Forty years ago this month as the war in Vietnam was finally coming to an end, President Ford initiated Operation Babylift, a project to move thousands of orphaned children out of the region.
Unfortunately the inaugural Operation Babylift flight ended in tragedy crashing within minutes of takeoff. One hundred and thirty-eight infants, flight crew and caregivers died in the this plane crash including Capt. Mary T. Klinker — Lafayette native. She was enlisted as a flight nurse responsible for caring for the children during their transport to the Philippines.
In 1974, President Gerald Ford announced the “Operation Babylift.” This mission’s purpose was to evacuated more than 2000 orphaned children from Saigon. President Ford authorized the use of the special foreign aid children’s fund to fly these South Vietnamese orphans to the United States. Over the course of 10 days in April 1975, the other 25 flights all were completed without problems.
In all, more than 110,000 refugees were evacuated from South Vietnam, including 3,300 orphaned children under the age of 10, who were relocated with families in the United States, Australia, France and Canada.
Capt. Mary T. Klinker was 27-years-old when she died and was the last nurse and the only member of the US Air Force Nurse Corps to be killed in Vietnam. Capt. Mary T. Klinker was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal for Heroism and the Meritorious Service Medal and is listed on Panel: O1W, Row 122 of The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington DC.
Mary T. Klinker was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Klinker from Lafayette. She lived in Lafayette most of her life, was a member of St. Lawrence Church, and graduated from Central Catholic High School and the St. Elizabeth School of Nursing. Mary Klinker served in the Air Force as a flight nurse, instructor and flight examiner from 1969 until her death on April 4, 1975 — 40 years ago this month.
The Mary T. Klinker Veterans Resource Center is located in the LUM offices. Lafayette Urban Ministry is pleased to provide office space to the Mary T. Klinker Veterans Resource Center and to work in close partnership with this organization to find more permanent housing solutions for veterans who are guests in the LUM Emergency Shelter for the Homeless.
Follow the Mary T. Klinker Veterans Resource Center on Facebook.