Interview of Operation Babylift Adoptee–Robert Ballard

One of our very own adoptees, Robert Ballard, was interviewed for Canadian press The!

Robert Ballard
Robert Ballard

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Lost children of Vietnam – CanadaWorld – Lost children of Vietnam

Thirty-four years ago, 3,300 orphans were evacuated from a war-torn Saigon in a massive humanitarian effort called Operation Babylift. UW’s Robert Ballard was one of those children

Published 04.02.2009


He was much too young to make sense of the chaos.

At just three weeks old, the child who would later be named Robert Ballard could not have understood why he and hundreds of other Vietnamese orphans were being corralled onto a military airplane.

A tiny wristband on his arm bore the name Vu Tien Do II — his only link to an identity and a family history that would intrigue him for the rest of his life.

Growing up in Colorado, he would often ask his adoptive parents about Operation Babylift — the 1975 evacuation of orphans from wartorn Vietnam — and they told him as much as they knew.

But Ballard was haunted by questions of heritage and belonging, and wondered what became of the other children from Saigon’s orphanages.

Some of his questions may be answered tomorrow night, when Ballard — now an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo — attends the world premiere in California of the documentary Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam.

“I’m glad people will get to hear our stories and voices as Vietnamese adoptees,” Ballard said yesterday in his UW office.

Ballard is featured prominently in the documentary, not only as a Vietnamese adoptee himself, but also because he and his wife are now in the process of adopting a baby boy from Vietnam.

Much of Ballard’s academic work focuses on issues surrounding international adoption practices, and he is working on a soon-to-be-published book aimed at providing guidance for adopted teens.

Ballard and his wife will fly to Los Angeles tomorrow morning to attend the premiere of the film among fellow adoptees and director Tammy Nguyen Lee, as part of the Vietnamese International Film Festival.

The film documents the frenzied efforts that ensued when then-U.S. president Gerald Ford approved Operation Babylift, which ultimately saw the evacuation of roughly 3,300 children from Vietnam to the United States, Canada, France and other nations.

How, exactly, Ballard ended up on one of the flights is a mystery. There is no record of him at a Saigon orphanage. It’s possible he was one of many babies brought to the airport at the last minute by desperate parents hoping the airlift would carry the children toward safer, happier lives.

Such uncertainties have troubled Ballard in the past, but through his own research and involvement in the documentary, he has gained perspective on the events that shaped his life 34 years ago.

“I don’t harbour any resentment toward the people who made those difficult decisions,” he says.

“This is the life I have been given and I have made the best of what I’ve been given.”

Watch a trailer of Operation Babylift at

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