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The Story

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Two Girls at An Loc Orphange
Two Girls at An Loc Orphange

PRECIOUS CARGO follows the bittersweet journey of a group of Vietnamese young people, adopted by American families at the end of the Vietnam War, who travel back to their homeland in search of their personal history. The film tells the fascinating story of Operation Babylift, which brought 2,700 children to the United States. It also introduces audiences to many of the pioneering adoptive parents who began a movement that has grown to redefine the American family by embracing these biracial, sometimes disabled children as their own.

As Saigon fell in April 1975, panic and confusion reigned. Orphanages were filled with children who had lost their parents, children of American GIs whose Vietnamese mothers had put them up for adoption, and the malnourished, sick and disabled. In response to the crisis, President Gerald Ford allocated two million dollars to airlift 2,700 orphans to the United States. Other children went on to Australia, Canada and Europe for adoption.

Gerald Ford holding baby
Gerald Ford holding an infant from Operation Babylift
The first flight out crashed soon after take-off. Of the 330 adults and children on board, 154 perished in the tragedy. The first flight that landed safely in the U.S. was met by none other than President Ford, who carried a Vietnamese baby in his arms off the plane.

Several other planeloads of children were airlifted out within a week and went on to their new homes, with their new American families. PRECIOUS CARGO tells the story of several of these children, now in their late 20s and mid-30s, as they head back on a reunion trip to Vietnam. This motherland journey was sponsored by Holt International Children's Services, which ran one of the many Vietnamese orphanages.

Todd Adamson with orphan
Adoptee Todd Adamson carries a Vietnamese orphan
On their native soil, the adoptees journey to the orphanages they came from, often meeting the nuns and nurses who cared for them. Raised in relative affluence and comfort, they confront the overcrowding and poverty, as well as the natural beauty and mysticism of their homeland, and wrestle with complex feelings of loss and gratitude, connection and detachment. We travel with them to the War Remnants Museum where their hosts politely but firmly express their strongly anti-American, anti-Babylift sentiments. Finally, we see the adoptees as they return home to Washington, D.C., to a moving reunion ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial. With their American parents, the adoptees talk about what they've learned, experienced and come to know about themselves, their birth country and their beloved adoptive families.

As adoptee Liz Sowles says, "For me, the trip answered a lot of questions in the sense of being at peace with what happened to me. Just seeing that other people on the trip also had emotions and that we were all in the same boat was a help. I'm very lucky where I live, I have great people who love me and I love them dearly...I think it's the best thing I've done so far."

As one adoptee's mother says, "These children needed homes, they needed food, they needed medical care. That's what was important. The political part of it was not important." Both heart-breaking and joyous, PRECIOUS CARGO is a moving tribute to the resilience and strength of the adoptees and their families.

Precious Cargo The Adoptees Resources The Film Talkback Operation Babylift