"If I wasn’t there, if the Navy chose not to send me, they would have been all killed…there’s no question in my mind,” Vietnam veteran CAPT Paul Jacobs told NBC 7.
Jacobs and the crew of the USS Kirk received two congressional commendations from the U.S. government at the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in Balboa Park this weekend for their role in leading the effort to save more than 30,000 Vietnamese veterans near the end of the war.
Saturday was the first time the crew had been recognized formally by the U.S. government. The ceremony included dignitaries and congressional, county and city officials.
On April 30, 1975, Jacobs was told to return to the coast to rescue what was left of the South Vietnamese Navy.
After Saigon fell, Frank Doah was one of thousands of South Vietnamese refugees fleeing Communist forces.
“The American ships who has been picking up Vietnamese refugees at that time, and would just go there and we was picked up and we [got] onboard, and that’s how we came to this nation,” Doah said. “We’re so grateful.”
After a six-day journey, the USS Kirk escorted the refugees to safety in the Philippines. Though they were not thanked immediately after the war, four decades later their service has not been forgotten.
The ship was first homeported in San Diego and CAPT Jacobs is leading a donation drive to get it back here.
The mission was the largest humanitarian effort ever undertaken by the U.S., and became the greatest influx of refugees in U.S. history as 1.5 million Vietnamese came to the United States over the next 15 years.