by Sue Wolinsky, Family Member, Army IL National Guard

Navy Veteran Saw Hueys Tossed off USS Midway during SVN Evacuation

Do you remember where you were on April 29-30, 1975, when South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese and the US evacuated ~7,000 persons? This historic photo should jog your memory. But did you know that the USS Midway dumped helicopters from the flight deck to save a Vietnamese family fleeing SVN during the evacuation? Read on

US military supporters and others attempt to flee from the US Embassy in Saigon on August 29-30, 1975 (Public Domain Photo)


Our VMFC member featured in this month’s Veterans Spotlight, Bob Kuning (US Navy, EW1), saw it firsthand. He has his own personal photos to document this part of the action. He was the Electronic Warfare Technician on the destroyer USS Rowan DD782 assigned to the US 7th Fleet. The USS Rowan escorted the aircraft carrier USS Midway. “When assigned as plane guard, we traveled ½-mile behind the Midway and picked up anything or anybody who fell overboard.

Standing in front of gun mount, photo taken while on Quarterdeck Watch. EW2 Robert Kuning standing in front of the 5 inch gun mount aboard the USS Rowan, DD 782. Approximate date is early 1974. (Personal photo of Bob Kuning)

 One time, we picked up a sailor who fell overboard while dumping trash off the fantail. After we retrieved him from the water, we took him back to our nearby homeport for medical treatment. Because of that, we got into port early and had a longer shore leave. We loved that part,” Kuning recalled.

Kuning was assigned to the USS Rowan because he was the only Electronic Warfare Technician who knew how to maintain and operate a special radio receiver for a recently deployed ship missile threat. “At sea, our job was electronic surveillance – we had a big band of old World War II tuners to intercept radars and record them for analysis for the Defense Intelligence Agency. The other part of our job was electronic countermeasures. We operated jammers specialized to keep incoming missiles from hitting the ship. It was really interesting work,” he said.

Posed portrait, Seaman Robert Kuning, taken in early 1972 after graduating from Basic Electronics School in San Diego, CA. (Personal photo of Bob Kuning)

“I loved the electronic warfare training. This was a new rating, and we were trained to both operate and repair the equipment. There were a lot of openings and opportunity for promotions; that’s partly how I made it to E-6 so quickly. At 23-1/2, I was possibly the youngest guy to make E-6 in the Navy,” he said. Kuning was in the Navy from 1971 to 1977.

“The people making deployment assignments didn’t know what to do with us yet. It was almost two years before they sent us to the fleet, and me to the Rowan at Yokosuka, Japan (Kuning’s home base 1973-1975). The Rowan had just pulled into the yards for overhaul there. The ship spent a year in drydock there before I ever deployed to sea,” he explained.

Refugee Rescue: Shot during the evacuation, a picture of the boat and refugees taken from my destroyer as we pulled alongside to render assistance. It was a surplus craft converted to civilian use long before the evacuation. (Personal photo by Bob Kuning)

It was while Kuning was aboard the Rowan escorting the USS Midway during the US evacuation of South Vietnam at the end of April 1975 (Operation “Frequent Wind”), that the captain of the Midway ordered U-H1 Huey helicopters to be dumped into the sea. What Kuning heard resonates with him even today. “I was able to tune down into the aviation band. I heard Vietnamese pilot communications. I heard the desperation and fear in their voices as they searched for the fleet out in the vast open seas…. Then, two to three days later, we were vectored to an old surplus US landing craft dead in the water; the engines were down. The boat was filled with fleeing South Vietnamese. We pulled up, the machinist mates got the engines running again. We gave them charts, maps, and a compass, as well as directions on where to head for help (there was insufficient room on the destroyer to take them aboard). That gave me appreciation for the people trying to get into our southern border. This really brings it home,” he said, sadly. “Talk about a wing and a prayer.”

Crew of USS Midway dumping helicopters from the deck so a Vietnamese refugee could land his plane on deck (Courtesy USS Midway Museum in Military Times 2021)

“The Midway alone rescued 3,000 refugees,” according to retired US Navy Rear Admiral Larry Chambers (the USS Midway captain at the time) in an interview in a 2021 article in Military Times ‘What’s happening now is worse’: Midway skipper who pushed choppers off deck in fall of Saigon ( (Chambers had been asked to compare the ditching of helicopters in 1975 to the US’s abrupt departure from Afghanistan in 2021.)
“’In the ensuing hours, wave after wave of helicopters arrived from the mainland, a 75-minute flight away,’ Chambers recalled. ‘There were HH-53s loaded with 250 people, Hueys with 50,’ he said. ‘Soon the deck was filled with frightened men, women and children fleeing death at the hands of the swarming enemy,’” the article reported. “As the human misery unfolded, Chambers, the first Black aircraft carrier skipper, risked his career to help save those who helped the U.S. As Vietnamese Air Force Maj. Buang-Ly circled overhead with his family in a Cessna Bird Dog, dropping desperate notes on the deck, Chambers made a fateful and, as it turns out, historic decision. Despite being ordered to let Ly ditch into the sea, Chambers knew the man and his family would never survive. So he had his crew push millions of dollars worth of helicopters into the sea to make room for the small plane, which had no business flying over open water,” according to the article. “Chambers, who retired in 1984 as a rear admiral, said he knew he was risking a court-martial, but acted anyway. ‘I have to live with my grandmother yelling in my ear ‘do the right thing,’ Chambers said, explaining why he made that decision to save Ly and his family.’”

Bob Kuning personal photo of a helicopter being dumped from the flight deck of the USS Midway.

“So, then I saw our U-H1 (Hueys) being tossed off the back of the Midway,” Kuning said. “The Midway didn’t have enough room to store them all and the plight of those onboard the small plane affected all of us. It was ‘life lessons in the flesh’.”


