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The Lucky Few: The Fall of Saigon and the Rescue Mission of the USS Kirk

 by Jan K. Herman, Naval Institute Press, 2013

Entering service in 1971, the U.S. Navy destroyer escort Kirk was designed primarily to fight enemy submarines, but after the ship joined the Seventh Fleet in the Gulf of Tonkin it performed a variety of other tasks, antisubmarine work excluded. When North Vietnamese forces closed in on Saigon in late April 1975, the Navy’s priority was to support the evacuation of American personnel and South Vietnamese who had “sensitive” information that would jeopardize their lives under the Communists.

As tens of thousands of other South Vietnamese sought to flee the country, however, the Kirk’s captain and crew ultimately became the de facto flagship of a ragtag flotilla of South Vietnamese naval vessels and any other floating means of egress the refugees could find. Amid that exodus the Kirk’s helicopter pad played host to overloaded choppers full of human cargo, and its sick bay staff played midwife to onboard births.

In 2010 Jan K. Herman, former historian for the Navy Medical Department and special assistant to the surgeon general, produced The Lucky Few, an hourlong documentary on the odyssey of the Kirk and its refugee armada. His book goes into greater depth, weaving together the testimonies of ship’s personnel and other American participants with the South Vietnamese who owed their freedom and even their lives to that floating “band of brothers.” An epilogue updates the reader on the subsequent lives of those who participated in this unique drama, especially useful to people who saw the documentary.


Originally published in the August 2014 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here.