Operation Babylift: Perspectives and Legacies

Curated by the Adoption Museum Project, Operation Babylift: Perspectives and Legacies explores the diverse experiences and lasting impacts of a dramatic airlift that removed more than 2,000 Vietnamese orphans from their war-torn country to be adopted by American families as Saigon fell in April 1975.

The extraordinary story continued at the Presidio, where more than 1,500 of these children were transferred before being placed with adoptive families. As more than 5,400 volunteers in the San Francisco Bay Area cared for the children, Operation Babylift itself was being debated across the country.

Through photos, artifacts with community contributed labels, a multimedia timeline and StoryCorps dialogues between adoptees and Presidio volunteers, the exhibition explores the diverse points of view that existed then and now. Visitors are encouraged to reflect and share their own perspectives. Gallery content is partially translated into Vietnamese and a print guide with full Vietnamese translation is available.

The exhibition and public program series is co-curated by the Presidio Trust and Adoption Museum Project, and was shaped by input from 42 community contributors. It marks the 40th anniversary of Operation Babylift and the end of the Vietnam War.

Visit the exhibition website.


A series of public programs explores exhibition themes more deeply and in different formats including panel conversations, presentations, workshops and performances. These programs are presented as part of the ongoing calendar of events at the Presidio Officer’s Club. Admission is free. Registration may be required.

Upcoming programs:

10/15/15: Nguyen da Yen v Kissinger: A Legal Challenge to Operation Babylift

11/5/15: Narrative Burden

11/6/15: Dialoguing About Adoption: A Workshop

12/10/15: An Evening of Playback Theater


Operation Babylift is part of adoption history. Beyond the fact that over 2,000 adoptions took place, ideas about adoption were powerfully at play. These ideas informed the motivations of people who acted and how the adoptees and their families, American and Vietnamese, experienced their lives. By looking at this historic event, deeply and from multiple points of view, we can consider many ideas that still matter in adoption today: the impact of war, the meaning and practice of humanitarian action, transracial and international adoption, community, family, identity, race and belonging.


Forty-two community contributors helped shape the exhibition. They provided input beginning with the early concept stage and contributed ideas, artifacts, artifact labels, and personal stories. Community contributors included 18 Vietnamese adoptees as well as adoptive parents, adoption agency workers, military and medical personnel, Vietnam veterans, civilian volunteers, people who contested Operation Babylift, Vietnamese adoptees who were brought to the U.S. at other times, and Vietnamese Americans.


Adoption Museum Project was invited to co-curated both the exhibition and public program series with the Presidio Trust. As part of an incredible Presidio Trust team, we worked on nearly every aspect of the project including: research, community engagement, concept development, gallery design, artifact identification, script, content development, communications, docent training, evaluation as well as the public program series.