The Lucky Few
The Fall of Saigon and the Rescue Mission of the USS Kirk
Jan K. Herman
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As the Vietnam War reached its tragic climax in the last days of April 1975, a task force of U.S. Navy ships cruised off South Vietnam’s coast. The mission was to support the evacuation of American embassy personnel and military advisors. But the task force was also assigned to secure the safety of South Vietnamese who had sensitive” military information in their aid to the U.S. war effort. Their lives would be in danger once the North Vietnamese consolidated their inevitable victory.
The magnitude of a nation’s final collapse had suddenly become tangible. For days prior to the fall of Saigon, the by-products of the North Vietnamese army’s relentless conquest included thousands of panicked refugees trying to flee the country in anything that would float or fly.
It was Dunkirk in reverse,” observed Paul Jacobs, commanding officer of USS Kirk during Frequent Wind,” the operation that turned the destroyer escort into a haven for refugees escaping South Vietnam. Kirk’s officers and enlisted personnel--trained as warriors--instantly transformed their man-of-war into a humanitarian assistance ship. Desperation and suffering gave way to reassurance as crew-members fed their unexpected anguished guests, dispensed medical care, diapered infants, and provided hope to a dispirited people.
The Lucky Few focuses on one small U.S. Navy warship from that task force. Kirk took part in the rescue of not only the remnants of the South Vietnamese fleet but dealt with 32,000 refugees onboard those ships. Although the Vietnam War ended in chaos and shame, the epic story of USS Kirk and her success in rendering humanitarian assistance under inconceivable circumstances reflects one of America’s shining military involvements almost 40 years later. The Lucky Few brings to light this relatively unknown heroic tale in the South China Sea of a people caught up in the death throes of a nation and their subsequent passage to freedom.