Looking back after 30 years, I am personally proud I served in the USAF and in Thailand during the war. What I remember most about Thailand is its friendly people who always gave a smile, even to strangers. Their foods were spicy and delicious. Thai people loved their Royal Family and their peaceful religion of Buddhism. I remember them as a very open-minded people and very proud of their own unique culture and traditions.
The USAF unit and its missions I served in during my tours in Thailand were and still are classified. Upon my honorable discharge from the USAF, I signed a document which prohibited me from discussing specifics of my unit or its missions. I have kept that promise for 30 years and will continue to keep that pledge. Hence, in this article, I will give the reader an overview of the USAF's role in Thailand in more general terms but which will still surprise many, I am sure.
USAF aircraft from Thai bases flew missions against Communist Terrorists in Thailand itself, Laos, Cambodia, and both North and South Vietnam. The aircraft missions were varied in nature running from purely offensive bombing operations to Tactical Airlift Supply Operations throughout the area. Thai National pilots also helped fly some missions against the Communists. Joint USAF/Thai operations helped soundly defeat Communist Terrorists operating in Thailand.
The Communists in Thailand were supported by Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laotian Communists. Both The People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Soviet Union provided major support to the Communists. Most of the weapons used had either Chinese or Russian markings on them. Most Communist Terrorist activity in Thailand was centered in the Northeastern Region using propaganda, intimidation, and murder against innocent villagers.
USAF planes were shot down in Thailand, and sapper (commando) attacks against our bases occurred. Plaques and monuments honoring the airmen Killed in Action (KIA) and Missing in Action (MIA) were kept on the bases. Also, the USAF in Thailand helped in the evacuation and treatment of wounded soldiers.
Air America, under CIA structure and organization, specialized in carrying out missions in Laos. Moreover, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was also active in Thailand at this time as they tried to stop drug smuggling operations from the Golden Triangle. The CIA (its code name was SRF) was present and worked closely with other intelligence agencies and U.S. Embassy staff.
The cease fire of 1973 never in reality took place because the Communist Terrorists continued and intensified their activity in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos during this period, knowing full well that a political decision by the U.S. Government to withdraw from Southeast Asia had already been made. Hence, even after the official cease-fire in 1973, USAF missions from Thailand continued; and these bases remained operational through 1975.
The USAF trained Cambodian air crews, and Air America focused on training the Royal Laotian Air Force. The Royal Laotian Air Force was given these planes by Air America. After 1973, many Laotian planes moved to Udorn Airfield, continued to receive Air America training, and continued their missions in Laos. Eventually, North Vietnamese forces in Laos toppled the Laotian government there.
Towards the end of the war in 1975, USAF planes from Vietnam were evacuated to Thailand; and the USAF helped in the evacuation of wounded U.S. soldiers from all these countries. Additionally, the successful operation known as the Mayaquez Incident was launched from Thailand in 1975.
It can be said that after 1975, the Communist governments in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia achieved their "politically" won victories. However, on land, sea, and air, the U.S. military dominated all major battles. Nevertheless, the defeats in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos were a sad ending to the long war in Southeast Asia.
But the valiant military effort did save the countries of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Burma from the same fate by the Communists. These countries also asked the U.S.A. to continue its military presence via air and naval power in the Pacific Ocean after the war. Our military is still there patrolling the seas.
Refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia still cross land mine borders and cross seas and rivers to escape to Thailand and stay at Refugee Camps there in the hope of beginning a free life in the USA or elsewhere. This has been continuing for about 30 years now.
One of the greatest atrocities in the history of mankind which occurred after the Communist victory in South East Asia after 1975 was the genocide of between 2 to 5 MILLION Cambodians by the Communist Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol Pot. The genocide was carried out within one (1) year!
The people selected for execution by the Communists were mainly from the educated strata of Cambodian society. U.S. Forces, while aware of it, were not permitted to stop the genocide again due to the U.S. Political decision to withdraw from South East Asia.
Western News Media in the USA essentially ignored this horrendous atrocity, hence the world did not know of it until a Cambodian man himself made a movie called "The Killing Fields." Cambodia has to this day never recovered from this devastation.
The U.S. soldiers who fought the Communists in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam were largely scorned by their own "countrymen" back in the U.S.A. And they are still "scorned" to this day 30 years later!
The U.S. military carried out their missions successfully but were betrayed by Politicians in the U.S.A. who sought to "withdraw with honor" and satisfy the wishes of third world Communist despots at the Paris Peace Talks where Southeast Asia was sold out to the Communists. All "agreements" the Communists made at these peace talks were broken when the U.S. pulled out militarily. Hence, the Communists won their victories by lies and deceit and by breaking agreements with the U.S. Government. They never achieved victory over U.S. military forces.
However, "History" is always written by the "Victors!" So we veterans of the war in Southeast Asia will always be "scorned" by our "families" and "countrymen" (who did not serve and who aided the enemy politically at home or abroad at times) and will always bear the labels of "Loser" and "Baby Killers" despite never having been defeated militarily.
Discrimination of all kinds and "witch hunts" against Vietnam Veterans continue in the USA to this day, especially by the media. Such has been the verdict of "History." Such has been our lot in life as veterans of the war in South East Asia.