The Communist take over in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in 1975 caused a flood of military and political refugees seeking resettlement in the West, knowing their fate would be horrible if they fell into Communist hands. As counterpoint to the American withdrawal from Vietnam, in April 1975, the U.S. Government began military and civilian operations to assist as many refugees as possible.
A 35 foot fishing boat carrying 35 Vietnamese refugees, at sea 350 miles northeast of Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, 15 May 1984. The people spent eight days at sea before being rescued by the amphibious command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19).
During April 1975, the State Department organized a two-phased operation: Operation New Life evacuated refugees to centers in the Pacific during the spring and summer of 1975, where they would be medically screened and treated and administratively processed. Operation New Arrivals covered their later movement to the United States and assimilation into American society. Two thousand Army support troops set up a tent city at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam capable of housing more than 50,000 refugees. A center was established at Fort Chaffee, AK and later at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA for U.S. reception. The first of more than 130,000 Southeast Asian refugees evacuated to the United States arrived on 2 May 1975. Over 90,000 received medical care provided by Army nurses at stations along their journey.
The temporary housing facility for Vietnamese refugees erected at Camp Pendleton, CA, May 1975.
Also in April 1975, with Operation Baby Lift, Vietnamese and Cambodian orphans were airlifted to Army bases at the Presidio of San Francisco, Fort Benning, GA, and Fort Lewis, WA as well as the Marine base at Camp Pendleton, CA. The Army provided temporary housing and care for 1,853 of the 2,715 orphans evacuated to the United States before turning them over to voluntary adoption agencies.
The April 1975 refugees were only the beginning. Over the next 25 years, some 3 million people left their homes in the former French Indochinese colonies of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, including 1.75 million Vietnamese land refugees and boat people. They found resettlement, mostly in Western countries and Australia. Of these, the United States East Asian Refugee Admissions Program resettled over 1.4 million Indochinese refugees, including some 900,000 from Vietnam. Countless thousands more lost their lives leaving Vietnam in rickety boats -- only to be preyed upon by pirates, battered by rough seas, and, at times, devastated by an inability to land in friendly territory.
The sailors of the U.S. Seventh Fleet came to the aid of seafarers during the peak years as U.S. naval vessels rescued thousands of Vietnamese "boat people" fleeing political and religious persecution and economic deprivation in the new Socialist Republic of Vietnam.