Head to the Presidio Officers’ Club for an emotional tribute to the children airlifted out of war-torn Vietnam to the US in 1975, as well as those who pulled it off. Operation Babylift: Perspectives and Legacies is part of the seasonally changing exhibits hosted in the Presidio Heritage Hall. This exhibit runs through the end of 2015 and will be especially poignant to families, and will surely spark conversation and questions for those old enough to grasp the larger concepts.

Photo Credit: Charity Vargas for the Presidio Trust
A Calming VIbe

A mellow soundtrack plays as you enter the exhibition, and it seemed to have a calming effect on even the most boisterous child. In the far corner a video shows moving interviews with people involved in the Presidio’s history. The combination of music and conversation seems to slow the kids down—we even saw some curled up on the plush seating watching the video about the area’s unique history. Next, meander between the partition walls and discover the extraordinary story of Operation Babylift. The exhibition coincides with the 40th anniversary of a dramatic airlift that removed more than 2,000 Vietnamese children from their war-torn country to be adopted by American families as Saigon fell. Foreign-run orphanages and adoption agencies spurred these efforts, with hundreds of children passing through the Presidio on their journey to new lives in the US.

Photo Credit: Charity Vargas for the Presidio Trus

Unanswered Questions
The exhibition doesn’t shy away from the controversy of the airlifts. One wall is dedicated to a timeline of events, including images of the war and newspaper articles raising questions about whether Operation Babylift was ethical or even legal.  Was it a political ploy to ease the guilt of what had happened in Vietnam or an act of philanthropy when faced with children in crisis? These are the questions raised. The exhibition doesn’t promise answers but asks how dialogue might deepen our common understanding of events, of history and of each other.

Photo Credit: Charity Vargas for the Presidio Trus

Start a Conversation
With dialogue the theme, it makes sense that a central display is dedicated to conversations between some of the Vietnamese adoptees and the volunteers who got them out, gave medical aid or processed them to new homes. Five thousand volunteers helped with the operation, some risking their careers to be involved. Handheld audio sets (always a winner with the kids) give access to these moving conversations, touching on larger issues of history, identity and parental love.

Photo Credit: Charity Vargas for the Presidio Trus

Good to Know
While some of this might be a bit much for the little ones, combine it with a Sunday picnic at Off The Grid or some Mexican fare at newly opened Arguello for a well-rounded day out. Even better, drop in for imaginative (and free) craft-making offered every weekend just down the corridor and tag team to get a look at this exhibition—it will not disappoint.

Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Dec. 31. Closed Mondays


Presidio Officers’ Club
50 Moraga Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
Online: presidioofficersclub.com

Getting there
Paid parking is available. Or take the free PresidiGo Downtown Shuttle to the Presidio.
It runs 7 days a week with regular pick ups from the Transbay Terminal, Embarcadero BART, and Van Ness/Union.

Do you have a perspective on Operation Babylift? Let us know in the comments below.

—Emily Myers