The Vietnam War ended with the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975.
After the South Vietnamese government surrendered, a handful of U.S. Navy ships went back to Vietnam to rescue the remaining members of the South Vietnamese Navy and their families. One of these boats was the USS Kirk, which rescued between 20,000 and 30,000 South Vietnamese refugees, most of whom ended up emigrating to the United States.
Among the refugees were several pregnant women, including 17-year-old Lan Tran. The USS Kirk brought Lan to a refugee camp in Guam where she gave birth to a baby girl in mid-May. Here’s what Lan had to say about choosing her daughter’s name:
I remembered that Capt. Jacobs had said he wanted to put the name of the ship for the baby. But because I have a baby girl I cannot put first name Kirk for the baby girl. So her middle name is Kirk. My husband’s last name is Tran and my maiden name is Nguyen. And then her middle name is Kirk, and her first name is Giang Tien, which means “angel from the sky,” So my child’s name is Tran-Nguyen Kirk Giang-Tien.
Lan’s husband, a pilot in the South Vietnamese Air Force, was left behind but eventually made it to the U.S. as well. The couple decided to settle in California with their baby girl.
After a search for the “Kirk baby,” Capt. Paul Jacobs and other sailors and officers from the USS Kirk were finally reunited with Lan Tran and Tien Kirk in 2005.
P.S. How did the USS Kirk get its name? The ship was named in honor of Admiral Alan Goodrich Kirk (1888-1963).
- “35 Years On, Vietnam Heroes Reunited, Decorated.” NPR 1 Sept. 2020.
- Frequent Wind – USS Kirk FF1087 Association
- Herman, Jan. K. Navy Medicine in Vietnam: Oral Histories from Dien Bien Phu to the Fall of Saigon. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.
- The Lucky Few – The Story of USS KIRK (FF-1087)
- “Mystery Solved in Long Beach.” Long Beach Press-Telegram 5 Oct. 2005.
Second image: © 2010 David Deal for NPR