On the ground as the North Vietnamese army advanced
Aiding orphans in Vietnam wasn’t new to Ruth Routten CoL, an American Airlines flight attendant who, on her days off, had escorted children from Vietnam to adoptive families starting in 1973. After the C-5A crash in early April 1975, when she returned to Saigon to assist with the final evacuation, the situation on the ground had become acute. Orphanages were once again at full capacity as Catholic sisters from provincial orphanages brought more and more children. Finding flights out had become nearly impossible. After a promised flight for the orphans had been canceled by a charter aircraft company, Ruth, with Susan Carol McDonald SL, Rosemary Taylor and Australian volunteer Sr. Doreen Beckett brainstormed evacuation options.
Tensions skyrocketed. Vietnamese staff shared reports from Radio Hanoi that those who had cooperated with American agencies were considered war criminals. American Armed Forces Radio announced that the signal to report immediately to evacuation sites would be “It is 110 degrees in Saigon and rising,” followed by the playing of “White Christmas.”
By April 25, the North Vietnamese takeover was imminent and there were still 270 orphans waiting to leave. The women worked around the clock caring for the children and preparing for evacuation. Finally a flight was scheduled; Ruth and Susan flew out on April 26, four days before the Northern army takeover, on a bare-bones C-141 cargo plane. Children were strapped in several to a seat; others were on blankets spread across the floor; infants traveled in boxes with Susan. The orphans were brought to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines where they underwent medical exams and were assigned caretakers. Susan then arranged for the children’s flights from the Philippines to the U.S. on C-141 cargo planes.
Ruth flew on to McCord Air Force Base near Seattle and escorted orphans to Europe and Australia. That same year, 1975, she had also volunteered with Families For Childre Cambodia orphanage, including arranging the March 1975 evacuation. In subsequent years, she has assisted with planning and coordinating Motherland Tours for adoptees to their birthplace, as well as reunions so that cribmates could reunite; many have formed enduring friendships.