Primary Source

Operation Babylift [Still Images]


These photographs were taken on April 5, 1975 on one of the Pan Am passenger planes that airlifted Vietnamese orphans and Amerasian children of American servicemen and Vietnamese women for Operation Babylift. In the final weeks before the fall of Saigon in April 1975, President Gerald Ford authorized the operation as a gesture to repatriate children who would be American citizens if recognized by their American fathers, ultimately allocating two million dollars to airlift 2,700 orphans to the United States. Children were also airlifted to Australia, Europe, and Canada in separate efforts. Volunteers, soldiers and military nurses accompanied the children on the flights. The first flight, a cargo plane carrying 330 adults and children, crashed shortly after take-off, killing 154 passengers, including 87 of the children. President Ford himself met the first flight that landed safely and carried an infant onto U.S. soil. Accommodations also included cargo planes with rows of cradle boxes strapped to the floors, children arrayed on benches meant to transport goods or soldiers, and harried adults who made do with too little food and supplies for the trip. Some of the participants went on to adopt children from the group. Operation Babylift children, some of whom were disabled, and many of whom suffered from malnutrition, were adopted by American families. When they grew to adulthood, many of the orphans visited Vietnam and sought information about their birth parents, experienced reunions, and learned more about the land and culture of their birth. Today there are support groups both online and in person for the parents and children who shared this experience. These organizations still support individuals seeking knowledge and contact with their birth parents and siblings. The cross-cultural experience of these children both as orphans and as reminders of a foreign war can be compared with the wartime experiences of children in other places. In the case of the Amerasian children, there is significant longitudinal research material from the time of their childhood to their current adulthood, including accounts of their journey’s home, and their efforts to connect with others who share this heritage.


Photographs by Joyce Harrington and Edwina Aki Lee, "Operation Babylift Photographs from Pan Am Airlift April 5, 1975," Adopt Vietnam, (accessed October 13, 2009). Annotated by Susan Douglass.

How to Cite This Source

"Operation Babylift [Still Images]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #344, (accessed July 16, 2019).