Operation Babylift: Evacuating Children Orphaned by the Vietnam War

Operation Babylift: Evacuating Children Orphaned by the Vietnam War

By Kathy Manney
9/13/2006 • Vietnam

It was a sparkling late afternoon in April 1975. Abruptly the news flashes raced across the base: A U.S. Air Force C-5A Galaxy transport plane carrying 243 Vietnamese orphans had gone down shortly after leaving Tan Son Nhut airfield, near Saigon. Air Force officials feared sabotage.

Only a few of the adult passengers, including some U.S. Embassy personnel covertly leaving Vietnam, managed to make their way to the limited oxygen masks. The overcrowded transport plane should have been carrying no more than 100 children, rather than the 243 who had been loaded aboard. With enormous difficulty, the pilot managed to turn the plane around and crash-land two miles south of Tan Son Nhut, skidding 1,000 feet into a rice paddy. Nurses, volunteers and crew aboard, many injured themselves, did all they could to save as many children as possible.The news reached Clark almost instantly. Operation Babylift had just gotten started when the crash occurred. Although there were conflicting reports of the casualties, more than 130 people died, including at least 78 children. Many Americans came to regard the crash as just one more in the long series of heartbreaking incidents during the ill-fated war in Vietnam.At the time of the crash, various groups had been working frantically to shuttle the infants out of the country before it fell to the invading NVA. With this tragedy, the mission was severely disrupted, but it continued. Reports differ, but in the 24 hours that followed, possibly some 1,200 children, including 40 of the crash survivors, were evacuated on other planes. As the evacuation continued, the growing panic in the streets of Saigon and the constant rocket attacks turned the loading of the infants and children into a safety nightmare. Adult participants wondered if the plane they were boarding would get off the ground. And if it did, would it then be shot down? Two armed military security police officers rode shotgun on nearly every subsequent evacuation flight.Prior to the fatal C-5A crash, New York’s Cardinal Terrence Cooke had sent a plea to President Gerald Ford for federal support and an immediate waiver of immigration red tape for more than 4,000 children living in Catholic orphanages in South Vietnam. With South Vietnam’s reluctant agreement, the order for Operation Babylift had come from the U.S. president, who told the press: I have directed that C-5A aircraft and other aircraft especially equipped to care for these orphans during the flight, be sent to Saigon. It’s the least we can do.As Saigon fell, President Ford ordered all in-country U.S. orphans to be airlifted out for asylum and adoption. Although he allocated $2 million for the operation, many flights were made in aircraft not outfitted to carry passengers. Nonetheless, more than 2,000 babies and children were flown out by military and smaller private chartered planes and eventually adopted in the United States.Another 1,300 were adopted in Canada, Europe and Australia.

A C-141 crewman lends a hand to calm an infant en route to Clark Air Force Base in April 1975.

When that first flight crashed, the rest of the C-5A fleet was grounded temporarily. That only added to the pressure on the mission and the workload at Clark Air Base, which more than doubled. All flight-line and ground crews immediately went to high-alert status. The usual turnaround ground time for C-130 and C-141 aircraft was eight hours. On high alert it shrank to three hours. With C-130s coming in at the rate of three per hour after dark, an air traffic control nightmare developed. The logistics of the operation was staggering, and the cycle was nonstop. Often the flight crew members ran close to the maximum flying time or crew rest limit.

Because of the differences in aircraft capabilities, the C-141s flew during daylight hours and the C-130s flew at night. The C-141 required a longer runway for landing and takeoff. The C-130 was capable of short-field approach and takeoff, meaning it could land by diving to the end of the runway when it was directly overhead, and it could take off with less than 2,000 feet of runway.

The aircrews had orders to evacuate as many infants and children as they could. The exact number for each lift was left up to the discretion of the individual pilot. The children were loaded aboard in any way possible, until the plane was full. Often, Vietnamese mothers with Amerasian children were still attempting to get their children aboard as the paratroop doors were closing, trusting their children to an uncertain fate.

Frequently, aircraft cargo straps were used to group and secure all passengers during flight. Each pilot gave his loadmaster instructions on how he wanted the plane loaded. On board, milk, food and medicine were always in short supply. During the brief turnaround time at Clark, every aircraft required a cursory cleaning. Ground maintenance crews sometimes resorted to firehoses to flush out the aircraft, leaving them open to air-dry before the next outbound flight.

American military personnel had fathered most of the children being airlifted out of Vietnam. Some of the infants on the crashed C-5A are believed to have come from the Hoi Due Anh Orphanage. The majority were children whose only support came from overseas agencies.

During this time, our family had been living at Clark, where my husband, a career Air Force sergeant, was stationed as a C-130 crew chief. We were not scheduled to return to the United States for some months. With the radio and TV news flashes, the Stars and Stripes newspaper stories, word of mouth reports and my husband’s stepped-up work schedule, the scope of Operation Babylift became very evident. Our two children were attending schools on the base, which gave me the latitude to volunteer to help.

Even before the first plane carrying the Operation Babylift evacuees touched down at Clark, a plea for help was broadcast on Armed Forces Radio and Television. The emergency task force to provide humanitarian assistance, shelter and nurturing care needed all the volunteers it could get. There was an especially acute need for volunteer military wives to help support the massive operation, not only with child care, but also administrative work, such as keypunch data entry.

While thinking of those precious lives, my maternal instincts instantly kicked in and I remembered once hearing a quotation from English essayist Sydney Smith: It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can do only a little.

