Jeff Gahr still remembers leaving his older brother, Jason, behind on a Saigon airport runway 30 years ago.
Gahr, then 12, was one of 57 children whisked away to a better life in America on a World Airways charter plane. He and his two brothers were to make the chaotic departure together, but at the last minute, Jason was snatched off the flight.
Gahr said, "They said he was old enough to serve his country. I never thought I would see my older brother again."
Gahr and his younger brother left as Vietnam was in turmoil. Within weeks, the Vietnam War would be over and they were aboard one of the last flights to leave Saigon before the city fell.
Former World Airways President Ed Daly had originally planned to fly 15-hundred children on the April second, 1975, flight from Saigon to Oakland, California. The children, mostly babies, were either orphaned or had been given up by their parents.
Daly's plans were thwarted, he left with only 57 children, "Operation Babylift" was born. That first flight was unauthorized by the U.S. government, which soon afterward launched its own rescue efforts that brought more than 3,000 Vietnamese children to America in the weeks before the end of the war.
This summer, World Airways is reenacting the famous flight and will return to Saigon, now renamed Ho Chi Minh City. Among the passengers will be 20 of the orphans from the April second, 1975, flight, their families and crew members from the original trip.
Gahr and his wife, Anh-Dao, will also return to Vietnam, which he says will always be his home.
The 42-year-old Seattle man said, "I'm really looking forward to seeing my country again."
On the Net: www.worldairways.com
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