From the beginning of their experience in the gallery, visitors are invited to think about the many meanings a single historic event may hold, and how impacts from those events affect us in the present day.
VOICES FROM THE COMMUNITY
Forty years after Operation Babylift took place, a diverse community of contributors helped shape the exhibition, each with a different connection to Operation Babylift. By engaging in dialogue with the community contributors, we explored the connections among different experiences, memories, and understandings of Operation Babylift.
HISTORY: THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEXT
A multi-media history timeline provides a backdrop for contemporary sections of the exhibition. Historic photographs, video and text trace the events leading up to April 1975. They highlight the unprecedented activities during that historic month, and examine the long-last impacts of the airlift that are still playing out today.
DIALOGUE: THE POWER OF LISTENING
At the heart of the exhibition are six dialogues between two people who were involved in Operation Babylift – one an adoptee from Vietnam, the other an adult participant. We invite you to listen to excerpts from some of those conversations and ask yourself how dialogue deepens our common understanding. Join us in the gallery to listen to all six dialogues.
Col. John Kern
During ‘Operation Babylift’ I was the Sixth Army Chief Engineer, responsible for all Army real estate in the western 15 states. Colonel Bob Kane, Presidio Commander, was denied the use of Presidio resources to support the ‘Orphans’ en route from Vietnam by Forces Command Headquarters. I arranged for the use of Harmon Hall, an Army Reserve Center under my authority.
My birth name is Le Thi Phit; born to a loving family, tragically separated in 1975 during the chaos of evacuation in Pleiku. I was ten. From a Saigon orphanage, I was airlifted with two younger siblings by Operation Babylift then adopted into a good home with many opportunities. I returned to Vietnam in 1990 determined to find my family and jubilantly reunited in 1992.
Alex Stalcup, MD
In 1975, while serving as Chief Resident in Pediatrics at UCSF, Dr. Stalcup was asked to attend a meeting at the Presidio to investigate a request for medical care for an unknown number of children being brought in from Viet Nam. He was chosen to be Medical Director of the Vietnamese Orphans Airlift, which provided care to 1600 frightened, traumatized, and many very sick children.
Tricia Houston was born Nguyen Ngọc Như in Saigon, Viet Nam on October 24, 1974. At age six months, she was placed on a Pan Am flight that landed at the Presidio during the Operation Babylift flights. World Vision helped her with the airlift and her identification was U-8 on her paperwork. A family in Orange County, California adopted Tricia.
PERSPECTIVES: THE MEANINGS OF OBJECTS
Historic artifacts in the exhibition include personal objects, institutional records, news articles, and images. In addition to an identifying label, multiple perspectives on each object were shared by community members. Their words encourage us to ask how a single object, like a single historical event, can have many different meanings. What would your label say?
Photograph of Children in Airplane
Courtesy of the Associated Press
This image shows children and adults onboard the first airlift flight: the World Airways jet that landed at Oakland International Airport on April 2, 1975. We know that this image was taken “in flight” – but not exactly where or what the children at the windows might be looking at. Images like this – of children and babies packed onto airplanes or buses – were repeated over and over in local and national news.
REFLECTIONS: THE BENEFIT OF PAUSING
While Operation Babylift happened forty years ago, its legacy reverberates into the present. Visitors are invited to share their reflections in the gallery – their questions, ideas, memories and stories.