Assaults by Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army defeated the South Vietnamese Army in 1975. Saigon fell on April 30 of that year, ending a series of wars which had plagued that country, with one brief interruption, since 1940. From 4 April to 3 September 1975, Operation New Life and Operation Babylift, brought 111,919 refugees to the United States through Guam, with 93,987 of these refugees receiving asylum in the United States. Madame Vu Thai Ngai and Betty Tisdale (Operation Babylift and Anloc Orphanage) became honored guests at Camp Mineron.
Airlifts from Saigon's Tan Son Nhat Airport unloaded at Andersen Air Force Base. Passengers were escorted to huge tent cities, where tents erected just hours before awaited them. Those who fled Vietnam by sea landed at the Naval Supply Station at Apra Harbor, Guam. First responders included personnel from USS Hector, the Naval Station and Camp Covington CB Base. Tasked with providing food and shelter, Naval Station Tug Base personnel improvised housing from abandoned warehouses of decommissioned Camp Minron with cots and supplies from the base emergency hurricane supplies, fed hundreds from plastic trash cans full of fish and rice from the base galley. The Hector also provided hot meals from her own stores and galley. Outside showers were made from a circle of metal lockers and fire hoses with sprinkler heads. The CB's set up Vietnam-style steel drum toilets, which were immediately overwhelmed.
Tents were set up at Army-run Camp Orote on an abandoned airstrip. At its peak it held a population of 39,331. More than 90,000 refugees were processed there just weeks before Typhoon Pamela slammed ashore with winds in excess of 145 knots.
The camp at Orote Point (called Camp Rainbow) was staffed by units from the U.S. 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; initially under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Will H. Horn (April–May), and later of Colonel Jack O'Donohue (June–September). The command consisted of two infantry battalions, elements of the 25th Supply and Transport Battalion, a field hospital from San Antonio, Texas, and intelligence teams. The total U.S. Army contingent consisted of approximately 2,000 soldiers.
American C-141s continued shuttling refugees into Guam throughout May, especially from Subic Bay.
Some 40% of those transiting Guam were from Vietnam's ethnic Chinese population. Other groups disproportionately represented were the South Vietnamese military and civil service, many of whom would have faced imprisonment and reeducation camps had they remained. Those made suspect by their international education also departed—by one count, Vietnam lost two-thirds of its physicians in less than a month.
The Canadian government established a presence on Guam, announcing it too would accept refugees. English-speaking immigrants to Canada were upsetting a political balance between Quebec and its English-speaking provinces; because Vietnam's colonial language had been French, the Canadian government sought, found and accepted French-speaking, professionally educated refugees.
Assistance to Operation New Life was provided by the volunteer organization Australian Society for Intercountry Aid (A.S.I.A.); its, medical director, John Whitehall, operated a clinic in Guam's Tokyu Hotel for most of the month of May 1975. A dozen volunteer A.S.I.A. nurses served at Orote Point under U.S. Military command. The A.S.I.A. contribution arose from a request made in Saigon in April 1975 by Irons of USAID to Australian ex-Army officer Michael Darby for the recruitment of Australian medical volunteers to assist with the expected rush of refugees.
During the second phase of the operation, 1,546 "politically sensitive" refugees were kept under guard in a separate part of camp. All were former Viet Cong caught up in the mass migration; they returned to Vietnam on the M/V Thung Tin One at their own request. These former Viet Cong were offloaded onto life rafts by U.S. Navy personnel a short distance off the coast and instructed to paddle back to Vietnam. They did so, too, after first stripping off their U.S.-issued clothing and jettisoning relief supplies that had been provided by the United States.
- ""Operation New Life", Guam, 1975". U.S. Army Center of Military History. http://www.history.army.mil/Art/a&i/guam.htm. Retrieved 2007-05-10.
- "Operation New Life". GlobalSecurity.org. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/new_life.htm.
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