The Last Casualties
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.
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.
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.' "
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."
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.
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.
the MSGs at the time, Judge and McMahon had become the last U.S.
servicemembers to die in combat on Vietnamese soil.
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.
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.