One of the most iconic and lasting images of the Vietnam War came, during the evacuation of Saigon and its subsequent fall. On April 29th, 1975, U.S. Marine helicopters swooped down onto the United States embassy and rescued the last of the Americans in the city (1,000) and about 6,000 Vietnamese and their families. However, what is notable is the evacuation that caused millions of dollars worth of helicopters to be dumped into the ocean in order to make way for the Vietnamese that trying to escape the oncoming communists. The evacuation was only made doable through the quick thinking of the USS Kirk and their military mission to allow the scores of South Vietnamese military helicopters to land on their U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet.
They Were Desperate, Low on Fuel, and Needed to Land
According to the USS Kirk, it was their job to shoot down any North Vietnamese jets that attempted to shoot down the fleeing American helicopters. However, they never came and instead, scores of South Vietnamese military helicopters filled the sky like bees, attempting to flee the country and find a place to land after the last of the American helicopters had fled. Packed with pilots, their family and friends, the South Vietnamese choppers were low on fuel and needed to land, so many of them headed for the larger aircraft carriers and tried to communicate their dilemma. The USS Kirk wanted in on the action and despite their small fleet deck, beckoned for one of the helicopters to land on the pad. Soon, they had multiple South Vietnamese helicopters buzzing around, waiting to land on the USS Kirk but by the time they landed the third one, it chopped off the tail of the second one that had landed previously. It was clear that they did not have enough room on their deck. The solution, push millions of dollars of helicopters overboard.
Humans Were More Important Than The Machinery
As more and more helicopters got pushed overboard, the other Navy ships of the 7th Fleet repeated the action. As the helicopters would land, the refugees would jump off, and the sailors would then push the helicopters into the sea in order to make room for more. This occurred on the USS Kirk, the USS Hancock, the USS Midway, the USS Blue Ridge, the USS Cook and other small destroyers like the Kirk. Unfortunately, there was one large South Vietnamese military helicopter that could not land, the Chinook CH-47, and so the pilot decided to hover over the USS Kirk, opened its back doors, and told the passengers to jump. The Americans jumped into action and started catching the passengers, most of which were women and children. The pilot then flew about 60 years out from the USS Kirk and jumped, miraculously surviving the explosion of his helicopter.
All in all, the USS Kirk helped rescue about 200 refugees from those sixteen South Vietnamese helicopters that signaled to land. However, that wasn’t the end of the mission for the USS Kirk, who went on to save 20,000 to 30,000 Vietnamese refugees who fled using the South Vietnamese navy.