The Operation Babylift evacuees began to arrive from Tan Son Nhut, some with their Vietnamese names on a bracelet around one wrist and the name and address of their prospective American parents on the other. The U.S. Air Force housed all of the children in a base gymnasium that had been set up for their care. Military bunk mattresses were spread across the floor of the large room. A separate area for infants had cribs, changing tables, disposable diapers, ointment for diaper rash, Q-tips, bottles and food-warming equipment, as well as rocking chairs to soothe restless children. There I met and spoke with the Catholic sisters who had fled Vietnam with abandoned children who had been left in their care.

Both the nuns and the orphans had only the clothes they were wearing when they fled. I can still almost see one of the sisters, whose shoe sole was coming off. The sadness of its flap, flap, flap, against the gymnasium’s shiny hardwood floor still haunts me.

Operation Babylift was one of the largest rescue efforts in history. More than 3,000 infants and children were airlifted out of Vietnam between April 4 and April 19, 1975. The time they spent in the care of the special task force volunteers at Clark averaged between 12 and 24 hours. This permitted each child to receive the necessary vaccinations, nourishment and nurturing, before continuing the long trip across the Pacific. Every incoming child and infant was assigned to a surrogate mom. Each was cared for until it was time to board the next flight — the next leg on the journey to a new life. I helped where needed, sometimes around the clock.

As darkness fell over the base, I reported for my first shift at the ad hoc child-care center. I had committed to stay through the night and was assigned a young boy of about 4 or 5. His admirable dark eyes gave me a careful once-over. Well-behaved and quiet, but travel-weary, my young charge was too keyed up to sleep. Experiencing new sights and smells in a roomful of strangers, he needed reassurance. I read him a couple of children’s stories while holding him close. When the lights began to dim, signaling time for the children to sleep, he chose to remain awake for a while longer. We had established a bond, one of tenderness and comfort.

Sitting on his mattress, next to me, my temporary offspring drew pictures, with crayons and paper provided by the center. Drawing objects he knew and perhaps loved, he cemented them onto the paper with the vision of a preschooler. I still have his crayon pictures, and treasure them along with the shared experience. The following morning, in the bright tropical sunlight, these infants and children were bused to the flight line.

Because babies are especially endearing, many of the volunteers hoped for an infant to care for. Another of my charges was a small infant. This experience, too, proved memorable. As I rode the bus to the flight line with my charge, after caring for her overnight, the sun reflected off the planes parked on the runway. When we boarded the assigned plane, I strapped the infant into a passenger seat, kissed her goodbye and silently said a prayer for her well-being.

With the recent C-5A crash still fresh in my mind, I felt a cascade of emotions. Leaving the plane and the baby I had cared for behind was difficult. I wondered with concern what life had in store for my baby and the other children.

On some flights, the babies were put into the cargo bays of Air Force planes filled with temporary cribs and empty crates, lined up corner to corner inside the aircraft. When available, the babies’ birth records were stowed with them for the flight, documenting their short histories.

As for the older children, Babylift was the crucible that shaped their lives. Already they had seen more adversity in their short lives than most adults, and they seemed to be feeling a cloak of desolation settling around their shoulders. Some of the older children wanted to know when they could go back to Vietnam, possibly to grandmothers or foster parents who had been caring for them. Those who wanted these children to have a better future had taken them from the only life they had ever known.

Even though it was a force of goodwill that was propelling these children into an uncertain new life, the experts said that culture shock and conflicting identity would be normal for them. It was going to be up to their new parents to help them find a healthy identity, embracing cultures old and new. As they moved toward the unknown future, the children were intensely aware, while still too young to understand. Excitement mingled with fear.

These children faced change the moment they were taken aboard the planes, and many more changes lay ahead. I hoped that they would be gaining the security of unconditional love that would drive away their shadows, making something good rise from the ashes of war. In the 30 years since Operation Babylift, I have hoped that each of them found a loving and understanding home.

For many children swept up in the evacuation from Vietnam, appropriate documentation was one of the casualties of Operation Babylift and its aftermath. According to a 1976 report recorded in the Des Moines Register: A year after they arrived by planeload from embattled South Vietnam, hundreds of Operation Babylift children remain under murky legal status in this country. And, more important, the Americans who took the young refugees into their homes still are uncertain about whether the children are really theirs to keep and rear.

During the 1980s there was a widely reported class action lawsuit in the state of California, filed against President Ford, Henry Kissinger and others, challenging that many of the children had been taken from South Vietnam against the wills of their parents. This lawsuit caused delays in citizenship processing for some of the adopting families. Their children had entered the United States on a parolee visa that had been signed by Ford. But despite the disorder of the documentation surrounding some adoptions, most were completed without hindrance.

Australians adopted many Operation Babylift infants and children. Ian Harvey reported in his 1983 study of adoptive families, Once the news of the impeding evacuation of Vietnamese children became known in Australia there was a rush of adoption applications. On their arrival, he wrote, Most of the airlift children were suffering from some illness, trauma, malnutrition or other deprivation. Harvey’s study concluded that by the third year after adoption, pediatricians noted that most of the adoptees had become stable in health, secure within their families, and exhibited behavior acceptable for a child of that age.

In June 2005, World Airways, the primary civilian airline involved in evacuating the orphans from Vietnam, sponsored a 30th anniversary trip called Operation Babylift — Homeward Bound, in which 21 Babylift adoptees and their guests were flown to Vietnam. Once there, they were given a special greeting and tours inside the country of their birth. They found a country brimming with promise. For many, it was an extraordinary voyage to connect with their flesh and blood beginnings, their Asian ancestry.

