Heather Constance Noone/Mai Ngoc
Tran was born circa February 1975, "circa" being as close to
an actual date of birth the records are able to reflect. Like
her Vietnamese name, one created by an orphanage in Vietnam,
the date of birth is an approximation, the best people could
do at the time. She died several months later on May 17, 1975,
in a Long Island, N.Y., hospital, the adopted daughter of
Byron and Lana Noone.
She had been a very sick baby from the day of her premature
birth, afflicted by diseases and the circumstances of her
environmentVietnam, the spring of 1975, the North Vietnamese
and Viet Cong closing in on Saigon. The Long Island newspaper
Newsday said of her death: "She died of war."
Lana Noone, 28 years old at the time, made her daughter a
"As I sat in her hospital, watching the VC marching toward
Saigon as Heather's life was fading away, I thought: 'I have
to do something. I didn't know what.' But I made a promise to
her that I would do what I could to make sure no one forgot
about Operation Babylift."
In August 2003, the promise became a book, Global Mom:
Notes From a Pioneer Adoptive Family, by Lana Noone, with
Byron, Jennie, and Jason Noone.
In 1974, Lana and her husband Byron were considering adoption.
She was a classical flutist; he was chair of the English
Department at the Lawrence Country Day School and an
instructor at a community college. They had been married seven
years and were childless.
At the large adoption agency they visited in New York City,
the Noones were told that the wait for a domestic adoption
could be very long. In the course of conversation, the social
worker asked if they would consider adopting a baby from
Vietnam. Until the question was asked, they had not considered
it at all. That changed instantly.
"The moment she said that, it was as if the light bulb went
off,'"Lana said. "We thought: 'Great idea, how do we start?'
It was that quick."
In early 1975, they began the process, compiling dossiers,
answering the many questions, filling out page after page of
documentation, being fingerprinted, providing references. They
were told they probably would have a baby in nine months to a
Then, on April 2, President Gerald Ford signed the orders
authorizing Operation Babylift, the airlift of orphans from
Vietnam. The first plane to leave was a C-5A Galaxy that left
Tan Son Nhut airport on April 4. It carried 228 children.
Shortly after takeoff, the rear cargo door blew open. The
plane crashed, killing 128 people78 children, 50 adults. But
through the courageous efforts of the pilot and crew and
others on the plane, many were saved.
About three thousand children were evacuated from Vietnam
between April 2 and April 29. Heather, the adopted daughter of
the Noones, was one of them. Jennifer, another adopted
daughter, was the last to leave Vietnam.
"When Heather died, there were three babies left. They were so
ill the doctors weren't sure they would pull through," Lana
said. "Two were doing a little bit better, but the third was
very sick. That baby became our daughter, Jennifer Nguyen
Noone, the last baby from Babylift."
In 1979, the Noones adopted a Korean baby who became their
son, Jason Paik Noone.
Jennifer, 28, is a cum laude psychology graduate of Drew
University who went on to earn a master's degree in social
work at Columbia University. She has spoken to adoptive
parents' groups nationwide, served as assistant director and
counselor for Holt International Camps for International
Adoptees, has been interviewed in many publications, and has
served on panels examining international adoption issues.
Jason, 26, graduated from Hofstra University and earned a
masters degree from the New York Institute of Technology. He
teaches at a Long Island high school and is the father of an
infant daughter, Heather Marie Song Yee Noone.
Lana Noone said the sibling rivalry that all children
experience came with a unique twist in her house.
"When they were very young, they got into an argument and
Jason said to Jennie, 'My birth country is better than your
birth country.' Only when you're raising two children from two
different countries would you hear that."
She remembers the day Jennifer refused to ride the school bus,
but wouldn't tell her parents why. Lana asked a neighbor who
had a child on the bus. The neighbor said the bus driver kept
talking to Jennifer in that "funny language." Lana went to the
school and talked to the bus driver.
She said he was a "lovely gentleman." And something else, too:
a Vietnam veteran.
"Because Jennifer was so quiet, he thought she had just come
from Vietnam. He wanted to make her feel welcome," she said.
"He used some Vietnamese phrases. I thanked him for his
kindness and told him it was kind of stressing her out. She
didn't understand a word of what he was saying. He was as kind
as he could be, and after that she rode the bus again."
Lana's husband died of cancer in 2002. In August, she
published Global Mom: Notes From a Pioneer Adoptive Family,
a title that came from a chance meeting at a musical
"I spoke with someone I see only once a year," she said. "She
said that she and her husband had adopted a baby from China. I
said, 'That's great.' She said that Byron and I had been the
reason they did it. She called us pioneers. I guess we stood
out in the crowd with our Vietnamese baby. I had no idea we
were having that kind of impact on people's lives."
Reflections on Operation Babylift come with a mixture of
gratitude and sadness for her. "I'm awfully grateful I got to
be a mom, but I do grieve for the birth families. At the time,
there was nothing else that could have been done except for
Babylift. The people who evacuated those babies are heroes to
me. They sacrificed time, energy, and in some cases, their
lives. It was an extraordinary gesture by people who gave so
much so these children might survive."
So Lana Noone wrote a book. She also established a web page,
www.vietnambabylift.org, that provides more information
and links to other Internet sites. "I made a promise to
Heather that I would do what I could to make sure no one
forgot," she said.