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Ford's 100th birthday: Second Vietnam orphan remembers the man who saved them

By Megan Terlecky, News Channel 3 Anchor & Reporter, megan.terlecky@kesq.com
Published On: Jul 13 2013 10:32:56 PM CDT

Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library

PALM DESERT, Calif. -

Sunday marks what would have been President Gerald Ford's 100th birthday.  After leaving the White House, Mr. Ford made the Coachella Valley his home until his death the day after Christmas in 2006.

Many remember him for pardoning President Nixon after Watergate,but, others remember Mr. Ford for saving the lives of thousands Vietnam orphans.  

Now, those orphans are all grown up and celebrating the life of the man who saved their lives. 

Alison Doerr's biological parents abandoned her as a baby in South Vietnam.  An American family took steps to adopt her when the country was on the verge of collapse.

"My family found out that they were set up with me and they happen to find a friend fighting in the army in Vietnam who would go over and take pictures of me and check in on their behalf," said Doerr.

As the region grew more and more unstable, Doerr's life along with thousands of other orphans were in danger. 

"It was known that if something didn't happen to take all of those orphans out of there that something really bad was going to happen to them," said Vietnam veteran Joe Snyder.

That's when President Ford stepped in.  He commissioned 30 flights to rescue these children, many of whom were fathered by American servicemen. 

"He said we have to do this, this is something that we have to do and we are going after as many orphans that we can get and we are going to bring them out of South Vietnam and that is exactly what happened," said Snyder.

Doerr was set to leave on the first flight and was to be carried off the plane by President Ford himself. 

"I got the chicken pox and I was really ill so they decided to hold be back and go to the next flight," said Doerr.

That first flight crashed, killing nearly half the passengers on board.  That wasn't the first time fate intervened in Doerr's life, when she returned to Vietnam 22 years later on a visit, she learned her orphanage was hit by a measles outbreak when she was there.  She was only one of two babies to survive. 

"I defiantly believe in guardian angles after hearing those kind of things," said Doerr.

Now, 38 years old, Doerr is raising a family of her own, one that she says wouldn't be if not for President Ford. 

"I wish we could have meet him at some of our Vietnamese reunions and let him see the product of what came out of such a bold decision at that time," said Doerr. "They got out all of the children that they could but, when the communists came took over, the children that were still there they took them away and you can only guess what happened.  I know that it would have been a bad situation for the people who couldn't have gotten out, so he saved a lot of lives."

An interesting fact, President Ford met the first planes that arrived in San Francisco in person.  To get there, he flew in Airforce One directly from Palm Springs.