Decades of living have intervened since these pictures were taking in 1979 and 1980 while serving with the U. S. Navy aboard USS San Jose. Anna requested I provide some information along with the pictures. This is just one point of view, their are many more stories.
As I recall we were in commercial shipping lanes making our way to the Straits of Malacca into the Indian Ocean when we came upon both vessels on two separate occasions. To my memory the first group of refugee's were the group most in need of help. I never was privy to their entire story. Perhaps one of the survivor's may recognize themselves or ships company can one day fill in the blanks. From their appearance many were not long for this world. The second group were in reasonable condition for being lost in the middle of the ocean.
I do remember being on the port bridge wing looking over the side of the ship as they came along side. Our Captain was doing the same. For lack of a better question I asked him what we were going to do? His reply was, paraphrasing," What do you think we are going to do, the entire world is watching". For an instance I was unclear as to his reference to the " whole world is watching" since we were in the middle of an ocean. I lifted my gaze up and he was correct, several other ships from various nations were more or less holding station watching us. The pictures explain what the answer was.
As we peered over the side watching three of our men climb down the Jacob's ladder ( rope ladder) to their vessel, CWO2 Gavin, LTJG Deryck and Mac Brown ( see picture provided) several of us onlookers became apprehensive since the seas were rough. I watched CWO2 Gavin dangle from the rope ladder as the refugee's craft and ours rolled slamming together. It became quite apparent to all this was not without its danger. Fortunately they succeeded without injury.
All hands turned too to accomplish the job at hand. Many refugee's were too weak or exhausted to aid themselves but as time passed all were rescued . As we triaged the refugee's into who needed immediate treatment it was apparent fluids were the order for the day. Men, women, children all required some level of fluid resuscitation and hydration. I recall several individuals laying on the hangar bay deck who for all practical purposes appeared dead or dying, ( see pictures). While evaluating I was surprised on more than one occasion thinking death had arrived but eyes would open or a moan would be heard. I. V. lines were established and fluid administered. To my surprise and delight they responded. I remember two men who I thought would perish from severe dehydration and malnourishment. After receiving two liters of I.V. fluids one sat up the other one arose and walked around. I was amazed at there recovery.
As progress was made another individual was sitting on the hangar bay, I was examining his upper arm which looked to be fractured. For lack of a better description, flopping around. Dr. V. P. Goldsworthy peered over my right shoulder asking me why he was not splinted since it was obvious he had a fracture. History was the answer. He has been wounded in a previous action of war 1972, this was 1979, and the medical condition was referred to as a Non-union fracture. It was disconcerting to onlookers who did not know that information. No splint required. To this day I still see his arm, dangling and rather useless, hopefully it was repaired.
Young lady also is cemented in my mind because of her wound and subsequent infection of her leg. There are three pictures, one titled, " She ain't Heavy", the other " Suffering untold". As you look at the latter picture the young lady sitting to the right leaning against the ships bulkhead may be the individual in question. There is one picture of a young lady laying in what is termed a stokes stretcher being disembarked from ship to shore. I'm almost certain this is she. Beyond her dehydration, our speculation was she had been shot in her right leg or some other form of wounding. It had become infected not just a small amount but the word severe leaps to mind. We had her in sick bay laying on our surgical table. She was so ill. When I think of bone weary exhaustion the memory of her comes to mind, she most assuredly was the description. She didn't speak English nor us Vietnamese but after only 1mg of morphine I. V. it did not matter. Normal dose is 2 mg give or take I. V. every 10-15 mins to control pain but she was so weak 1mg was all that was required. Her right leg was swollen, red, and very infected. An open wound existed in her right lower leg but as we gently picked at it with forceps a yellow material came out. Puzzlement but later it was determined to be part of a sponge. Once removed the infectious drainage poured forth. I. V. antibiotics and fluids were administered until she disembarked. I often wondered if she survived or was able to keep her leg.
The kids always remain in ones mind. We had two who required a higher level of treatment than the rest. This is were I learned about starting an I. V. in the external jugular vein (neck) from Dr. Goldsworthy. The reason for such a maneuver is finding veins in healthy children can be daunting much less ones that are dehydrated. My training had not extended this far and I watched and learned as he rolled the infants head to one side exposing the jugular vein. With one swift needle stick fluids were on the way. This was of immense help to these children. They too were so weary and ill that fear of us or the procedure seemed miniscule to them.
As we sorted and treated people the emergent nature of the situation slowed. People had been rescued, received medical treatment, lives most assuredly saved. Dehydration and illness makes ones ability to consume food difficult but as time marched along they were able to consume some form of nourishment beyond fluids. I'm sure food never tasted so good. Someone brought a group of valuables for us to keep locked in our medical safe. I inventoried and labeled these materials, American currency, gold, jewelry, and what I suspect was balls of opium. Reading Anna's site one could see why these items could be of great importance especially if pirates descended upon them. I suspect in able hands raw opium could be made into tea , smoked etc for pain relief. I remember well the Currency, most were silver certificates which was rather unusual to see.
Many years have passed since those two days. Some historical blanks have been filled in for me by Anna's and other refugee's sites. I had not realized the magnitude of the exodus. Perhaps ships company or refugee's themselves who come across this material can add to the story. Many were lost at sea, many seek information, I hope these few pictures and short story can be of some usefulness to the survivors.
It seems all generations have their lives affected by vignette's of history that defines them. Freedom, what does the word mean, what are you willing to risk to obtain it. I think these two episodes help define it for me. I hope life has smiled and been kind to all involved.