CHARLES PATTERSON, WORLD AIRWAYS
Q. In spring of '75, say March, before that last flight from Da Nang, you were out there then for World. In what capacity?
I was senior vice-president, assistant to Ed Daly. That was my title. And as such I took any number of special assignments, including helping to negotiate airline operations in places like Bali and Yemen, as well as doing all of the public affairs stuff. So I had a very broad range of assignments from Ed Daly. Insofar as Vietnam was concerned, then I have to go back, because my first assignment there was at the time when the military decided to let the GIs go home on the so-called -- well they had R and R then they made the decision that if you were in country at least three months and no longer than eight months, you could also take two weeks leave and go home. And at that point they went to the USO and said "Hey, we're putting in this program." This was a reaction to all the reports about drugs. They went to the USO and said, "How do we do it?"
Well what it boiled down to was that World negotiated the arrangements with the USO that it would sell tickets out various and sundry USO places all over Vietnam. I remember we brought it in for a very low price. I think it was something like three hundred and sixty-five dollars round trip from Oakland to Saigon and four hundred and eight dollars if I remember precisely, to Chicago. So when that program was put in, Ed Daly essentially said to me, "I want you to come out and put this thing in place." He said, "Take about a few weeks to put it in place and get it running smoothly and then I was coming back."
Well, I stayed out there about four or five months. That was in the '70s, because all of my activity was in the 70s. I went out set it up, worked with the USO in getting the flights in and all that kind of thing. It was really running World Airways in a very real sense on the ground, the World Airways operations in Saigon at that time. Phoung and Tau and those people, it was the first time I met them, because they were the operations staff there.
So I was there for that period of time. Then I came back one more time and then things sort of settled in and I went on to other assignments. Then as I recall, Ed Daly said he wanted to take a look out there, because we were running this rice lift from Cambodia. So he wanted to go out to show the flag, etcetera, etcetera, and since I'm a Vietnam expert now, how about a little trip. And I remember what we did was fly Pan Am into Taiwan and then we picked up a World Airways 727 that was being refurbished.
So we arrived in Saigon and we had detailed plans not only for visiting Vietnam but also were also going on to Korea and a couple of other places. So this is really an Asian swing by Ed Daley to pursue a number of objectives and a number of people we had relationships with, Koreans, etc. So the idea was that we were going to stop in Vietnam about three days originally. As I recall we flew into Vietnam and someplace during that time somebody I guess at Air Vietnam knew that this plane was just sitting there and came and asked would World lease that plane for a few flights to fly back and forth to Da Nang. Do it in the three days that we were there. That's how the whole thing started. We said, sure, so they started the service and I took the first flight up to Da Nang. That was the first inkling that I got that something was really about to break.
Q. Was Joe Hrezo on that flight with you?
I think Joe was on that flight.
Q. And some embassy people who served as monitors?
I don't remember who else was on it, but I do remember Joe. There were some government people on it.
We landed at the regular civilian terminal and the place was crawling with people. And still at that point everything was going in what looked like the normal pattern. They were checking bags, people were ticketed, and they got on the plane and off we went.
So then we flew back again. In other words we were starting a shuttle. And this time it was the civilian terminal again as I recall. I may be a little fuzzy on this. The point is by that time there were more and more people and more and more disorganization. And you began to get the feel of panic in the air. This was the second time up.
So the third time I came back, with Ken Healey and the others, we didn't even land at the civilian terminal. We landed at the Vietnamese Air Force terminal. And that's when I really understood that things had gone sour, because we landed there and there were hundreds and hundreds of people. And my understanding at that point was that we were supposed to pick up certain people identified by the embassy. In fact somebody from the consulate in Da Nang was there and he had all the people set aside who were supposed to board the plane. The crowd got bigger and bigger and the next thing you know they rushed the plane.
There all of us were at the foot of the stairs trying to keep people from being tromped on. That was the first evidence -- at least as far a World Airways was concerned, that panic had struck. It was difficult to load the people, but we did.
Q. Daly wasn't with you?
No, Daly was-- Daly hadn't been on any of these trips so far. So then we go back, unload those, and come back again. And this time it's really frantic. It's even worse than last time. And I remember we couldn't even load at the Vietnamese Air Force terminal. Whoever we were supposed to be picking up we had some sort of radio contact so we were moving the plane around and the they were trying to bring the people there. And people already were rushing to get on the plane. This was pretty bad. They were fighting at the foot of the ladder, that pale?? loading system. The crowding, the pushing, the shoving. And the thing to remember is that these were primarily military people trying to get their families out. So these loads were women and children. In fact some Vietnamese Air Force people put their families on and then they got off the plane, so there was some degree of discipline at that point. But that was so bad that I went back and said to him , that we really ought not go up again, because when we land it's going to be panic and there's going to be problems, et cetra.
