President Ford’s Greatest Act
America is less a melting pot than it is a tapestry, woven with different fibers of contrasting colors, textures, and derivation. The threads pass by and through one another, maintaining their individual attributes while functioning with the singular purpose of creating the fabric of a nation. The axiom of racial purity has never been part of the history or function of the United States of America. Attracted by the idea that all men are created free and equal under the law, immigrants of all nationalities have hungered for the limitless potential offered up by the doctrine of individual liberty and the economic promise of Capitalism.
America’s bloodiest battles, from the Civil War to World War II, were fought to defend people from tyrants who deemed them, because of color or faith or national origin, as unworthy of equal treatment under the law. Despite the fact that the Vietnam War was terribly mismanaged by politicians, the American ethos of valuing each individual as a peer worthy of rescue, was in full force even during its final days. President Gerald R. Ford, who refused to discard the tenuous tapestry of Amerasian orphans imperiled by the bloody chaos in Saigon, animated that ethos in the largest humanitarian airlift of the 20th Century, Operation Babylift.
President Ford’s Centennial Birthday, July 14 2013, was celebrated most ardently by those whose lives were changed by the Babylift effort. Orphans, adoptive parents, volunteers, and the crew who survived the C-5 Galaxy, crash which ended the initial flight on April 4, 1975, gathered on July 12-15, to remember President Ford’s Legacy of Compassion at the Operation Babylift Reunion in Dana Point, CA. Beyond policy or politics, legislation or executive orders, Gerald R. Ford’s greatest deeds as President are memorialized in the lives of orphans–now adults, many with their own children–who have grown up in America to pursue their dreams, and reconnect with their kindred identities.
Not all orphans languishing in Southeast Asia at the end of the Vietnam War were the children of American servicemen. Nevertheless, President Ford regarded them as America’s own. They were children of our fighting warriors either by blood or by deed, and the president, an adopted child himself, would not accept anything less than their complete deliverance.
Operation Babylift is the general title given to the airlift of orphans out of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Dozens of humanitarian agencies, including Holt International, and Catholics services, supported Military efforts to identify, process, emplane, and relocate between 3,000 and 4,000 desperate orphans. Military nurses stationed in Vietnam were assisted by thousands of volunteers, many of whom paid their own way to and from the stricken nation to assist in the evacuation. Despite the lethal crash landing of the initial flight, President Ford ensured the continuation of Operation Babylift, which accomplished an unequaled humanitarian transport with an outlay of only $2 million from the U.S. Government. After approximately 3 weeks, the harrowing airlift was terminated due to intensifying Communist attacks on Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat Airport.
It’s unfortunate that Ford’s record as president during the post-Watergate era is derided as weak. A humble man who had no real aspiration to become Commander in Chief, Ford was left with the morass of Vietnam, the national deluge of social change, and a deteriorating economy that limped along with a wounded national image. But in hindsight, economic and social conditions pass and the sequence of national history turns in upon itself in cycles of progress and stagnation, pride and malaise. The legacy of Gerald R. Ford transcends the succession of political trends and social revolutions, and will live forever in the bloodlines of rescued children, literally swept out of Vietnam and into the arms of loving parents all over the world–some 2,700 in the United States–who comprise the roots of a new American family tree that will grow and flower for untold generations to come. There is no price that can be put on a legacy that made life possible where otherwise death would have been inevitable.
Some presidents are famous for their transformative works. Some are remembered for healing sick economies, or uniting a wounded republic. Some presidents will live in infamy, and some will leave a legacy of wartime victory. President Ford, whose short term was burdened with controversy and the palls of national division, a bad war, and social upheaval, left a quiet and often overlooked legacy in the lives of little children; orphans now grown, weaving their bright and strong threads into the poignant tapestry of America’s Vietnam era.
by Marjorie Haun 3/29/14
Operation Babylift Bibliography
Tags: C-5 Galaxy crash, Captain Traynor, centennial birthday, Ford Library and museum, Fragile Delivery, Global Mom, Lana Noone, Operation Babylift, President Ford, Tan Son Nhut Airport, Viet Cong, Vietnam War