When Lana Noone’s first adopted daughter, Heather, died as a baby, she made her a promise — to tell the story of the people who rescued her so “her short life would not be in vain,” she said.
Heather was one of more than 2,600 children the U.S. military’s Operation Babylift rescued from Vietnam in the spring of 1975, after the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War left hundreds of thousands of children orphaned, said Noone, a Garden City resident.
“No matter what side of the circle that is Vietnam ... the kids were not at the top of anyone’s list,” she said. “They were in harm’s way.”
“Children of the April Rain,” a play about Operation Babylift that Noone co-wrote, is her way of keeping that promise to Heather, who arrived in the U.S. on April 23 that year but died May 17 after many health problems, Noone said. Her second daughter, Jennifer, now 41, was the last baby Operation Babylift brought out of Vietnam, she said.
Based on the memoirs and oral histories of nine people involved with the operation, “Children of the April Rain” will get its fifth performance Sunday with a staged reading at the Community Church of East Williston.
The play, compiled by William Bryant Doty, tells the story of “a microcosm of all the good people tried to do in Vietnam,” Noone said, from a nun who helped get families out to an 11-year-old trying to resist fighting in the South Vietnamese Army.
One of the characters, Cherie Clark, a humanitarian worker, will be played by her daughter Tia Keevil, whom she adopted in Operation Babylift, Noone said.
“Everybody knows the tragedy and the chaos,” she said. “In all that going on there’s all these people ... doing what I consider one of the most extraordinary humanitarian efforts of the 21st century.”
The play premiered in 2014 at Garden City Community Church, where Noone is a parishoner.
It has been performed three times since, most recently at the Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan, and it is set for a sixth show on Veterans Day at the American Air Power Museum in Farmingdale, Noone said.
“It’s a mission for me to tell this story,” she said.
The “extremely moving, engulfing” play reflects the Community Church of East Williston’s commitment to mercy and the congregation’s humanitarian awareness, said the Rev. Dan Fritz, its pastor and a longtime close friend of Noone’s.
“The church is very, very mission-conscious and they are trying to reach out and serve both the community and the larger community in the best ways they can, and this is an example of people trying to do that back in the ’70s,” Fritz said.
“Children of the April Rain” calls to mind the children killed and displaced by the Syrian civil war, Fritz and Noone said.
Images of a Syrian refugee child drowned on a beach in Turkey and another covered in dust after being rescued from the rubble of a bombed building have drawn public attention to the more than five-year conflict that has killed at least 191,000 people.
Despite those images, Noone said she thinks good people like those involved with Operation Babylift will continue to heal the world.
“My hope is someday when you look up the phrase children of war, you’ll have to look it up in an historical dictionary because nobody will have a clue what it means,” she said.
The free staged reading of “Children of the April Rain” will start at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Community Church of East Williston, located at 45 East Williston Ave.