Operation Babylift

Operation Babylift was the name given to the mass evacuation of children from South Vietnam to the United States and other countries (including Australia, France, West Germany, and Canada) at the end of the Vietnam War (see also the Fall of Saigon), on April 3–26, 1975. By the final American flight out of South Vietnam, over 3,300 infants and children had been evacuated, although the actual number has been variously reported.[1][2][3][4] Along with Operation New Life, over 110,000 refugees were evacuated from South Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War. Thousands of children were airlifted from Vietnam and adopted by families around the world.


Operation Babylift baby shoes
A pair of well-worn baby shoes worn by an orphan evacuated from Vietnam during Operation Babylift

With the central Vietnamese city of Da Nang having fallen in March, and with Saigon under attack and being shelled, on April 3, 1975, U.S. President Gerald Ford announced that the U.S. government would begin evacuating orphans from Saigon on a series of 30 planned flights aboard Military Airlift Command (MAC) C-5A Galaxy and C-141 Starlifter cargo aircraft.

Service organizations including Holt International Children's Services, 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 petitioned the government to help evacuate the various orphans in their facilities in Vietnam. In their book, Silence Broken, Childhelp (International Orphans at the time) founders Sara O'Meara and Yvonne Fedderson chronicle their request from Lieutenant General Lewis William Walt to help with evacuations and finding homes for the Asian-American orphans.

Flights continued until artillery attacks by North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong military units on Tan Son Nhut Airport rendered airplane flights impossible.

Over 2,500 children were relocated and adopted by families in the United States and by its allies.[5] The operation was controversial because there was question about whether the evacuation was in the children's best interest, and because not all the children were orphans.[3]

When American businessman Robert Macauley learned that it would take more than a week to evacuate the surviving orphans due to the lack of military transport planes, he chartered a Boeing 747 from World Airways and arranged for 300 orphaned children to leave the country, paying for the trip by mortgaging his house.[6]

Frederick M. "Skip" Burkle, Jr. served as the medical director of Operation Babylift. He gathered the orphans in Saigon, accompanied them to Clark AFP in the Philippines, and continued to care for them on the Boeing 747 across the Pacific Ocean to Los Angeles.[7]

Plane crash

A C-5A Galaxy, serial number 68-0218, flew the initial mission of Operation Babylift departing from Tan Son Nhut Airport shortly after 4 p.m. on April 4, 1975. Twelve minutes after takeoff, there was what seemed to be an explosion as the lower rear fuselage was torn apart. The locks of the rear loading ramp had failed, causing the door to open and separate. A rapid decompression occurred. Control and trim cables to the rudder and elevators were severed, leaving only one aileron and wing spoilers operating. Two of the four hydraulic systems were out. The crew wrestled at the controls, managing to keep control of the plane with changes in power settings by using the one working aileron and wing spoilers. The crew descended to an altitude of 4,000 feet on a heading of 310 degrees in preparation for landing on Tan Son Nhut's runway 25L. About halfway through a turn to final approach, the rate of descent increased rapidly. Seeing they couldn't make the runway, full power was applied to bring the nose up. The C-5 touched down in a rice paddy. Skidding for a quarter of a mile, the aircraft became airborne again for a half mile before hitting a dike and breaking into four parts, some of which caught fire. According to DIA figures, 138 people were killed in the crash, including 78 children and 35 Defense Attaché Office, Saigon personnel.[8]


The Vietnamese adoptee-run nonprofit, Operation Reunite, is using DNA testing to match adoptees with their Vietnamese families.[9]

A memorial was unveiled in Holmdel, New Jersey in April 2015.[10][5]