Operation Babylift is only a small part of the story of Vietnamese refugees, however. Thousands of families also were evacuated in the panicked exodus as the South Vietnamese government crumbled. On April 27, 1975, more than 7,000 South Vietnamese refugees reportedly were flown out of Saigon. As the gunfire closed in, making the airport unsafe to use any longer, the signal — Bing Crosby’s I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas — played on Armed Forces Radio, triggering the last evacuation by helicopter. More than 130,000 Southeast Asian refugees immigrated to the United States by the end of 1975. Many others wound up in makeshift tent cities set up around the Pacific rim, where they remained for an extended time, waiting to be sponsored or documented so that they too could be brought into the United States and other countries offering to accept them. Several years after my own involvement, I learned that the actress Julie Andrews and her husband, director Blake Edwards, adopted two airlifted Vietnamese infants in 1975. Actor Yul Brynner and his wife, Jacqueline, adopted a baby girl who had survived the downed C-5A.

Military families seldom know where life will take them, but it is always an adventure. Just a few months after the fall of Saigon, as my family and I sat on a plane taking off from Clark Air Base, I thought of Operation Babylift. I felt fortunate to have been so closely involved in the sweep of history — events that those back home knew only from their newspapers and TV news. In return for having given, I felt I had received far greater rewards.

Kathy Manney is a freelance writer and newspaper columnist, and the wife of a U.S. Air Force retired career NCO. She and her husband were stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines during Operation Babylift. For additional reading, see: This Must Be My Brother, by LeAnn Thieman; and The Vietnam Experience — The Fall of the South, by Clark Dougan and David Fulghum.

This article was originally published in the October 2006 issue of Vietnam Magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Vietnam Magazine today!

57 Responses to Operation Babylift: Evacuating Children Orphaned by the Vietnam War

  1. b. herrst Tsgt usaf retired says:

    I had left Southeast Asia in ’74 and was assig-
    ed to Travis AFB at David Grant Regional Med ctr. as a cook. I had a fellow airman whose wife, a air evac nurse on that flight lost her
    life caring for them babies. as soon as we
    found out about the crash and the loss of life
    of some of our crew members, we knew we had to
    pull together to give them all the support we
    could to help make their grief more bearable.
    It took a while, but the pain lessened some…

  2. Jim says:

    I have a limited edition, signed, matted and framed, Bill Kurtis photo of the Last Baby Lift that is collecting dust at my home, if someone would like to buy it. It shows numerous babies in cardboard boxes, waiting to be flown to the US.


  3. Marion H Barth says:

    I was the Family Service Coordinator, and instrumental in the planning of the reception of the children at Clark Air Force Base from the very beginning of Baby Lift, Freedon Lift and Operation New Life. Many know me as the woman on the box who gave them their instructions about how the children(babies) would be handled. Chaplain Wrag asked me to coordinate this effort for the first flight which crashed, and friends died who were medics on that flight, I had to tell the volunteers to stand down, listen to the radio for further instructions. Then with the chaplancy and Red Cross volunteers as well as Family Service Volunteers we met the embasy flight that was coming in with the rest of the families whose wife/mother/father/husband was on the crashed flight. This began for me a 6 month time of working with the babies/refugies etc. Their are many holes in this story, I never thought to even look on the computer for information, it was history. I had my house girl save all the Stars and Stripes Newspapers for me, since I had no time to read them. I still have the papers as well as many official photos taken during this time. My husband Major Joseph V. Barth was commander of Law/enforcement Branch of the Security Police Division, and he and others were the ones on the planes that went into Vietnam to bring out people. There is too much of the story to put in this small box.

    • A disgusted gentleman says:

      This so called “Major” of the pseudo “military” who was in Germany had at Vogelweh some of the most ill bred,spiteful,lumpenproletariat,backstreet American yahoo’s you can imagine under his command.Scum & trash are the only words I can find,low class,snivelling,rank immaturity.

  4. Gary Williams says:

    I was on the last baby vac out of Clark Air Base in ’75. I remember that these babies were in the worst condition and their departure had been held up hopping Marcos would let them stay in the PI until they were better. The deadline came and a call went out for anyone with a passport. I was given the responsibility to care for a 3 month old girl named Ty Hang. We traveled together until we reached Hawaii. She was too sick to continue on and was hospitalized.
    My ship was in drydock at Bremmerton, WA. and I was on leave in PI visiting friends, when I got involved with Operation Frequent Wind and New Life.
    By Gary Williams / cberrypickle@aol.com

  5. Mike Frailey says:

    I was on the first flight out of Viet Nam as one of the “older” kids. I remember the flight well. I have a wonderful life in America but want to let all know we still have problems with immigrations. Many of us are not citizens…. I am looking publishing and possible video of President Ford welcoming us to America…34 years later… We belong to no country: Viet Nam nor America. Please help.

