Places to go – LS-85

“… it appears we may have pushed our luck one day too long in attempting to keep this facility in operation …” 

Cable from William Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Laos, to the U.S. State Department, March 11, 1968

I don’t know if Sullivan really sent that cable… I just read somewhere that he did. But if he didn’t send it, he should have.

I’ve had several false starts trying to write about Lima Site – 85… Phou Pha Thi. There a mish-mash of confusing information available, so it’s hard to tell what really happened there. One problem is the tragedy was classified (mostly “top secret) longer than most others. Some documents are still classified or redacted more than fifty years later.

So I give up. I can’t possibly describe everything here. It would take a book, and even then I’m not sure I could make definitive conclusions. The problem is everyone writes from their “side.” Perhaps the most telling is a book written from the North Vietnamese side.

At the end of this, I’ll give you links and places where you can get more information. For now, here’s the extra short version: Continue reading

Places to go – The Alamo

Nope… this isn’t the San Antonio, Texas where Davy Crockett met his fate. It’s Lima Site 36 (LS-36) which was one of the most important Lima Sites to the United States and Royal Laotian Government (RLG). LS-36 earned the nickname “The Alamo.” You’ll see why in a minute.

Early in the war, the site was important because it was close to North Vietnam. This served two purposes. First, helicopters used for rescuing pilots downed in the North didn’t have enough fuel range to get there. Second, It was a much shorter response time to reach “The North.”. LS-36 was about 165 miles from beautiful downtown Hanoi. The nearest base in Thailand was at NKP… almost 265 miles away. That extra 100 miles would make a lot of difference to a downed pilot when the guys he just bombed were after him.

HH-43 and then Jolly Green helicopters began their forward deployment in 1965. Initially, helicopters flew from either Udorn or NKP first thing in the morning, stood rescue alert, and then went back “home” or to “Alternate” (LS-20a) at night. Later, the helicopters would stay for a few days before returning to their base.

LS-36 with “Jolly Green Giant” Helicopters. US Government photo, circa ’66

Another important purpose was as a supply point for smaller Lima Sites in the region. There were over twenty Air America sites supported from LS-36. The dirt runway was just long enough so C-7 Caribou and jet engine pod equipped C-123s could take off and land there… just barely.

Another important purpose was Continue reading

Sidebar 3: Heroes of the Alamo

I normally don’t cite sources since I don’t claim my stuff to be “scholarly work” with footnotes and all that crapola. After all… this is just us guys talkin’ while sippin’ on a Singha or shot of Mekong. (OK… these days my shots are tequila.) That said… I’m making an exception here because the sources don’t all agree on the facts. Most of the primary sources are listed at the end if you want to check it for yourself.

Cover of the CHECO report, “Second Defense of Lima Site 36.” Originally classified “Secret”

The NVA and Pathet Lao began serious attacks on LS-36 in Feb ’66. A few days before, they over-ran LS-27 about 10 miles north. A full-scale assault on LS-36 began overnight on 16/17 Feb. First the NVA overran an outpost about a mile to the south just before midnight on the 16th. Between 600 and 1,000 NVA/Pathet Lao moved quickly from there and began attacking the airstrip with mortars.

The next two days saw the kinds of events movies are made from. In the wee hours… still O’Dark-Thirty, Continue reading

Sidebar 2: Down The Rabbit Hole

This morning I got an email from Don Duval, AKA The Midnight Mapper. He attached a link to a newspaper article about a SOG guy who spent time in Southern Laos. The guy, Sgt. “Rap” Peavy, was at a place called “Leghorn.”

I thought Leghorn might be interesting to write about. But… I try to be as factual as possible. The article about Sgt. Peavy had a few niggly errors. I always worry about the attempts at “stolen valor” we see all too often these days. So… I started to check it out.

Before continuing, I need to tell you the “niggly errors” were probably poor reporting, not problems with Sgt. Peavy. He and the place known as “Leghorn” are for real.

US Army communication site Leghorn (Golf-5) on top of a mountain in southern Laos.

After reading the article, I started my search to validate the story. When writing about the Second Indochina War, I try to get at least two sources that confirm the story. I prefer three or more.

One of the best sources are the CHECO reports written to document and chronicle the war. Over the years, I have collected hundreds of these in PDF format. There are also thousands of other government documents I’ve collected. (Again in PDF format.)

Unfortunately, at least half of these documents can’t be scanned with a word search. So I have to read or at least scan through them. While going through the documents, other things catch my attention. I get side-tracked and go off down another rabbit hole.

Then there are the internet searches. Wikipedia usually has something on the topic. Once again, that’s often “flakey” at best and a fairy tale at worst. Yeah, you got it… that sends me off down another rabbit hole to get the facts. (Just the FACs ma’am… just the FACs. Yes… that’s a blatant “plug” for a chapter in More Memories of Naked Fanny )

A problem I have is injecting my own bias into stuff I write. I try not to, but I can’t help it. While writing about LS-36 (soon to be finished), I was including a section about the “heroes” of the battles there. Then it dawned on me… the other side probably has their own heroes and view our guys as villains to their story.

I do wish I had some sources from the “other” side’s point of view… but I’m not sure it would make a lot of difference. We all see the world through our own corrective lenses.

That brings me back to this morning. I spent 4 ½ hours checking out Sgt. Peavy and Leghorn. That barely scratched the surface. It will take at least twice that much more time doing research before I can write about Leghorn… it could take days.

And… during all this, I have a “day job” I should be working. It’s a good thing I’m my own boss. Well… sorta my own boss. My real boss is the woman I’m married to.

So for now, rather than writing about Leghorn, I’m just going to give you the link Don Duval sent me. You may want to check it out for yourself. If so… welcome to my rabbit hole.

Here’s the link:     Sgt. Peavy Story (Opens in a new tab.)

Places to go – The PDJ

“Whoever controls the PDJ, controls Laos”                       

Unknown                          

I know… I said I would talk about “The Alamo” next in the series of “Places to Go.” But, I really can’t do that without talking about the PDJ and all that went with it first. Besides, the PDJ would likely be our first stop on the “Northern Loop.” So here we go.

Most aircrews simply referred to the region as the PDJ. The initials come from the name the French gave the region during their colonial reign: the Plaine des Jarres. Hence, the abbreviation, PDJ.

“Plaine des Jarres” translates to Plain of Jars. The name comes from the massive stone “jars” that were either human burial urns… or places to store rice-wine scattered around the region. Depending on who is telling the story, the PDJ is from several hundred square miles… up to 3,000 square miles.

Plaine des Jarres
Plane of Jars

 For this discussion, the importance of the PDJ isn’t the jars. Rather, it is the years of see-saw battles for control of the PDJ. You see… Continue reading