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From the Archives: In 1975 refugees begin arriving at Camp Pendleton as Saigon fell

On April 29, 1975 — as U.S. helicopters evacuated military and civilian personnel from besieged Saigon — the first of an estimated 50,000 Southeast Asian refugees began arriving at Camp Pendleton.

The San Diego base became a temporary resettlement center for South Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees who fled their homelands as the United States withdrew from the war in Vietnam and Saigon, then the capital of South Vietnam, fell to North Vietnamese forces.

Those who came to Camp Pendleton remained for about 45 days before getting new homes under sponsorship of churches, community groups and individuals.


1st refugees check into Pendleton

By ROBERT DIETRICH, Tribune Military Writer

CAMP PENDLETON — A Village of World War II Quonset huts in the remote northern reaches of this Marine Corps base, usually used to train Leatherneck reservists, today became the hometown for about 1,000 Southeast Asian war refugees.

Marines and Navy personnel worked throughout the night setting up a reception center at the base after being told by the Defense Department to provide for up to 20,000 Cambodians and South Vietnamese fleeing their homelands.

Fort Chalice, Ark., and Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. were given similar orders. The Pentagon labeled the temporary camps, “reception centers.”

Lt. Col. Arthur Brill, Camp Pendleton public affairs officer said this

morning, “We went from zero capability to house civilian refugees to creating a facility for 4,500 — all in the space of 24 hours.”

The Marine center, at the Talega area about 5 miles from the perimeter fence that separates the base from San Clemente and Richard Nixon’s beachside home, Casa Pacifica, was augmented by 90 16-man patrols.

Another 100 tents were scheduled to be pitched by tonight.

Four planes carrying about 260 refugees — half of them children — arrived at Norton Air Force Base near San Bernardino this morning. The refugees then were to be taken by bus to Camp Pendleton.

Two more planes which had been scheduled to arrive at Norton during the day were diverted to El Toro, along with other planes scheduled later. A spokesman at Norton said the refugees appeared to be in good health, and happy to be in the United States.

Up to 1,000 refugees are expected to be at Camp Pendleton by midnight.

Brill said the reception center would be a “controlled area,” with limited access, to prevent the possible spread of any disease to other sections of the base or into nearby civilian communities.

Capt. E.D. Loweecey, commander of the Camp Pendleton Naval Medical Region, asked for additional Navy medical personnel from the San Diego area.

Brill said each refugee will be examined and given basic sanitary supplies, including soap, towels and toothbrushes, as well as clean clothing

Marines installed additional showers and chemical toilets in the “tent city” suburb.

All U.S. military and federal agency personnel working with the evacuees were to receive immunizations against hepatitis, bubonic plague and other diseases not routinely covered in military preventative medicine for duty in the U.S.

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