Midway Skipper Who Pushed Choppers into the Sea at Saigon: ‘What’s Happening Now Is Worse’

U.S. Navy personnel aboard the USS Blue Ridge push a helicopter into the sea off the coast of Vietnam in order to make room for more evacuation flights from Saigon, Tuesday, April 29, 1975. The helicopter had carried Vietnamese fleeing Saigon as North Vietnamese forces closed in on the capital. …
AP Photo/Jacques Tonnaire

Leading up to the Taliban takeover of Kabul in Afghanistan, analysts have been hailing the moment as President Biden’s Saigon, but some say the situation is far worse, including those who actually served at the fall of Saigon.

Speaking with the Military Times, Larry Chambers, who served as a skipper on the aircraft carrier Midway during the fall of Saigon, said that while the two situations are strikingly similar, they are different in one key respect: Kabul is much, much worse.

“To be perfectly honest with you, what is happening now is worse than what happened in Vietnam,” Chambers told the outlet.

During Saigon’s final days, armadas of helicopters were seen swooping across the sky as U.S. forces airlifted thousands of refugees and American allies off the coast to safety, most of them packed to maximum capacity in the effort to save as many as possible. Over on the USS Midway, Chambers recalled how quickly the deck filled to the brim with choppers and desperate refugees. The situation eventually became so dire that U.S. servicemen infamously began pushing thousands of dollars worth of equipment into the sea to make room.

“I have to live with my grandmother yelling in my ear ‘do the right thing,’” Chambers said. “Everyone has a conscience. You look at the options. There are no winners in these situations. You do the best you can, do the thing you know you can live with and figure you will pay the consequences for the act.”

While the memory of Saigon certainly haunts Chambers, he believes the fall of Kabul is a far worse situation for several reasons: the abruptness of U.S. withdrawal, Kabul’s distance from the ocean, and the Taliban’s undisputed brutality.

“Of course it’s worse than Saigon,” he said. “We tried to get out as many people who worked with us as we could,” he said Sunday. “Did we do a good job? Who knows? I do not know what [the Taliban is] going to do, but whaver it is not going to be pretty [sic].”

“We made a promise to those folks that we would rescue them, and we didn’t,” Chambers added. “In Afghanistan, we are abandoning the folks who supported us while we were there.”

While the South Vietnamese were within close proximity to the sea (just 30 miles), Afghanistan is an entirely landlocked nation, with Kabul standing 800 miles from the Arabian Sea.

“We had a huge amphibious force sitting off Saigon,” said Chambers. “We don’t have a huge amphibious force sitting off Kabul.”

Just one month prior to the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, President Joe Biden dismissed the idea that the United States would be witnessing another Saigon moment.

“Mr. President, some Vietnamese veterans see echoes of their experience in this withdrawal in Afghanistan. Do you see any parallels between this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam?” Biden was asked on July 8.

“None whatsoever,” Biden replied. “Zero. What you had is you had entire brigades breaking through the gates of our embassy — six, if I’m not mistaken. The Taliban is not the South — the North Vietnamese army. They’re not — they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.”

On Sunday, reports indicated that thousands of Americans, not to mention Afghan allies, are currently stranded in Afghanistan as the Taliban continues to take control of cities, highways, and thoroughfares.

“Tomorrow and over the coming days, we will be transferring out of the country thousands of American citizens who have been resident in Afghanistan, as well as locally employed staff of the U.S. mission in Kabul and their families and other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals,” the State Department and Department of Defense said in a statement Sunday.

Follow Paul Bois on Twitter @Paulbois39


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