Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday - November 8, 2009: Saigon

A few more items left on my 'to do' list before my flight home on Tuesday morning. One of the 'to do' items involves searching for information for one of the thousands of adoptees who left Viet Nam prior to the end of the war.

On April 3, 1975, U.S President Gerald Ford announced that 2,000 orphans from South Viet Nam would be flown to new homes in the U.S. Known as Operation Newlife, it had two phases. Phase one involved evacuating more than 100,000 refugees to Guam, including 2,600 orphans in Operation Babylift.

On April 4, 1975, the initial Operation Babylift mission flight, a C-5A aircraft, took off from Tan Son Nhut airport (Saigon, South Viet Nam) filled with children from Saigon orphanages. Shortly after, the plane encountered mechanical failures. With great difficulty, the pilot managed to crash land the aircraft in a rice paddy south of the airport. Thanks to the aircrew's skill, 176 of the 314 onboard survived, including 150 orphans.

At least 2,000 children were eventually brought to the U.S and approximately 1,300 went to Canada, Europe, and Australia. A documentary, Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam, was released in April 2009 - Over the course of many years doing charity work in Viet Nam, I have gotten to know some of the adoptees (Chris and Kelly Brownlee) and volunteer (Betty Tisdale) featured in this documentary.

Today I will spend part of my day tracing information for one of the adoptees, Viktoria Cowley who is currently living in London. Arming myself with old photos and 34 year- old information, I walk the new neighborhood looking for an old orphanage. The district is no longer under the same name, street names have been changed, and the orphanage has been closed down since the end of the war. You can view a brief trailer of a documentary by the BBC, Special Delivery The Babies of the Mercy Mission, featuring Viktoria at .

This is not the first time I have been involved with tracing and connecting one of the thousands of adoptees with their past. I am glad that I could be a very small part of their journey. In April 2010, Operation Reunite will bring many of these adoptees back to Viet Nam, some for the very first time. If you know of any adoptees from Operation Babylift or Mercy Mission, please contact us. Team Operation Reunite would like to connect with them

2010 will also mark the 35th anniversary of the end of the war. The 12th HumaniTour Viet Nam is scheduled for March 27 through April 4, 2010. Sign up now if you want to travel with us, please write to for more information.

Kim Browne (center) is one of the 1975 Viet Nam adoptees in London, and a member of team Operation Reunite and Global Ambassador of KWB. Kim left Viet Nam when she was two months old and returned to the Go Vap Orphanage for the first time in 2007. Since then, Kim is a devoted volunteer and supporter of the orphanage.

Son Michael Pham reporting from Saigon

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