On the evening of November 15, 2019, I attended the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center Dock-U-Mentaries presentation for November. This series is presented on the third Friday of every month at the New Bedford Whaling National Park auditorium, and it is free to the public. The subject this month was an event that occurred on November 23rd, 1970. It has come to be known as the “Defection of Simas Kudirka” or the “Vigilant Incident.” The offering was a movie depicting this day in 1970 when a radio operator on a Soviet fishing factory ship jumped onto the deck of the USCG Cutter Vigilant and requested asylum. This situation became an international incident, and our government, through a series of miss-steps, forced the Commander of the Vigilant to return Mr. Kudirka to the Soviet fishing ship. Unbeknown to those of us in attendance on this night, the Executive Officer of the USCGC Vigilant on November 23rd, 1970, Lt. Cmdr. Paul Pakos was also in our audience. After the film, he told us additional details of his experience during this incident, which resulted in military disciplinary action for everyone in the chain of command above him, including the forced retirement of a Rear Admiral. This experience is still raw and disturbing to him, 49-years after the event, and at one point, he had to stop and compose himself.
I have read an after-action report of this incident, and Lt. Cmdr. Pakos, a graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy, was praised for his judgment and attempts to bring clarity to this terrible day as it was unfolding. He was not sanctioned in any way, and he completed his career in the U.S. Coast Guard. His words on this night were riveting and compelling, and his story was one of the best investments of my time in my entire life. I will never forget his words and his lesson on leadership.
The New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center hit a home run on this presentation!