    Mike/ mikefrailey@hotmail.com

  6. keara graham says:

    i think this isi a good site and has a lot about the crash and the plane but not enough on the subject injenoral

  7. malik saunders says:

    my father passed away in 1975 from complications from the war.i was told that he might have had a child over in vietnam.i would i go abou locating theme?mistamalik@hotmail.com

    • Annie says:

      I’m Vietnamese-American having business consulting company in Vietnam. Since I live and work in the country and writing true stories during the war torn era, I may able to help you. myvinh.com@gmail.com

  8. adrienne kay says:

    On April 5th, 1975 Naomi Bronstein had brought me to Canada from Saigon. I was born in Cambodia on February 12th, 1975. I do not have any information on my birth family as I do not have a birth certificate. My birth name on my passport was Malita Sar. My address on my passport was Friends For All Children Inc. Saigon. I was adopted into a wonderful Canadian family, and have lived in Ottawa most of my life. I have always wondered how, if and where I can maybe look for living Cambodian relatives.
    My email address is adrienne21275@hotmail.com if you have any suggestions, I will be eternally grateful.

    Adrienne M. Kay

    • Ann Vermeire says:

      Adrienne, I am a mother of one of the orphan’s of Vietnam. My daughter came to USA one month before the airlift started. All these years later, we have gathered about 70 Vietnamese adoptees together and we had a Reunion last Easter ’10 at the crash sight in Vietnam. This past month we had a mini reunion with Sister Susan C. McDonald. She worked with Rosemary Taylor (who still works in Thailand) and the agency you mentioned FFAC. If you do FACE BOOK, you can reach Sister Susan, and you can get any information that there may be on you. She can also put you in touch with Rosemary. Good luck on your search….life goes on…My precious Kim Hoa passed away in ’08 from melanoma of the brain. I will always believe that the Agent Orange exposure changed her immune system and allowed her to become ill. She was a blessing to our family. M’a Ann

      • Deb Harder says:

        Hello, Ann! Long, long time ago…we connected through AFA (OURS). You, as I recall, were a family support group leader that was an AFA member and we referred adoptive families to your group. Here I find you(!) as I am researching how an “Operation Babylift” child whose adoption immigration paperwork is lacking can obtain US citizenship–after all these years. With your long-time, active involvement in the community of international adoptive families, do you have any advice to offer? THANKS so much for any help you can offer. So good to re-connect! deb

    • Eloise Charet Bear Clan says:

      My sister Anna and I took care of you in Phnom Penh. Then we organized the evacuation to Vietnam. Naomi Bronstein helped get you all adopted and we brought you home to Canada. There is a page on facebook called Canada House and it’s open to the public. That’s where we posted pictures and some of the story.
      We are also doing a documentary for Radio-Canada and they will be taking us back to Cambodia in May with one of the orphans. It will be aired in September along with the book that I have just finished.
      I’m on facebook too.

      • monty clay wolf paul says:

        Thank U Eloise !!!! for all the Wonderful and Beautiful things U have done and the Great things U will do , it is an Honour and a privelige to be your Friend !!!! Thank U Dear
        Monty Clay Wolf Paul

      • Kouy Tha says:

        Hello Eloise,

        I was doing some research about my evacuation thru World Vision via Operation Babylift and I came across this post. When I saw you respond to Adrienna about taking care of her in Phnom Penh, I leapt for joy thinking you may be able to help me out as well. There is so much written about the Vietnam orphans, but hardly anything about those that came from Cambodia.

        I don’t know my birth date, but I was one of 20 babies flown out of Cambodia in April 1975. I was 8 months old and Dr. Mooneyham was responsible for my arrangements. I believe my group of babies were flown into Thailand first, then possibly the Philippines straight to LA, arriving April 12, 1975.

        The only information I have on my birth parents or siblings is that they had all died and it was a soldier who brought me into an orphanage or Phnom Penh Nutrition Center. I was severely underweight and was sent to the World Vision Hospital for Pediatrics in Cambodia. I went back to Cambodia in January of 2011 to try to find some records, but was unsuccessful.

        If you would be willing to speak with me, I would love to meet you. The only stories I have are from my adoptive parents. They were not in Cambodia and only have the information told to them…I am 37 now and so eager to learn more about what was really going on in Phnom Penh. In the meantime, I plan on checking out Canada House on Facebook, as well as you!

        I want to thank you and your sister for all your help in 1975, whether I was one of the orphans you took care of or not. It is because of people like you, that I was given an opportunity to live and be blessed with a family that loves me! Thank you….;-)

      • Rebecca Ringer says:

        Have you found the Canada house group and Eloise. If not, email me, rlringer@msn.com. I’ll help you get there.
        Becky Ringer
        Anyone else who is Cambodian arriving in 1975, looking to put together the piecesfeel free to email me, maybe we can figure it out together. :)
        Becky Ringer

  9. Mary Fly says:

    Babylift began when I was a DoDDS teacher at Wagner High School, Clark Air Base. I had volunteered to care for a child (any child) who would come in on the first flight from Saigon. I was sitting in the Clark AB Officers’ Club dining room with friends the evening that the plane, a C5, was scheduled to land. When the word got out that the plane had crashed, I was stunned. I only remember whispering: “It crashed?” I was devastated, thinking of all the children on board. Somehow Clark recovered and prepared to receive subsequent Babylift flights. I remember the first one after the tragic accident — it came in after dark, but the flight line was lit up for TV cameras. We (the volunteers) entered the rear of the aircraft, walked through it quickly, and picked up a child — any child. Mine turned out to be a girl of an age I could not determine. She was wordless, scared, and obviously confused. We were bussed to the base gym; I found clothes for her, bathed her, dressed her, and accompanied her on a bus to a mess hall where there was food for her. We spent the night on a mattress on the gym floor. The things that struck me about her and all the other children I observed was their silence and their distended abdomens, which I was told by the medics was due to malnutrition. According to procedure, I gave my child over to base authorities the next morning to be put on another airplane … going where? I don’t know. I think about her a lot, wondering whatever happened to her.

