I interrupt my ongoing narrative about the fall of Saigon to recall another tragedy that occurred in April 1975 in South Vietnam, the crash of a plane carrying orphans out of the country.
As it became obvious that South Vietnam was about to fall to the North Vietnamese, U.S. President Ford sought to save as many South Vietnamese orphans as possible by means of a project named OPERATION BABYLIFT. Many of the orphans were Amerasian—half-American, half-Vietnamese children—and we knew how vicious the North Vietnamese would be to them. Ford arranged for them to be airlifted to the U.S. in a series of flights.
The aircraft to be used for the operation was the C-5A Galaxy, the largest plane I’ve ever seen. It could carry hundreds of people.
The first flight was to be on 4 April. I was desperate to get my people out of the country and considered sending my secretary, the only women left in my office, out with the orphans as a volunteer caretaker for the children. For reasons I can’t explain, a strange presentiment got the better of me, and I decided not to put any of my people out on the flight.
To this day, I thank God that I made that decision because no sooner had the plane taken off than it crashed killing 138. Among them were 78 children and 35 adults from the Defense Attaché Office building (formerly MACV headquarters) where we all worked. Each of us knew somebody who died in the crash.
Little did we realize at the time that the OPERATION BABYLIFT crash was the antecedent of a national tragedy to follow less than a month later when so few escaped the fall of Saigon.