Originally created 06/13/05

'Journey of a lifetime'



ATLANTA - Wendy Greene didn't get much sleep the night before her journey back home.

Ms. Greene kept imagining the moment of her arrival in Ho Chi Minh City - formerly Saigon. But she couldn't complete the picture in her mind.

With 20 other Vietnamese adoptees, Ms. Greene departed Sunday morning from her adopted country on a return visit to the land of her birth - Vietnam. She says the anticipation has made the event an "emotional roller coaster."

"My head is spinning right now," said Ms. Greene, 30, who was raised in Charlotte, N.C., and currently lives in Atlanta. "We're going to embark on this crazy experience. This is an incredible, amazing, happy and sad feeling I have."

The special flight commemorated the 30th anniversary of Operation Babylift, in which 3,000 Vietnamese children were airlifted to the United States at the end of the Vietnam War.

Atlanta-based World Airways accommodated the former adoptees on an aircraft specially painted with the red and white design and logo the company used in 1975.

Pilots Ken Healy and Bill Keating, who flew the original Operation Babylift out of Saigon, and other former crew members joined them on the flight.

"After two years of planning, we are finally on our way for what will be the second journey of a lifetime for many of these individuals," said Randy Martinez, the CEO of World Air Holding Inc.

As Saigon was falling in early April 1975, a World Airways flight took off under cover of night with 57 children - mostly babies, all orphaned or given up by their parents - on board. That month, the U.S. government would bring thousands more children from Vietnam to the United States.

Shirley Peck-Barnes, the author of The War Cradle, which documents the legacy of Operation Babylift, calls it the greatest humanitarian gesture of the last century.

Not all of the children survived the trip. One C5-A cargo plane crashed, killing almost half the 330 children and adults on board.

For Tiana Mykkeltvedt, the trip will mark her second return to Vietnam. In 1997, she visited her native land for a study abroad program.

"I remember how emotional that was for me," she said. "Now since I've gone and been there, I would definitely like to be there and share this experience with everyone else."

The group will return to the United States on July 17.