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Operation Babylift

By early spring of 1975, the Vietcong had begun to execute a brilliant military campaign design to bring their southern foes to their knees. They captured South Vietnam’s second largest city Da Nang on March 30, 1975 and by mid-April the capital Saigon was under attack from all three sides. The impending doom of the country was quite clear and waves of citizens were desperately fleeing the country. In the last days of the war people were evacuated by the thousands. In the two day fall of Saigon on April 29-30, over 65,000 Vietnamese left the country and by the end of 1975 a total of 132,000 citizens had fled to the United States.

The horrific war left terns of thousands of children orphaned and homeless. In the final days of the war both Catholic and Buddhist Sisters could be seen running with armfuls of abandoned children to boats fleeing the country. Humanitarian groups in Vietnam urged the American government to take action, the most influential being Cherie Clark, the Friends of Children of Viet Nam (FCVN) representative in Vietnam. On April 3 President Gerald Ford announced in a mission deemed Operation Babylift, the U.S. military would fly 70,000 orphans out of Vietnam. Thirty flights were planned to execute this operation. Service organizations such as Holt International Adoption Agency, Friends of Children of Viet Nam (FCVN), Friends For All Children (FFAC), Catholic Relief Service, International Social Services, International Orphans, and the Pearl S. Buck Foundation helped in coordinating these flights and provided chaperons were the children.

One of the most publicized events of this operation was the tragic crash of one of the first official government flights. More than 300 children and adults were boarded onto a C-5A Galaxy plane which at the time was the largest aircraft in the world crashed shortly after take-off. Flight operators managed to land the plane; however, more than half the passengers were killed, this included almost the entire bottom compartment where the majority of the children were under the age of two. Though this event was tragic, it did not hinder the spirit of the operation. Within 24 hours of the crash, Holt International chartered the largest planeload of evacuees yet. Pan American Airways Boeing 747 carried 409 children and 60 chaperons to safety, including 40 of the surviving children from the day’s earlier crash.

Though most Americans were hurriedly trying to forget the Vietnam War, the Vietnam orphans received a tremendous welcome. The adoptions were legit and though the paperwork was rushed because of the need to quickly remove the children from dangerous situations all the families of the adoptive children had been approved by the adoptive agency. Many of the children faced physical ailments including illness and malnourishment and ultimately some of the children were too weak to survive. In addition, many children were traumatized by the war and faced severe emotional problems. However, a 1983 study showed that 90% of the adoptive families felt the adoption was either “successful” or “very successful” and by the second or third year of adoption most children originally described as “emotionally deprived,” had become “stable in health, secure within their families, and exhibited behavior acceptable for a child of that age.”

Researched By: Kaitlin Coppola
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School

Sources:

Martin, Allison. “Stories and Articles about Operation Babylift.” Operation Babylift. Adopt Vietnam. 4 Jun 2008, http://www.adoptvietnam.org/adoption/babylift-index.htm>.

Noone, Lana. “Vietnam Babylift.” Vietnam Babylift. Friends of the Museum Newsletter. 4 Jun 2008, http://www.vietnambabylift.org/>.

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