On this day in 1975, the Vietnam War effectively came to a close with the capture of South Vietnam’s capital city by North Vietnamese forces—the “Fall of Saigon”. Shortly before this happened, as the US evacuated as many American civilians as possible by helicopter in Operation Frequent Wind, crew aboard the USS Midway were surprised to see a small two-seat Cessna O-1 Bird Dog approach the vessel and then circle above. Flying that plane, having just escaped from Con Son Island with his wife and five children—also aboard—was South Vietnamese Air Force Major Buang-Ly. With fuel running low, Buang-Ly soon tried to communicate with the carrier by dropping hastily scrawled letters from the plane, and after numerous unsuccessful attempts, this particular note, written on a map, defied the strong winds thanks to the heavy pistol to which it had been tied, and hit the crowded deck.
On it was written:
Can you move the Helicopter to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough time to mouve. Please rescue me.
Major Bung, wife and 5 child
Upon reading the plea, the carrier’s captain, Larry Chambers, immediately ordered all available crew to push an estimated $10million worth of helicopters off the deck and into the ocean in order to give Buang-Ly space in which to touchdown. The plan worked, and he soon landed the Cessna perfectly, without tailhook, to huge applause.
Buang-Ly and family later became American citizens, and Chambers has since described Buang-Ly as “the bravest man I have ever met in my life.” The Cessna O-1 Bird Dog from which this letter of note was dropped can now be found hanging at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Florida.
This letter can be found in the original volume of Letters of Note.