Part of Air Mobility Command’s mission is to support humanitarian efforts around the world.
Military Airlift Command led the largest aerial evacuation in history in the waning days of American involvement in Vietnam. From April 6 to May 6, 1975, MAC used their in-theater resupply assets of C-5As and C-141s to evacuate thousands of orphans from Vietnam to the United States.
After President Ford decided to evacuate of the orphans, MAC moved quickly. To prepare the aircraft they collected side seats for the aircraft from as far away as Dover AFB, Del. MAC staged equipment and medical personnel on Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines to support the operation and the ten C-141s involved.
The goal for the evacuation was about 400 orphans and Vietnamese caregivers per day for the length of the operation. The flights into the country were fully loaded with seats, equipment, and medical personnel necessary to transport the many young passengers.
Upon arrival at Clark, the process MAC set up for medical care took upwards of 12 hours, because all the passengers needed to be examined to see who needed hospitalization or could immediately go to the United States.
“I think we have a good system. It tends to protect public health, it does filter out the real sick ones, and allows us to handle this thing properly,” said Lt. General Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., MAC’s vice commander.
Tragedy struck the first flight of the operation. The only C-5A that was involved crashed shortly after takeoff from Vietnam. Overall, 228 orphans were aboard when the plane experienced rapid decompression. Because of swift and skilled reaction by the flight crew, 176 of the 314 persons on the flight survived. Other than that accident, there were no other major incidents in the MAC portion of Operation Babylift.
MAC contributed immensely, as it led the 30 days of flights in and out of Vietnam.
In total, they transported almost 1,800 orphans, as well as hundreds of Vietnamese civilian caregivers, out of the country during the mission.
Almost 900 more orphans flew out of Vietnam on private planes coordinating with MAC. Most of those orphans found new homes in the United States. Operation Babylift was a critical aspect of Military Airlift Command’s overall efforts to transport tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees to freedom.