    • June Sharabati says:

      I recently saw a program on the OWN called “Searching For”. The show is hosted by Pam Slaton, who is a professional genealogist who helps people reunite. One of the episodes I saw was about a young lady who was rescued by OBL. She and her adoptive mother were seaching for the soldier who was shown on a magazine cover holding a baby beleived to be the young lady herself. Pam Slaton was able to track him down.

      Pam Slaton appears to be one of the most genuinely, caring people I have ever seen host a TV show.


      I hope this information will help you.

  10. John Barrett says:

    I was on temporary duty[TDY] with the Defense Attache’s Office[DAO] in Saigon at the beginning of operation Baby Lift. An AF Colonel and I were booked on the ill fated C5 on 5/5/75 going to Clark AB,PI. At the last minute we were asked to give up our seats and take the C141 leaving for Clark AB about an hour later. We said good-bye to some of our DAO friends on the C5 and we later left on the C141. We were not aware of the C5 crash until we arrived at Clark AB where we were met with a flurry of fire trucks and ambulances. We thought something was wrong with our aircraft until a Clark representative boarded our aircraft and advised us of the C5 crash. They thought we were some of the crash survivors. I lost several of my DAO friends in the crash. One that did survive was treated at Clark hospital and I was able to visit her several times before she was evacuated to US for treatment. I remained at Clark to continue logistics support to the Vietnamese AF until the fall of Saigon 4/29/75 and then actively participated in the ” Vietnamese Repatriation”program. I returned to my permanent duty station 5/10/75 [Mothers Day].

  11. Jason Robertson says:

    I had the awesome opportunity of returning to Vietnam with two of the oprhans that survivied the C5 crash. We visited the site where the plane landed and had a memorial service exactly 30 years to the day in 2005. An emtional and breath taking experience. I was orphan myself rescued from an oprhange called An Lac by Betty Tisdale who brought many over. I am putting together a reunion for all those from AnLac this Spring in GA at Fort Benning and Columbus and need help locating as many of the An Lac children so if any one knows of any that were from that orphanange please send them my contact info thank you. ricetogrits@aol.com http://www.ricetogrits.com Jason

  12. Aiyana Eitz says:

    I was on the flight that was going to San Francisco, California Presidio Army Base. From what I was told I am from Long Xuyen and was brought by a nun from Divine Povidence to New Haven where Sister Susan McDonald cared for me for several months before I left. I was also told thatI was in an orphanage called Soc Trang before I got to New Haven and all the records were destroyed. I was adopted by Maria Eitz who was an official for Friends For All Children. I am looking for answers to whom my relatives are and if they are still alive. My nursery name was Cher, but was given the name Thi Le Hang when I left the country. If anyone has any comments or answers for me please get in contact at aiyana_bradshaw@yahoo.com

    • Ann Vermeire says:

      Dear Aiyana–I am a mother of one of the Vietnamese Orphans. My daughter came home to the USA one month before the air lifts began…
      My daughter, Kim Hoa was married to another adoptee from Long Xuyen. He was also cared for by Sister Susan and came on the same flight as you. My daughter passed away in ’08 from melanoma of the brain…and I will always believe that Agent Orange exposure affected her immune system so that she could become ill. We just had a Reunion at Sister Susan’s home. There were about 60 adoptees there and we had a wonderful time. If you do FACE BOOK you can find Sister Susan and my son in law…Josh Lang. Good luck on your search. He would love to hear from another child from Long Xuyen…He has been back to Vietnam 5 times and three with me. We love being in VN and enjoy the country, the food and the people. M’a Ann

  13. Aiyana Eitz says:

    I forgot to mention that i am cambodian, but the nuns stated that they thought I was a mix of Vietnamese and Cambodian. I am not sure. People tend to say that I look full cambodian, and I have never heard anyone say that I look Vietnamese, so I go along with just saying that I am Cambodian. If anyone can help please do. I want to find my birth family.

  14. Maggie Weaver (Doan Thi Hoi Houng) says:

    I am the oldest of seven. I was 10 years old and I have four brothers, one sister, and one cousin (ages range from 9 yr to 6 mo). We were a part of the “Friends of Children of Vietnam”. I remembered my mother telling me that we were going to America to live. She instructed me to take care of my siblings and keep everyone together, so when she come to America we will all be together. I remembered the day our mom left us, she gave me some photos of her and told me to keep it save. That day, I remembered crying, but my mother told me that I must be strong for my siblings. I vaguely remembered the day we left and got on the Cargo airplane. I think we were suppose to be on the first flight out, then I realized that my youngest brother, who was 6 mo. old at the time was not with us, so I managed to keep everyone together and stay behind with our brother. We then left on the second flight. I know now that the first flight out of Vietnam crashed. I remembered riding on a bus to the airport at nighttime because it was dark; we then got on a cargo airplane. In addition, I do not know what locations we stop at but I can remember riding on a bus and then staying at a place where there were many mattresses on the floor and table full of fruits and food. The last place we ended up together was at “Friends of Children of Vietnam” in Denver, CO. A family in Denver (The Fitts) adopted my sister, two brothers and me. The Nelson family in Iowa adopted one brother. In addition, a family in France adopted my youngest brother. Today, we are all reunited with our mother, except for the youngest brother in France who we have not seen since our separation in Denver. Our mother still has hoped that one day she will reunited with her son. My experience is one of the many thousands. I would like to thank all that helped my siblings and me, although I do not know your names. Thank you to the families that took us in and care of us.
    Warm Regards,
    Maggie Weaver

  15. Ly says:

    I’m am in search of my mother’s sister who was in an orphanage. Any advice on a good starting place on where and how I may locate her? Please email me @ ltn_01@yahoo.com with subject being Operation Babylift. Thank you so much for your time. I hope I can reunite my mother with her baby sister.

