Historical Item

The Last Casualties
LCpl. Darwin Judge & Cpl. Charles McMahon Jr.

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Posts: Saigon, Vietnam Author: Story by Sgt. Steven A. Davis

"That [the fall of Saigon] was probably the hardest day of my presidency for me. ... I think we made a very heroic effort and did the best we could under the worst of circumstances. I look upon it as the sadness of a retreat that I'll never forget."

Former President Gerald R. Ford,
magazine, March 8, 1999

The Last Casualties

Since arriving at the Defense Attaché Office on 16 April 1975, Marine security guards Lance Corporal Darwin Judge of Marshalltown, Iowa, and Corporal Charles McMahon Jr., Woburn, Mass., were primarily responsible for assisting evacuees during processing and manning security posts. A steady stream of American, Vietnamese and foreign national evacuees had passed through the DAO compound, but as the advancing North Vietnamese Army gradually tightened the noose around Saigon, the pressure was beginning to mount.

Sergeant Doug Potratz and his family were among the multitudes seeking safe passage to American soil. Throughout his last month in-country, Potratz displayed an unerring knack for making crucial decisions on particularly ominous occasions. He married his Vietnamese girlfriend on 4 April--the same day Da Nang fell to the communists. He then arrived at Tan Son Nhut air base with his wife and 4-year-old stepdaughter the same day South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu resigned from office, 21 April.

Frustrated by red tape, endless hours of waiting and fruitless attempts at securing a flight out of the country, "I was ready to scream," Potratz recalled. "Judge came up to me and said, 'Sergeant Potratz, I know the guy who fills out the plane manifest. Give me your paperwork, and I'll get your family on the next flight out.' "

Displaying typical Marine resourcefulness, Judge returned a few minutes later, picked up Potratz's stepdaughter and a suitcase, and escorted the family to the plane. "That was the last time I saw Darwin Judge alive," Potratz said. "He was my hero that day."

The days and hours leading up to 29 April were becoming increasingly tense and as one MSG described, "full of action, boredom and turmoil."

Responsible for posting the guard that night was Sgt Kevin Maloney, who, like McMahon, spoke with a thick Bostonian accent. The two Massachusetts natives were originally scheduled for the midnight watch at Post 1--a position at the DAO compound's outer gate--but buddies Judge and McMahon requested to be posted together. "I reasoned that no real action would occur until morning [and that] I should be where the action was," said Maloney.

At midnight, McMahon and Judge relieved LCpl Bill English, who, like a somnambulist, trudged to his rack and settled down for a well-deserved rest. Less than four hours later, the base came under attack by North Vietnamese rockets launched from nearby positions. Grabbing their weapons and gear, English and his fellow Marines scrambled to reach bunkers located outside the building. They soon discovered that Post 1 had taken a direct hit, and both McMahon and Judge had been killed.

Unknown to the MSGs at the time, Judge and McMahon had become the last U.S. servicemembers to die in combat on Vietnamese soil.

Because Judge and McMahon exemplified the Marine spirit--exhibiting compassion and professionalism during a bleak, extremely confusing period--they remain both admired and honored by the MSGs who served in Saigon. One man who can testify to this is Potratz, who still remembers the actions of a young lance corporal on his behalf, 25 years ago this month.

"If it weren't for the 'Darwin Judges' and the 'Charles McMahons,' " he reflected, "thousands of Americans and Vietnamese would not have made it out of the country and lived a fuller life."

--Sgt Steven A. Davis


Last Casualties from Vietnam, Judge & McMahon
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Location of Master

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