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‘Babylift’ orphans head for Vietnam


Former Vietnam orphans Wendy Greene, right, Tanya Bakal, left, and Tiana Mykkeltvedt board a plane in Atlanta on Sunday.  
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Former Vietnam orphans Wendy Greene, right, Tanya Bakal, left, and Tiana Mykkeltvedt board a plane in Atlanta on Sunday. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Associated Press

ATLANTA – Wendy Greene can’t remember her first flight across the Pacific Ocean, but this trip she won’t forget.

The Atlanta woman is among 21 former war orphans who left Sunday for Vietnam to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Operation Babylift, in which 3,000 Vietnamese children were airlifted to the United States at the end of the Vietnam War.

Greene, 30, said at the airport that she didn’t get much sleep the night before her journey – she kept imagining the moment of her arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon. But she couldn’t complete the picture in her mind.

“My head is spinning right now,” said Greene, who was lifted out of Vietnam when she was 5 weeks old and grew up in Charlotte, N.C. “We’re going to embark on this crazy experience. This is an incredible, amazing, happy and sad feeling I have.”

Atlanta-based World Airways arranged to fly the adoptees to Vietnam on an aircraft painted with the red and white design and logo the company used in the 1970s. Pilots Ken Healy and Bill Keating, who flew the original Operation Babylift out of Saigon on April 2, 1975, and other former crew members joined them on the flight.

As Saigon was falling in early April 1975, a World Airways flight took off under cover of night with 57 children – mostly babies, all orphaned or given up by their parents.

Thousands more children followed over the next weeks.

Shirley Peck-Barnes, author of “The War Cradle,” which documents the legacy of Operation Babylift, called it the greatest humanitarian gesture of the last century.

Not all the children survived the trip. One plane crashed, killing almost half the 330 children and adults on board.

“I’m very fortunate to be going back,” said Greene, who is traveling with her adopted mother. “We almost didn’t get out.”

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