The end of the Vietnam War precipitated increased adoptions of Vietnamese children by American families. In April 1975, two years after the Americans signed a cease-fire accord with Vietnam, North Vietnamese troops spread through the South. The war’s end caused hundreds of thousands of citizens to flee the country, fearing for their lives.
Some humanitarian groups working with orphans in Vietnam had planned their own evacuation for caretakers and children when President Gerald Ford announced his directive, known as Operation Babylift. According to his plan, military airlifts would fly several thousand children from orphanages to the United States. He allocated two million dollars for the 30 flights, some of which were cargo planes ill-equipped to carry passengers.
The first flight, a C-5A cargo plane, crashed due to a mechanical problem, killing almost half the 330 adults and children aboard the craft (176 people lived and 154 died). But evacuation efforts continued with other flights; some commercial airlines, in addition to the military aircraft, flew the children out.
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.
The Babylift was controversial, because not all children on the flights were bona fide orphans. Documentation was often sketchy or inaccurate. In several cases, birth parents or other relatives who later immigrated to the United States from Vietnam requested custody of children already placed. The hasty evacuation in the final days of the war also led to debate over whether the rescue operations were in the best interest of the children.
If you really want to feel old, those babies are now 40 years old.