LtCol Jim Kean USMC, Retired
Commanding Officer of Company C
and the Marines of the Fall of Saigon
After Action Report 17 April -7 May 1975
LtCol Jim Kean USMC Retired presenting flag to Mr. & Mrs. Judge
AFTER ACTION REPORT~ 17 April ~ 7 May 1975
Submitted by: Major James H, KEAN SSN/0802 USMC; Commanding Officer, Company "C", Marine Security Guard Battalion and Ground Support Force Commander United States Embassy Compound~ Saigon, RVN
Having been granted permission by the Marine Security Guard Battalion Commander, Colonel Frank R. KOETHE, to proceed to Saigon I arrived at noon on Thursday, 17 April 1975, to assist Marine Security Guards of my command at the Embassy and four Consulates' General at DaNang, Nha Trang, Bien Hoa, and Can Tho.
In the unique relationship involving Marine Security Guards working for Department of State, the Commanding Officer administrates and trains, but may only adv±se in operational matters, retaining the responsibility of reporting any noted discrepancies during semi-annual inspections as regards the Memorandum of Agreement and Understanding between the Marine Corps and the Department of State. The operational chain of command designates the Regional or Post Security Officer, Department of State, as the Chief of Mission's direct representative tasked with managing Marine Security Guards. Each detachment is commanded by a senior Noncommissioned Officer, who in turn receives instructions on operational matters from the Security Officer and reports through the USMC chain of command otherwise.
In the Republic of Vietnam, Saigon was the Battalion's largest detachment and the NCOIC was Master Sergeant Juan J. VALDEZ. The Supervisory Regional Security Officer for all of Vietnam was Mr. Marvin Garrett and it was his office which was tasked with providing guard orders, E&E plans, and other operational commitments for Marine Security Guards. In my estimation, the size of the Saigon detachment and the recent fates of the DaNang and Nha Trang detachments were sufficient reason to justify my special visit.
MSgt John Valdez (Staff NCOIC, American Embassy Saigon, R. South Vietnam)
Upon my arrival, on 17 April 1975, the DaNang and Nha Trang Consulate Generals had already evacuated and there was considerable tension in Saigon because of the imminent threat. It was immediately made clear to me however, that the U. S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, was of the opinion that the situation would stabilize and had passed the :'word" that there would be no overt or any other attempt on the part of anyone within the Mission to convey other than a work-a-day attitude, speculation as to his design providing the most popular topic of conversation. I became immediately aware, however, that considerable planning was in progress all of which was
Ambassador Graham Martin
centered at the Defense Attaché Office Compound near Tan Son Nhut airport, to the extent that C141 evacuation flights were in the process of commencing operations, There was in fact a dramatic difference in the feverish activity at DAO and the relative complacency or perhaps more aptly described as the controlled facade at the Embassy.
Marine guarding area at Defense Attaché Office after a bombing from North Vietnam Army.
In an effort to make myself as useful as possible, I maintained constant liaison with RSO Garrett who took his orders directly from the Ambassador at this time. 1 discovered that the two six man detachments evacuated from DaNang and Nha Trang had been sent out to DAO to stand perimeter security watch. I sought and was granted permission to transfer these men on an operational evacuation flight to the Philippines where they would be processed for further transfer at the U. S. Embassy ~n Manila.
At Marshalltown, Iowa at 25th Reunion and LCpl Darwin Judge's memorial services.
On 19 April I was summoned to Mr. Garrett's office and to that of the Deputy Chief of Mission, Mr. Wolfgang Lehmann~ and was informed that sixteen men of the Embassy Marine Security Guard Detachment were to be detached and detailed to the DA0 Compound as a live in security force. Anticipating the problems that the Marines would face there in sorting out their superiors, 1 objected vigorously but was directed to comply as the commitment had been made previously, in accordance with the E&E plan, the true fact of the matter being that without the Embassy Marines the compound would have no security at all, I personally called Colonel Pat HOWARD, USMC and Major J. SABATER, USMC, the senior Marines at DAO, to wrest their assurance that in the event that the situation was to escalate they would ensure that my detachment would be evacuated. I then directed MSgt VALDEZ to choose fifteen Marines and place GySgt MARTIN in charge, have them gather all gear, and proceed to the DAO compound where billeting arrangements would be made, on the evening of 19 April,
GySgt Vasco Martin was sent to the DAO as the Staff NCO in charge
For the next four days I directed MSgt VALDEZ to keep the entire detachment on semi-alert with no overnight liberty. Two reaction squads slept aboard the Embassy compound to react to the increasing crowds which were gathering around the compound walls after curfew ceased each morning. I was in constant communications with the Bien Hoa and Can Tho detachments and anticipated Bien Hoa's fall as early as 19 April. The Bien Hoa Airbase was being attacked by heavy rocket and artillery fire and the RVNAF had already begun to move aircraft to Tan Son Nhut. The fall of Bien Hoa would allow the PRG forces to move artillery within range of Saigon and provide them with the capability of closing Tan Son Nhut also. The Consulate General was finally closed on 23 April and I directed that GySgt SCHLAGER, NCOIC, Bien Hoa, allow his men to be absorbed within the Saigon Detachment watch schedule and that he assist MSgt VALDEZ with compound security.
