I’ve written here before about the crash of the C-5A Galaxy aircraft on 4 April 1975 close to Tan Son Nhat and Saigon. It remains in my memory as one of the worst tragedies I ever encountered.
The flight that day was the first of Operation Babylift, a program President Ford had initiated to get as many orphans out of Vietnam as possible before it fell.
At that time, I was struggling to find ways to get my 43 subordinates and their families out of Vietnam. The U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, had forbidden me to evacuate my people because he was convinced that the North Vietnamese would never attack Saigon. I knew better from intercepted North Vietnamese communications, but I couldn’t persuade him. So I was sending my people out of the country on any ruse I could think of. I was particularly concerned about my secretary, the last woman still in our office. I decided to send her out as a caretaker for the orphans.
Just before the date of the first flight of Operation Babylift, a doubt from nowhere entered my mind. For no logical reason I can point to, I changed my plans and didn’t put my secretary on the C-5A Galaxy flight. Thank God I didn’t. Suzie’s alive and prospering.
The plane went down shortly after takeoff. The crash killed 78 children, 35 Department of Defense employees, and 11 U.S. Air Force personnel. There were 173 survivors.
Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese 25 days later.
The tragedy is reported accurately in Last of the Annamese. I have never forgotten it, and I hope that none of my readers will.