World Food Prize Ambassador Quinn
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Backchannel to Saigon: Starting the Evacuation


By Mid-April 1975, two weeks after the Weyand Mission, there was still no evacuation planning taking place in Saigon. Distraught by this lack of action, Amb. Quinn recalls how he remained late at the office one night until his superiors all departed, and then went across the street to the west wing and up to the national security advisors office. Alone with general Brent Scowcroft, Quinn reveals to him the secret arrangement he has in place in Saigon with now hundreds of Vietnamese ready and able to be evacuated. With time running out, he urges General Scowcroft to obtain the presidents' agreement and then sends “back channel” instruction to Amb. Martin telling him to immediately evacuate all of the individuals in Lacy Wright's system. Gen. Scowcroft obtains the president's approval that evening and then sends a presidential order to Amb. Martin in the CIA communication channel which goes directly to him. This instruction breaks the barrier and allows the flow of refugees out of Vietnam to finally begin. Over the next ten days, up to 130,000 refugees from Indochina are evacuated, mostly by air. When the evacuation is halted on April 28th, Quinn receives reports from his on the ground contacts that there are still 20,000 endangered Vietnamese at the airport waiting to rescued, but that no planes are landing even though the airport has not been attacked. Desperate to reverse the situation, Amb. Quinn again goes outside of channels to David Kennerly, the president's white house photographer. When Kennerly hears about the situation from Quinn, he immediately goes to the oval office to inform the president who then reverses his order and turns the evacuation back on. It continues for hours airlifting out thousands of those stranded refugees, halting only when North Vietnamese artillery begin impacting the runways.

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