Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War

JULY LUNCHEON PROGRAM: Vietnam 1975 - Rear
Admiral Larry Chambers (USN, Ret)
by Christopher White

Continuing our commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War, our July luncheon speaker is another American hero.  Rear Admiral Larry Chambers (USN, Ret.) commanded the USS Midway (CV-41) during the final days of the U.S. presence and evacuation of South Vietnam. RADM Chambers was the first African American to command a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and the first African American graduate of the Naval Academy to attain flag rank.

While a Captain in command of the USS Midway during Operation Frequent Wind, RADM Chambers gave the controversial order to push overboard millions of dollars

worth of UH-1 Huey helicopters so a South Vietnamese Air Force Major could land a Cessna O-1 Bird Dog on the aircraft carrier with his wife and five children, thereby saving their lives.

In April 1975, while in command of the USS Midway, Chambers was ordered to “make best speed” to the waters off South Vietnam, as North Vietnam troops overran the country, to take part in Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of US and South Vietnamese personnel. At the time the Midway was in Subic Bay Naval Base with the engineering plant torn apart.

Chambers has stated that he received no official order to start the operation, which began on April 29th. Instead, when Nguy ễn Cao Kỳ, the Vice President of Vietnam, landed on the flight deck, Chambers figured the operation was going on. Soon the carrier's flight deck was full of helicopters carrying refugees from the fall of South Vietnam.

On that same day, South Vietnamese Air Force Major Buang-Ly loaded his wife and five children into a two-seat Cessna O-1 Bird Dog aircraft, and took off from Con Son Island. After evading enemy ground fire Major Buang headed out to sea and spotted the Midway. The Midway's crew attempted to contact the aircraft on emergency frequencies, but the pilot continued to circle overhead with his landing lights turned on. 

When a spotter reported that there were at least four people in the two-place aircraft, all thoughts of forcing the pilot to ditch alongside were abandoned - it was unlikely the passengers of the overloaded Bird Dog could survive the ditching and safely escape before the plane sank. After three tries, Major Buang managed to drop a note from a low pass over the deck: "Can you move the helicopter to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly for one hour more, we have enough time to move. Please rescue me! Major Buang, wife and 5 child."

Join us on Friday, July 17th to hear the rest of this story and more first hand from Rear Admiral Larry Chambers (USN, Ret.)

The commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War has been established by congressional law which, in part, states: "In Accordance With Public Law 110-181 SEC.598; the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act authorized the Secretary of Defense to conduct a program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War (2015 -2016) and, ‘in conducting the commemorative program, the Secretary shall coordinate, support, and facilitate other programs and activities of the Federal Government, State and local governments, and other persons and organizations in commemoration of the Vietnam War.” 

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