So I think at this point I said that any chance of doing it orderly is completely out of the question because things had broken down completely up there. And this business of moving the plane around and people running to get you wherever we went, and finally getting out of there. And he said, okay. He talked to Ken Healey and got a full description of what's happening. He said it probably makes sense because we can't assure the safety of the plane. So that next morning he banged on my door, as I remember, saying "Hey, Patterson, I'm going to Da Nang. You don't have to go." I said, "Hey, great." I got up and walked down to the lobby with him, and off they went. Bruce Dunning and some other CBS people hanging around, and Daley was making waves, where he attracted a lot of news people, so then off they went to the airport. And I remember somebody -- in fact, I'd promised the NBC people, because all these news people had been sitting around Daly's suite, so when Ed said we won't go up there I told the NBC people, "Well, you might as well go on home. I'll let you know if he changes his mind." They wanted to ride up too, but at this point he had decided not to go. So I did call them as soon as I found out that he was going to go and let them know that he was going to Da Nang. And Bruce Dunning of course was already in the hotel, so they were right with him. By the time NBC got there, they'd already gone.
There was one other newspaper person, in the lobby, the fellow who just wrote The Fall of Saigon, David Butler, and he says, "What's going on?" I says, "They're going to Da Nang. If you want to go you've got to catch him." In fact he quotes me in his book. So that's how the famous last flight from Da Nang started.
Q. Did you have misgivings that morning about it? Or did you say that Daly must know what he was doing?
No, I'll tell you exactly what I thought. That he fully understood that things were falling apart. He knew we brought out all these refugees and he knew that it had gotten dangerous. And he says, "Well, I'm going to do it." He was fully cognizant of the fact that he was flying into a situation that had lots of problems. But what we had not advised him, of course, was that the Army and the military were going to break through, so as opposed to dealing with people trying to get their wives and daughters and children out, what he flew into was a situation where the military stormed the airplane to get themselves out.
Q. Were you monitoring it out at Tan Son Nhut? When did you find out there was trouble?
Not until they came back. I think I got a call from the airport saying they coming back and that there had been problems. So I didn't have any details on the problems until they showed up at the hotel. And Daly came in all raggedy and bloody, and the crew and flight attendants, and the NBC people who hadn't made the flight were in the hotel and were very chagrined because CBS was up there. I said, "At least let me see if I can set you up some interviews with Daly." So someplace there's some footage immediately after they returned to the hotel with Daly being interviewed by NBC and the flight attendants and Ken and all the rest of them.
So that was when I found out in more detail what had happened. I stood there listening to the interview.
Q. Did you ever go out and look over the 727 then?
No, I never saw it after it came back damaged and all beat up.
Q. Did you talk to Daly about what had happened? Did he ever say he regretted it, or regretted that the embassy had let them go up? I heard lots of people blaming what happened on someone else. The embassy said Daley was reckless. Jan Wollett told me the embassy gave them clearance to go up --
Oh, yeah, that was true. Initially we were flying up and down for Air Vietnam and the next day we were flying for AID and the government. And the Americans had sort of moved in. The second flight, or the third flight, when we went to that Air Force terminal instead of the civilian terminal, at that point we had shifted to the authority of the American embassy. So those flights were all embassy flights to get their people out, both the Americans and the Vietnamese. So I have severe doubts on any business about that last flight that he took up was in keeping with what I think was an agreement to fly a number of flights. There was never any doubt in my mind we were still under contract to fly those flights. What I said was I don't think it's wise and I don't think it's safe, so Daley made the determination that he was going to.
Q. The embassy people had nothing but contempt for what Daly had done. They said he just asked for trouble. They didn't give him clearance. They said Healey took off without clearance.
That's what they're talking about, yeah. The DaNang thing was well within the framework of the contracts, and AID had been involved and everything else. That portion of the operation was done according to contracts.
Q. Did you worry about your own personal safety? Did you wonder if this panic and collapse was going to spread and you might get caught?
I felt pretty secure and safe, which is kind of interesting, because my wife and my family were watching the stuff that Dunning was doing on the plane and they thought that I was in dreadful danger. The only time I really got bothered -- any time you get caught in a mob, even if it's women and children and with some soldiers pushing. When the plane is suddenly surrounded by these people, there you are trying to make order -- not trying to keep people out but to come up the stairs one by one -- that was the only time that I had any concern for my personal safety. That was because I was surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people and I was in a mob and it just felt very uneasy. I don't think it was fear even then, just all of sudden you no longer had control.