GySgt P.W. Schlager
Staff Non Commission Officer in Charge
SSgt HASTY, the NCOIC, Can Tho, had previously briefed me on the Can Tho plan to evacuate down the river to the sea and the Can Tho Consulate expected to evacuate only when Ambassador Martin closed the Embassy in Saigon.
SSgt B.S. Hasty, Staff NCOIC Can Tho (Three tours in Vietnam)
During the period 19-23 April I laid out plans for the defense of the compound to include four interlocking and mutually supporting machine gun positions and four squad area assignments. I planned in advance to conduct a forced withdrawal in the event of crisis to within the Embassy itself and then withdraw floor by floor to the rooftop LZ. Certain other alternate LZ's, outside the compound, were inspected and rejected as incompatible with our mission. During the week 21-28 April the atmosphere of controlled facade continued despite rocket attacks on the city itself. High level negotiations were conducted by the South Vietnamese Government, the outcome of which was the vitriolic resignation of President Thieu and the formation of a caretaker government by Mr. Huong.
Rumor around the Embassy had it that if acceptable to the PRG, Huong would step down in favor of "Big" Mirth who would secure a truce and try desperately to negotiate a coalition of some sort. (At this point is was clear to me that the PRG had all the marbles.) The important question was what effect these machinations would have on the U. S. Mission.It was generally agreed that Ambassador Martin would be handed an ultimatum to have U. S. personnel out within 48 hours because of the powerful position of the PRG and Martin's staunch advocacy of Thieu.
Rumors about Ambassador Martin were rife and I am not aware that he ever passed orders to pull out. In fact, he ordered specifically that I could not begin to remove trees and shrubbery which prohibited serious consideration of the Embassy parking lot as an LZ. At the same time he committed himself, on national TV, to shaking the hand of the last evacuee if we were required to depart. It was also not a very well kept secret that the Ambassador was meeting frequently with the French Ambassador and that construction of a two-way door from the CRA section of the U. s. Embassy Compound through the wall to the French Embassy was under way - it being also common knowledge that the French had called in
300 Legionnaires or Gendarmerie and intended to button up and recognize a new legitimate government immediately.
LtCol Jim Kean USMC Retired on bottom row,
first person and the Cpl McMahan memorial services.
During the time period 19-28 April I witnessed frequent attempts by DAO Officers to effect liaison with supposed key personnel at the Embassy to solicit cooperation in bringing all detailed and previously agreed upon E&E plans to fruition. These attempts were generally met with frustration as it seemed that no one at the Embassy could act without ambassadorial approval. An important factor, also, was the intense anxiety concerning the Ambassador's censure. It was evident that many individuals of varying degrees of importance began to show manifestations of the long hours and lack of rest.
For my own part, I was sensitively aware of the Marine Security Guard's mission and made personal liaison with officers at DAO in an effort to ensure that we could communicate if the situation deteriorated at the Embassy as I expected. An Air Force LtCol named SCHUTE was tasked with giving the Embassy parallel communications capability with DAO. These communications were proven virtually useless because the entire plan called for DAO to be the primary evacuation point and during the actual evacuation all attempts to use this radio equipment only caused confusion and in the few instances when contact was established the radio operator was asked to get off the net. The primary means of communications during the evacuation of the Embassy compound was by land line hookup with DAO until they finally evacuated, then from me through the helo pilots to the ships afterwards. The Ambassador had special capability which I believe he used in his communications with the President.
