Forty Years After Operation USA Aids Vietnamese “Boat People” Crisis, Vietnam Sends COVID-19 Aid to United States

Vietnamese officials, air carriers and companies band together to deliver 2.5 million masks to U.S. through a partnership with Los Angeles relief organization




Los Angeles, Calif., June 20, 2020—Operation USA, a Los Angeles-based international relief agency, today announced it has partnered with VietJet Airlines, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry and several Vietnamese companies to bring 2.5 million masks and other personal protective equipment into the U.S. by air and sea in support of ongoing COVID-19 response efforts. A majority of the masks will be distributed in the Greater Los Angeles area, with additional masks being shipped to partners in New York City. OpUSA is working closely with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office, the Deputy Mayor for International Affairs, Ambassador Nina Hachigian, and the Port of Los Angeles to arrange transport and distribution.


Operation USA (then Operation California) was founded in 1979 in Los Angeles by Richard Walden, and has since delivered $450 million in aid to 101 countries, including many communities here in the United States. The organization’s first relief effort was a response to the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Vietnamese “boat people” refugees in Malaysia and neighboring countries following the end of the Vietnam War. In July of 1979, OpUSA delivered its first international relief flight—containing medical, shelter and water supplies, and food supplements—to Malaysia. Later that year, OpUSA sent a second airlift to Thailand, supplying refugee camps along the borders of Cambodia and Laos.


OpUSA has since worked extensively in Vietnam, and has supported the country’s development through various other efforts, including: helping to negotiate the Vietnam-US “Orderly Departure Immigration Program” in 1980, allowing for the safe migration of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese immigrants to the United States; supporting clinics and hospitals in Vietnam with supplies and funds, and facilitating agricultural, public health and medical training programs in the 1990s; and, providing micro-finance opportunities for thousands of women in the early 2000s.


This year, because Vietnam’s successful handling of COVID-19 resulted in few confirmed cases and deaths, companies in the country with the capacity to secure or produce masks sought to send aid internationally. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, where Los Angeles native Robert Gabor—who has known OpUSA for thirty years—serves as Economics Counselor, and Ambassador Dan Kritenbrink recognized an opportunity for Vietnam to support the American People through partnership with Operation USA, helping to facilitate the effort by several Vietnamese companies to deliver millions of masks to the organization.


“Much of our work is dependent on the generosity of corporate partners,” said Walden. “Partnership with these Vietnamese entities is especially meaningful—not just because of the volume of the materials provided and the impact they’ll have on hard-hit communities here in the U.S., but also because getting aid to Vietnam was the spark that inspired me to start OpUSA more than four decades ago, so it feels as though we’ve come full circle all these years later.”


Donated materials from Vietnam will be delivered to the United States via an airlift containing one million masks donated by VietJet, anticipated to arrive at LAX on June 21, and via three sea shipments containing 1.5 million masks and other PPE donated by additional partners, anticipated to arrive at the Port of Los Angeles in mid-July. VietJet and its colleagues at EVA Air are transporting the donated materials by air from Vietnam to the U.S. OpUSA’s partners at the LA Mayor’s Office and Port of LA will help transport and distribute the materials once they arrive in Los Angeles. The materials were donated by: Oxalis Adventure, One Step Vietnam, Tan Dai Hung Company, Sen Group, MayViet, Dong Nai U.S. Friendship Association, Duyen K. Phung, Monk Thich Minh Phu, The HCMC Union of Friendship Organizations (HUFO), Dony Garment Company, AIC Group JSC, and Nhat Tri.


Upon arrival in Los Angeles, 750,000 masks will be passed to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s COVID-19 task force for distribution in the Greater Los Angeles area, and 250,000 masks will be forwarded to partners in New York City. Masks and protective gear that meet established medical standards will be distributed to frontline medical workers. Non-medical masks and other supplies will be distributed to essential workers and other high-risk groups.


OpUSA has worked diligently to support domestic partners throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and to date has provided tens of thousands of units of masks, face shields, gloves, gowns, hand sanitizer and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to partners in Southern California. The organization has also distributed cash grants to partners in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Additional grants to partners in severely impacted Latinx and Black communities—made possible by generous corporate partners—are currently in progress.


Founded in 1979, Operation USA supports health and education programs in order to help children and families at home and abroad recover from disasters. Focusing on under-served and overlooked communities, and working with partners around the world, OpUSA empowers communities to recover, build resiliency and thrive. Learn more at
Richard Walden, President and CEO of Operation USA, is available for interview.


Donate online at, by phone at 1-323.413.2353 or, by check made out to Operation USA, PO BOX 36188, Los Angeles, CA 90036-0188. Donations can also be made via text message: text AID to 50555 to donate $10. Text donations are collected for the benefit of Operation USA by the mGive Foundation and subject to the terms found at


Corporate donations of bulk supplies for recovery are also being requested. Contact for more info.


Mary Dolan
Operation USA