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City celebrates freedom of family rescued by USS Duluth

DULUTH, MN– Tuesday, the city of Duluth honored a family that bravely chose to leave their country amid wartime hardship.

Our city’s namesake U.S. Navy ship, the USS Duluth was part of a historic rescue mission in the mid-’70s.

Operation Frequent Wind, saved thousands of southern Vietnamese refugees during the fall of Saigon, signalizing the end to the Vietnam war.

‘Among those rescued, the Pham family, who made a trip to Duluth to visit the memorial of the ship and crew which gave them a second chance at life.

Operation Frequent Wind’ is considered one of the largest humanitarian rescue operations in human history to this day.  It allowed crews to rescue over 140,000 Vietnamese citizens, with the help of 18 American U.S. Navy ships assembled offshore Saigon in Vietnam.

Norm Malkowski, a crew member onboard the USS Duluth during the operation says, “marines were actually doing evacuations from the hundreds and hundreds of boats that were coming out.”

Chinh Pham was just 10-years old when his family of six made the frightening decision to leave the country. Scared and facing the unknown, the family was brought onboard a Minnesota Navy Ship.

Pham says, “we were fortunate enough to be rescued by the USS Duluth.”

Pham recalls the 2,000 refugees, 800 marines, and 300 navy men his family shared ship with while sailing towards asylum in the United States.

“Everyone on the ship was just very welcoming despite all the chaos that was going on around us,” says Pham.

Pham purchased a brick for a USS Duluth fundraiser this Summer, wanting to inscription to read “evacuated refugee”.

Don Rowe, President of the USS Crew Member Association contacted Mayor Emily Larson, explaining the Pham family’s story is one that needs to be told.

44-years later after their escape, Duluth leaders invited the Pham family and some crew members who helped with the rescue mission to visit the city bearing the name they hold so dear.

The visit stirred up a lot of emotions for the Phams’. “It’s brought out family a lot closer and it’s been a very therapeutic and healing effect for us all as a family.”

Visiting not only The Depot where the history of the ship is on display but also the USS Duluth Anchor Monument where bricks lay dedicated to their family’s journey. They ended their tour paying their respects at the Northland Vietnam Veteran Memorial.

“When you hear about Mr. Pham and his family all making it together and making it back the United States and them being a success, this is the story of what made this country great,” says Malkowski.

Malkowski’s job was to make sure all communication stayed in contact between the ships and rescue boats during the operation. He says he is honored to meet a family he had a part in saving.

To continue the celebration of the Pham’s freedom, Mayor Emily Larson proclaimed October 15, 2019, ‘Pham Family Day’ in Duluth.

Chinh Pham, now a U.S. citizen and attorney who has written a documentary about his family’s journey. He named the doc, “Sea Stories *Operation Frequent Wind.”

The USS Duluth (LPD-6), was an Amphibious Transport Dock and was decommissioned from service in 2005.

Jessie Slater

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