Saturday, December 15, 2012

Charlotte Daly's Vietnam

Charlotte Daly, from Side A

Q. I saw a videotape of you in Oakland welcoming the planeload of the orphans, so I wanted to ask you about that. I wanted to ask you -- you were in the Bay Area during all of this, were you not?

A. I was here.

Q. Did you help your father by organizing on this end?

A. For the reception of orphans only, yes. For a particular orphanage who agreed -- well, there were some sisters involved, mostly Australian nuns, and they had three houses filled, two in Saigon and one in DaNang and we were going to take their children out, specifically. That's we organized this, to rescue those three houses of orphans.

Q. Who pointed out that particular group? How did they come to your attention?

A. A friend of mine from San Francisco, Maria Eitz??? had been there to Vietnam and helped. These people were friends of hers and she took children, orphans, off of airplanes, twice a week from Pan Am flights, and sent them on their way to their parents in the country or kept them at her house until they could pick them up there. She was the main liaison for this group.

Q. Were there any problems with exit visas for any of this?

A. No, everybody had been on a waiting list to be adopted in this country. Every child had a parent that came into the country. Eventually we took in two thousand, about three or four hundred down in Long Beach and the rest up here. Every single child that came into the country of the two thousand had parents waiting and all the paperwork had been done. Whatever visa situation, if there were any status problems, they were handled very easily. We had a group from the Immigration Service working with us right from the start. So they just sort of gave a blanket pass or permission for everybody and then we dealt individually as they came in. But as I say, everybody already had been awaiting, for their parents.

Q. Ken Healy pointed out there were some roadblocks. Number one with Graham Martin not wanting the kids to go on a certain type of plane and turning off the lights on the runway during another of the exits.

A. Those were our friends. World Airways was going to bring in those friends, but what happened, I guess Graham Martin -- I heard it was Bennett and Frick, and I guess Graham Martin was involved with them -- I heard it was two men from the State Department and not specifically Martin, that informed the girls that World Airways was unsafe and talked these two women who ran the orphanage out of putting the children on World Airways.

And of course World Airways had MAT contracts in Vietnam and Cambodia for many years and had flown American troops and families for many years. We had military contracts since 1950 or '56, maybe. So we had flown at least fifty percent military and their families, thousands and thousands of military had flown World Airways all these many years. I don't know what the problem was. They said, "Don't send the children on World Airways." These two people who are, I understand, career people with the State Department, of course have intimate knowledge of World Airways.

So the girls were frightened, thinking that there was something unsafe about World Airways. What they had done was take the seats out and use pallets, although there were some seats. But in the end, palleting was pretty necessary. So what they did at the very last moment -- World Airways had busses sitting at two of the orphanages. One of them didn't make it. DaNang got closed down. But two of the orphanages made it, filled up the buses and took the children to the airport. This is World Airways got the children on the buses and took them to the airport. And they talked them out of getting on the airplane at the airport.

They had a C5A Air Force transport double decker at the airport so at the last minute they put them on that plane, and as you know, it crashed on takeoff.

Q. Yes, I have a videotape from CBS. I can imagine what your dad's reaction was.

I never heard another word about it, but I know he was angered because, you know, we've got an intimate relation with the United States government since 1950, about as intimate as you can get with business people.

Q. The third orphanage -- Herrington told me it was in Da Lat but you say DaNang.

A. Maybe he's correct. I thought it was DaNang, and DaNang fell just right before we got them, just hours before maybe.

Q. In this country, there was resistance wasn't there, to the orphan airlift?

(Begin Side B)
A. . . . Three days and every contact I made, and there were many, dozens of contacts -- I had no opposition. I think that perhaps some of that developed on the heels of the refugee airlift which was not initiated by anybody in our family or World Airways. However, after it was initiated by the government and contracts were made available for bidding, World Airways was on of approximately three airlines that did bring in refugees. And in that group were quite a few people that didn't have families -- they were real refugees and didn't have designated places. And there were a number of orphans in that group. I think that that was the situation that created anger.

But the 2,000 orphans all had families. We really had no problem.

Q. Do you hear from these kids today? Some of them, if they were teenagers must be working adults and graduated from colleges. Do they ever get in touch with you or have reunio

A. No, we don't. They went directly into families all over the nation. But if they did any writing they might have written to World Airways because that would be what they would remember.