On the 28th of April 1975, shortly after an acceptance speech by President Minh an attack began on Tan Son Nhut airport and the Presidential Palace. It was reported that two A-37 attack aircraft bearing markings of planes which had previously fallen into enemy hands were attacking. Embassy Marines were placed on full alert within the compound and after checking to see if the Ambassador was aboard I asked him who remained at the Residence. He advised me that Mrs. Martin and Marines of the Personal Security Unit and Embassy Detachment were located at the residence bunker. I requested that the Ambassador allow me to have them escorted to the compound. Permission was granted and I personally led a detail to the Residence in the Ambassador's armored vehicle and safely cleared the Residence. Before midnight that night, although martial law was declared, it was clear that the attacks would not continue and the Ambassador and Mrs. Martin spent the night at the guarded Residence. I held the Marines on full alert throughout the night. The DAO Compound, Tan Son Nhut Airfield, and the general services area of the mission designated "Newport" were under heavy rocket and artillery fire throughout the night. "Newport" was occupied by the PRG by 0630, 29 April.
At approximately 0430 I received a call from GySgt MARTIN at the DAO Compound informing me that two Marines had been killed. The phone call was interrupted by incoming and GySgt MARTIN called back within the hour to identify the two dead Marines as Corporal Charles MCMAHON, Jr 023 42 16 37 USMC and Lance Corporal Darwin L. JUDGE 479 70 89 99 USMC, members of the sixteen man detachment sent to DAO to provide security. I requested that GySgt MARTIN check positively if a lull in the firing occurred. Later that morning I was able to get in touch with Colonel TAYLOR, Deputy Commander of the 9th MAB, who had gone to the scene and he repeated that the Marines were in fact MCMAHON and JUDGE. Once again the conversation was terminated due to incoming. I immediately directed the ANCOIC, SSgt M. K. SULLIVAN, to begin preparing a Report of Death message to be sent to Marine Security Guard Battalion, CMC, SecState A/SY/FO, AmConGen Hong Kong and AmEmbassy Manila. GySgt MARTIN was contacted once more before the message was sent out to reaffirm by head count that the report was correct. I was advised at this time that officers at the scene had evacuated the remains in a Mission Warden (Embassy contract) ambulance to the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital Morgue. This was established Embassy procedure for all deceased citizens of the U. S. who died in RVN. I instructed GySgt MARTIN to enlist the aid of his superiors in seeing to the remains from his end if it was possible because the Embassy compound was already isolated.
Cpl Charles McMahon | LCpl Darwin Judge
Charles McMahon and LCpl Judge was Killed in Action.
Throughout the day of 29 April the situation at the American Embassy had shifted from controlled facade to controlled pandemonium. During a brief morning lull I was directed by RSO Garrett to resume normal operations with the Marines and I ignored him because it was evident that the critical period had arrived. I immediately ordered preparation of the Embassy Compound for evacuation, enlisting the aid of resident Seabees and Mission Warden personnel while Marines held the walls against an estimated ten thousand people. From ten in the morning until noon we moved vehicles, cut trees and shrubbery, and began to organize the 2500 evacuees within the compound. I ordered the Seabees to mark the Embassy rooftop LZ and parking lot with luminous paint and directed the Mission Warden Fire Chief to soak the parking lot area with water to keep down the debris when the helos began to fly. The two LZ's of potential use; the Embassy rooftop for UH-1E's and CH-46's and the lower parking lot with the capability of handling CH 53's were readied. Air America began working the Embassy rooftop at this time on a sporadic and totally unplanned for basis. I requested that these helicopters divert to their planned pickup points throughout the city. Additionally, a five man Army Evacuation Team arrived from DAO Compound to assist in arranging the Evacuees in helo teams, (This team arrived sometime around 10:AM.)
The first CH 53's, indicating the commencement of operation "Frequent Wind", were spotted at approximately 1500. I called from the Deputy Chief of Mission's office to alert the Fleet of our needs and to request the diversion of helicopters to our LZ. Until my call the Fleet thought that all Embassy personnel had been taken by bus to the DAO Compound and they had accordingly scheduled only two planned lifts for Marines and the Ambassador's party. I made a request through the Deputy MAB Commander that the Embassy Marine Security Guards be augmented by ground security forces from BLT 2/4. At intermittent intervals FMF Marines in three Sparrow Hawk Teams, consisting of elements of Echo and Golf 2/4, a Recon Detachment, and a five man HST team, arrived to bring the total of GSF and Marine Security Guard strength to approximately 156 men.
Just prior to sunset (ENT) the Ambassador asked me if colors should be held and I advised that in view of the situation that he consider waiting until after dark lest the crowd interpret the lowering as the signal of final evacuation. The Ambassador concurred.
I personally acted as ground control for 46's and 53's diverted from DAO on my individual request until approximately 1900 when I was informed that as soon as the DAO commitment was complete the Embassy would receive 46's on the rooftop and the 53's in the parking lot at ten minute intervals.
