Vung Tau yesterday to pick up the families of some Vietnamese marines the Ambassador wanted to evacuate. It was successful.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, I think that when we can no longer get C–130s into Tan Son Nhut we should pull out all the Americans. I mean, if there are no more people to evacuate, there is no need for 900 Americans sitting around over there.

Mr. Clements: That’s my point exactly. When the last C–130 takes off, we can get down to 500.

Gen. Brown: Yes, that would be great. Smith has about 400 people.

Secretary Kissinger: Can you take 1,700 in one helicopter lift?

Gen. Brown: No, we can take only about 1,000. It would be in two waves. The security forces would go in on the first wave, the 1,000 people would be lifted out, and the second wave would go in to pick up the security forces.

Gen. Scowcroft: What happened to the capacity of the lift? I thought that the last figure was that you could take out 2,000 people.

Mr. Habib: You said you could take out 2,300 in two cycles.

Mr. Clements: My recollection is that we can take out only 1,000. We’ll check on that.

Secretary Kissinger: I think that we should go ahead with the C–130 lifts full blast as long as we can. If the airfield is closed down, then we will have to decide when to trigger the helicopter lift.

Mr. Habib: And the last C–130s should take out U.S. personnel, not Vietnamese. Didn’t I see a press article that “Big” Minh says that no more Vietnamese will be allowed to evacuate?

Mr. Shackley: No, that report is not true. There has been no opposition from Minh on the evacuation.

Secretary Kissinger: What’s the total figure of Vietnamese evacuated so far?

Amb. Brown: There are 38,000 in the camps.

[Page 919]

Mr. Habib: Can you handle 9,000 per day at the camps if you had to?

Amb. Brown: No, there is no way.

Mr. Clements: If we have to, we can push them in there. We’ll take care of them later.

Secretary Kissinger: How about picking up the refugees at sea? How are we dong on that?

Amb. Brown: Well, an increasing number of Vietnamese are drifting out from the beaches.

Secretary Kissinger: What are our rules—what are we doing about the refugees at sea?

Amb. Brown: We’re picking up those that we can.

Gen. Brown: We’ve ordered our people not to go in to pick up people. If refugees come alongside, we pick them up. We’ve asked all our ships to stay beyond the 12-mile limit.

Mr. Abramowitz: Which reminds me that we’ll need a decision on taking non-high risk people off Phu Quoc Island.

Secretary Kissinger: Why are all these people going out to sea?

Mr. Abramowitz: Well, because they are afraid of what will happen to them. Most are not in the high-risk category as we have defined it.

Gen. Scowcroft: Once they land on Phu Quoc, however, they become high-risk.

Mr. Colby: The question is, do we want to continue taking those people that we pick up to Phu Quoc Island?

Secretary Kissinger: If they have already gone there, it would be impossible for us to do anything. I would think that the Vietnamese Navy will be putting to sea once the end is in sight.

Mr. Abramowitz: Most of the Vietnamese Navy will go to Subic Bay.

Amb. Brown: The question is, do we want our Navy to stay out three miles or twelve miles, or go in closer?

Secretary Kissinger: Where are our ships now?

Gen. Brown: They are no closer than three miles offshore. We have encouraged them orally to stay about three miles offshore.

Secretary Kissinger: That means they are probably beyond the twelve mile limit.

Mr. Clements: No, Henry, I think they are probably looking for people.

Secretary Kissinger: So the rules are that they are not to actively search for people, just pick them up when they can?

Gen. Brown: That’s the idea.

[Page 920]

Secretary Kissinger: What are you doing with them? Can we determine who they are?

Mr. Colby: Most of them are just scared people. There are some high-risk people mixed in, but most are just ordinary refugees. It’s hard to separate out the high-risk from the normal.

Secretary Kissinger: Can you separate them out on board?

Mr. Stearman: Sure, can’t you screen out the high-risk and take the others to Phu Quoc?

Secretary Kissinger: Our policy is not to favor the ordinary refugees. Get us the facts on who these people are that are getting on the ships (to Gen. Brown).

Gen. Brown: Well, these ships are all commercial cargo ships on lease to the Navy. There is a small Marine detachment on eight of the thirteen ships, but they are there only to keep the ship from getting messed up anymore than it has to be. The Marines are capable of putting off the people onto Phu Quoc Island, but what I’m trying to say is that they are not trained to screen people. They have had no training in that. They just don’t have the capability to screen people.

Mr. Colby: We were able to get some of our high-risk people to Taipei. There is about 1,000 of them. You said the limit was 1,000, so we took out 1,000. Some have also gotten to Thailand.

Secretary Kissinger: [1 line not declassified]

Mr. Miller: Getting those people off Phu Quoc Island is going to be a real problem.

Mr. Habib: The answer is that we’re not going to get them off.

Secretary Kissinger: We just can’t take 50,000 refugees off Phu Quoc, and we can’t use it as a dumping ground.

Gen. Brown: Could I make a plea for help in evacuating the people from the other islands around Phu Quoc?

Secretary Kissinger: Those people we should take out, if only so that the South Vietnamese can fly their planes in.

Amb. Brown: The South Vietnamese Air Force can fly to Clark (AFB).

Gen. Brown: Not all of them will.

Mr. Habib: A lot will go to Thailand.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, we’ll meet again tomorrow about this time.

  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.
  2. Colby’s briefing, “Vietnam,” April 28, attached but not printed.
  3. Duong Van Minh assumed the Presidency on April 28.
  4. Martin relayed his views to Kissinger in backchannel message 757, April 28. (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Backchannel Messages, Box 3, Martin Channel, April 1975, Incoming, 3)
  5. April 30.