Described as one of the “most moving tales of heroism,” Colonel Regina C. Aune was the lead medical officer for the first mission of Operation BABYLIFT. Born in Lakewood, Ohio on 27 December 1944, Aune attended Saint John College in Cleveland where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1969. Coming from a strong family tradition of military service that goes back to the Revolutionary War, she joined the United States Air Force in 1972. Combining her fascination of flying and love for nursing, Aune completed Flight Nurse training at the School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks AFB, Texas in 1974. She was then assigned to the 10th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron as a flight nurse. Less than a year later on 3 April 1975, President Gerald Ford ordered Operation BABYLIFT with the goal of rescuing 2,000 Vietnamese orphans. The first mission of Operation BABYLIFT employed a C-5 Galaxy which is not equipped for medical evacuation. The C-5 originated from Altus AFB, transited Travis AFB and then continued on to Clark AB in the Philippines. On 4 April 1975, the C-5 departed for Vietnam and arrived at Tan Son Nhut AB. The original crew totaled 24 personnel including two photographers and five medical crew members. Once in Vietnam, the crew loaded 270 orphans, 53 civilians and 5 additional medical personnel originally scheduled for another flight. The C-5 departed for Clark AB. Minutes after take-off, the pressure door and ramp blew out resulting in rapid decompression and forcing the pilot to return to Tan Son Nhut for an emergency landing. Two miles short of the runway, the C-5 touched down in a rice paddy hitting an irrigation ditch and breaking into four parts. One by one Aune and other surviving crew members removed the children from the wreckage to safety. Aune helped rescue over 140 children despite a broken right foot with deep lacerations and a broken bone in her back. Of the 352 passengers, only 175 survived. Operation BABYLIFT officially ended on 13 May 1975, evacuating close to 3,000 orphans out of Vietnam. On October 1976, Aune was awarded the Cheney Award for her heroic and selfless act during the first mission of Operation BABYLIFT, the first woman to receive this Award. After this event, she continued to serve her country, earning a Master of Science in Nursing in 1979 and then a Doctorate of Philosophy four years later. Shaping the future of military medicine, Aune served as Chair of the Department of Nursing Research, Commandant of the Graduate School of Nursing and Deputy Brigade Commander at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Aune commanded the 437th Medical Operations Squadron and the 437th Medical Group, Charleston AFB, the 377th Medical Group, Kirtland AFB, the 59th Medical Group, Lackland AFB, and the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, Kuwait in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. In 2007, Aune was inducted into the Airlift/Tanker Association Hall of Fame representing all eras and aspects of the Aeromedical Evacuation mission. After 28 years of exceptional service, Colonel Regina Aune retired from the Air Force in 2007. Continuing her work in academia, Aune currently serves as the Dean of Galen College of Nursing in San Antonio, Texas.
Years Honored: 2009
Aircraft/Specialty: C-5 Galaxy
As the conditions deteriorated in Vietnam, President Ford directed Operation BABYLIFT aimed to evacuate 2,000 displaced infants and children from Vietnam. Lieutenant Regina Aune was the lead medic who helped rescue over 140 helpless and terrified children after the C-5 crashed. After the incident, she was awarded the Cheney Award for her heroic acts and dedication to duty.