When I made the recommendation to Ed that we don't do it again, fear was not the thing, I just said it could not be done. We are moving the plane all over the place, people are all over the field, there was no way to load refugees on or to assure the safety of the aircraft after the fourth or fifth flight.
Q. Were you at that dinner that evening when Ed Daly entertained the newsmen and took out his pistol and slammed it down on the table? When I was first told this story by Bruce Dunning I thought it couldn't be true, so I said to Ken Healey and Ken said it sounds like what he saw too.
I remember the big banquet room in the Caravelle and all the news people there and Ed was carrying on, and I think that some reporters were being independent in the back and got to talking and he wanted to make a point that this was his thing, and he just hit it on the table.
Q. Did the reporters walk out then?
Some did. Most of them stayed, but there were primarily, I think, some Britishers and some Aussies who, as I recall, were walking out because there had been a yelling dialogue back and forth from them to Daley.
Q. A friendly one?
Animosity. They were talking and Daly was giving his speech and he wanted them to keep quiet while he did a little rambling about what had happened. Essentially he said, "God damn it, keep quiet. I'm paying and you're my guests."
Q. How did you get along with Ed? Did everybody have their ups and downs with Daly? He seems so unpredictable. Something like that didn't frighten you? It was just in character?
No, there was never any question that he was given to the grand gesture and he could be a pain in the ass on occasion, but he had great generosity and great humor, and great humanity, you see, overlaid by the bully boy. And he had a great ego.
Q. Did you ever laugh to yourself over these things or did you get caught up in the moment and just stay quietly? Or did you feel that you knew there was a good humor at the bottom of it all?
Well, I had a personal relationship with Daly. Much of that was based on some humor between us, but also on mutual respect and affection. Hell, I think he was an exciting guy. It wasn't dull. Which really had a lot to do with the fact that I stayed with Ed as long as I did. He was an adventurer, not only then, but before then in Africa and other places in Asia and Middle East.
Q. Great patriot too?
Oh, yeah. Interestingly enough, he wasn't a big flag waver in the sense that he did a lot of talking about loving the country and stuff like that. He was a great supporter of the USO and he was a great supporter of the military and he built his fortune off much of the military, and his patriotism in a sense took the form of support for particular kinds of organizations like the USO and the Navy League??? and stuff like that. Also he was very generous in contributing to the --at that time, the Democratic Party. He, I think, philosophically was a Democrat, although he was known to give money to the Republicans. Basically he was a democrat with a big "D". Irish Catholic out of South Chicago.
Q. When did he spring the baby lift idea on you?
That one I can be very precise about. Ed got a telex from his daughter. She had been working with a lady named Maria Eitz. She is a real source on Vietnamese refugees. Maria Eitz and the DeBolts, and Charlotte were all involved in two organizations. One was the Friends of Vietnamese Children, and one was the Friends of something else. I get them confused.
Charlotte sent a telex to her dad saying essentially that "Our organization has identified a number of orphans in Vietnam -- we run a big operation there-- and we have families for them to be adopted into, papers and everything. All they need is transportation. Is there anything you can do?" That is exactly how it started. These people had been working and getting Vietnamese orphans out. This organization had been around a long time during the war.
At which point, as I say I was a Jack of all trades, and particularly on humanitarian things as he liked to say. He essentially hands the telex to me and says, go down and see what you can do about this. So these two things are all going at the same time. I think the day they were on the last flight to Da Nang I was probably visiting or working with this organization about getting kids out.
Q. The telex arrived in Saigon?
That's right. No conversation about this before we left. Then the next step was that I went down and talked to the people who ran the organization and introduced myself and said, "Okay, what do you need?" and so forth. And I came back, at some point talked to Daly and said we have this stretch DC8 that had been flying the rice. It was in cargo configuration and it had to be flown back to the U.S. for FAA required maintenance check.
So these things are all beginning to come together. Get the kids out, you got an empty airplane that's flying back to the U.S. anyway, can't you put them on. So at this point Daly has a good stroke of vision. Hell yes, we'll turn this thing into a flying crib. We'll get doctors and nurses and take the kids. Of course he was talking at that point about as many as a thousand kids.
Right after we started getting organized with this group to take the kids out, he also spoke to another organization, which I don't remember today, about taking their kids out. And they essentially said no, they'd do it themselves and chartered Pan American or something like that to take the kids out. So by this time I've met all the people, they've been up, talked to Daly, and we're all pursuing getting this orphan flight off the ground. Daly and I met with the Vietnamese minister who was in charge of those kinds of things, and he assured us that there would be no problem there, that the kids were already spoken for and authorized to leave Vietnam. That was a critical question.
