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    Last Vietnam veteran from SD Air National Guard to retire



    Story by Staff Sgt. Michael Beck 

    South Dakota National Guard Public Affairs   

    RAPID CITY, S.D. - The last Vietnam veteran from the South Dakota Air National Guard will retire next month. Senior Master Sgt. Steve Abraham, of Rapid City, has announced he will retire June 20 after serving 33 years in the United States armed forces.

    During his service, Abraham served in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Air National Guard. He has also served 26 years as a federal technician working for both the South Dakota Air and Army National Guard.

    Abraham began his military career in 1973 in the Marine Corps. He served four years as an avionics technician, and it was during this service that he was sent in support of the conflict in Vietnam.

    Abraham attended Marine Corps basic in San Diego in 1973. Following basic training, he served as a hometown recruiter for a month before proceeding to Naval Air Station Millington in Memphis, Tenn., and Santa Ana, Calif., to complete his technical training.

    His first duty station was Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona. He was then transferred to Okinawa, Japan, from where he would be sent to service in support of the Vietnam War.

    Abrams was assigned to the USS Hancock, part of the 7th Fleet. The 7th Fleet left Okinawa in April 1975 bound for the waters off Vietnam to assist in the evacuation of personnel from the capital of Saigon should the need arise. On April 26, the Marines were spooled up, ready to launch in support of extracting U.S. diplomats in Saigon, but the mission was postponed multiple times before it was finally executed on April 29.

    Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Vietnam was already under attack, making fixed-wing evacuations impossible, leaving rotary-wing aircraft the only available means by which to effectively move personnel to safety.

    “The USS Midway was taking helicopters, the LPD Blue Ridge was also taking helicopters,” said Abraham.

    Soon after, the USS Hancock also began taking refugees.

    As the evacuation went on into the night, the Hancock was becoming crowded with refugees and helicopters. By the end of the evacuation, the ship had taken on between 2,400 and 2,800 refugees.

    “I remember thousands of people spread out over the hangar deck,” recalled Abraham. “Men, women and children. ... It was an interesting event to say the least.”

    He related that due to the vast number of bodies on the ship, bathing was suspended to conserve water. Water was only to be used for cooking and drinking for the four, long days until the fleet could reach the Philippines to offload the refugees.

    Abrams also has vivid memories of the worst scenes he witnessed during the evacuation.

    “Not only was it an air evacuation, but a lot of people climbed into boats … overloaded boats amongst where we were cruising,” said Abraham. “We saw people actually start their boats on fire thinking … we would pick them up.”

    Many of the Vietnamese Hueys and Chinooks were pushed overboard after they landed in order to make room for the Marine aircraft that were stationed on the USS Hancock. The first two Hueys had been pushed overboard when Abraham’s shop chief suggested that they remove some of the common radios from the aircraft.

    “I remember telling the deck hands to remember we were in there, because sometimes we were still cutting as the helicopters were being shoved to the side,” said Abraham. “Some of those birds hit the water before their rotors had even stopped turning, that's how quickly things were happening that afternoon.”

    Abraham watched two CH-47 Chinooks and 13 UH-1 Hueys go over the side of the USS Hancock, although more may have gone over when he wasn’t looking.

    Abraham left the Marine Corps after his initial tour, but later joined the South Dakota Air National Guard as an electrician.



    Date Taken: 05.09.2013
    Date Posted: 08.14.2013 14:15
    Story ID: 111953
    Location: RAPID CITY, SD, US 
    Hometown: RAPID CITY, SD, US
    Hometown: SIOUX FALLS, SD, US

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