'Operation Babylift' exhibit opens in San Francisco's Presidio

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A free exhibit opens Thursday night at the San Francisco Presidio, in a tribute to a historic event at the end of the Vietnam War. Forty years ago, the fall of Saigon prompted a huge evacuation of children. It was called "Operation Babylift."

The extraordinary story of the orphaned children in Vietnam lives on in this exhibit. About 150 people will attend the kickoff reception Thursday night, including adoptees, adoptee parents, medical personnel, and volunteers. They may not necessarily know each other, but they share a connection by being a part of this emotional experience.

VIDEO: ONLY ON ABC7NEWS.COM: 'Operation Babylift' marks 40th anniversary


Operation Babylift was a dramatic event in history. More than 2,000 children were rescued from their war torn country after Saigon fell in 1975. About 1,500 of those children passed through the Presidio before being adopted by American families. Their legacies live on through the exhibit that marks the 40th anniversary of Operation Babylift and the end of the Vietnam War.

"If you're over a certain generation you remember this, it was in the news," said Heritage Program Director Eric Blind. "It was very popular, but you may not have fully understood it. But it had a very profound effect."

The operation was not sanctioned by either the U.S. or Vietnam.

VIDEO: Survivors remember 'Operation Babylift' plane crash


Clarita Arguillon's husband was on the first government authorized operation that ended in a deadly crash.

"He was a crewmember, he was a loadmaster, and he died," she said. "He was on bottom. When he left he didn't tell me. It was supposed to be a secret mission because by that time, the Air Force had already pulled out of Vietnam."

This undated image featured in the "Operation Babylift" exhibit in San Francisco's Presidio shows a man carrying a child from a plane.


Artifacts, photos, and a multimedia timeline tell the story through different perspectives and voices including adoptee parents, volunteers who cared for the cared for the children, and Vietnam veterans

"This was quite an extraordinary effort," Blind said. "I think one of the things that's hallmark is kinda the courage it took to take on a topic like this. You know, the war in Vietnam is kind of a raw nerve in American society; and then to add on that, the complexity of adoption. And the people that people demonstrated the most courage were the adoptees themselves, who shared their personal stories."

The exhibit will be on display until December. It's open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is free to the public. Click here for details.
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