40 years ago this month, approximately 3,000 orphans, mostly babies, were hurried onto airplanes departing Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). The city was about to fall to the North Vietnamese forces, and humanitarian organizations worried that many orphans, especially those fathered by American soldiers or those with disabilities, would be at risk. Families in Canada, the United States, and other nations signed up to adopt the evacuated orphans.
The project, known as the “Orphan Airlift” in Canada and “Operation Babylift” in the United States, is not without controversy, but for Tuyet Morris, Née Son Thi Anh Tuyet, it was the beginning of a miraculous new life. Older than the other orphans and physically disabled from polio, she had never expected to be adopted. The story of her rescue on the final Canadian airlift, her adoption into the loving Morris family, and her determined struggle to walk and play like other children, is recounted in the juvenile biographies Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War and One Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way. Author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch reflects on the experience of discovering Tuyet’s story:
“It was a revelation to finally discover Tuyet. I had been wanting to write about the airlift rescue for quite some time and had wanted to write the story from the point of view of one of the rescued children. But because most of those rescued were babies at the time, it meant my days were spent interviewing adoptive parents and the story from their perspective. Interesting and poignant, yes, but not the story I wanted to tell.
And then, through the grapevine, I found out that the oldest orphan on that last flight to Canada lived in my own home town. Not only that, but she lived around the corner from my old house and her kids went to the same school that my son had gone to.
I looked up her phone number and called out of the blue. She was receptive and friendly and agreed to meet. We chose a local Vietnamese restaurant.
And the rest, they say, is history.”
—Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
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