Then what happened was that we were getting ready to go. Everything had all been worked out, buses had been supplied and medical team from the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital and some other doctors, nurses, had these cardboard cribs, cargo nets to tie down the kids in the plane, and we were all ready to go.
Q. You supervised all this?
Q. That was a job in a short time.
Well, it wasn't easy because you were dealing with volunteers who wanted to get the kids out. I was interfacing with them and providing the buses and transportation and anything needed to get the kids out that they didn't have. So we had medical supplies, made arrangements for the doctors, and the transportation and the food and everything was all set to go.
That morning I woke up ready to take off and we went out to the airport. We anticipated the kids would be coming in. Before I went to the airport I visited some of the various staging areas to see the kids, and they were making decisions about what kids could go and which were too weak, and some of it was pretty heartbreaking. Some of them were with IVs and things like that. But the ones that were being chosen were ones that could survive a trip like that.
So then I went on out to the airport, having seen the kids on the buses and ready to go. This was early in the morning. I can't remember but it was close to 8 o'clock.
We got out to the airport and we were waiting. Daly's holding court with the reporters up at the Tan Son Nhut restaurant, all drinking beer and he's in his glory. All of us were pleased that we were about to do this good thing. We'd gotten clearance from the government at that point for this particular group. So we're waiting and waiting. Daly calls to find out what the problem is. So I go -- and at that time the people who were primarily running the program were Australian, but there was an American who was sort of the regional -- she had come out from Denver specifically to take charge of the group that was coming to America. So I talked to Wendy and the others and this one young Australian woman and her mother who had brought a lot of kids out of Cambodia were all ready to take off. She essentially said to me that the embassy at this point now rears its head--and this is where these stories get confused -- the embassy has advised her that the plane is unsafe, it is not pressurized, no toilets, and so forth, and so ---
Q. How did they know that?
And that instead of taking World Airways' plane, the embassy would provide a plane to take this group of kids out. Essentially the embassy interfered and our guess was that at this point they didn't want to be embarrassed by Ed Daly flying all of these orphans. Anyway they wanted to make it a government project.
So I said, "Wendy that's not true." The kids are still sitting on the buses in some places, and by this time it's about one o'clock in the afternoon. I said to Wendy to come on and let me show her the plane. I got Captains Healy....
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I showed this American woman who was making the decision, and she had overruled the Australians who had wanted to go on World Airways. So she overruled them and said no. But she saw the plane and she still decided to hold to the embassy offer. We showed her the airplane, tried to convince her that it was safe, that it obviously was pressurized and had johns; and all the preparations; hundreds of blankets and all types of things that had been set up to ensure the safety of the kids. And she shook her head, and I still remember her saying no, she was going to go with the government offer to fly these kids out. She thought that would be safer for the kids. That was a legitimate decision.
But the point is that the government had now reacted to Daly--that's the important thing. The government had no plans to fly anybody out, but they reacted to Daley. And the thing that I perceived and I think others will probably confirm is that Mr. Graham Martin was very concerned that nothing go out or happen that would give him further problems of convincing Americans that the damn place was about to fall. You recall during those days he was still trying to project the image that we were going to stand there and that things were going to work out. It was my impression that the idea of somebody as flamboyant as Daley who had also been to Da Nang flying a load of orphans into California was going to pull the stopper on any effort that they might have to convince the American people and the government in Washington that this was still a viable situation. So I think that had a lot to do with it.
I told Daly and then I don't know fully what happened, but someone else came up to me and said they had some children they'd like to fly out. And this was an organization, as I understand it, had actually split off from the other organization. And Daley said to round them up. This is important, I'm not sure how to get these names straight, but the Friends of Vietnamese Children and the other organization -- they were two different organizations. The second organization, the spinoff organization went hurrying off, and this was in the middle of the afternoon, to round up children, orphans that could go on the plane. They started coming dribbling in, and finally it was getting dark, and I think they had about fifty or sixty and the Vietnamese had been checking out the kids to make sure they were entitled to go. And then also I think there were about fifty-five youngsters of all ages of this group, and then the Seventh Day Adventist group, the doctors and nurses, had five babies in their arms and they personally carried those. Those kids were well taken care of.
So there were about sixty people finally and we were ready to take off. And some place during that time Daley had struck up a good friendship with a fellow who was director of civil aviation, Vietnamese, who called Daley and said there had been reports of Viet Cong in and around the vicinity of the airport and if we were going to go we had better go. At that point we all jumped on the airplane. The Vietnamese cops had taken off one youngster because they figured he was military age, I guess. He was the adopted son of one of the Seventh Day Adventist people, but they took him off.
