by Tom Budzyna
Air Force News Service
3/27/2015 - FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- EDITORS NOTE: This story was originally published March 12, 2013
For more information on Operation Babylift go to the AMC History page here
No matter how far women were kept away from combat roles, they were
never far from harm and the opportunity to rise above and beyond the
call of duty.
An explosion blew out a pressure door of a C-5A Galaxy as it took off
from Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam, April 4, 1975, forcing it to make
an emergency landing with 313 passengers and crew, including 250
The plane was the first to depart in support of Operation Babylift,
where American caregivers were paired with South Vietnamese orphans,
most fathered by Americans, to evacuate them to the Philippines then to
San Diego, Calif., where President Gerald Ford was ready to welcome them
to the United Sates.
Capt. Mary Klinker, the flight nurse and 1st Lt. Regina C. Aune, a
nurse, were on board to help safely secure the children for their
passage to a new life.
Pilot Capt. Dennis "Bud" Traynor and co-pilot Capt. Tilford Harp
heroically controlled the doomed aircraft, but the explosion and a crash
landing changed the lives of all on board.
Aune was thrown the entire length of the upper deck as the crippled
aircraft skidded a quarter mile in a rice paddy, became airborne
approximately a half mile, then crashed into an irrigation ditch where
it was torn into four pieces.
In the crash, Klinker became the last U.S. servicewoman to die in the
Vietnam War and was posthumously awarded the Air Medal and the
Meritorious Service Medal. Her name is listed on panel O1W, row 122 of
the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial.
Aune helped carry 80 babies to rescue helicopters at the muddy crash
site. When unable to continue, she asked the first officer she saw if
she could be relieved of her duties, then passed out. It was later
discovered she helped save these babies with a broken foot, a broken
leg, a broken vertebra and numerous other injuries.
Aune became the first woman to be awarded the Cheney Award, which was
established in 1927 to recognize an Airman for an act of valor, extreme
fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, performed in
connection with aircraft, but not necessarily of a military nature.
In all, 37 medals were awarded to the crew or next-of-kin of the 11
Airmen killed in the crash. Those killed also included 35 Defense
Attaché Office employees and 78 children.
Aune retired an Air Force colonel in 2007.
(Sources include Pablo at Lafayette Urban Ministry and the Air Force News Service)