See also


  1. ^ Martin, Allison, The Legacy of Operation Babylift, Adoption Today journal, Volume 2, Number 4 March 2000. "On April 3rd, a combination of private and military transport planes began to fly more children out of Vietnam as part of the operation. Numbers vary, but it appears that at least 2,000 children were flown to the United States and approximately 1,300 children were flown to Canada, Europe and Australia."
  2. ^ "People & Events: Operation Babylift (1975)", PBS, American Experience. "During the final days of the Vietnam War, the U.S. government began boarding Vietnamese children onto military transport planes bound for adoption by American, Canadian, European and Australian families. Over the next several weeks, Operation Babylift brought more than 3300 children out of Vietnam."
  3. ^ a b Operation Babylift, PBS, Precious Cargo documentary. "At least 2,700 children were flown to the United States and approximately 1,300 children were flown to Canada, Europe and Australia. Service organizations such as Holt International Children's Services, Friends of Children of Viet Nam and Catholic Relief Service coordinated the flights."
  4. ^ United States Agency for International Development, Operation Babylift Report (Emergency Movement of Vietnamese and Cambodian Orphans for Intercountry Adoption, April - June 1975), Washington, DC, pp. 1-2, 5, 6, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14. "Orphans Processed: Information obtained from the adoption agencies or processing centers indicates that a total of 2,547 orphans were processed under Operation Babylift. Of this total, 602 went on to other countries, leaving a total of 1,945 in the United States."
  5. ^ a b John Moritz, The Associated Press (25 April 2015). "'Operation Babylift' kids, veterans reunite 40 years later". MilitaryTimes.
  6. ^ Grimes, William. "Robert Macauley, Founder of Humanitarian Aid Group, Dies at 87", The New York Times, December 29, 2010. Accessed December 30, 2010.
  7. ^ "Operation Babylift". Ford Library Museum. Retrieved 2017-06-12.
  8. ^ Defense Intelligence Agency: Remembering the First Operation Babylift Flight, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-04. Retrieved 2014-12-16.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link), last updated August 5, 2011.
  9. ^ Trista Goldberg. "Operation Reunite". operationreunite.org.
  10. ^ "Operation babylift: When 2,500 children were evacuated from Vietnam". Stars and Stripes. Archived from the original on 2015-03-14. Retrieved 2015-03-12.

Further reading

Media references

  • Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam is an award-winning documentary released in 2009 about the adoptees and volunteers as they examine their lives and the effects of this historic mission on their lives nearly 35 years later. - www.TheBabylift.com
  • Daughter from Đà Nẵng is a 2002 award-winning documentary film about an Amerasian woman who returns to visit her biological family in Đà Nẵng, Vietnam after 22 years of separation and living in the United States, having been taken out of Vietnam as a child in Operation Babylift.
  • Precious Cargo - a 2001 documentary film on Operation Babylift and the return of eight adoptees twenty five years later
  • "Operation Babylift: The case of the disappearing orphans," by Helen Jacobus. Cover story of the New Statesman (London), May 11, 1984. pages 8–10; and follow-up story, "Mother Courage of Vietnam finds son in UK," by Jane Thomas, New Statesman, July 20, 1984, page 4.

External links

Coordinates: 10°50′38″N 106°42′07″E / 10.8439°N 106.702°E

1975 Tân Sơn Nhứt C-5 accident

On 4 April 1975, a Lockheed C-5A Galaxy participating in Operation Babylift crashed on approach during an emergency landing at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam. The cause was ascribed to loss of flight control due to explosive decompression and structural failure. The accident marked the second operational loss and first fatal crash for the C-5 Galaxy fleet, and is the second deadliest accident involving a U.S. military aircraft after the 1968 Kham Duc C-130 shootdown.

1975 in the Vietnam War

1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War, sometimes called the Second Indochina War or the American War. The North Vietnamese army (PAVN) launched the Spring Offensive in March, the South Vietnamese army (ARVN) was quickly defeated. The communist North Vietnamese captured Saigon on April 30, accepting the surrender of South Vietnam. In the final days of the war, the United States, which had supported South Vietnam for many years, carried out an emergency evacuation of its civilian and military personnel and more than 130,000 Vietnamese.

At the beginning of the Spring Offensive the balance of forces in Vietnam was approximately as follows; North Vietnam: 305,000 soldiers, 600 armored vehicles, and 490 heavy artillery pieces in South Vietnam and South Vietnam: 1.0 million soldiers, 1,200 to 1,400 tanks, and more than 1,000 pieces of heavy artillery.The capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, was captured by the Khmer Rouge on April 17. On December 2 the Pathet Lao took over the government of Laos, thus completing the communist conquest of the three Indochinese countries.

60th Air Mobility Wing

The 60th Air Mobility Wing (60 AMW) is the largest air mobility organization in the United States Air Force and is responsible for strategic airlift and aerial refueling missions around the world. It is the host unit at Travis Air Force Base in California. Wing activity is primarily focused on support in the Middle East region, however it also maintains operations in areas of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.


An Amerasian originally meant a person born in Asia to an Asian mother and a U.S. military father. Most modern day Amerasian are either half or quarter American origin.

Several countries have significant populations of Amerasians in South Korea, Japan, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and, most notably, the Philippines, the last having had the largest US air and naval bases outside the US mainland.

Brian Freemantle

Brian Harry Freemantle (born 10 June 1936) is an English thriller and non-fiction writer, known for his 1977 spy novel Charlie M.

Freemantle was born in Southampton, and has written under the pseudonyms John Maxwell, Jonathan Evans, Jack Winchester and Richard Gant. He is a Freeman of the City of London.Until 1975, when he became a full-time writer, he was a foreign correspondent and editor for various newspapers, including the Daily Mail and the Daily Sketch. In April that year, he organised the sole British-led airlift rescue of South Vietnamese civilians during the Fall of Saigon, assisting in the evacuation of 100 orphans, of which Viktoria Cowley was one, aged approximately 18 months.

