Faced with mounting evidence of the imminent fall of South Vietnam, President Gerald R. Ford authorized the evacuation of thousands of Vietnamese orphans to the United States on April 3, 1975. This evacuation became known as Operation Babylift. Between April 3 and 15 more than 2,000 orphans were flown into the United States by military and private aircraft.
Resources about the Ford administration’s involvement in Operation Babylift are available in the Ford Digital Library.
Images: President Ford carries a Vietnamese baby from “Clipper 1742” at the San Francisco International Airport on April 5, 1975; memo regarding A.I.D. Efforts to Airlift Vietnamese Orphans to the United States from the Theodore Marrs Files; and a pair of well-worn baby shoes worn by orphans evacuated from Vietnam during Operation Babylift.
Despite the Vietnam War’s January 23, 1973 ceasefire agreement, fighting continued in some regions of Vietnam. With allegations of ceasefire violations by all parties, Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho met in Paris in May and June of 1973 to reinvigorate implementation of the Paris Peace Accords. On June 13, 1973, as a result of these meetings, the United States and North Vietnam signed a joint communique, pledging mutual support.
On the very eve of this critical agreement, success was far from certain. Listen to President Richard Nixon as he speaks with General Brent Scowcroft regarding these negotiations.
-from the Nixon Library
POW Week at the Nixon Library
A sheriff-led motorcade will escort Vietnam POWs to the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California at 12:30PM PT. Their arrival at the Library coincides with the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s POW homecoming dinner at the White House.
An All-American Homecoming is a new exhibit at the Nixon Library about the POWs visit to the White House. The event occurred on May 24, 1973, and it remains the largest dinner ever held at the White House. This week, the Nixon Foundation is hosting a series of events to celebrate the POWs.
Tomorrow evening, on the anniversary of the original White House homecoming, the Foundation will hold a reunion dinner for the POWs in the Nixon Library’s “East Room.” The original menu will be recreated, including American comfort foods like sirloin steak and potatoes.
Learn more about POW Week at the Nixon Library through the Nixon Foundation.
Photo: Entertainers sing “God Bless America” to the returned POW troops at the White House. From L-R: Phyllis Diller, Former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley, actress Joey Heatherton, President Nixon, Songwriter Irving Berlin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Pat Nixon and Comedian Bob Hope. 5/24/73.
The S.S. Mayaguez Crisis — This Week in 1975
President Ford briefs the Bipartisan Congressional Leadership on the seizure of the American merchant ship S.S. Mayaguez on May 14, 1975.
The Mayaguez had been seized in international waters off the coast of Cambodia on May 12. Over the next two days President Ford and the National Security Council closely monitored the situation, ultimately deciding to use air strikes and send in Marines to rescue the boat’s crew.
President Ford received word that the Mayaguez and its entire crew had been safely recovered shortly after 11:00 p.m. on the 14th, and at 12:30 a.m. he made the official announcement to the press.
In accordance with the War Powers Act, on May 15 President Ford sent a letter to the Speaker of the House and president pro tem of the Senate regarding the Mayaguez incident. Read the President’s account of his actions here.
-from the Ford Library
President Ford ordered the final evacuation of Saigon in the evening of April 28, 1975. Over a 16 hour period helicopters removed U.S. and South Vietnamese personnel from the roof of the American embassy.
The Secretary of State received this final message from the Saigon embassy on April 29.
-from the Ford Library
March 21, 1967. The Guam conference begins.
LBJ Presidential Library photos #C4768-18 and #C4768-11a, public domain. LBJ, Robert McNamara; and Gen. William Westmoreland, Gen. Earle Wheeler.
More materials at the LBJ Library on the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands and Guam here
Forty years ago on March 29, 1973, American combat troops withdrew from Vietnam (although this did not include all American military personnel). After more than a decade of fighting, the U.S. had signed the Paris Peace Treaty two months earlier, ending direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. This film (excerpted here) documents the buildup to the Vietnam War, from the withdrawal of French troops to the bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the intense fighting American troops engaged in to combat Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong. The footage features President Lyndon Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
Meeting to discuss the situation in Vietnam
President Gerald R. Ford meets with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Army Chief of Staff General Frederick Weyand, and Graham Martin, Ambassador to Vietnam. 3/25/75.
The Ford Presidential Library has many resources on the events leading up to the Fall of Saigon and the impact on the Ford administration including:
LBJ and John Steinbeck
December 4, 1966. LBJ speaks with John Steinbeck, who is soon to travel to Vietnam. He will stay for five months, until April 1967. As you can tell from this conversation, the President and Steinbeck were very friendly—Lady Bird and Elaine Steinbeck, John’s wife, both attended the University of Texas, and LBJ and John had taken to each other at their first meeting in 1963. The Steinbecks also appear in at least two of Mrs. Johnson’s home movies of the Johnson family and their friends at Camp David, one from 1965 and one from 1967. John Steinbeck, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.
Steinbeck was a staunch supporter of LBJ’s Vietnam policies. Both of Steinbeck’s sons served there, Thom and John, pictured above with his father and LBJ in the Oval Office. The Steinbecks visited the White House in May 1966, shortly before John’s deployment.
While in Vietnam, the elder Steinbeck worked as a war correspondent for Newsday. Some of his columns from 1966-1967 were recently republished by the University of Virginia Press: you can listen to an interview with the book’s editor here. More on Steinbeck and LBJ here, via NARA’s Teaching with Documents.
LBJ Presidential Library photo #A2439-4, 5/16/1966. Public domain.