Last Men Out: The True Story Of America's Heroic Final Hours In Vietnam

During the last 2 days of April 1975, the final act of America’s military in‑volvement in Vietnam was playing out in a complex, chaotic, and heroic operation known as FREQUENT WIND. The cast of characters numbered in the thousands, but the authors of Last Men Out: The True Story of America’s Heroic Final Hours in Vietnam chose to focus on the last 11 Marines rescued from the roof of the American Embassy.

The photograph of a Central Intelligence Agency helicopter precariously perched on the roof of a downtown Saigon apartment build‑ing became one of the defining images of America’s involvement in Vietnam. Like any other photograph, it captured only a snapshot in time and provided no context. Last Men Out adds that context and perspective from the viewpoint of the Marines on the ground and in the air who were tasked with what initially appeared to be an impossible mission.

The expected orderly evacuation by fixed-winged aircraft from Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Airfield quickly turned into the largest helicopter evacuation in history. The North Vietnamese Army had a vote, and their vote, in the form of artillery and 122mm rocket fire, denied the Marines the use of Tan Son Nhut’s runways. Over 4,800 evacuees were flown to ships waiting offshore by Marine and Air Force helicopters on 29 April alone from The Defense Attaché Compound.

The focus of effort and concern quickly shifted to the U.S. Embassy in downtown Saigon as crowds, numbering in the thousands, gathered in an attempt to escape the advancing North Vietnamese forces. The Embassy was never considered a primary evacuation site. However, over 2,000 U.S. and third country nationals would evacuate through the Embassy in less than a 24-hour period. It is within the U.S. Embassy compound that Bob Drury and Tom Calvin capture your attention with a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the decisions and actions taken by the Ground Security Force and the last 11 Marine Security Guards defending America’s presence in Vietnam.

The authors take the time to introduce each of the 11 main characters. These were men who had to make difficult and personal choices that possibly meant life or death for those in their care. These men had to look into the eyes of South Vietnamese allies and decide who would be evacuated and who would be left behind. Decisions made 15,000 miles away in Washington, DC, had consequences for those 11 men as they tried to save as many lives as possible and yet faithfully carry out the orders of their superiors.

The list of source notes and selected bibliography used by the authors is extensive; however, the authors primarily used the eyewitness accounts of eight surviving members of the Marine Security Guard to weave together a compelling story of conflict, personal loss, and heroism. The use of nonstandard aviation terminology serves as a distraction from an otherwise well-researched book. One correction should be noted, in that the name of the Marine piloting Swift 22, the CH–46 that rescued the last 11 Marines from the roof of the U.S. Embassy, was Capt Tom Holden, not Holben. He deserves proper recognition for his heroic actions that day as well.

The Vietnam War was arguably the most divisive war in America’s history. Following the fall of Saigon, the American public shifted its focus, historians began writing the definitive history much too soon, and politicians debated over who was responsible for such a stunning strategic defeat. As a result, the American psyche was far too fragile to entertain stories of heroic Marine actions that closed the final chapter and 30th military campaign of the Vietnam War. The authors should be applauded for telling this story in such a personal and compelling fashion.

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