That Time the Government Flew Planes Full of Stolen Babies Into the U.S.

You don’t have to be a historian or a scholar to realize that the end of the Vietnam War was a complete and utter confusing mess. I mean, even more so than the entire war, front to back. The U.S. was finished, they were trying to get out in a hurry, and Vietnam had descended into chaos in the process.

Just weeks before the fall of Saigon in 1975, the United States added another burden to their long list – the lives of over 2,500 children who were said to be orphaned and in need of help.

Operation Babylift saw planes full of children – infants to toddlers to those a bit older – come into processing centers in Washington and California. The number of dependents on the flights far outnumbered the adults charged with their care.

The flight attendants and others on the flights did their best to make the children comfortable with makeshift materials. Many of them were nestled in cardboard boxes, some were strapped into seatbelts or secured with cargo netting, while others lay strewn in the aisles on piles of blankets and towels.

Photo Credit: National Archives

One Pan Am flight attendant remembers the harrowing flight home and dodging “midget bodies crawling in the aisles”:

“We constantly peeked into bassinets to make sure each baby was still breathing. I froze as I flashed my light on each little back, waiting for what seemed like hours to see a ribcage move with the breath of life.”