Front pages offer unique look back at 1975

DOVER — Every now and then, we remind ourselves that today’s news becomes tomorrow’s history.

For those of us in the news business, we’re fascinated with how our predecessors handled the big stories.

26dsn from the editor c5 crashThe 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War, observed this Thursday, offer an opportunity to review the front pages from April 1975.

Today’s column includes two historic headlines, one from the day prior to the fall when helicopters were evacuating Americans from Saigon rooftops.

The other features the heartbreaking story of a C-5 crash on April 4, 1975. It was the first flight of Operation Babylift, carrying more than 200 orphans.

The lead of the April 29, 1975, Associated Press story in the Delaware State News (then published in the afternoon):

U.S. helicopters swooped down on Saigon rooftops and the Tan Son Nhut airport today and began evacuating most of the remaining 800 to 900 Americans. Some of the Americans fought off South Vietnamese desperately trying to flee before Communist-led forces take over.

America’s 30-year involvement in the Indochina war was ending in wild and tragic scenes, with U.S. Marines and civilians using pistol and rifle butts to smash the fingers of Vietnamese trying to claw their way over the 10-foot wall of the U.S. Embassy.

From the Editor logo copy copyThe next day’s headline was, “Saigon is calm as North Viets move into city.”

***

The reminder of the anniversary and prompt to look back on the old pages came with an Associated Press reminder of the occasion and announcement of a two-hour retrospective planned for Thursday at Delaware State University.

Delaware State University history and political science professor Sam Hoff will moderate a program 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday in the Bank of America Auditorium on the DSU campus. The program, which will include thoughts of professors and four local Vietnam veterans, is open to the public.

“It’s not going to be the somber affair that some people might think, nor is it going to be giddy,” said Dr. Hoff. “I think it’s going to be realistic, reflective and appreciative of what those soldiers did.”

Dr. Hoff said the event, in part, was a way for him to “make my own peace” with Vietnam.

He said he graduated from high school about 10 days after the end of the war. “My high school class is known best for watching the end of the war,” he said.

The events of the time inspired him to more deeply study and teach courses on the war.

In 2004, he visited Vietnam for 10 days in an international educational exchange.

A keynote address will be made by Dover’s Dave Skocik, a Vietnam veteran who spent 18 months at DaNang between July 1966 and February 1968 as an Air Force air freight crew chief and moved supplies into remote jungle air strips with C-130s.

A few days ago, he recalled hearing the news about the fall of Saigon.

“I was in Greenland,” he said. “I remember being in a control tower that day, and hearing the news. I was depressed 29dsn from the editor final evacuationand heartbroken about the whole thing and wondering what did it all mean.”

Professors Steven Newton, Yinghong Cheng and Niklas Robinson also will make presentations.

The list of local veterans sharing their experiences will include Woody Postle, Rick Lovekin, Mahlon Fegley and Paul Davis.

The program also will include a short documentary that highlights some of the American humanitarian efforts.

***

In 1975, the front pages of the Delaware State News did not include much local reaction to the war, but there were two interesting features about Dover and Milford families who hoped to adopt Vietnamese orphans.

A Dover mother, already of three daughters, was among 12 Delaware families who had applied. “We’ve got a lot of hugs to go around,” she said.

For those families and anyone associated with military airlift, the April 4, 1975, story was one of tragedy and heroism.

Under orders from President Gerald Ford, Dennis “Bud” Traynor was the pilot of the first C-5 sent to lead a evacuation mission called Operation Babylift.

The crew loaded 270 orphans, 53 civilians and five medical personnel on the C-5.

Babies were put in passenger seats in the usual seating area above the cargo area. There were six to 10 in each of the seats usually occupied by three adults.

Additional seats, also filled with orphans, had been installed in the cargo floor.

About 12 minutes after takeoff, the rear pressure door and ramp exploded, causing a rapid decompression. The control cables to the tail were severed.

Col. Traynor’s training led him to add full power to the C-5 and banking to keep the plane from diving and managed to somewhat control the crash into a rice paddy near the Tan Son Nhut Air Base runway.

He received the Air Force Cross for valor for his role in saving so many lives that day. There were 176 survivors on the plane.

When he first entered the Air Force, Col. Traynor was a C-133A pilot at Dover Air Force Base. He now lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

By April 7, 1,700 orphans had arrived in the U.S. as part of Operation Babylift. Some of those included children who survived the crash.

***

We would welcome the public’s reflections on the Vietnam War era and how it impacted or changed your life.

 

 

Reach editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.