  16. Jason PItman says:

    My name is Jason Pitman and I have a twin sister named Elizabeth anne. The theory was our real parents abandoned us in Saigon, Ho chi mihn city due to us being malneutrishened as well as the WAR going on. Our nurse was holding us and her name was Elaine Norris. If you know anyone and how can I get in contact with her, I would appreciate any information.

    • Cindee Gregory says:

      Hi Jason,
      Elaine Norris is my sister’s sister-in-law and lives in Webster, Ma.
      Please feel free to email me and i can send you her address so you can drop her a card. She is would love to hear from one of her ‘special babies’.

    • Lucy St. James says:

      Cindee Gregory, who also posted a reply here, notified me of your post. I realize it has been some time since your original message, but I too spent time in Viet Nam at the nurseries sponsored by Friend for All Children. Your nurse Elaine Norris is my sister. She has been ill and is in a nursing home but I visit her frequently, and just the other day I brought my albums of Viet Nam to share with her, and she remembers the time well. Her work there was one of the most important times in her life, and I know she would be thrilled to see you or hear from y ou, as would I. PLEASE be in touch.

  17. Sue Croy says:

    I had no idea that this sight existed, till today 9-29-10. I certainly do appreciate the fact that it does exist. The notes here brought back to me all of those memories and names stored in my mind’s book. Sr. Susan McDonald & I corresponded for several years.

    I never had the good fortune to be connected to any of the families that were a part of such a wonderful event that changed our lives. My daughter, Jennifer is now in her mid-30’s. (She would probably NOT appreciate my putting the figure down on paper. But, it certainly is easy to figure out, anyway).

    Jennifer was under the care of Friends For All Children, when she arrived in Philadelphia, in the arms of a male teacher. I am sorry that I never asked for his name or address. I was so overwhelmed by the fact that Jennifer was finally in my arms, that I could not think beyond that feeling of gratitude.

    I never knew until I just read this information as to where Jennifer went after she left the Vietnamese AB. I had been told she was in a gym, but I had not known that it was in The Phillipines. Jenni was not yet 6 mos. & very ill when she came to us. I thought she was “beautiful”, but the doctor who saw her the next day, told me that he would give me one week to get her to gain one oz. She was too ill and went into an isolation ward for a week, w/i days. I was afraid to leave her there, as I was bonding w/her. When, she would fall asleep, I would quickly drive the few miles home to rest, as I was pregnant and then return as quickly to her.

    Upon Jenni coming back home from the hospital, she flourished and gave us her first gleeful laugh in May. I never witnessed such fear on anyone’s face, as I did with Jenni after she arrived and my husband held her as I took her picture with a Poloroid Camera. As the print faded, so did the fear.

    Jennifer grew to be a truly beautiful young woman surrounded by two loving younger sisters. We left PA in 1986 & moved to FL. Now, Jennifer is a research scientist in Dallas working on a cure for lung disease. She obtained her PhD, after winning a scholarship in Fl for four years.

    Jenni, once known as “Helena” was given the birthname of Nhung My Tran, she is married and is quite active in her community with various organizations.

    The Viet Nam War was a tumultious era for all who were involved. I lived in Okinawa, while my husband was stationed at Ona Pt. While working for the Army, in an office, I witnessed those B-52’s fly over my head with a thunder that blocked out all sound. The bellys of those monstrous planes carried the bombs strapped to the undersides as they took off for Viet Nam.

    When I lived in Okinawa, I had no idea that one day I would be so very involved w/FFAC, inwardly pleading that they would accept our application for a baby from VN. The paperwork for me took over two years from start to finish.

    I hope one day, my daughter will realize how lucky she really was to be with so many people that truly wanted her and so many other children to have the opportunity to survive.

    I thank every single very courageous person that might view this sight. For your quick decision to be involved to save these children made a huge contribution to the true definition of “love for one another”.

  18. Craig Jones says:

    I was in the Navy when operation Babylift occurred. I was on emergency leave, trying to get a flight out of the Philippines at Clark Air Force Base. I volunteered to go on a DC-10 that flew to Saigon. At Saigon, they made us deplane while they loaded babies onto the aircraft. When we reboarded the aircraft there were approximately 323 infants on the aircraft in egg crate boxes and new military blankets. I remember a Vietnamese nurse and a couple of other us military personnel, but do not remember anyone names. I sat with a 12 year old Vietnamese girl during most of the flight. We changed diapers continuously for hours until we landed in Hawaii where they offloaded several infants that had passed away. I remember wearing my white navy uniform that wasn’t so white at the end of the flight. I carried babies to the restrooms for hours, in an attempt to keep them clean and comfortable, cleaning them as best we could, since nearly everyone of them had diarrhea. We fed them glucose the entire trip.
    When we arrived at Travis Air Force Base, I was holding the 12 year old girl in my arms and remember the red cross workers coming to the plan to take the children. What I remember most, was the bond I had established with this young child, almost as if she was my own daughter. A worker said to me, give her to me, I will take it from here. I did not want to let her go. After I left the aircraft, I found the nearest restroom in the airport and cried my eyes out. Wish I new hat happened to that little girl, but know I will never find out. I hope all of these children found happiness in their life. This along with my years in combat with the Navy Seawolves in Song Ong Doc South Vietnam live on in my memories.

