Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Vietnam Babylift, My Story

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

Brock Townsend

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."

Brock Townsend
(I have five half-Vietnamese daughters, two of whom were born in Saigon.)
Operation Babylift

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

Blanc, Birgit

Bui, David


Bui, Michou

Bui, Tina

Makk, Lee

Moses, Margaret

Sister Ursula

Defense Attache Office (DAO) Employees 35

Adams, Barbara

Bayot, Clara

Bertwell, Arlete

Blackburn, Helen

Bottorf, Ann

Brown, Celeste

Clark, Vivienne

Creel, Wanita

Crouch, Mary

Curtis, Dorothy

*Donelson, Twila

Drye, Helen

Eichen, Marilyn

Fuginio, Elizabeth

Gasper, Ruthanne

Herbert, Beverly

Hindman, Penelope

Hollibaugh, Vera

Howard, Dorothy

Kavulia, Barbara

Maier, Barbara

Martin, Rebecca

Martini, Sara

Middlebrook, Martha

Moore, Katherine

Polgrean, Marion

Poulton, June

Poulton, Orin

Pray, Joan

Randall, Sayonna

Reynolds, Anne

Snow, Marjorie

Stout, Barbara

Watkins, Doris

Wesley, Sharon

Civilian Dependents 5

Bell, Nora

Bell, Michael

Drye, Rohn

Moschin, Marta

Stark, Laura

USAF Military Personnel 11

Aquillon, TSGT Felizardo

Castro, MSGT Joe

Dionne, SSGT Donald

Johnson,TSGT Denning

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.


  1. Glad you are still kicking brother. All those little angels. Sad. God bless you and yours man!


  2. Thanks.:) I decided to re-post it today as I received a Christmas card from Sally who informed me that the VFW invited her to ride in Fallbrook's Christmas Parade in honor of her service and her 90th birthday!

  3. Brock:

    You are familiar with the "Six Degrees of Separation", which social scientists now say has become only "Four Degrees of Separation"?

    Well, once again, you and I are connected by the coincidence of those degrees of separation.

    Back in 1989, I served on the committee which financed, designed, and erected the Viet Nam Memorial on the grounds of the state capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah.

    Two (02) of the names listed on that memorial are Orin and June Poulton, a man and wife, civilians, who were killed in that "Operation Babylift" plane crash.

    Possibly, because of your job, you were acquainted with them?

    Anyway, if you ever travel to Salt Lake City, Utah, I hope you'll stop at the Capitol and visit the Viet Nam Memorial.

    It's illuminated at night, and is open to the public twenty-four hours a day.

    Thank you.

    John Robert Mallernee
    Armed Forces Retirement Home
    Gulfport, Mississippi 39507

  4. Small world yet once again. The last name is familiar, but there were over 900 of us. When we signed the Paris Peace Accords we weren't allowed to have advisors in-country, so they formed the Defense Attache Office (DAO) in the American Embassy to circumvent this, which made us Embassy employees.

  5. Like Pickdog said, glad you're still kickin.

    I had just been assigned to Ft. Hood when the crash occured. Terrible.

    It's good that Sally is being recognized. Far too often it's much too easy to forget people and things of importance...

  6. The first time I saw her after '75 was when I moved to Fallbrook in 2002 and I said I remember you when you got on the elevator at OICC (1969) after you returned from Hong Kong and your facelift and you looked sparkling! She said, Brock don't tell anyone as even my son doesn't know about that! Her son was in the Army in Vietnam during some of her many years there.

  7. Hey, Blue!

    You and I were at Fort Hood at the same time!

    Small world, huh?

  8. What a story Brock. There is so much that most of us don't know about concerning Viet Nam, isn't there?

    Miss Violet

  9. That's quite a story. A person really can't complain about a problem in his own life after reading so many orphans dying. No chance at life, very sad.

    1. Really. April 30th was the saddest day of my life, bar none. Thanks.