Q. I was looking through some of the correspondence they had out there at Oakland. Were there any particularly delightful, happy endings that anyone got in touch with you?

A. You know I wasn't visible as far as the orphans were concerned. I was there with them every single day for six weeks, but they didn't know who I was and I didn't have any contact with the parents. That was through my friend and the heads of the orphanages. So I didn't receive any personal notes. The families wouldn't have known me anyway.

However many came on Pan Am and of course Air Force planes . I know that most of the children that have been heard from have been very happy. They learned English within a couple months. They are very quick to learn. Most of them have had top grades in school. And they've all been pretty successful in getting jobs. Most are very independent people, having small operations and independent stores and services.

Q. I have interviewed some who either came out on flights or came on boats later and that's one of the satisfying things about putting together a story like this. The success stories of these people. They love America more than fifty percent of the Americans. These people are just dreamy-eyed about freedom and what has happened to them since they have been in the United States. So it's really a boost for me to hear these stories.
I've interviewed people who were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen when they came over here. One kid and his brother had two hundred and fifty dollars and couldn't speak a word of English. Today they are both engineers in the Silicon Valley. Listening to them it's almost unreal, a fairy tale that people wouldn't believe.
You were here and your father was in Saigon. I saw the telegram that he dashed off to leading businessmen of the United States asking them to finance an evacuation from Saigon, to help him immediately, saying he would match the funds. According to the World official history, nothing was forthcoming.
Did you fear for your father's life, being killed in action, after you saw the CBS new report of the Da Nang flight with your father standing in the back doorway waving a pistol. Did you fear for his life as he remained in Saigon as the country began to crumble? Did you think the World Airways would come out okay?

A. Yes, I had no fears for them because they were right on top of everything that was happening every minute and they had the ability to leave the country at any time. They were quite conscious of their degree of safety in the environment they were in.

Q. When your father came out -- I was looking at photos of some of the boat people he was involved with in Southeast Asia. He seems to be a wonderful blend of optimism and idealism and at the same time kind of a hard-boiled realism and cynicism. Did the experience of the fall of South Vietnam alter his outlook on people, life, the government -- anything very much? Changes in the way he spoke about anything after that time?

A. I think that he became a lot more fatigued after that point in time. It was an extremely fatiguing experience. It really sapped a lot of energy. Then with the negativity as far as the airplane crash, and the State Department switching the children unnecessarily. That was most upsetting because our whole lives had been spent dealing with governments around the world. It was very distressing and I think that it was somewhat discouraging in that respect as far a war goes. He never talked about that. Instead of talking about whys and wherefores, and what should or could be, he mainly strove to change whatever he could and that included landing an airplane in 1956 during the Hungarian revolution on a highway in Hungary, picking up refugees who were fleeing.

Q. I had never heard that before.

A. Any time there has been any opportunity -- with his own money, not government contract -- whenever there has been an opportunity to salvage or rescue humanity he has always been at the forefront of doing that without help from anybody else. It started off in the Hungarian revolution in '56 by landing an airplane on a highway and evacuating a planeload of passengers. He did it in Vietnam with orphans, and he did it one other occasion where -- was it Cambodia? There was another occasion where he landed an airplane and gathered up anybody who was able to make it and took them to safety. He was always taking opportunity that he could.

Of course after the war, there was a whole group of refugees taken to a group of islands somewhere in the mid Pacific and he took a planeload of building supplies so they could make -- it was a georgeous island. He took them everything they needed, blankets, food, building supplies, and everything that they could start a new life with.

Q. You must have held your father in great awe. You were a youngster, I assume, in '56 when you read of these things in the newspapers. What reaction did you have?

A. Do you know, I had no knowledge. Maybe they might have told me what was happening, but I had no real memory or knowledge of these activities. I was a teenager, very nearly an adult, and yes, he was a most awe-inspiring man, because he always stood by what was right and fair and was always willing to rescue people and get them out of danger. I really did admire him very very much.

And he had a very good sense of humor and a very good personality too. Every family has their problems, but the good part was much better than anything else. We had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun and we had a lot of happiness too.

Q. Was there a source for his dedication to rescuing people? As a youngster had he ever been rescued from something himself?

