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What Is Operation Babylift?

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Question: What Is Operation Babylift?
President Ford's December 2006, death has brought to mind some of the actions he took as President of the United States. One of them being the authorization of "Operation Babylift" to save some of the thousands of Vietnam War orphans. Exactly what was Operation Babylift? Who were the children airlifted out of Vietnam? Why was Operation Babylift controversial?
Answer:

What led to Operation Babylift?

As South Vietnam began to disintegrate due to the attack of the North Vietnamese many were trying to escape the country. It had been two years since the cease-fire was signed between the United States and Vietnam. On March 30, 1975, Da Nang, the second largest city in South Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese. Saigon was next and was under attack by mid-April. The country was literally falling apart and there were very little resources to care for the children that were found abandoned.

The South Vietnamese Ambassador to the United Nations and many humanitarian groups were pleading with the American government for assistance in rescuing the orphans. President Gerald Ford announced Operation Babylift on April 3, 1975, with South Vietnam's agreement. President Ford also set aside $2 million to aid the children that would be entering the country. On April 3, 1975, private and military transport planes began to fly Vietnam orphans out of the war torn nation.

One of the first official flights of Operation Babylift ended in tragedy as the plane, a C-5A Galaxy, went down after one of the rear doors blew off. Out of 300 passengers only 170 survived leaving many of them injured. The last flight out of Vietnam for Operation Babylift was April 26, 1975.

How many children were a part of the Operation Babylift?

Approximately 2,700 children were flown out of South Vietnam to the United States. Approximately 1,300 more children were flown to Canada, Australia, and Europe.

Who were the children airlifted out of Vietnam?

Some were fathered by American soldiers and the children's mother's feared what would happen to them if the North Vietnamese found out. Some were orphans that lost their parents and families to the war. Other children were abandoned due to poverty or disability.

How were homes found for the Operation Babylift children?

Homes had already been assigned to each of the children. They were just waiting for the final processing after the children were placed in the homes. These families were already approved through adoption agencies.

Why was Operation Babylift controversial?

There were many factors that sparked debate over Operation Babylift.
  • Some questioned if the children would benefit from being away from their birth country and members of their birth family?
  • Many people were against transracial adoptions during this time.
  • Others argued that since there was such an interest in transracial adoptions why not adopt the many African American children waiting here in the United States for homes.
  • Were the children true orphans? Some Vietnamese families released their children with the understanding that the children would be returned. Documentation for many of the children was lost in the war and chaos.

A class action lawsuit was filed in California which stated that the children were "taken from South Vietnam against the wills of their parents" as birth parents and other relatives immigrated to the United States and began seeking custody of children already placed. After many months, interviews, and foot printing of the adoptees by the INS, the lawsuit was dismissed.

Operation Babylift is a very interesting part of adoption history and there is much on the Internet, including grateful letters from adoptees to President Ford thanking him for the chance to live.

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