  19. Terry Hewitt says:

    My brother was one of the survivors of the flight that crashed. I was only barely 5 at the time but still remember picking him up at Mpls. International when he finally came to us.He was just 5 months old. Initially coming to the states he was hospitalized in San Fransisco with TB and malnutrition for a month. Does anyone know how i might go about trying to find any family info for him or what hospital the children went to in CA ? Any info would be helpful. And thank you to all who were involved in such a wonderful mission.

    • Dave Flowers says:

      Terry, this will not help you much, but I was a MP at the Presidio in San Francisco for Operation Babylift. Anyone needing medical help would have been taken to Letterman Army Medical Center on the base. The hospital and most of the Presidio was torn down years ago.

  20. Loxi Wehmeyer says:

    I had just turned 19 in April of 1975 and was stationed at NTCCTISANFRANSTOCKTON, CA. A call had gone out for volunteers to help with orphans coming into the country. I took a days leave and made my way to the hanger to help, getting lost on the way. When I gor there I was given a 6 week old baby boy to take care of. We were on mattresses on the floor, kids were running all around the hanger laughing and seemed to be enjoying their freedom from the planes. The young man next to me had a 3 year old boy to take care of. This boy was very cute but he had a hairlip. He ate the rice and bologna but spit the tomatoes out and we laughed at this. I was told that allof the children had been already adopted but still people were lined up outside the hanger waiting to see if they could adopt one of these precious children. The lady who was to adopt the 3 year old came over to us, she looked down and saw the little boy with the hairlip. She immediately turned around and left and as she was leaving I heard her say “If I can’t have a perfect one I don’t want one”. I was so shocked, I just couln’t beleive what she had said. She didn’t deserve one of these wonderful children! I saw one of the ladies at the desk signal to the first couple in line and then hand the lady a card (the card matched the one on the 3 year old boy). I can still remember the lady screaming all the way over to us. She grab the little boy and hugged him. She wouldn’t even put him down for her husband to hold him. She didn’t care what he looked like, he was meant for her. I was so glad the little boy went with her instead of the first lady.

  21. John LaFrance says:

    The C-141 crewman holding the baby is my step-father, Brian Jon Harms. The baby was positively identified as Jen Noone, and this story was recently documented on The Oprah Winfrey Network “OWN” on the show called “Searching For…”, episode was titled Elyse and Jen. I encourage everyone to watch this episode as it is an amazing story. Thanks to all the Armed Forces personnel and Veterans who were involved in this mission and the Vietnam War.

    • Jennifer schrader says:

      I saw the show this afternoon at 1:00p 5/3/2011 i cried when I heard Brian Jon harms and I am so glad that Jennifer and her mom went to meet mr harms wife sandra in denver Colorado. I was amazed that he had a picture of Jennifer as a baby and he was holding her and giving her a bottle, how old was she (Jennifer) ?when did mr harms pass away and of what did he die of.?and how old was he ? How old is Jennifer now?when was she born?

      I also saw at the end of this episode that pam’s mom Anne passed away last year, my mom passed away Jan 27 wed 2010 she was 89 years old my aunt Maria is 93 she will be 94 on aug 24 born in Spain 1917 she is my mom’s sister

      Jennifer schrader
      1105 s 14th st
      Lincoln ne 68502
      402-261-8686 home

      • John LaFrance says:

        Hello Jennifer,

        I’m sorry this reply is so late. I just now revisited this site and saw your reply. Despite aggressive treatment, Brian died in October 1998 of Burkitt’s Lymphoma at the age of 48. He is buried at Olinger Crown Hill Mortuary & Cemetery in Wheatridge Colorado. I’m not sure of Jen Noone’s exact age but I would guess in her early to mid 40’s now. She recently moved to Bogota, Columbia.

        The picture of Brian holding a baby is a little amusing knowing that he wasn’t really comfortable around babies and children.

  22. marnie says:

    I am a survivor of the operation babylift. I have a letter from the pilot of the next airplane and he had rescued me from the 1st one that had crashed. He kept me in the cockpit with him until we arrived in the united states. Any information on this pilot would be greatly appreciated.

  23. jrh says:

    from jrh in texas. i was with the 60th maw, 22 airlift wing in travis it was a long day.

  24. chi says:

    I was one of the orphans that was adopted in Philadelphia though The Pearl Buck foundation… How do you begin to find your birth family?

  25. Eloise Charet Bear Clan says:

    My sister, my mother and I were the ones taking care of the Cambodian orphans. Naomi Bronstein helped with the evacuation. We all worked really hard and we also helped the Vietnamese orphans to board the plane that crashed. We received the call about the crash and immediately went to help at the hospital and my mother went to the crash site. The next day the Canadian government flew in a Hercules plane to pick up canadians and we boarded it with our Cambodian babies and 20 survivors of the crash, some on stretchers. I remember it and I’m just finishing a book on it.

    • m pouli says:

      Is this the plane which had 57 orphans on it? If so, my adoptive daughter was on that plane. I would like more information about it. My daughter was one of two babies left in Hong Kong because they were too sick to make the flight to Canada.

