Passage to Freedom

we could see Saigon from where we were;
you could see all of the bombs going off it’s just like all red horizon, the
Vietnamese was trying to escape, they were if they could fly, something would
fly, like a Huey, they’d load their family pack it in and they could fly out looking
for a ship to land on when they
when we looked up there was hueys coming off the
beach to us so we, one of our guys could speak Vietnamese, he said Vietnamese ship: the helicopters can land here, we have a flight deck
the first one landed they were stacked up like ready to land one
right after the other we took 16 helicopters, 13 over the side
well they were escaping they had no place to land, they couldn’t land on the aircraft
carrier because they were full of helicopters from the people that they were flying
out from, from the embassy to the aircraft carriers so they had to
find a place to land and they ditched those helicopters– they had to ditch or they would have been all dead so I said take it onboard took the first one onboard
and I get this question all the time who gave you permission to push it over the
side I said look I grew up in New England I don’t need permission to do a goddamn thing, I just
try to do the right thing push it over the side
and then they started coming bang, bang, bang, 13 of them one right after the other
nowadays with satellite phones and instant communication I don’t think any of those
decisions would be made, the decisions that were made out in the South China
Sea would not have been made without getting expressed permission from the
Pentagon, couldn’t do that then, didn’t have the communication so it was really
up to the commanding officer to decide we’re gonna take this risk
if it goes wrong it’s on me and it could have gone wrong in many
ways if one of those helicopters had crashed one of those Vietnamese
helicopters had crashed on the deck and killed a number of sailors that would
have been it for him and his career, but he saw those people
in those helicopters and he realized that if we don’t allow them to land on
this ship they’re gonna die most likely they’re gonna crash into the sea they’re
going to run out of fuel so he made that decision a split-second decision
it’s the right thing to do we’re going to save as many
lives as we can South Vietnamese Navy were told to rendezvous at Con Son Island at dawn on 1 May
we looked out there and there was a parking lot full of ships loaded loaded with thousands and thousands of people in 105 degree temperature, no water no food so my corpsman
we get there, we put armitage on the flagship and had my corpsman and the team go around to each ship to see what the material conditions were, could they get underway, could
they move because I had to get them out into territorial waters, that was the
first task and we didn’t know whether we were going to be shot at, them or us, or all of us the Kirk was not a ship that was designed for humanitarian relief,
the sailors weren’t trained to do that kind of work and with the flip of a
switch they went from a ship that was a warship a man-of-war of the U.S. Navy they flipped a switch in those sailors became humanitarian-assistance givers and they
rescued a lot of people and they did a marvelous job
so they were warriors, they were trained as warriors, but they they excelled at a at a task that was
quite different
you just did what you had to do I don’t think it, I don’t think
it really didn’t impacted us until years later I had to get these people into safe harbor and hopefully they would get transferred to the United
States, that was the only thing that was going through my mind and the quicker we got
them there, the less people would die this is the largest humanitarian effort
ever conducted by the United States Navy I’m emotional about the crew because
they never expected to do what they had to do I just think, I just think America
needs to know what they did Maine Maritime Academy played a huge role when they realize how many grads went into the Navy made careers out of the Navy or just was in for a four-year tour these guys came
they’d already had a year, a year standing underway watch
they’re far better than anybody coming in the Navy that never stood a watch think about that, they’re experienced and they come in with an attitude: what do you need, what’s
the job, let me get it done without whining about it
others are standing around waiting to be told what to do they’re not that kind
and that’s the best I can say

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