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By Leonard Novarro
Asian Heritage Society

Crew with Congressman Duncan Hunter, rear left, and D.A. summer Stephan, front row left. Skipper Paul Jacobs is up front, next to presenter Rosalynn Carmen, president of the Asian Heritage Society.

The saying goes: But for the grace of God, go I.
After this past weekend, we say, “But for the grace of the Kirk, go they,” – “they” referring to 32,000 Vietnamese rescued by the crew of the USS Kirk as Saigon fell to the communists in April 1975. Members of the crew were honored during a ceremony in which congressional commendations were awarded to each from Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter and Democratic Congressman Scott Peters. Hunter presented the commendations himself while Asian Heritage Society President Rosalynn Carmen stood in for Congressman Peters.

The crew and their skipper, Capt. Paul Jacobs, were also honored by proclamations from the county and city of San Diego on Saturday, during the ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Center and Museum, and a proclamation from Congresswoman Susan Davis, the next day before showing the documentary “The Lucky Few,” about the rescue. The ceremony was in the Veterans Memorial Center and Museum on Park Boulevard while the documentary was shown the next day at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA), across the way in Balboa Park.

As the story of what the crew did unfolded during the ceremony on Saturday, several in the audience welled up when they learned and understood what these men did in assembling and guiding a flotilla of small boats and South Vietnamese navy ships that carried thousands of refugees trying to escape the country. While the rescue was going on, the North Vietnamese threatened the Kirk and crew if they did not return the Navy ships and escaping refugees. The skipper, Capt. Paul Jacobs, refused.


Several of those refugees who were rescued by the Kirk came to tell their stories on both days. They included Orange County Clerk and Recorder Hugh Nguyen and Poet Linh Vo, who were joined by Pastor Frank Doan of San Diego. After showing the documentary “The Lucky Few,” the Asian Heritage Society on Sunday invited crew members Jacobs, Rick Sautter, Hugh Doyle and Dick McKenna to contributetheir perspectives on what happened. Members of the Vietnamese community, including Nam Nguyen, whose family was among those rescued by the Kirk, gave a stirring account of the rescue.

Highlights on Saturday included performances by singer Chloe Cassiana and dancer Cady Mariano. Chloe performed a patriotic medley, which had everyone cheering afterwards, while Cady performed a stirring rendition of the musical theme to Oliver Stone’s Vietnam movie “Heaven and Earth.” Volunteers Sharon Trang Nicholas and Tiffany Vo Perez coordinated the program on Saturday, with the help of Demde Sookjaroen, while volunteer Thomas Truong, along with Dr. Binh Tran, helped set up the displays and exhibits at MOPA on Sunday. A painting by local artist Richard Derosset depicting the seven-day journey was unveiled as a closing surprise on Saturday and made available to sign on the back both days. A replica of the ship also went on display at the museum. Both will be traveling around the country in an effort to get the Kirk returned to San Diego, where she started out for Vietnam, in 1973. The USS Kirk Association’s goal is to create a museum like the USS Midway.

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