Brian and Viktoria, now a grown adult, have been featured in a few documentaries together; the first being BBC One - The Airmail Orphan. He later, made a promotional film for his own books, Open Road Media, in which Viktoria appeared. In another documentary from BBC One Northern Ireland, Viktoria introduces another Vietnamese adoptee from the flight to Brian. Most recently, on 28 March 2018, they both appeared on BBC's The One Show talking about the airlift, adoption and Vietnam.

Viktoria's son, is named Harry, Brian's middle name, in recognition of Operation Babylift back on 6 April 1975. Viktoria and Brian have been in regular contact since they first met in 2010, she is the first Vietnamese adoptee Brian has met and the only adoptee he remains in contact with. She told him: "You saved my life and those of every other child. On their behalf, and my own, I thank you.".


Childhelp is a national non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child abuse. Founded in 1959 as International Orphans, Inc. by Sara O'Meara and Yvonne Fedderson, Childhelp is one of the largest non-profit child abuse prevention and treatment organizations in the nation. It operates facilities in California, Virginia, Tennessee, and Arizona. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline services all of the United States, its territories and Canada. The organization also distributes Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe, a school-based abuse and bullying prevention program.

The organization offers a wide variety of services, not only to abused and neglected children, but to treatment professionals, educators, parents, foster care families, the community and law enforcement professionals. Through various community outreach efforts, Childhelp has tried to increase awareness about child abuse. As part of those effort in 2000, Childhelp established the National Day of Hope. It is observed every year on the first Wednesday of April during National Child Abuse Prevention Month. In 2009, the organization celebrated its 50th anniversary. Childhelp relies upon private donations to expand its operations and services across the nation.

According to a 2007 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, almost five children die every day to child abuse and neglect and millions more reports are made every year of abuse.

DIA Memorial Wall

The Defense Intelligence Agency Memorial Wall, commonly known as the Patriots Memorial, is a memorial at DIA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., dedicated to those agency employees who lost their lives in the line of their intelligence work and whose deaths are not classified.

Daughter from Danang

Daughter from Đà Nẵng is a 2002 documentary film about an Amerasian, Heidi Bub (a.k.a. Mai Thi Hiep), born on December 10, 1968, in Danang in southern Vietnam, one of the children brought to the United States from Vietnam in 1975 during "Operation Babylift" at the end of the Vietnam War.

Frederick M. "Skip" Burkle Jr.

Frederick M. "Skip" Burkle, Jr. (born April 29, 1940) is an American physician known for his work in human rights, international diplomacy and peacemaking, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response. He has been called "the single most talented and experienced post-conflict health specialist working for the United States government." His medical qualifications include pediatrics, emergency medicine, psychiatry, public health, and tropical medicine.

Drafted into the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, he served as a military physician in Vietnam and was instrumental in Operation Babylift.Burkle reached the rank of Captain (O-6) in the U.S. Naval Reserve before retiring.

Friends for All Children

Friends For All Children was an adoption assistance agency that was located in Boulder, Colorado. It operated during the Vietnam War in Operation Babylift in 1975 to bring South Vietnamese children to the United States, during the Fall of Saigon, when the Communist North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong agents invaded South Vietnam. It disbanded in the United States, in 1977, after placement of the final child on their caseload.

It still operates in South East Asia.

History of Clark Air Base

The history of Clark Air Base, Philippines, dates back to the late 19th century when it was settled by Filipino military forces. The United States established a presence at the turn of the century.

Holt International Children's Services

Holt International Children's Services (HICS) is a faith-based humanitarian organization and adoption agency based in Eugene, Oregon, United States, known for international adoption and child welfare. The nonprofit works in thirteen countries, including: Cambodia, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Mongolia, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Uganda, Vietnam, and the United States. This work includes a range of services for children and families including efforts in nutrition, education, family strengthening, orphan care, foster care, family reunification, and child sponsorship. The organization's stated mission is to seek a world where every child has a loving and secure home.

John DeCamp

John W. DeCamp (July 6, 1941 – July 27, 2017) was a Republican politician from the state of Nebraska who served in the Nebraska legislature from 1971 to 1987. He served as an officer in the United States Army during the Vietnam War.

List of Mayday episodes

Mayday, known as Air Crash Investigation(s) outside of the United States and Canada and also known as Air Emergency or Air Disasters (Smithsonian Channel) in the United States, is a Canadian documentary television series produced by Cineflix that recounts air crashes, near-crashes, fires, hijackings, bombings, and other mainly flight-related disasters and crises. It reveals the events that led to each crisis or disaster, their causes as determined by the official investigating body or bodies, and the measures they recommended to prevent a similar incident from happening again. The programs use re-enactments, interviews, eyewitness testimony, computer-generated imagery, cockpit voice recordings, and official reports to reconstruct the sequences of events.

