Saturday April 5, 1975 Stars and Stripes
Sunday April 6, 1975 The Saigon Post
Sunday April 6, 1975 Stars and Stripes
Basic information concerning the Babylift.
Vietnam Babylift Personal Stories
I was in Vietnam in one capacity or another from October 1967 until April 1975 except for the years 1971 and 1972. From 1973 until the end, I was the Funds Manager for the South Vietnamese Air Force at Bien Hoa. An interesting note is that Bien Hoa was the busiest airport in the world during the war and I believe TSN was second.
I was diagnosed with cancer of the vocal cords in the fall of 1974 and from the moment *Twila Donelson heard of this, she was the most caring and thoughtful person imaginable towards me. I truly believe it affected her more than it did me. She was deeply concerned, as she knew I loved the water, and she gave me the address of a friend of hers in Texas, who as a Colonel had undergone the same operation, but still boated. I can't say enough about her kindness.
In the early afternoon of the day of the C5A flight, Twila entered the doorway of my office at DAO (Defense Attache Office of the American Embassy) TSN and stated that she was leaving shortly to accompany the orphans and would not be back. She stated how sorry she was that I wouldn't be going. I don't recollect what I said, but she turned to go out the door, then paused, turned around, looked at me, but without saying anything more, left. I could see the sadness that had enveloped her face, and detected tears in her eyes. A few hours later, she was dead.
Another girl that was on the flight, but survived was Thelma Thompson. I visited her in the hospital in the Philippines. She told me she had been saved by a miracle, as she had originally been seated in the bottom of the airplane, but at the last minute had been asked to go and sit up in the tail section, as they were in need of more companions for the orphans there. Although the C5A was 65 feet high, Thelma only needed one short step to reach the ground when she exited at the conclusion of the crash. As I remember, there was nothing left of the bottom part of the plane. We can only hope that the end for most was instantaneous. I understand that Thelma incurred $40,000 in medical bills and the amount the government gave her was barely sufficient to cover this and she continues to suffer today.
I first met Sally Vinyard (The last American woman to leave Vietnam) in 1969 when we both worked for NAVY/OICC in Saigon. She moved back to Fallbrook, CA after the war and I was fortunate indeed in living in her town for a few years before I moved once again. We had many a delightful evening together. I would like to back up her contention that the Babylift was not political at all. Everyone in DAO knew long before that date that the end was near, as the shredders were going all the time. Even the ever optimistic Frank Toner, who had been in Vietnam since 1952, knew by April 1st that all hope was lost. It is a shame that people and organizations try to please their agendas by inferring such. Also, Sally didn't mention that she adopted a beautiful Vietnamese girl who has grown to maturity and is the apple of her eye. But, then again, Sally has always been a very modest and unassuming person.
Although this was the first C5A flight, other South Vietnamese orphans had been flown into Oakland on Wednesday night April 2, 1975. They may have come from Danang. (Reference Stars & Stripes Saturday, April 5, 1975.) The next day's edition headlines "178 Die On Babylift " with a heartbreaking picture of a Vietnamese and an American lady carrying two orphans after the crash.
Finally, I would like to post the following second paragraph from the "Unclassified - Immediate" message dated 05 May 75 from SECNAV Washington, DC to ALNAVSTA:
"As we relocate the Navy civilian employees of the Defense Attache Office, Saigon, I note with pride the service given under adverse and sometimes dangerous conditions by the few hundred on the rolls at the last, and the several thousands who served before them in Vietnam. Particularly noted with deep regret are the thirty-one civilian employees who lost their lives in a volunteer effort in the tragic plane crash on 4 April 1975."
(I have five half-Vietnamese daughters, two of whom were born in Saigon.)
Operation Babylift was an effort to evacuate Vietnamese orphans, mainly of Vietnamese/ American heritage, and, as an afterthought, to reduce the American presence in Vietnam. A C-5A transport which had brought in war materiel for the RVNAF was chosen for the task. The tragedy was that a malfunction in the aft loading ramp caused it to open in flight, damaging the hydraulic/cable controls of the horizontal and vertical stabilizers on the tail. It was a miracle that anyone survived the crash at all. No doubt the skills of the aircrew were responsible for bringing the crippled aircraft so close to landing safely.
There were approximately 200 orphans on board. To tend to their needs, Defense Attache Office employees, mostly secretaries, were directed to quickly pack a bag and help the orphanage employees already working with the children. There is an effort to archive and provide information on not only the Defense Attache Office women who perished but all women who served in Vietnam. The following is a list of those who perished on 4 April 1975.
The Orphans (names unknown) 79
Orphanage Employees 8
Defense Attache Office (DAO) Employees 35
Civilian Dependents 5
USAF Military Personnel 11
Aquillon, TSGT Felizardo
Castro, MSGT Joe
Dionne, SSGT Donald
Klinker, CPT Mary
Melton, CPT Edgar
Nance, SSGT Kenneth
Pager, SSGT Michael
Parker, TSGT William
Payne, MSGT Wendle
Willis, LTC William
Leave No Man Behind: Bill Bell And The Search For American POW/MIAs From The Vietnam War
Bell's wife and son were killed and a daughter critically injured in April 1975, when the families of U.S. officials assigned to the American Embassy in Saigon were evacuated in conjunction with the 'Operation Babylift' program.