      • Eloise Charet says:

        That’s probably us and yes we left two little ones in Hong Kong because they were to sick to continue the journey. We all meet in Quebec once a year and are starting to gather more of our orphans. I am just finishing the book on it and it will be published this year. Please write and we are on facebook too on a site called Canada House.

  26. Don Baer says:

    I was working as an Army contractor with LSI in Vietnam from April 73 until April 75. My Vietnamese wife, our three children, and I were told some 48 hours prior to April 4, 1975 that we were to be on board the C-5A on Friday, April 4. We had to hire two taxis to take us to Tan Son Nhut, and because of the congested Saigon traffic, did not get to the base until early the afternoon of the 4th. We waited around at the terminal, until some lady came in and told us that the plane was full, and that we would have to come back the next day. We hung around for a few hours, hoping to perhaps catch a hop on another plane, but were unsuccessful. We were really upset that we had not arrived early enough to catch the C-5A, and cursed the Saigon traffic.

    Sometime after 5:00 pm, we decided to go back to the hotel and try again on the 5th. On the way out of TSN I noticed a number of ambulances and other emergency vehicles coming into and leaving the base. I remember wondering what might have gone wrong.

    The next day I learned that the C-5A crashed, and that at least 100 passengers and crew were killed (I discovered later that actually 153 were killed). It was terrible news, but at least for our family, I really blessed the Saigon traffic.

    My wife and children were able to leave the following day on a C-141, to Clark AFB, but the Vietnamese police wouldn’t let me leave, because of some back taxes (the ultimate corruption). I got out the following day by escorting two disable orphans to Clark.

    What an experience!! One that I wouldn’t want to repeat. BTW, my Vietnamese wife and I are still together after 44 years, and our three kids have produced six grandkids.

  27. Phuoc Ta says:

    Did any body now where I can find the archives records of these childreen on the Operation baby lift ? The reason because I need to find my niece have vietnamese name : Ta Anh Thu she about 6 yrs old at that time and I am unable to find any record so I can read through to find her name. In Autralia National record they did very well archices all of the childreen when to their country but in US can’t find yet the records of name like Autralia was did.

  28. Marie Keating says:

    My Grandfather flew with world airways and was a pilot with operation babylift. My grandparents flew back for the return trip to Saigon and they were able to visit the orphanage in the city. My Grandfather has since passed away and my Grandmother can’t remember the name of the orphanage, I was wondering if anyone had that information? Thank you,

  29. Rebecca Ringer says:

    Hi Marie,
    I don’t know if this helps but there is a list of most of the orphanages on the AVI website and alot of other useful info.


  30. m pouli says:

    The following comes from another site concerning Rosemary Taylor’s orphanages. I hope it may be helpful.
    ROSEMARY TAYLOR – ORPHANAGES \nContact susanmdo@aol.com
    Hy Vong-Intensive Care Nursery, Saigon
    New Haven-also Intensive Care as well as nursery for babies once they got well
    To Am-nursery for sick and well 3 month old infants-toddlers
    Allambie-home for some babies, toddlers and mainly children 3-7 years.

    Other agencies in Saigon included Holt, Catholic Relief Services (Sister Kateri Kovermann), Pearl Buck Foundation, Okendon Venture (England), International Social Services, Friends of Children of Vietnam (1973-1975). I am sure there were others.
    I have information about some of these orphanages, photos of some of the orphanages, additional contact information for some.

  31. SUSAN says:



  32. lewis alexander says:


  33. Roy Perazzo says:

    I was a civilian employee at the Presidio of San Francisco , I remember the children ,so many ,my job was to install telephones throughout the building in support of this mission, I am proud to have been a part this humanitarian effort.

  34. Sandy Lien Lam says:

    Reading the Operation Baby Lift has my heart heavy and hope the children who survived have had happy lives. I am fortunate that my family departed Saigon safely in April 1975. We left on a C130 from Saigon to Philippines I believe. I was 5 years old at the time and remember clearly that there was a military man on board whom I was staring at. He then threw a piece of candy to me (I remember it was a cube caramel), and it made me so happy. I just want to say thank you to the unknown man who gave her candy and making the traumatic journey into the unknown a little sweeter for the scared and confused Amerasian girl. I live in California and still think about the fragmented memories of our departure from Vietnam.

  35. Kouy Tha says:

    Hello, I am a Cambodian orphan who was part of World Vision and Operation Babylift. Does anyone know about the flight(s) that went to America/Southern California? I was told I was held at the hospital base for two weeks in San Pedro upon my arrival due to malnutrition and other health issues. I was only 6mos old at the time and Dr. Mooneyham is the name I have been given as the responsible man who got me out of Phnom Phen just before the airport closed.

    I am 40 now and am thinking of attending the 40th Anniversary of Operation Babylift at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Foundation to learn more about this time and thank all those involved in this amazing mission.

    If anyone has information on those Cambodian babies that landed in Los Angeles County, California, I would love to hear from you!

    Much gratitude!


  36. […] he left Vietnam months before Operation Babylift, “I am still part of that era and close enough in that, that still affects me in every […]

  37. Maggi says:

    I know 2 of the babies from the Babylift. One was on the plane that crashed, She just did a trip to Vietnam. She started from the orphange and traveled around for weeks collecting information and pictures.

  38. […] question. The founders of Childhelp, Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson, were instrumental in Operation Babylift which evacuated over 3,000 orphans from South Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam […]

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