CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Thirty-nine years ago on April 4, hundreds of Vietnamese children's lives were forever changed.
A Cape Girardeau woman is part of that history.
She's a survivor who still struggles with the past, but is grateful for the life and family she has today.
April 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War, and the fall of Saigon.
Overcrowded orphanages scrambled to get thousands of babies out of the country.
Mindy Kelpe-Eubanks was just an infant at the time.
"We were all in orphanages and they were just trying to get us out of there," said Kelpe-Eubanks.
On April 4, 1975 with bombs still exploding, U.S. planes loaded up thousands of children.
In many cases, they were seated two to four children per seat.
"The top level (of the plane) was the infants and the bottom level was older kids," said Kelpe-Eubanks.
Operation Babylift was directed by President Gerald Ford to bring Vietnamese orphans to the U.S.
Mindy was one of them. She was aboard a U.S. Air Force cargo plane with about 300 others, mostly children.
Tragically, the plane crashed shortly after take-off.
Roughly half of those on board, were killed.
"It just completely crushed the belly of the plane and instantly killed many children," said Kelpe-Eubanks.
The site was littered with debris, bodies, and destruction.
Rescuers pulled survivors from the wreckage, including baby Mindy.
She was put on the next flight out to the U.S.
Months later, Mindy was adopted by a Cape Girardeau family.
It was tough at first. While physically unscathed, she suffered emotionally. She had night terrors, and eventually unanswered questions, even survivor's guilt.
"Why did I survive, and many others didn't?" asked Kelpe-Eubanks.
But, she had hope...and a new country, America. She was free from crisis and war. She has never wanted to return to Vietnam.
"I know God was there that day," said Kelpe-Eubanks. "The family that has brought me here has raised me to be so strong in my faith with God and I wouldn't, I wouldn't change it."
She doesn't know her birth name, or anything about her biological parents.
The birth records were lost during the crash. The government later issued the survivors new birth certificates.
Throughout her life, Mindy has made connections with other survivors, including the pilot of her plane.
"He's the one that spent his life trying to find out why that plane crashed," she said. "If I ever flew again, he would be my pilot."
That network of survivors gives her comfort as she's still putting together the pieces of her past.
"I wouldn't change it. I wouldn't change anything about my life," said Kelpe-Eubanks.
After our interview, Mindy said she met another survivor online. That survivor is sending her a piece of a building that was collected in Saigon in 1975.