The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

January/February 2004
FEATURE
   
 

The Last Babylift Babies
Lana and Byron & Their Adopted Children

BY JIM BELSHAW


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 environmentVietnam, 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 promise.

"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 year.

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 people78 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 competition.

"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.

   

Visit The VVA Veteran archives
to locate back issues.

E-mail us at TheVeteran@vva.org


     Home | Membership | Publications | Events | Government Relations | Contact Us
Press Releases | Benefits | Meetings & Special Events | Collectibles | Contributions and Sponsorships | Site Index

Vietnam Veterans of America  
8605 Cameron Street, Suite 400
Silver Spring, Maryland  20910-3710
301-585-4000, Fax 301-585-0519, 1-800-VVA-1316  

Copyright 2005 by the Vietnam Veterans of America. All rights reserved.