Linda Freire, Chair of the Pan Am Foundation, welcomed the audience and spoke about the operation. In her words. “So what is Operation Babylift? It is the name of an evacuation mission set in motion by President Gerald Ford in April 1975 to evacuate thousands of Amerasian babies and children housed in orphanages throughout South Vietnam.
Pan Am’s involvement arose upon the tragic crash of the military cargo C-5A aircraft on April 4, 1975, the first of the scheduled Operation Babylift flights.” (Of the 314 passengers, 138 died, including 78 children.) “Within less than 24 hours, Pan AM had rerouted two 747’s and crew to Saigon to evacuate over 700 children on April 5.” Linda also gave credit to Holt International, a service organization at the forefront of the movement in helping to evacuate and relocate the thousands of orphans.
Eric Mason, Chief Marketing & Development Officer for Holt, was on hand to speak about Holt’s long history and involvement in helping children. He said, “every day at Holt is baby lift day.”
Al Topping, Station Manager in Saigon, recollected his experiences that April, including “adopting” some 300 employees and family to get them on the last Pan Am 747 leaving Saigon, circumventing the typical month’s long paperwork needed. Al’s book “The Last Flight Out” details the harrowing final days of Pan Am in Saigon.
Among the many attendees, several Pan Am stewardesses on the Babylift flights, two of the original adoptees, and an adoptive mother told their stories, sad, funny, and heart-wrenching at the same time.
Ed Trippe, President of the Pan Am Historical Foundation and son of Pan Am’s founder Juan Trippe, was in attendance. In addition, many Pan Am employees, friends of Pan Am, Babylift adoptees, and their families made this event genuinely historical.
To learn more about this and other Pan Am history, go to www.thepanammuseum.org, which has some wonderful new podcasts hosted by Pan Am Foundation Board Member Tom Betti, among other interesting exhibits, and also www.panam.org.