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44 Years After USS Duluth Rescue, the Pham Family Visits Duluth

Alicia Tipcke
Updated: October 15, 2019 06:45 PM

Designed to carry 800 mariners, the USS Duluth rescued over 2,000 refugees during Operation Frequent Wind in 1975. Forty-four years later, the Pham family took a trip to visit the place that their rescue vessel was named after. 

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Chinh Pham was ten at the time the fall of Saigon began, signaling the end of the Vietnam War. His family of six, including his pregnant mother, was faced with the tough decision of staying in their home country or seeking asylum in the United States. Facing the unknown, the Pham family chose to evacuate, joining the hundreds of refugees on the USS Duluth.

"Now I was only ten years old at the time, but even at that age the gravity of the mass evacuation of Saigon was not lost on me. I realize the immense risk my family was taking and that our lives, along with those of my fellow South Vietnamese citizens would be forever changed," said Pham.

On Tuesday, the Pham family visited with Mayor Emily Larson, toured the USS Duluth Exhibit at the Duluth Depot, and saw the USS Duluth anchor monument on the Lakewalk before paying their respects at the Northland Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 

The visit came about after Chinh Pham purchased a brick for a USS Duluth fundraiser in July 2019, asking for the inscription to read "evacuated refugee". Don Rowe, the President of the USS Crew Member Association, reached out to Pham inviting him and his family to Duluth to celebrate his story of freedom.

Operation Frequent Wind took place on April 30, 1975. The USS Duluth, along with 17 other U.S. ships, rescued between 36,000-40,000 Saigon refugees as part of the Vietnam War. 

"We were circling the seventh fleet for a day or two. My brother and I were looking up at the ship and the big six, and I remember saying this to him. Is that, 'boy it would be great if we could be picked up by this ship with the number six', and we fortunately were," said Chinh Pham, a refugee rescued by the USS Duluth on May 2, 1975.

USS Duluth (LPD-6), an Austin-class amphibious transport dock, is the second ship of the United States Navy named after Duluth, Minnesota. The first, USS Duluth (CL-87), was commissioned from 1944 to 1949 serving as a training and patrol cruiser in World War II. 

The USS Duluth (LPD-6) was commissioned December 18, 1965 and decommissioned September 28, 2005 after 39 years of service. Duluth was considered a versatile ship, boasting the functions of dock, tank and attack cargo ships. It's primary mission was to transport equipment, vehicles and ground forces to contested shores.

Duluth, based in San Diego, was deployed five times during the Vietnam War which ran from November 1955 to April 1975. The last operation to Vietnam was Operation Frequent Wind. Many refugees, including the Italian ambassador, were flown via helicopter to the ship between April 29 and April 30. 

Refugees were taken to Subic Bay, a U.S. Naval Base in the Philippines, with most arriving on May 5. The South Vietnamese refugees were escaping to avoid re-education camps, which Pham said turned his uncles from "once proud men" into "totally broken" human beings.

Pham, now a U.S. citizen and successful attorney has, along with his family, written a documentary about their journey titled 'Sea Stories *Operation Frequent Wind'. 

In a final gesture of celebrating the Pham's freedom, Mayor Emily Larson declared October 15, 2019 'Pham Family Day' in Duluth at the Tuesday press conference.

Credits

Alicia Tipcke

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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