by F/E AL QUACK
Na Trang Beach
Cam Ranh Bay
WAKE ISLAND, PACIFIC OCEAN
ONA LA SUPERVISOR
MAGGIE LLOYD ZEIBAK
MAGGIE LLOYD ZEIBAK ON ONA
Maggie Lloyd Zeibak
ONA Los Angeles Supervisor
author of article
Return to Tent City
by Maggie Lloyd Zeibak
Thirty-five years ago, in the early summer of 1975,
the Fall of Saigon was over. Thousands of desperate
refugees stampeded to obtain any means of transport
leaving the country, and they were forced to make heart-
rending decisions concerning their families. Avoiding
death or mistreatment was uppermost in the minds of the
terror-stricken Vietnamese. Who can forget the image of
Ed Daley, President of World Airways, fighting and
beating back people who were clinging to the aft
stairwell, as the plane was in take-off mode? The Da
Nang rescue was for women and children, but soldiers
fought their way to the aircraft trying to get on
During the evacuation, many US charter and commercial
airlines operated flights to Wake Island, Guam and the
US, but many panicked residents of Vietnam who could
not get a seat, packed themselves into rickety boats
and set sail hoping to find safety – some did; others
perished or were taken captive. Makeshift boats,
overloaded to a dangerous capacity with dehydrated,
starving people, were preyed upon by pirates. Adrift
on an unforgiving ocean with no shelter from the
elements, some escaped to freedom, others to holding
camps where they were held prisoner.
The freedom camps in the US were hastily constructed,
temporary housing facilities on military bases, which
also served as destinations for Operation Baby Lift.
Vietnamese and Cambodian orphans were airlifted into
the US to be cared for by voluntary adoption agencies.
Camp Pendleton Marine Base in Southern California was
part of Operation New Life, receiving evacuated
refugees who were medically screened and treated
before taking a step towards a new beginning in
America. Eight Tent Cities within the Base were home
to 36,000 people who had virtually no possessions and
had barely escaped with their lives.
ONA’s DC-10s figured prominently in the humanitarian
flights, where the contrast between orderly military
flights and getting a large number of people relocated
was overwhelming. As the American public welcomed them
in so many ways, there was a call for sponsors to help
them find jobs and assist them in blending into the
Steedman and Ingrid Hinckley spearheaded a company
project to sponsor the wellbeing of a group of
individuals to be hired as Flight Attendants. Rapidly,
arrangements swung into action.
Toting the necessary paperwork and application forms,
Marliese Berger and I found ourselves driving down the
San Diego Freeway to Camp Pendleton, California. Our
mission – recruit a class from the Vietnamese and
Ingrid Hinckley Lindsay, Sam Rogers
Marliese Berger Edelman and
Sigrid Glemnitz White Kornacher
at ONA New York 2003 crew reunion.
Upon arrival at the Base there weren’t the security
issues that are in place today as we were able to
drive freely inside and without an escort. The Red
Cross had set up the Job Center and ushered us into
a tent that had very little ventilation – the same
tents the refugees were living in for 24-hours a day.
The candidates had been pre-screened for us and were
predominantly males who had held responsible positions
in Vietnam. Would these people adapt to the menial
tasks given to cabin crew? It was going to be a tough
By the time candidate number 5 walked in, it was
obvious that the grapevine was working well. Clearly,
the previous candidates had shared the questions and
were rehearsing the answers with the next in line.
Almost immediately, candidate number 5 volunteered,
“I can swim!” without being asked the question.
Oh dear. This was not what we expected and became
increasingly unhappy about the outcome of the day.
In particular, we were dreading telling Mr.Hinckley
that we couldn’t find appropriate candidates, so we
continued the interviewing process, hoping against
hope that some stars would appear. But the language
was a problem. Very few had command of the English
language and it was even worse in the Cambodian camp.
We abandoned the mission, regretful and disillusioned.
Later, another plan was made to recruit in Guam where
four men and seven women (Duc Thang Tran, An Nguyen,
Cong Nguyen, Suree Richardson, Phuc Kim Nguyen, Phuoc
Nguyen, Ly Diep, Anh Kim Dowd, Quyen Nguyen,
Chau Diep, Trang Nguyen) were invited to ONA’s Flight
Attendant Training School in New York under the able
supervision of Chris Dawkins-Mathison.
Here it is in August 2010 and I am driving down the
same freeway headed for the same destination –
Camp Pendleton, Ca. This time my mission is to view
a photographic exhibit ‘Images at War’s End’ displayed
in the historic Ranch House on the Base.
Entering the Visitor’s lane, my identification was
quickly slipped through a scanning device and the
sentry gave me vague directions – “Darn”, I thought,
“still no military escort”? The main road was very
busy due to 150 Marines and sailors returning from
a seven-month tour in Iraq, plus big time maneuvers
were underway. I could feel the reverberations of
the high explosive munitions being dropped and I
wasn’t too pleased to hear that part of the exercise
included Mortar and Artillery Live Fire, but I was
well away from the danger zone.
Driving past the yellow, scrubby brush it was obvious
that this Base was a lot different from 1975,
especially when McDonald’s came into view, together
with other fast food restaurants and cinemas. The
sharp hills prevented any view on one side and on
the other, not far beyond the buildings, lay the
The exhibit was behind a creaky screen door and my
footsteps echoed on the wood floor – I was the only
one there. I entered two small rooms hung with
paintings by Col. Charles Waterhouse (Resident
Artist of the USMC) and photographs of the Tent
City. They showed the daily life of the refugees,
the medical care, the laundry facilities, the
games and the weddings – their lives under canvas
immortalized on canvas. Rounding the corner of a
freestanding screen, I stood still. Amazingly,
right before my eyes was a photograph of an
Overseas National Airways aircraft deplaning
passengers back in 1975.
I smiled. Things have a way of coming full
circle, don’t they? Pure serendipity.
Ingrid and Steedman Hinckley at
an ONA aircraft christening
Steedman Hinckley praising
ONA Flight Attendants for their
charitable and compassionate
action on the misson of carrying
Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees
from Guam to the US.
Flying with Bill