Operation Lifeline

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name:
Operation Lifeline
Republic of Vietnam
April, May, and September 1963
Emergency: Hundreds of Vietnamese orphans lacked adequate food, clothing, and other supplies.
Organizations: 4440th Aircraft Delivery Group and 817th Troop Carrier Squadron
Airlifted: More than 14 tons of wheat, clothing, toys, baby food, soap, citrus juice, and other supplies.
Aircraft Used: C–130 (seven)

When Air Force Capt. Hiram R. (Rex) Sullivan of Da Nang AB in South Vietnam visited the nearby Sacred Heart Orphanage in June 1962, he was moved by the needs of the 200 children there. He organized an unofficial relief effort he called Operation Lifeline. At first, the operation was limited to Air Force personnel in the Da Nang area willing to lend time and labor, but it grew as Sullivan sent letters of appeal to PACAF. By the time his tour of duty in Vietnam ended in April 1963, Operation Lifeline had grown into an Air Force-wide effort to help more than 700 orphans at seven orphanages across South Vietnam.

Air Force headquarters approved the use of cargo planes to airlift contributions of food, clothing, and other supplies to the South Vietnamese orphanages on a space-available basis. In April, May, and September 1963, seven C–130s—five from the 817th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 315th Air Division and two from the 4440th Aircraft Delivery Group—airlifted more than 14 tons of wheat, clothing, toys, baby food, soap, and other supplies to Da Nang and Saigon.

Lt. Alfred Schwab piloted the first plane to Da Nang on April 12, delivering half a ton of clothing, food, toys, and soap from the 817th Troop Carrier Squadron at Naha AB, Okinawa. Robins AFB in Georgia, Amarillo AFB in Texas, and Hickam AFB in Hawaii also contributed goods for the orphan airlift. Most of the wheat came from the Tulia, Texas, area after Lt. Teddy R. Lowe, 315th Air Division air terminal commander at Da Nang AB, wrote to his father in Tulia soliciting food contributions from his community. Volunteers delivered the wheat to Amarillo AFB for the airlift.

Florida citrus growers and canners contributed 760 cases of citrus juice to Operation Lifeline airlift in September. They responded to a request from Capt. E. T. Morgan, an airman from Venice, Florida, stationed in South Vietnam. Morgan’s father-in-law, J. Leighton Cornwell, contacted the Venice Chamber of Commerce for support.

At least one of the 4440th Aircraft Delivery Group C–130s flew relief cargo from a modification center at Robins AFB to South Vietnam, stopping at Amarillo and Hickam AFBs to pick up wheat, clothing, baby food, and toys.

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