Operation Babylift

Archival photo of babies strapped into airline seats, 1975

Archival photo of babies leaving South Vietnam, strapped into airline seats, 1975

Operation Babylift. If you are as old as I am (ahem!), you probably have heard the term “Operation Babylift.” But if you’re still a spring chicken, and aren’t old enough to know what it was,  I can tell you that it was the name of a mass evacuation of children at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Supposedly 3,000 orphans were airlifted to the United States, Australia, France and Canada (there was some question as to whether some were really orphans). The first flight loaded with babies tragically crashed, claiming the lives of 78 children, although there were survivors. [If you are interested, you can read the story in the Atlas Obscura written only last September 2016 about children who were flown to the United States. Some have returned to Vietnam. Click here to read a story about Operation Babylift survivors who returned to the scene 40 years later.]

Well, my Operation Babylift was not nearly so dramatic or traumatic, but imagine what I felt when the guys from S & S Delivery showed up and told me, “This organ is NOT going to fit through the front door!” You see, I had promised Esther Yoo of the Oahu Choral Society that they could borrow my baby pipe organ for their “Motets and Cantatas” concert this Saturday, which I’m playing, by the way.

I even took out the tape measure and measured the width of my doorway: 35-1/2 inches. Then I went over the organ and measured its width: 35-3/4″. Even if we took the door off the hinges, it was NOT going to fit. Close, but no cigars. I knew already that the pedalboard could easily come off, but it looked like the keyboard was installed in there firmly and was not designed to disconnect. Oh dear, what were we going to do?

The guys asked me, “How did you get it in here?”

“It came in a big box. Some assembly required!” (Check out my post “Baby’s coming out party” for pictures!)

What to do? I called Hans-Ulrich Erbsloeh in Hamburg, Germany. “Help, Hans! Is there any way to disconnect the keyboard so we can move the organ? It won’t fit through the door!”

“I’ll call you back.”

Hans told me that he would put in a call to Klaus Grüble, the organbuilder. Within five minutes, he had told us where the releases were, and voilà! The keyboard was detached. Whew!

The baby pipe organ at St. Andrew's Cathedral

The baby pipe organ at St. Andrew’s Cathedral

Then two guys started to lift the organ, no small task, since it weighs about 500 pounds. But as they lifted it up, the bottom seemed to come apart from the base and everyone panicked. Another call to Germany with yet another call back assured us that nothing was holding the chest to the blower, and that the organ fit together like a giant wooden puzzle. We found out the adjustable bench also came apart unless you held it from the bottom.

About fifteen minutes later, the organ in 5 pieces arrived at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, but since I had neglected to pick up the power cord in all the confusion, I couldn’t test it out to make sure everything was put back together again.

At last night’s dress rehearsal, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I connected the power cord to an extension cord, then I turned the organ on. It worked!

Here’s the whole story in pictures.

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I must say, as I was listening to Jeremy Wong‘s beautiful solos as we rehearsed Bach Cantata 56, “Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen,” it made me realize how much I’ve missed playing Bach cantatas. (I played over 70 of them while I was organist at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu.) The Oahu Choral Society Chamber Choir also performs Motet No. 3, “Jesu meine Freude,” and they sound amazing.

Don’t miss this Saturday’s concert at 7:30 pm! Tickets are available at the door or at the Oahu Choral Society website. 


About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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