The operation was based on Operation Eagle Pull, the American evacuation by air of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on April 12, 1975. Operation Eagle Pull had been a huge success in terms of meeting all goals set out by military planners.
"Frequent Wind" was the second code name chosen when the original code name "Talon Vise" was compromised. A code that was to be used to signal the start of Frequent Wind was distributed to the press and American civilians in the city. The code was a quote on Armed Forces Radio: the comment that the temperature is rising, followed by eight bars of White Christmas. (Japanese journalists were concerned that they would not recognize the tune and had to get someone to sing it to them).
In the run up to the evacuation, thousands of Vietnamese wanted to escape the encroaching communist forces. With so many desperate people and so many civilians in knowledge of security codes, security was broken almost as soon as the code song was given out. When the operation started thousands of Vietnamese tried to flood what was thought to be the US embassy in Saigon. One of the landing zones was frequently referred to as the US Embassy, but in fact is an apartment building several blocks away (this building was Pittman Apartments which was used as residential quarters for various US diplomatic personnel) that was one of several pick-up points for the American evacuation. Protecting the evacuation force on the ground in South Vietnam were combat elements of the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade, including the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines and 2nd Battalion 9th Marines (which would two weeks later be engaged in the rescue of the SS Mayaguez). The last contingent of Americans that left Vietnam were U.S. Marine Security Guards who departed at 7:58 am from the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy.
1,373 U.S. citizens and 5,595 Vietnamese and third country nationals were evacuated by military and Air America helicopters to U.S. Navy ships off-shore in an approximately 24-hour period on April 29 to 30, 1975, immediately preceding the fall of Saigon. During the operation, so many South Vietnamese helicopters landed on the vessels taking the evacuees that some were pushed overboard to make room for more people. Other helicopters, having nowhere to land, were deliberately crash landed into the sea, close to the ships, their pilots bailing out at the last moment to be picked up by rescue boats.