  1. Drafted in Canada. Kuning is the first Navy veteran I’ve ever met who got drafted as a Canadian resident. No, he wasn’t a draft dodger. He was born in Longview, WA, and moved to British Columbia, Canada in seventh grade. “My stepbrothers were US citizens, so we had to register for the draft when we reached 18; initially it was a surprise that we had to register. (My younger stepbrother stayed up in Canada; he never registered. As far as I know, he may have been listed as a draft dodger). Upon graduating from High School, I moved back to Washington State to live with mom and joined the Navy there,” he explained.
  2. Fireman 1st Class (E3) Robert E Kuning, (center), 1944. (Personal photo of Bob Kuning)
    Visited dad’s duty station from WWII. “Dad had been in the Navy. He fought in World War II on a small destroyer, the USS Roper.  “As luck would have it, I got to sail in the same waters where he’d served in the Pacific. Later, in my post-military life, I made 18 trips back to Japan on a drone project. We did flight tests on Iwo Jima (now a Japanese military base). We got to tour/crawl through some of the World War II tunnels; they are still being excavated. I rode a mountain bike to the top of Mount Suribachi where the US flag was raised. I even got to see the vicinity of where my dad’s ship was hit. That was special.” He drove landing craft. He served in Europe, in Italy; then his ship transferred to the Pacific theater. He supported the invasion of Okinawa,” Kuning said.
  3. Always an opportunist and an optimist: Even though the US Navy may not have known what to do with Kuning and his classmates, Kuning made the best of what could have been a few boring years before and after his tour in Japan. He enjoyed basic electronics training and electronic surveillance training, and then all the C schools (advanced training) they sent him to while they figured out where to send him and his classmates. He enjoyed traveling in Asia, learning about the culture and the food. “When I got transferred back to San Diego for training (more electronics training; damage control, fire fighting and other repetitive training), I was living on the beach, having a fine time. I moved to a house on Ocean Beach with a few of my sailor friends. In between deployments, we had a very comfortable and luxurious bachelor pad that we could retreat to,” he said.
  4. Another ‘first’: Then he was transferred to the USS Tarawa at Navy Base Pascagoula in Mississippi. “The ship was a year behind schedule. There were Insufficient naval facilities there, so my buddy and I lived in a Rodeway Inn. As an E-5 then, I got BAH/BAS (basic allowance for subsistance/housing)…. When the Tarawa was ready, and had completed sea trials and was commissioned, we did sea trials sailed from Mississippi to San Diego via the Panama Canal. Not long after we started, the new computerized propulsion system went down and we drifted toward Cuba. It was a tense few hours before we got it repaired and got back online.”
    USS Tarawa (LHA 1) transiting the Panama Canal on 16 July 197 6 while moving from Pascagoula, MI where the ship was commissioned, to San Diego where it was to be home ported. (Personal Photo by Bob Kuning)

    “She was the largest Navy ship to go thru Panama Canal – designed to fit it. The one-day trip through the canal was minimal compared to the days needed to prepare and return her to fit duty after we left the canal. That was exciting. Also, those in the 900-member crew who drove to Pascagoula from San Diego were allowed to take our cars in the ship (where Marine battle equipment would be transported) all the way to San Diego. So I drove my car right off the ship when we got there. It was a very unique situation!” he said. “And after we got to San Diego, we did shock testing on her. There was a data acquisition problem in the first test due to electromagnetic interference. I figured out it was due to a particular communications broadcast emitting during the test. Subsequent tests were able to capture all the required data. I got a commendation for solving that problem,” he concluded.

POST-MILITARY LIFE: “My military career fed my future life choices. My training in electronics fed my education and career choices,” he said. “I worked three part-time electronics jobs while I earned my Associates Degree at my community college, and then transferred to Washington State University in Pullman, WA, and got my BSEE in electrical engineering (in 2-1/2 years). I worked in electronics for program product support, and as a Honeywell systems engineer in multiple full-scale aerial target programs creating drones from fighter aircraft – all of it in the Albuquerque area. Toward the end of my career, I worked as a Program Manager for various Foreign Military Sales programs, and as a Project Engineer for several Flight Management Systems.

“I met my wife, Patty, in a bar in Moscow, ID, at an IEEE “fluids lab” on a Friday after classes (the meaning of fluids lab should be obvious). I graduated half a semester ahead of her and was hired Albuquerque. After graduation, on her way to a job in Texas, I convinced her to stay in Albuquerque and seek work here. After some time together, we were married (40 years in July!). I’m happy to say, we are sharing our life together to this day. She’s a Mechanical Engineer and has worked in the aerospace industry at Honeywell as well. Since we both retired at age 55, she has opened a successful video business, Real Image Productions, here in New Mexico; I help with filming and sound.”

Bob Kuning, left, of Albuquerque and Gerri Warner, center, of Albuquerque (both VMFC members) hold signs the during the Mass March and Rally on International Women’s Day at the University of New Mexico Wednesday in 2017. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“The US evacuation out of Vietnam left its impact on me too,” he reflected, “but not til later. It was after the 2016 election that I cried, wiped my tears, and decided to get to work. I became a Democratic precinct chair and then a ward chair. I’ve also helped Democratic organizations with sound production in recent years. I realized when I got involved how much of a difference we could make if we could level the playing field for everybody. It’s not level, even now; especially now. I also learned Dems are overly optimistic; they think because their cause is just, that it will naturally progress without having to worry. Lazy; They don’t like to get out to vote. We have to get them motivated to vote. That’s what grassroots organizing is for. I’ve been organizing and protesting for progressive causes ever since,” Kuning concluded.


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