Operation Babylift

In January 1975, the United States Congress refused to further fund the war in South Vietnam. Emboldened by America’s refusal to assist its ally, Communist North Vietnam launched the Ho Chi Minh campaign, a massive conventional invasion of South Vietnam. On 3 April 1975, the first shells from communist artillery slammed into South Vietnam’s capital, Saigon. The next day, President Gerald Ford authorized Operation Babylift to evacuate Vietnamese orphans from South Vietnam to prevent them from abuse, exploitation, and/or murder at the hands of the oncoming North Vietnamese troops.

Operation Babylift got off to an inauspicious start. On 4 April, a C-5A Galaxy crashed twelve minutes after takeoff from Tan Son Nhut airport when an unknown explosion rocked the rear of the aircraft. The first sortie of Operation Babylift killed 138 people, including 35 Saigon embassy personnel and 70 children. Nonetheless, Operation Babylift continued in coordination with international and Catholic non-governmental organizations.

The number of orphans vastly outweighed the capacity of the military transport planes assigned to the operation. When American businessman Bob Macauley heard it was going to take more than a week to evacuate the children, he sold his house and chartered a World Airways 737 to assist the US Air Force. Over the next ten days, Operation Babylift evacuated 3300 Vietnamese orphans to Guam or the Philippines. There they joined the nearly 130,000 Vietnamese refugees who had previously fled the communists.

The 3300 Operation Babylift evacuees found foster homes in the United States, Australia, France, Canada, and West Germany after the war.

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