A. His father was a fireman. And they were from a family of generations of firemen and police officers. They're Irish, from Chicago. And of course, the generations of looking after people and I guess he grew up with that ingrained in him. He just had it very deeply in his nature to help save humanity by rescue.

Q. He was always in the forefront of these things, rallying people behind him. But he never became disappointed when the rest of his counterparts did not rally behind him.

A. I think he appreciated the fact that private industry doesn't have the leeway to participate, or huge large conglomerates don't always have the leeway. Although many of them did participate. Those who could did, I think. Those who couldn't afford it probably didn't. If you have all your aircraft scheduled, as most major airlines do, most people wouldn't have the ability to switch off and to take aircraft to another part of the world to start airlifting operations.
Pan Am was there, of course. They had been a major airline in the far east as many years as airlines have been in operation and so they had a greater availability of aircraft and ability to send them around or reschedule. They also got government contracts that they were there with.
But I don't think he held it against anybody that they didn't actively participate in this type of charity. I don't think he felt ill towards anybody. I think that he was encouraging towards all companies and corporations to do whatever charitable acts they could, whether it be at Christmas time gifts and summertime jobs, and whatever they could, but I don't think he had any expectations of them more than that. You have to run a business to make money and he knew how business operations require time and effort and that there are certain things that people can do and some things they can't do depending upon the economics of their industry. I don't think he ever felt ill toward anybody who didn't participate.

Q. Weren't his accountants constantly reminding him that he might be stretching his limits? Did he ever worry about money when he undertook any of these rescue missions in Saigon? It must have cost a tremendous amount and there must have been somebody telling him this was straining the resources of the airline? Or did he divorce himself totally from any thought of that? Did he know when he was reaching his limits?

The two of us never talked about money in our whole lives. We just didn't talk money. That was not anything of interest between us or in our family. If we discussed it it was in relationship to a specific fact about a deal, but we really didn't talk about money. I never knew if he had any or what he had, or how much he had. I've read the airline's financial reports and what I understood at the end was that in his investments that he paid for everything out of his own investments which had been put away somewhere. He simply sold off some private investments. He didn't drain the corporation. Apparently he had enough to do something like this.

Q. When he returned from that flight to Da Nang, everyone I've spoken to who was on that flight, even Ken Healy, said that was the point in their life that they will remember graphically as long as they live. Did your father ever talk to you about that?
A. I saw that film at some later time and I was really amazed by it. I didn't see him for a long time after that. I don't remember exactly when it was. But he wasn't in much of a mood to discuss any of it when I did see him. He didn't talk about any of it at all. I don't think that we ever discussed anything that ever happened again. I know that it upset him. But we never discussed it again, if you can believe that.

Q. I watched it again this morning before calling you. Things seemed to happen so quickly -- I spoke to the CBS sound man -- your father told him to get the weapons as the soldiers came aboard and By just stood there and people handed him weapons and he laid them on the seat. It looks chaotic, but everything seemed to be moderately well organized. Your father kept his presence of mind despite the frantic picture the tv crew was showing at the time.
Is there something I should have asked you about all of this that I didn't? Is there something I should point out about all this?

A. Larry, I think that you know all the main points. You have covered them very well. You have the knowledge of whatever needs to be said for clarification of the issue.

Q. Are you an only child?

A. Yes.

Q. I'll mail you a copy of this piece when it comes out. I can either send it up in your name to the terminal or to your address. It's going to be Sunday, April 7th and will be the whole magazine section of the SJ Mercury News.

A. 48 Weybridge Court, Oakland, 94611.



Normie said...

This is for Charlotte Daly:

Hi Charlotte. I went to Santa Clara University with you and we became good friends although I didn't see you after 1967. What I remember about you was your bright red hair and even brighter personality. I took World Airways (I'm pretty sure) to Vietnam in June 1969. I was in ROTC at Santa Clara and had to go in. I was in a lot of combat but made it out ok except for a few scrapes. I am now living in Morgan Hill CA writing a book loosely based on my experiences.
I just wanted to say hi and hope all is OK.
Take care
Norm Alexander

A Language Not My Own said...

Thank you for sharing this interview. I'm researching the history of humanitarian evacuations for a phd project at the U of Glasgow in Scotland, so this info is very helpful for me. I've been searching for more info on Ed's participation in the 1956 Hungary evacuation that Charlotte mentioned. Does anyone know more about Ed's and World Airway's involvement in 1956?