One of the young women who had a Eurasian child, who had been involved with one of the American officers, was trying to get her child to California and somebody had introduced her to Daley, so we slipped her on the plane. That was the only illegal one. We had her in the john and locked the john until we took off. We really brought her into the country without any papers or anything. A lot of them came without papers.
That's about the time that Ken Healey sort of takes over and ignores some things.
Q. Well they shut the lights down at the airport, didn't they?
Q. Was that because of you or the Viet Cong danger?
That could have been the danger. My own feeling was that there were three possibilities, it could have been the danger, or two, it could have been a hoax by the Americans or somebody else to slow down this baby lift, that they didn't want to go. I'm not much on conspiracies, but there really were very strong feeling to prevent Daly from taking this flight off. And the third thing is there actually may have been some Viet Cong out there. You know no one had seen Viet Cong around Saigon airport for quite some time, but the damn place was falling apart, so it was quite conceivable that they might have been there.
But whether Mr. Lin was using that to advise us to get away or not, the report was that they were there, and that's what Daley acted on and we took off.
Q. That really was a triumph, wasn't it, you landed in Japan?
We landed in Japan and Daly got off. That's when he went back to start the refugee thing. Took two kids off. They also got in trouble because there was some question about landing in Japan. By this time all kinds of rules and regulations are being broken. Daley got off the plane and said he was going back. By this time he's all caught up in this situation and he sees what's happening that it's falling apart and he's determined to go back and help. So I wound up on the plane with the orphans coming into Oakland.
Q. Is that one of your most memorable moments, landing in Oakland and seeing the reception you got there?
We were quite surprised. I had been sending telexes to Charlotte telling her how many kids were coming -- unfortunately we had all these big numbers and finally arrived with about sixty. So they had really laid it on. They had the buses and arranged to take the youngsters over to the Sixth Army at the Presidio. Lots of doctors. My wife was there, other people, taking kids.
Q. You were really heroes --
Well, yeah. It was only then, and it was like when my wife was quite concerned about my safety up in Da Nang and I wasn't even thinking about it, and when we arrived in Oakland, I saw these people and I was quite surprised. I didn't realize that we were a news story. I think if Daley had realized he might have come all the way.
Q. Did you stay in Oakland then or head back?
At that point I stayed in Oakland and then the refugees started coming in. But there is a footnote to the orphan story, which is really bitter. The American government did arrange to fly those orphans out and they flew them on that C5 that crashed. So a lot of the kids we were supposed to have taken were killed as well as the really dedicated Australian young lady who had sort of been our operations officer.
Q. That was your last flight, you never went back?
That was my last flight. At that point I now became operations officer for the refugees coming in here, which is another story. Ken Healey and some of the others know the details of getting people on the planes in Saigon. And then of course he brought out the first load of refugees that came out, once again came out illegally and they included Mr. Phuong and all of these people. Under Ed's instructions I set up the first refugee camp. We leased an empty motel out in Hayward and we put them up there and brought in all the various agencies, Red Cross and all the others and we proceeded to get sponsors for them. There were lots of people waiting to help. Since this was only a relatively small number of people, I remember getting them through customs and immigration -- once again the rules were bending all over the place. What are you going to do, throw these refugees out?
So we took this first group to this Hayward motel and --
Q. Were they employees of World?
No, actually there were only Phuong and Tao and a man named Bac. The others were not. They were people that employees knew, there was a tailor, the guy who used to mix fireworks for us, people from the hotel. There was a polyglot group of people that heard that Ed Daley was --
Q. It sounds like if somebody had listened to him that the panic at the end wouldn't have been as bad.
It could have been. They were still trying to pretend that things were not falling apart.
Q. When did you conclude that things were falling apart?
In Da Nang, the breakdown at the Air Force terminal and after that fourth trip up there. It was clear things were falling apart, but you see even then keep in mind when we were still flying flights out of Da Nang, and I think even flying people to Cam Ranh Bay and flying back, just getting people out of Da Nang, at that point there was no clear cut notion in my mind that the country was really going to fall. I thought Da Nang might fall, but at that point it was not clear that Saigon was going to go too. So I had some understanding that with the hope Saigon might be all right, that the Ambassador didn't want to pull the plug unnecessarily.
Looking back now the signs were all over the place. Any time you get people in that kind of panic, and the Vietnamese knew, and I can remember in the hotel, looking back now, that's when I began to feel it was going, because in talking to the hotel staff and some others, that you could see the fear in their eyes. Fear was all over the place.