Pilots informed me that operations would cease at dark. I explained our predicament and assured them that the zones could be well lit. I directed the lower zone to be boxed with vehicles with the engines running and the headlights and Embassy security lights proved sufficient. Throughout the night operations the intensity of aimed tracer fire directed at the helicopters was significant.
At approximately 2130 a CH 53 pilot warned me that Com 7th Fleet had ordered that operations cease at 2300. I went immediately to the Ambassador and requested that he use his special communications to make his desires known. The Ambassador sent word to me later that sorties would continue to be flown. In my frequent trips back and forth from the parking lot LZ and the Ambassador's office I observed a congregation of senior officials who were gathered in the adjoining office space of the Deputy Chief of Mission and were indulging freely in alcohol. I made mental note at the time to restrict my conversations and requests to the Ambassador personally if at all possible.
Sometime just after midnight pilots again t01d me that the Ambassador had been limited to twenty final sorties, ten 46's and ten 53's. My best estimate at this time on remaining personnel was approximately 850 evacuees and 225 Marines and U. S. . I explained my reservations to the Ambassador and Was told to do the best we could. An important incident which I personally observed took place at approximately this time. Throughout the after noon my Marines were receiving repeated demands from Korean Embassy personnel who were awaiting evacuation within the compound for priority treatment. Certain of these people had broken into the CRA Cash Liquor Sales Outlet and were obnoxiously drunk. Deputy Chief of Mission Lehmann was overheard by me while giving instructions to Marines that these Koreans would not receive any priority and that they would wait like all the rest. I have good reason to believe that some of these Koreans were among those approximately 350 evacuees left when I received the General's order to withdraw within the Chancery and proceed to the rooftop.
At approximately 0300 the Ambassador ordered me to pull all remaining evacuees to within the parking lot LZ area which was the Marine Final Perimeter. The Ambassador felt that the numbers were manageable and the move would prevent more people from coming over the walls, a fact which we had be experiencing throughout the night. This was done immediately. At approximately 0400 there was a lull in the lifts and one CH 46 was on the rooftop. I sensed that the helo lifts had stopped and called the Marine Sergeant charged with rooftop security. I asked if the Ambassador Ordered had departed and was given an affirmative with information that the Ambassador had the flag. In addition, I was advised that the helicopter in the zone contained the remainder of the Ambassador's staff to include the Regional Security Officer. Colonel MADISON, USA, Senior officer of the five man Army Evacuation Team was also preparing to depart with his personnel on this lift. I ordered that the helicopter be held and proceeded to the rooftop to speak, through the pilot, to General CAREY. The General explained the President's order limiting remaining lifts to Marines and U. S. personnel and ordered that I pull my people back within the Chancery and withdraw floor by floor to the roof top. On my way downstairs I asked the two resident Seabees who were awaiting the next lift to aid us in manning the main doors of the Embassy. At the time the Ambassador's party departed there remained approximately 350 evacuees between my Marines and the main entrance and the massive crowds outside the walls. I made my way to each small unit leader alerting them that I would be passing word immediately to withdraw calmly in a great semi-circle at the Embassy main entrance. My order was then given and as the semi-circle was formed I had the Marines begin to back away while the flanks entered the door.
Over three quarters of the force was safely inside when the crowd broke and all gates at the Embassy gave way. The last of us gained access by force but without the use of small arms. When 1 was assured that all Marines and the Seabees were inside I ordered the door bolted from the inside, the elevators were locked on the sixth floor by the Seabees and all Marines then proceeded upstairs floor by floor locking grill gates behind us. The crowd then drove a large Mission Warden water, tanker through the bolted main doors and started up after us. I established security on the rooftop and ordered 20 man helo teams to be formed immediately discarding helmets and flak gear as the CH 46's began to pull us out,
The Embassy Compound was inundated by over ten thousand people and the crowds filled the ladder wells to the sixth floor. Sporadic gunfire from various sorts of small arms was continuous and I ordered the Marines to stay down and keep away from the roof edge to avoid exposing themselves as targets. Mace was employed to discourage any immediate access to the final door and this door was blocked with fire extinguishers and equipment. Three CH 46's worked out of our zone on a regular basis until all GSF Marines were out at approximately 0700, 30 April 1975. The final lift of ten (10) Marine Security Guards of the Saigon Detachment and this Officer was completed at 0758 on the morning of 30 April 1975 having waited for the exhausted pilots of the CH 46's to refuel and turn around. I arrived aboard USS Okinawa at approximately 0930~, 30 April 1975 and spent the better part of the rest of the day in processing. I was able to cross-deck to the USS Blueridge the following morning and reported to the Commanding General, 9th MAB to enlist aid in locating the remains of the two Marines KIA. The General authorized the release of an operational immediate message to USS Midway to check an un~ confirmed report that the remains had be evacuated there. When no answer seemed forthcoming I had the message repeated then released a Flash precedence the following day offering to go aboard as soon as she was within helicopter range on her imminent return from the Gulf of Siam. USS Midway answered on 3 May that she had no remains on board. I reported immediately to General CAREY, CG, 9th MAB, and he convened an investigation designating Colonel GREY, RLT-4 Commander, as Investigating Officer. GySgt MARTIN of the DAO Compound Detachment and I both submitted statements at Col GREY's request.
