During the final days of the Vietnam War and before the United States evacuated its own people, it first planned to transport the Vietnamese children away from the war-torn areas of Saigon in what was called Operation Babylift. What followed next were criticisms of the government’s actions and questions about their political motivations. Was it morally right to take the Vietnamese children and have them adopted by families from America, Canada, Europe, and Australia? Was it right to assume that all those more than 3,000 kids were orphans and not some children who got lost and with parents waiting to find them?

Off to a Bad Start

It all started on April 4, 1975, just a few weeks from the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War. The very first flight in an attempt to transport children to the United States ended tragically as just several minutes after the takeoff, the plane malfunctioned, and pilot Captain Dennis “Bud” Traynor crash-landed the C-5 cargo plane into a nearby rice paddy. The impact crushed the cargo deck where almost all of the orphans were. A total of 138 people died in the crash, 78 of which were children and 35 were adults.

One of many pairs of well-worn baby shoes worn by orphans evacuated from Vietnam during Operation Babylift. (Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

When President Ford heard what happened, he said,

Our mission of mercy will continue. Other waiting orphans will make the journey. This tragedy must not deter us from offering new hope for the living. The government and people of the United States offer this hope in our rededication to assisting the Vietnamese orphans as best and as quickly as we can.