Onetime Vietnamese orphans and veterans remember Operation Babylift

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- 40 years ago, Operation Babylift brought thousands of young people -- some of them orphaned -- out of the war zone in Vietnam, with a number of them ending up in the Bay Area.

At San Francisco's Presidio, a special exhibit recalls that powerful time four decades ago when war-shattered lives began anew.

Lauralee and Dale Depriest visited with their adopted Vietnam-born daughter Julie Ormerod, who is now 41 and married.

Julie was an infant when Operation Babylift rescued her from her native country.

"It was an exciting day! A day that we'd been waiting for," remembered Dale Depriest.

Julie wears a medal that reads "April 9th Gotcha Day." She is grateful.

"Thank you for taking care of us for helping and making sure that we were safe and caring and opening their arms and hearts," said Julie.

She came to the United States in April of 1975 when Vietnam about to fall. A desperate people faced desperate times.

President Gerald Ford authorized Operation Babylift. KTVU covered the evacuation of thousands of Vietnamese orphans to the bay area as it happened. Many of them were the mixed race children of U.S. soldiers. Their caretakers came too.

Operation Babylift became a humanitarian gesture that resonated across the globe. Many of those children were adopted in the bay area and offered citizenship.

They assimilated to this country, riding the Oakland Zoo Train and winning hearts as they embraced their new home.

On Thursday, Julie gave a reunion hug to Lony Weissman, one of the veterans who helped 40 years ago.

"It was a healing kind of experience," said Weissman. "I got a chance to know that I was doing something positive for the country and the people of Vietnam."

On Thursday night, where 40 years ago many of the orphans first met the parents who adopted them, the adoptees will return for a reunion dinner. They say they're eager to add their voices to the narrative of an important chapter in U.S. history.