Q. Did you have a sense of being at a turning point in history?
I think the thing was that the human problems were shoving themselves. Our situation and certainly mine, was such that I was face to face with the human problem of what was happening, not the politics of it. But the human problem, insofar as people trying to cram and shove and it scared the hell out of me -- trying to get on the plane. All those flights you could see and my own sense of empathy at trying to get families out. That's one of the things I was impressed with, in those first flights, that they were trying to get their families out. And then being in the hotel and beginning to get that feel from the staff.
Then the orphan thing and a whole bunch of people who had -- especially these Australians and others who had been laboring to save all these children -- all these orphans and kids with malnutrition. When I made the rounds of the hospitals and was watching them select who was going to go, being on the plane with the orphans and then here when they started bringing in refugees, being the reception person who was quote "taking care of them", all in all I was so clearly confronted and surrounded by the human aspects of what was going on that I didn't think too much about the big historical things. It was only later watching the thing at the embassy and the helicopters being pushed into the sea that I moved away from the sense of people to the sense of event. Mostly for me at that time it was people.
Q. You were being heroic in the midst of something that was almost embarrassing. Did it cross your mind that you were doing heroic things while we were pulling out?
I that's putting it a little too strongly. I guess I must say I wasn't thinking American. I was thinking Patterson, I suspect. This face to face thing with people who were in trouble, and the political event -- the only thing, looking back that I felt sort of decent about, I was never one of those people who thought that all the stuff we did there was wrong in the first place. I never believed in it, but I thought when I was running around even on the USO things helping the GIs get out of country, I still remember the embalming mortuary and saw a lot of kids shot up, but the whole misery of the thing was one of the things I was terribly sensitive to. That's where my ambivalence came up. Here I'm in a situation that morally I disapprove of, so I suppose if I take any satisfaction it is that at an immoral time and place that I got a chance to do some moral human things.
Q. Does it ever come back to you? Think about it? Was that the most exciting thing that ever happened to you?
No, I was in the Second World War. Mark Clark gave me a Silver Star.
Q. You were drafted? or Joined?
Drafted. I was eighteen at the time. Nineteen when that picture was taken. Into the 92nd Division, an all black unit. Fifth Army.
We landed after Rome. The big battles had all taken place. It was the Po River and the Apennines. They had some reservations about putting black troops in and then when they were pulling troops out to go to Europe they shoved black troops in.
Q. When did you go to work for Daley?
Sixteen years ago on December the 8th. One of the things we had in common, he and I both had been in the Army about the same time. He was older than I was.
Q. What was your rank?
I was Platoon Sergeant. Three up and two down (((stripes????)
I grew up in Ft. Wayne Indiana.
Q. Did you go to college?
Oh, yeah. Antioch College. Then I went to Case Western Reserve and I studied for a PH.D. in Berkeley in Sociology. My career is checkered.
I had never intended to go into business. Sociology was my training. I'd been to Africa, studied at the University of Cambridge. I've done all kinds of things.
Q. Did the tenth anniversary of the Vietnam fall bring back memories? All in all, looking back on this period, I assume that today it's one of pride.
Yeah. Pride and sorrow. There's a marvelous title on that French film about the resistance -- The Sorrow and the Pity. Sometimes I think that probably summarizes my feeling about much that happened there. I watched the tenth anniversary thing and of course, trying to place one's self in the historical event, I found the PBS series particularly useful. And I think that's when I began to develop more understanding of the historical thing that I'd been a very small part of. I think that's when I began to do what I did somewhat after World War II, having been caught up in that and shot and a few other things, I later began to understand how I, this one little dot arrived in this place at this point and what all these great events that put me here at this time -- so essentially after World War II I read a great deal about that and the campaigns that I was in. And in a sense that's what happened to me when I came back from Vietnam. It took a while because I really kind of shoved it aside except for working with people and looking out for Bac and Phuong and their families and seeing them getting involved and taken care of. And staying in touch with lots of the people for years and opening letters and Christmas cards. And I still get Christmas cards from that group that I dealt with. So I get invited to weddings and things like that.
So that part really feels good. And I guess my feeling at this point in terms of big events, we took a long bloody way around to arrive at where Vietnam was going in the first place. I had read about Dien Bien Phu and France, so I think that -- the thing that I was a little slow in realizing how much of an emotional impact it had on me was dealing with and my reaction to the American service men who were in that. Keep in mind that in my situation when I was there, I saw them all dressed up. I saw a lot of the Air Force people at Tan Son Nhut, this tremendous Long Binh, the PX, all that, and MACV, all of that stuff, and the one time war itself, what was happening to the Americans in it, hit me in the gut, was when I was up I think at Cam Ranh Bay at the USO service club and this patrol of youngsters and I use that word advisedly, same age I was when I was a combat infantryman, and these youngsters, black and white--the one big difference I think -- came into that bar and I saw that weariness, that bone tired feeling of fatigue. It's hard to describe. I hadn't seen it and I recognized it immediately from my own experience. I think what I tried to do was build somewhat on that, limited experience with combat people, by reading most of the books on that subject.
