The USS Kirk FF-1087, a Knox-class destroyer escort that was later reclassified as a frigate, was named for Admiral Alan Goodrich Kirk, a Naval commander that fought in the Normandy Invasion. He advised Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, as well as Generals Patton and Bradley. He later served as ambassador to China, the USSR, Belgium, and Taiwan.
The ship was constructed at Avondale Shipyard in Louisiana beginning on December 4, 1970. She was launched almost a year later and commissioned the year after that, on September 9, 1972. Equipped with a Westinghouse geared turbine, she was capable at running of speeds over 27 knots. She could carry a complement of 18 officers and 267 enlisted men.
Action in Cambodia and Vietnam
When the Khmer Rouge managed to cut off the Mekong River supply line to Phnom Penh, the U.S. military made the decision to evacuate Americans and Cambodian refugees from the strangled city. In April 1975, the Kirk joined this effort, named Operation Eagle Pull. She provided naval gunfire and escort duty for the transport ships that carried the evacuees. By late morning on April 12, 84 Americans and 205 Cambodians had been rescued – far fewer than estimated.
Despite the relatively low number of evacuees, this operation provided a training of sorts for Operation Frequent Wind, a more complicated rescue of American and Vietnamese civilians from Saigon. The Kirk arrived in South Vietnamese waters just 17 days after the evacuation in Phnom Penh, and again provided gunfire support for the carriers whose helicopters would get the evacuees out of the city. At one point, an Air America Bell helicopter landed on the Kirk – it had been stolen by members of South Vietnam’s Air Force, who were returning it. U.S. Navy pilots then flew the helicopter back to the USS Okinawa.
Ultimately, Operation Frequent Wind saw the rescue of 1,373 Americans and 5,595 Vietnamese. However, reports from that day claim that there were so many helicopters landing on ship decks that some were shoved into the ocean to allow others to drop off their passengers. While the pilots and navy men were praised for their heroic actions, the chaos of the day came to symbolize American wastefulness when it came to the conflict in Vietnam.
After the War
The USS Kirk continued to serve in the Navy until August 6, 1993. On this day, she was taken out of commission and leased to Taiwan, where she would be renamed the Fen Yang. She was struck from the Naval Register in 1995 and finally sold to Taiwan in 1999.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially during World War II, naval destroyers also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.