Just before the fall of South Vietnam, the U.S. Air Force began removing refugees from Saigon to safe haven bases in the Pacific. Air Rescue and Recovery Service HH-53 helicopters airlifted additional evacuees from Saigon to the U.S.S. Midway. Military Airlift Command airlifted more than 30,000 Vietnamese refugees from the Philippines to Guam, while commercial contract carriers began an effort to move 121,560 refugees from South East Asia to the U.S.
On April 29, 1975, Operation Frequent Wind, the largest helicopter evacuation on record, began removing the last Americans from Saigon. The North Vietnamese launched their final offensive the previous month and South Vietnamese forces had fallen back, losing Quang Tri, Hue, Da Nang, Qui Nhon, Tuy Hoa, Nha Trang, and Xuan Loc in quick succession. With the North Vietnamese attacking the outskirts of Saigon, U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin ordered the commencement of Frequent Wind.
In 19 hours, 81 helicopters carried more than 1,000 Americans and almost 6,000 Vietnamese to aircraft carriers offshore. Cpl. Charles McMahon, Jr. and Lance Cpl. Darwin Judge, USMC, were the last U.S. military personnel killed in action in Vietnam, when shrapnel from a North Vietnamese rocket struck them as they were guarding the Tan Son Nhut Airbase during the evacuation.
At 7:53 a.m. on April 30, the last helicopter lifted off the roof of the U.S. Embassy. Later that morning, North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace. North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin accepted the surrender from General Duong Van Minh, who had taken over from Tran Van Huong, who had been in power only one day after South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu fled the country.
This marked the end of the Vietnam War.
Watch the NBC News Time Capsule here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/5136/nbc-news-time-capsule-the-fall-of-saigon-april-29-30-1975.