In talking to you all through this I realized that mine is an American experience with the Vietnamese and even there not with Vietnamese army or Vietnamese fighting people. So the Vietnamese war for me was in terms of -- except for that intimate contact there, and the smell of formaldehyde and the mortuary at Da Nang. And then up again I saw the weary infantrymen -- the two words go together, that's what you are.
Q. Did you have a good homecoming from the second world war?
I don't remember any formal march, but I think the important thing is that you went home to communities where you got it. I had a hell of a reception because what had happened to me was that I came home at the end of the war in Europe because I was wounded and I had a few points. And I was scheduled to go over to Japan or to Asia in a noncombatant unit, but I arrived back in my home Ft. Wayne, and that photograph had been on the front page of the local newspaper, so that was a day for me at the high school. I had my own day and spoke about the fellows and the sacrifice -- I still remember that. And then while I was home on leave they dropped the bomb and the war ended. And there I was in the middle of the street surrounded by everybody else, hundreds of people hugging, kissing, and so for me it was a fine homecoming.
But the other thing, and that's really graphic that the Vietnam veterans got the rawest possible deal. The best possible thing this country did for us was the GI bill of rights. And the education. Because I was a kid who didn't have the faintest idea how -- my mother was an elevator operator. My father was a janitor. I didn't have the faintest idea how I was going to get to college. And that GI bill of rights just meant everything to so many of us. And that I think was the great bridge for many of us from war to peace, the GI bill which essentially said, Hey we're going to help you pick up the pieces and get on with your life. For me and many other people who took advantage of it, it was a great bridge of appreciation.
The bridge they built for Vietnam vets was like one of those things you hang over the gorge with the ropes on it. The Golden Gate for us and a gorge bridge for them.
(((END of INTERVIEW)))
ED DALY’S FLYING CRIB:
REMEMBERING OPERATION BABYLIFT
Charles Patterson as told to Larry Engelmann
In early March of 1975 Ed Daly received a telex from his daughter, Charlotte. She had been working in Oakland, California two organizations: Friends For All Children and Save the Children. She told her father that the organizations had identified a number of orphans in Vietnam and had located adoptive families for them in the US. They had all the necessary papers. Now they needed transportation. “Is there anything you can do?" she asked.
At that time I was a Jack of all trades at World Airways. He passed the telex to me and said, “See what you can do about this.” I began working with these organizations about getting orphans out.
I talked to the people who ran the organizations and introduced myself and asked, "Okay, what do you need?" I told Daly, “We have this stretch DC8 that has been flying the rice to Phnom Penh. It is in cargo configuration but it has to be flown back to the U.S. for a maintenance check.”
Daly and I were on the same page on this plane and the orphans. “We got an empty airplane that's flying back to the U.S. Why can't we put the orphans on it?” I asked. So suddenly Daly has a great stroke of vision. "Hell yes, we'll turn it into a flying crib. We'll get doctors and nurses and take all the kids!"
He was talking about as many as a thousand kids.
So I began working closely with one group to take the kids out, but they spoke to another interested organization. I introduced those in charge of the children to Daly, and I organized World people to get an orphan flight off the ground. Daly and I met with the Vietnamese minister in charge of exit visas and he assured us that there would be no problem and that the kids were authorized to leave Vietnam.
Everything was quickly been worked out. We got buses had been supplies and a medical team from the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital and doctors and nurse. We also had these cardboard cribs and cargo nets to tie down the kids inside the plane.
It wasn't easy because I was dealing with volunteers who wanted desperately to get the kids out. But in a very short time everything was set and we were ready to go.
On April 2nd I thought we were almost ready to take off. I visited some of the staging areas to see the kids, and they were making decisions about what kids could go and which were too weak, and it was pretty heartbreaking. Some of the kids had IVs and things like that. But the ones that were chosen were ones that could survive a trip like that.
