by Carol Higgins Taylor
Eastern Area Agency on Aging
It’s not often that we get to relive history listening to the words spoken by a true life hero.
Capt. Paul Jacobs, retired commander of the USS Kirk (FF1087), paints a vibrant picture of his tour of Vietnam, leaving his audience spellbound as they attempt to grasp the reality of the vision put before them.
Jacobs graduated from Milbridge High School in 1955 and from Maine Maritime Academy in 1958. He was at sea with the U.S. Navy from 1958 to 1984, when he retired as a Navy captain.
He and his crew made history in 1975 when the Kirk facilitated the evacuation of Cambodia, Saigon, and the Vietnam Navy. When Saigon fell, about 30,000 Vietnam refugees were rescued by 30 ships, each trying to say one step ahead of the North Vietnamese. And stay alive. With a voice steeped in emotion, Captain Jacobs relays the events as they unfolded in the spring of 1975.
“Our first mission was the evacuation of Cambodia, and our job was to provide naval gunfire support to protect the helicopters transferring the refugees from the beach to the ships off shore,” Jacobs remembers.
“Our second mission was the evacuation of Saigon, during which there were 50 U.S. Navy ships and some Military Sealift [Command] ships,” he says.
“Our third mission was the rescue of the Vietnam Navy from Con Son Island, which consisted of some 32 ships and approximately 32,000 refugees. There was no operation order for this rescue. The story of this operation has never been told,” Jacobs says.
Until now. The untold story of this epic rescue and the heroism of Jacobs and his extraordinary crew were buried deep in their minds and hearts from 1975 to 2004. Stories, such as this, however, have a way surfacing in time, and as fate would have it, a USS Kirk Reunion spawned the idea of a documentary detailing the dramatic rescue.
The video “The Lucky Few” depicts the story of how the Vietnam War ended and brings to life the successful humanitarian victory led by the officers and crew of the Kirk, a heroic accomplishment in unsurpassed nearly 40 years later.
Eastern Area Agency on Aging is proud to be able to bring “The Lucky Few” to various Community Cafes across eastern Maine throughout the summer. Captain Jacobs will be present at each viewing and will provide the introduction and commentary on the film.
When receiving any of the numerous awards or accolades that have been bestowed on him during the years, Capt. Jacobs sings the praises of his beloved crew because, he says, it would not have been possible without them.
“The biggest problem, aside from medical concerns for the refugees, was how to get water and food to these 32 ships and everyone aboard,” he says. “The Kirk was making fresh water as fast as possible and transferring it in anything that could hold water.
“The crew gave their food and water to the refugees and unloaded all the candy they had from home and gave it to the kids. They even gave the refugees some of their uniforms and civilian clothes that they had in their lockers. This was the most selfless and dedicated group of men I have ever known,” Jacobs says.
So this story never hides in the shadows, there is a commemorative and collectable package available at each showing, including the following items, for a suggested donation of $25 to the Kirk Association Scholarship Fund.
The packet includes: a USS Kirk Memory Coin, a facsimile of a 1975 copy of 500D South Vietnamese currency, and several DVDs including “The Lucky Few.” All the proceeds support the Kirk Association Scholarship Fund.
For more information about the commemorative packet or a schedule of viewings, call EAAA or log on www.eaaa.org and click the banner, The Lucky Few.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 207-941-2865, or toll-free 800-432-7812, or go to eaaa.org.