Operation Babylift

Coordinates: 10°50′38″N 106°42′07″E / 10.8439°N 106.702°E / 10.8439; 106.702
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A Babylift flight arrives at San Francisco, 5 April 1975

Operation Babylift was the name given to the mass evacuation of children from South Vietnam to the United States and other western 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 airlifted, 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.


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 airlifting orphans out of Saigon on a series of 30 planned flights aboard Military Airlift Command (MAC) C-5A Galaxy and C-141 Starlifter cargo aircraft operated by 62nd Airlift Wing of the United States Air Force under the command of Major General Edward J. Nash.[5][6]

Adoption agency Holt International as well as service organizations including 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 Air Base rendered airplane flights impossible.

Over 2,500 children were relocated and adopted out to families in the United States and its allies.[7] 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] There were many stories of crying mothers begging the workers to take their children onto the planes before the city fell. It is unclear whether these children were taken aboard.

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.[8]

Frederick M. "Skip" Burkle Jr. served as the medical director of Operation Babylift. He gathered the orphans in Saigon, accompanied them to Clark AB (Air Base) in the Philippines, and continued to care for them on the Boeing 747 across the Pacific Ocean to Los Angeles and then Long Beach Naval Support Activity.[9]

Plane crash[edit]

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, and a rapid decompression. 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 of service. The crew wrestled at the controls, managing some control of the plane through changes in throttle settings, as well as 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 too rapidly. Seeing they could not make the runway, full power was applied to bring the nose up. The C-5 touched down briefly in a rice paddy, skidding for a quarter of a mile. Next, 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, 176 people survived and 138 people were killed in the crash, including 78 children and 35 Defense Attaché Office, Saigon personnel.[10][11]


The Vietnamese adoptee-run nonprofit, Operation Reunite, is using DNA testing to match adoptees with their Vietnamese families.[12]

A memorial was unveiled in Holmdel, New Jersey, US in April 2015.[13][7]

See also[edit]


  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)" Archived 2022-06-25 at the Wayback Machine, 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 Archived 2015-05-11 at the Wayback Machine, 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) Archived 2008-12-06 at the Wayback Machine, 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. ^ USAF / SecAF / CSAF / CMSAF – Senior Leaders, 'Biographies > Display > Major General Edward J. Nash' Archived 2020-06-16 at the Wayback Machine, USAF, Senior Leaders Biographies, 14 June 2020. "General Nash assumed command of the 62nd Military Airlift Wing, McChord Air Force Base, Wash., in August 1974. While under his command the wing participated in Operation Babylift, the evacuation of orphans from Saigon to the United States..."
  6. ^ WebArchiveUSAF, Senior Leaders (14 June 2020). "WebArchive > Biographies > Display > WebArchive Major General Edward J. Nash". WebArchiveUSAF. Archived from the original on 16 June 2020.
  7. ^ a b John Moritz (25 April 2015). "'Operation Babylift' kids, veterans reunite 40 years later". Military Times. Archived from the original on 28 April 2015. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  8. ^ Grimes, William. "Robert Macauley, Founder of Humanitarian Aid Group, Dies at 87" Archived 2016-07-18 at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, December 29, 2010. Accessed December 30, 2010.
  9. ^ "Operation Babylift". Ford Library Museum. Archived from the original on 2016-08-23. Retrieved 2017-06-12.
  10. ^ Defense Intelligence Agency: Remembering the First Operation Babylift Flight, "DIA | Remembering the First Operation Babylift Flight". Archived from the original on 2013-10-04. Retrieved 2014-12-16., last updated August 5, 2011.
  11. ^ "Operation Babylift crash brings tragedy, hope". Daily Republic. 2014-01-31. Archived from the original on 2021-08-21. Retrieved 2021-08-21.
  12. ^ Trista Goldberg. "Operation Reunite". operationreunite.org. Archived from the original on 2012-11-28. Retrieved 2013-01-11.
  13. ^ "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[edit]

Media references[edit]

  • Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam is a 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.
  • Daughter from Đà Nẵng is a 2002 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[edit]

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