As of 11 March 2019, 180 episodes of Mayday have aired. This includes five Science of Disaster specials, each examining multiple crashes with similar causes. For broadcasters that do not use the series name Mayday, three Season 3 episodes were labeled as Crash Scene Investigation spin-offs, examining marine or rail disasters.

List of allied military operations of the Vietnam War (1975)

This is a list of known military operations of the Vietnam War in 1975, conducted by the armed forces of the United States.

Monte B. Miller

Monte B. Miller (born September 4, 1930) was a lieutenant general in the United States Air Force who served as surgeon general of the United States Air Force from 1988 to 1991.General Miller was born in 1930, in Independence, Missouri, where he graduated from William Chrisman High School in 1948. He received a bachelor of arts degree with a major in chemistry from the University of Kansas in 1951 and was selected to the Phi Beta Kappa honorary scholastic fraternity. He continued his education at the University of Kansas School of Medicine and received his doctor of medicine degree in 1955. Miller completed his medical internship at Tacoma General Hospital (Washington_ in 1956. He completed his residency training in internal medicine at Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in 1965. He was specialty board-certified in 1967 and recertified in 1977 by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Miller was appointed assistant clinical professor at the University of California School of Medicine in 1968 and was elected to a fellowship in the American College of Physicians in 1972.

After receiving his commission as a first lieutenant in October 1956, he was assigned to the USAF Hospital, Williams Air Force Base, Arizona. He completed the Aerospace Medicine Primary Course at the School of Aerospace Medicine, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, and received an aeronautical rating of flight surgeon in 1957. From October 1958 to July 1962 Miller was engaged in private medical practice in Garnett, Kan. He re-entered the Air Force with an assignment at Wilford Hall for specialty training in internal medicine. In July 1965 he was appointed assistant for medical training at David Grant USAF Medical Center, Travis Air Force Base, Calif. From July 1967 to July 1968 he was assigned to the 12th U.S. Air Force Hospital, Cam Ranh Bay Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, as chief of medicine.

Miller returned to David Grant USAF Medical Center as chairman of the Department of Medicine. He became deputy commander and director of hospital services in July 1973, and commander in May 1975. He was a key participant in the prisoners of war homecoming from North Vietnam, and Operation Babylift.

Miller transferred to the Medical Directorate, Air Force Inspection and Safety Center, Norton Air Force Base, Calif., as an inspection team chief in July 1978. He then served as chief of the Medical Inspection Division from March 1979 to February 1980. In March 1980 he assumed command of Malcolm Grow USAF Medical Center, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. In November 1981 Miller became command surgeon, Military Airlift Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. In this capacity he served as the medical adviser to the commander in chief, Military Airlift Command, on the physical well-being of command personnel, and was responsible for the command's worldwide aeromedical evacuation mission, its medical centers, and hospitals and clinics.

In April 1985 Miller became commander of Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center and was responsible for its quadrilateral mission of health care, medical education, readiness and research. He became command surgeon, U.S. European Command, Stuttgart-Vaihingen, West Germany, in May 1986.

He is a chief flight surgeon. His military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal and Air Force Commendation Medal. He was appointed as an internal medicine consultant to the surgeon general in 1970. He is a senior member and past president of the Society of Air Force Physicians, a member of the Kansas Medical Society and a fellow of the American College of Physicians. He is also a member of the Society of Medical Consultants to the Armed Forces, American Medical Association, Aerospace Medical Association and Association of Military Surgeons of the United States. He received a Meritorious Service Award from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences for his contributions as an adviser to the board of regents and was the Air Force Medical Service representative to the executive board of the National Library of Medicine and to the Armed Forces Epidemiology Board.

He was promoted to lieutenant general August 1, 1988, with same date of rank and retired on August 1, 1991.

Robert Macauley

Robert Conover "Bob" Macauley (December 11, 1923 – December 26, 2010) was an American businessman who left his paper company to create the charity Americares, which he established in 1982 and which has provided billions of dollars of aid to needy people in crisis situations in countries around the world. Macauley had been aiding South Vietnamese orphans starting in the early 1970s and expanded his personal involvement in philanthropic causes after the 1975 crash of a U.S. military jet evacuating children stranded the survivors and others trying to leave the country.

Thuy Vu

Thuy Vu is a journalist, anchor, and reporter.

Yvonne Lime

Yvonne Fedderson (born Yvonne Glee Lime; April 7, 1935) is an American philanthropist and retired actress. She was married to producer Don Fedderson.She appeared on screen from 1956-68. Thereafter, she devoted much of her time to philanthropy.

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