Operation Babylift

Vietnamese Refugee Children on an Operation Babylift Flight

Operation Babylift occurred in April of 1975, evacuating approximately 2,000-3,000 children on American military aircraft and privately-owned planes. American agencies like Friends for All Children (FFAC) and Friends of Children of Vietnam (FCVN) were instrumental in evacutating hundreds of children and infants from Vietnam. Some of the children were adopted in Europe but the majority were taken to the United States. Although this operation was meant to save innocents from the communitsts in the north and give them a hopeful future, Babylift remains controversial as lack of documentation and political motivations tarnish its legacy. 

FFAC and FCVN were new organizations founded out of the crisis in Vietnam. Rosemary Taylor, in-country director of FFAC and Cherie Clark, leader of FCVN were responsible for the children living at their agencies during the war and finding transportation out of Vietnam. 

Ed Daly was the executive of World Airways led the first unofficial evacuation flight on April 2, 1975. He offered his plane first to Rosemary Taylor and FFAC but they rejected his offer because of the poor safety condtions. Daly had already revealed to the press his intention of rescuing the children and flying them to San Francisco. Eventually Cherie Clark and FCVN accepted the seats with hesitation and spent the remainder of the day frantically preparing her children. The plane, having been used to transport cargo for the US military, had all its seats removed so World Airways staff hung netting and layed blankets on the floor for the children to sit on. Daly had provided food, milk, and diapers for the flight. The plane had not recieved permission from the air control tower and exited the Tan Son Nhut Airport heading towards San Francisco.

President Gerald Ford Feeds Infant

President Ford feeds an infant on bus heading toward Presidio.

Galaxy C-5 Crash

Galaxy C-5 crash

In San Francisco, journalists, medical staff and volunteers all waited for the arrival of the plane at the Oakland International Airport. After the plane landed, medical staff boarded to give quick examinations and assign identifications numbers to each child before they were placed in the hands of volunteers. These volunteers would comfort and care for them as they boarded busses to take them to the Army base Presidio. At this time President Gerald Ford would conduct a press conference at the San Diego Convention Center, announcing his plan to give two million dollars in aid to help evacuate Vietnamese children and launched Operation Babylift.

On April 4, 1975, the United States government offered the Galaxy C-5 military aircraft to FFAC fly children out of Saigon. Approximately 200 children were taken aboard, 100 infants were seated on the upper level, and 100 older children were placed on the lower levels. The aircraft replaced many of the seats with cusions and netting and those placed in seats on the upper level were not well secured. Fifteen minutes after takeoff, the back door of the plane exploded and the plane crash landed in a rice paddy field. Of the 200 children on the plane, 78 had died along with many members of the FFAC and military personnel. All the documentation on the children was also lost or destroyed. It had come to attention later that the Galaxy C-5 had several design flaws that were known at the time as the military was in discussions with the producer of the plane to find solutions. 

Although Operation Babylift succeeded in evacuating thousands of children, there were many reproachable issues overlooked during its activity. In the haste of trying to rush children out of Saigon, safety precautions were overlooked on many of the planes. These planes also traveled for long hours and carried many children and infants. They did not have adequate supplies or amount of staff to care for these children on the long journey. False documentation or no documentation caused many problems after the children landed in the US. Adoption agencies FFAC and FFVN did not have the experience or resources that other established agencies acquired. Cherie Clark and her staff of FFVN falsified the names of children on their paperwork and their lineage not realizing the consequences that would arise later. Their desire to evacuate their children overshadowed all critical thinking. Because of the documentation errors, it came to light that many children were not orphaned but still had families that they remembered back in Vietnam. Some children were reunited, but many were still put up for adoption. As the children grew up, many wished to know about their history and find their biological familes, but were unable to. These problems are too prevelant to ignore and stain the legacy of Operation Babylift. 

Operation Babylift