On April 4, 1975, a U.S. jet carrying 243 Vietnamese orphans crashed into the jungle outside Tan Son Nhut.

A third of the children burned to death, many of the remaining victims were critically injured. Soon after, the Pentagon announced that it would not have the resources to rescue the children for 10 days.

The world received the news of the crash with dismay, shock and a widespread sense of helplessness. One individual decided to take action. Robert C. Macauley, a paper broker from New Canaan, Conn., immediately chartered a Boeing 747 to rescue the young survivors. Within 48 hours, the children were safe in California.

On April 4, 1975, a U.S. jet carrying 243 Vietnamese orphans crashed into the jungle outside Tan Son Nhut
 Photo by Jean Claude Francolon

The rescue plan was a success...

But Bob now had to deal with a few financial issues, a minor detail in his philanthropic mind. Macauley did not have $10,000 in the bank to cover the down payment for the aircraft, nor the $241,000 for the remaining balance. To cover his expenses, Mr. and Mrs. Macauley took out a mortgage on their house. A fair trade, his wife Leila comments, "The bank got the house and Bob got the kids."

Born of unbounded compassion and sheer audacity, this mission set the stage for many to come. When human lives are at stake, Macauley has no patience for bureaucracy. "You act now," Macauley advises, "and worry about the red tape later".

Having learned of Mr. Macauley's efforts in Vietnam, Pope John Paul II asked him to Rome in 1981. "Poland was under martial law, and the country had virtually no medical supplies," Macauley recalls. "I'm not even Catholic, but when the Pope asks a favor, you comply." Macauley and His Holiness agreed upon a goal of $50,000 worth of medical supplies for the people of the Pope's native Poland. That goal was quickly exceeded when AmeriCares airlifted more than $3.2 million worth of aid to the country.

The Poland mission an overwhelming success, Macauley quickly realized the same model could be used to help those suffering in other countries around the world. Thus, one year later, 1982, AmeriCares was born.