Sunday, August 29, 2010

The End of South Vietnam

I was up late last night, thinking, and this is where my thoughts led me...

I used to volunteer at the Western Aerospace Museum, now the Oakland Aviation Museum. We had a room devoted to World Airways, which was based in Oakland, and periodically a tall man would come in and "inspect" the room just to see how it was being maintained. I've long since forgotten his name, but he was introduced to me as the son-in-law of Ed Daly, World's founder.

Among the many artifacts in the room, we also had two videos--raw, riveting videos that I watched many, many times when I wasn't needed to give tours. Both of them documented Daly's and World's actions near the end of the Vietnam War, as the communists advanced on Saigon.

I've found the first one archived at It's a report on The Last Flight Out of Da Nang, a flight that was supposed to rescue women and children but was stormed by terrified soldiers instead. This broadcast may very well represent the pinnacle of television news reporting. For those of you not old enough to remember, imagine for a minute what it was like then, to watch this on tv and wonder what kind of world you lived in. Watch Ed Daly on the back stairs of a DC-8, hitting people with a pistol to get them off the stairs so that the plane could take off. Look at the panic on the ground, marvel at the professionalism and valor of the flight crew. Remember that the terror that's so apparent in the report is the arrival of communists.

The second video was about a flight sent to Saigon to rescue orphans, mostly Amer-asian children who would not be accepted in Vietnamese culture. I cannot find the video, but have found the following on World Airways' web site:

A week later, Daly directed a daring rescue of 57 Vietnamese orphans aboard a World DC-8 cargo aircraft, carrying them from Saigon to Oakland. The arrival was greeted with a sea of media, and President Gerald Ford immediately implemented "Operation Babylift," which utilized charter, scheduled airline and military aircraft to bring approximately 3,000 Vietnamese orphans to safety in the United States.

In the World video people rushed that plane too, handing up children, one even tossing a baby to get it on the flight. It was a cargo plane so there were no seats, the children were packed on the floor while only a couple of flight attendants tried in herculean fashion to tend to them all--and did so much better than anyone could possibly expect. Imagine how scared the children must have been, all the crying, yet the flight attendants kept on, doing so much more than just their jobs, as the plane flew across the Pacific and finally landed in Oakland.

Anyone who can watch those videos without getting choked up has a stronger disposition than I have. I'll keep looking online for the second video.


socalmike said...

Unreal. That's all I can say after watching that first video. Unreal.

Ellen K said...

I have been impressed with the students I have gotten from Vietnam. They seem to have an urgency in regards to everything and they work hard. Most of them work after school in family businesses. It puzzles me why they assimilate so quickly, while many Hispanic students linger for generations without coming into the fold. The only thing I can figure is that perhaps those families that got out of Vietnam were families of the educated and connected. Many made sacrifices to come here. One father was a surgeon in DaNang and is now finishing Pharmacy School here. That's a big step to take at 50. I wish I had half as much determination.