Operation Babylift

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     With the war situation (Vietnam War) getting worse day by day, it became impossible to believe that Southern Vietnam would ever be able to survive for long. Thus, the focus of Cherie's work turned toward getting her babies out of the country, particularly those babies that had already been approved for adoption. However, the governments seemed determined to maintain their bureaucratic indifference, and Cherie hadn't a clue how to proceed. Fortunately, persuaded by the Minister of Social Welfare, as well as by American families and adoption agencies, the U.S. and South Vietnamese governments decided to authorize the evacuation of all babies under the care of an orphanage or adoption agency in the area. The resulting evacuation frenzy is known most widely as Operation Babylift. In 1975, the Operation Babylift occurred in the last 72 hours prior to the Fall of Saigon.
     It was therefore contingent on Cherie Clark to find a plane ride for her children out of the country (The governments had cut the red tape, but weren't mobilizing the air force for what they undoubtedly still considered a petty operation.). Unfortunately, most suitable air lifts were going for up to half a million dollars per plane full of children. There was a free ride out of the country that Cherie's colleague, Rosemary Taylor, had abandoned at the last minute. Ed Daly, its procurer, insisted that he leave immediately; since Cherie wasn't prepared at the moment, she was forced to decline.
     During these hectic 72 hours, the war was closing into the city of Saigon and chaos as well as confusion were everywhere. Cherie and a staff of only seven personnel evacuated more than 250 children. In the first stage of Operation Babylift, Cherie's husband, Tom Clark, along with a portion of her staff evacuated approximately 100 orphans to Tokyo, Japan. With this group also departed Cherie's seven children.
     Left with only a fraction of her staff and with little resources, Cherie began to prepare to evacuate the FCVN orphanages in Saigon. This proved fortuitous; late in the night of the third and final day of Operation Babylift, officials notified Cherie that she would be able to evacuate as many children as she could pull together at once, provided she do so immediately. Thinking quickly, she decided to evacuate the older children from the Thu Duc orphanage, who could be sent away more quickly. The job went through with few hitches; the one obstacle they ran into was that immigration officials wouldn't allow two of their oldest boys to leave, since they should have been fighting as soldiers at that time (Vietnamese law allowed instantaneous conscription, even at their age.).
           The fact that Cherie had been originally caught unaware was not her fault; the government bureaucracy, with which she simply could not get along, had left her out of the "information loop," as it were. The major problem, essentially, was that the various organizations of the U.S. government spent the majority of their time planning political gain for their department and for the U.S. as a whole, and were so caught up in that that any incongruous action was not held in high esteem. Her move to immediately evacuate her babies, in order to save their lives and take advantage of the situation to expedite their adoption, conflicted with the U.S. desire to have the President meet with the first babies of Operation Babylift, as they called it, and thereby to gain support for the Vietnam War and for his administration. While this was happening, the situation in Saigon, by now basically the only free part of the country, was rapidly deteriorating. Not only did nobody doubt that South Vietnam would soon fall, but all believed that the approaching Communists would punish the South Vietnamese with severity. Cherie began to get very unorthodox requests for adoption. Some parents wanted her to take their babies for them, if they were no longer able to provide for them or keep them safe; others gave such babies to Cherie temporarily, so that she could bring them to the states. However, Cherie had to deny most requests, honoring only those of her closest friends and most needy. The staff had to think in terms of flight space.
     The last and final evacuation that Cherie made on the morning prior to the Fall of Saigon. In this flight Cherie took as many people and children as possible, including the two boys who were kept back from the second evacuating flight.


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