I went on out to the airport after helping load kids on the buses
At the airport Daly was holding court with the reporters up at the Tan Son Nhut restaurant. He was drinking beer and he was in all his glory. All of us were pleased that we were about to do this really good good thing. We got clearance from the government for this first group of kids. But things seemed to stop suddenly. We waited. Daly made some calls to find out what the problem was. I talked to this Australian woman -- Rosemary Taylor --who brought a lot of kids out to the airport. She told me, anxiously, that they were ready to take off. But the American Embassy stepped in--and this is where these stories get confused -- the embassy had advised Rosemary that our plane was unsafe, it was not pressurized, had no toilets, and so forth.
But the Embassy never even looked at our plane. They never looked at it once!
Rosemary said that instead of taking our plane the embassy would provide a plane to take her of kids out. Our guess was that the Embassy didn't want to be embarrassed by Ed Daly flying orphans out of the country. They wanted to make it a government project.
I said, "Rosemary, what they are telling you is not true." The kids were sitting on the buses in the sun and it was about about one o'clock in the afternoon. I asked her to let me show her the plane.
I also showed the plane to this woman from the embassy who was there making decisions. She overruled Rosemary who had wanted to go on World Airways. I tried to convince her that our plane was safe, that it was pressurized and had johns and all the preparations and hundreds of blankets and all types of things that had been set up to insure the safety of the kids. She shook her head, and I still today I remember her saying, “No no, no.” She wanted the government offer to fly these kids out. She thought that would be safer.
But the truth is the government had no plans to fly anybody out. Still they said no to Daly. And the thing that I perceived and I think others will confirm is that the American Ambassador Graham Martin was concerned that happen that would give him problems of convincing Americans that the damn place was not about to fall.
During those crowded days Martin was trying to project the image that we were going to stand there and that everything was going to work out. The idea of somebody as flamboyant as Daly flying a load of orphans to California was going to pull the stopper on any effort that the Embassy might have to convince the American people and the government in Washington that this was still a viable situation. I think that had a lot to do with it.
I told Daly what was happening. The kids from the Friends For All Children(FFAC) were bused back to their orphanages. Then someone came to me and said they had children they'd like to fly out. This was an organization called Friends of the Children of Vietnam – FCVN and they had split off from the other organizations. Daly said to round them up. So this spinoff organization went hurrying off to round up children that could go on our plane. They started dribbling in and finally it was getting dark and I think we had about 55 kids and the Vietnamese were checking them out to make sure they were entitled to go. A Seventh Day Adventist group-- doctors and nurses -- brought five babies in their arms and they personally carried those on board.
There were about sixty orphans finally and we were ready to take off. During that interval Daly talked with a fellow who was director of Vietnamese civil aviation and he told Daly there were reports of Viet Cong in and around the airport and if we were going to go we had better go soon. At that point we all jumped on the airplane. The Vietnamese cops had taken off one youngster because they figured he was military age, I guess. He was the adopted son of one of the Seventh Day Adventist people, but they took him anyway.
One of the young women who had a Eurasian child, who had been involved with one of the American officers, was trying to get her child to California and somebody had introduced her to Daly, so we slipped her on the plane. That was the only illegal one. We had her in the john and locked the john until we took off. We really brought her into the country without any papers or anything. A lot of them came without papers.
That's about the time that our pilot Ken Healy sort of took over and ignored a lot of things.
You see they shut the lights down at the airport. It might have been because of the threat of a Viet Cong attack. That could have been the reason. My own feeling was that there were two possibilities. It could have been a hoax by the Americans or somebody else to slow down this baby lift that they didn't want to go. I'm not much on conspiracies, but there really were very strong feelings to prevent Daly from taking off with these orphans. But the other thing is there actually may have been some Viet Cong out there. You know no one had seen Viet Cong around Saigon airport for quite some time, but the damn place was falling apart, so it was quite conceivable that they might have been there.
But on Daly’s orders we took off anyway.
Daly got off the plane in Yokota and said he was going back to Vietnam. By this time he was all caught up in this situation and he saw what was happening that everything was falling apart and he was determined to go back and help. So I wound up on the plane with the orphans coming all the way to Oakland.
We were surprised when we got to Oakland. I had been sending telexes to Charlotte Daly telling her how many kids were coming -- unfortunately we had all these big numbers and finally arrived with about sixty. But they had really laid it on. They had the buses and arranged to take the youngsters over to the Sixth Army at the Presidio. They had lots of doctors waiting for us. My wife was there and other people taking the kids.
It was only when we arrived in Oakland and I saw these people that I realized that we were a very big news story in the U.S. I think if Ed Daly had realized that he might have come all the way home.
At that point I stayed in Oakland and then the refugees started coming in. But there is a footnote to the orphan story, which is really bitter. The American government did arrange to fly those orphans out and they flew them on that C5A that crashed. So a lot of the kids we were supposed to have taken on our “unsafe plane” to Oakland were killed.