The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Digital Library

Operation Babylift: Excerpts from White House Memoirs

From President Ford’s memoir A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford (New York: Harper & Row, 1979, p. 252):

Early in April, I directed that money from a $2 million special foreign aid children's fund be made available to fly two thousand South Vietnamese orphans to the United States as soon as possible. I ordered American officials in Saigon to cut through any red tape that might stand in the way of the children's escape. Then I told our Air Force to begin those mercy flights as soon as possible. Everyone suffers in a war, but no one suffers more than the children, and the airlift was the least that we could do.

From press secretary Ron Nessen’s memoir It Sure Looks Different from the Inside (Chicago: Playboy Press, 1978, p. 99):

That night, after a second meeting with [Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger and [U.S. Army Chief of Staff Frederick]Weyand, the president flew to the San Francisco International Airport in a rainstorm to welcome a chartered jet bringing 325 South Vietnamese children to safety. Some of the children were ill, many were exhausted and terrified. Ford joined other volunteers carrying the children off the fetid aircraft to ambulances and buses. Some reporters considered the president's participation to be a staged White House media event to associate the president with the humanitarian babylift. But Ford would have been content with no press coverage. He went because he was genuinely moved by the plight of the children caught in South Vietnam's fall. Feeling helpless, like everyone else, the president wanted to do something for the innocents.

From First Lady Betty Ford’s press secretary Sheila Weidenfeld’s memoir First Lady’s Lady: With the Fords at the White House (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1979, pp. 112-113):

April 5, 1975
…. The first planeload of South Vietnamese orphans, bound for the United States and adoption by American families, crashed shortly after taking off from Saigon yesterday. More than 200 people were killed, the majority of them children, and Mrs. Ford, like everyone else, was horrified at the news. It seemed to be the ultimate disaster in a country of endless disasters-a cruel attack on the most innocent victims of war, and when they were so close to safety and comfort and familial love.

Mrs. Ford and the rest of us flew to San Francisco on Air Force One to be there when the first planeload of orphans arrived. It was an incredible scene. There were more than 300 children on board, and most were unsettled and some had been sick. It had been an exhausting trip, and the arrival was emotionally draining for all, passengers and observers. Since they had not released the list of yesterday's crash victims, there were prospective parents at the airport who did not know whether their adoptive children were alive or dead. I'll never forget the look on the face of one woman who was waiting nervously to find out. She got good news, her child had arrived safely. She remained composed until she looked up and saw Mrs. Ford standing there and then something - a compassionate look from the First Lady? - made her crumble, and she began crying and crying.