PEP (Person of Exceptional Prominence) Spot Light:  Cpt. Mary T. Klinker (October 3, 1947 – April 4, 1975)

Mary Klinker served in the Air Force as a flight nurse, instructor, and flight examiner from 1969 to 1975.

In 1974, the Vietnam War was ending and in an act of pure humanity, President Gerald Ford announced a mission that would be known as “Operation Babylift.” This mission’s purpose was to evacuated more than 2000 orphaned children from Saigon. Capt. Mary T. Klinker was enlisted as a flight nurse responsible for caring for the children during their transport to the Philippines.

Unfortunately, on April 4, 1975, the inaugural Operation Babylift flight ended in tragedy crashing within minutes of takeoff killing 138 of the 314 on board.  The flight crew, caregivers, and infants died in the Operation Babylift plane crash including Capt. Mary T. Klinker.

Capt. Klinker was 27-years-old when she died and was the last nurse and only member of the US Air Force Nurse Corps to be killed in Vietnam. She was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal for Heroism and the Meritorious Service Medal.

Capt. Klinker’s military file is one of the records in our PEPs (Persons of Exceptional Prominence) collection at the National Archives at St. Louis. Due to the high volume of attention and research on her military career, Cpt. Klinker’s record was placed in the PEP collection and digitally copied. The Preservation Programs at St. Louis treats and stabilizes PEP records by placing the documents in polyester film sleeves, removing fasteners and staples and undertaking any required repair actions that will extend the life of the documents. An entire record is then scanned and placed on DVDs so researchers can access exact replicas, thus preventing damage to the original documents.

As we continue to protect and preserve these important military records, it reminds us that Memorial Day is not just the “beginning of the summer holiday season”, but  a time to reflect on the lives of men and woman of our armed forces who willingly gave up their lives for our freedom and the freedom of others around the world.