USS Blueridge arrived at Subic on 4 May and I moved the Saigon Embassy Security Guards to the Embassy in Manila on 5 May. I reported to the Ambassador and requested that he release a message to Secretary of State and the Commandant detailing the facts on the KIA remains as he knew them. He ordered the message drafted, but limited the release EXDIS to the Embassy at Bangkok in an effort to appeal through the French for help in locating the remains. I departed for Hong Kong at 0830, 7 May having initiated an appeal that this message be sent EXDIS Secretary of State to be passed to the Commandant. Upon arrival in Hong Kong I received telephonic confirmation that the Deputy Chief of Mission, Mr. Lehmann, was carrying out this request.
LtCol Kean in Last Chopper off roof of Saigon. Near hatch.
Lt Col Jim Kean at 25th Reunion with the Fall of Saigon Marines
He is wearing a blue sweater with head turned.
Rick Meters and LtCol Kean at 26th Anniversary.
James Hamilton Kean, Lieutenant Colonel, USMC (Retired) died suddenly on May 5, 2008. He was 66 years old.
He is survived by Rosanne Elizabeth Kean, his wife of 43 years, of Cummaquid, MA; his four children – Paige Gilbert of San Francisco, Mike Kean and Pamela Kean of Seattle, WA and Ryan Kean of Los Angeles, and his two beloved grandchildren, Benjamin and Charlotte.
Lt. Col. Kean was born on June 30, 1941 in Pittsburgh, PA. He joined the Marine Corps in 1961 and served two tours of duty in Vietnam earning numerous citations including two bronze stars and two purple hearts.
His first tour of duty in Vietnam was from September, 1966 to October, 1967 - first as a Second Lieutenant, Forward Observer with “D” Co., 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment south of Chu Lai until he was wounded by shell fragments in February 1967. Upon discharge from the hospital, he was assigned as Aide to the Assistant Division Commander, First Marine Division, Brigadier General Foster C. LaHue. This tour of duty included participation in Operations Union I & II, Cochise, and Swift.
Lt. Col.Kean returned to Vietnam in August, 1970 as the commander of an Interrogator/Translator Team and was then reassigned as Commanding Officer of Fox Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment. The battery was augmented with two long range 155 mm howitzers in addition to the six 105 mm howitzers and had a platoon of infantry from Fifth Marines to serve as security. Fox Battery occupied Fire Support Base Ryder at the foot of Antennae Valley in the Que Son Mountains (southwest of Da Nang). The Que Son River Valley was a major avenue of egress into South Vietnam.
Lt. Col. Kean returned to Vietnam in April of 1975 as commanding officer, Company ‘C’ Marine Security Guard Battalion and during the evacuation of Saigon also served as the Ground Support Force Commander, United States Embassy Compound in Saigon.
On April 30, 1975, then-Major Kean was in command of the last Marines to leave the rooftop of the American Embassy in Saigon, thus ending the Vietnam War Era of American involvement in that country. He retired in 1983 and used his fluency in Chinese and his experience of the Pacific Rim to found Yankee Traders, an export/import company dealing with Asia.
He subsequently purchased Pacific Grinding Wheel in Marysville, WA, running that company until 1998 when he and Rosanne retired to Cummaquid, MA.
He graduated with a degree in Asian Studies from UC Berkeley, and from the Defense Language Institute in Russian and Mandarin.
A brief service was held on Monday, May 12 at the National Cemetery in Bourne, MA. A reception followed at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Barnstable, MA.
Kean residence with the Colors at half mast
Steve Schuller; Bill Newell; Mrs. Roseanne Kean; John Ghilain; and Doug Potratz are pictured at the wake for the Col.
Bill Newell; Mrs. Roseanne Kean; Doug Potratz and John Ghilain