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”                       


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

Sidebar 1: The Pathet Lao

Who were these Pathet Lao guys?

The answer to “who were these guys” has filled many CHECO papers, war college graduate thesis’ of many military officers, and several books written on the subject. I’m not sure anyone of those works has completely answered the questions. So… it make perfect sense that I’m going to try to give at least a little understanding in a 1,000 words or less. (I hated those 1,000 word essays back in school, didn’t you. Now I’m writing them.)

It starts out like some kind of fairy tale;

Once upon a time in the Kingdom of Laos there were three young princes. Each prince wanted to take control of his domain, known as The Land of a Million Elephants. Each prince had his own plan for the country.

Really… there were three princes that wanted to run the country. Here’s where the confusion begins… there was a King. Actually there were two kings. The first king sorta ruled from 1904 to 1959… and the second from 1959 till the Pathet Lao took over in 1975. I say, “sorta ruled” because as you will see, he really didn’t have much power.

The first king was quite a lover. He had a harem of wives… maybe 15. They bore him over 50 children. Yes indeed, quite a lover. After his death, his first son by his first wife became the second king. With me so far?

Then there were the three princes. I’m not sure where these princes came from… probably other sons by other wives. Much of the confusion for us Westerners comes from the phonetic spelling of their names. There are differing spellings, they end up long, often look quite similar, and are hard to pronounce. The main princes involved were named: Prince Souphanouvong, Prince Souvanna Phouma, and Prince Boun Oum Na Champasak. To make it just a little more complicated, there was a fourth prince involved early on; Prince Chao Maha Oupahat Petsarath Ratanavongsa.

I have a headache from trying to read all that. And I’ll never get the spelling right as I go along. So… meaning no disrespect, I’m going to use a little short hand.

  • Prince Souphanouvong  = Soup
  • Prince Souvanna Phouma = Savana
  • Prince Boun Oum Na Champasak = Champ
  • Prince Chao Maha Oupahat Petsarath Ratanavongsa = Ravioli
  • King 1904 – 1959, Sisavang Vong = Vong
  • King Oct ’59 – Dec ’75 Sisavang Vatthana  = Hana

A couple of notes here. Laotian names are family name first and given name second. If that holds for all the princes, they all had different family names. Second, King Vong was only the King of Laos from Oct 1949 on. Before that he was King of Luang Phrabang, one of the three Kingdoms that made up the country of Laos. There were several other princes that came in and out, but they were minor players so I’m leaving them out at least for now.

It’s already muddy, and I’ve barely begun.

The problems started long before World War II, but that’s where I’m going to start for brevity. Before the war, the French, allowed the figurehead King to remain, but they really ran the place until the Japanese invaded. (Remember the Bridge over the River Kwai).

The Japanese allowed the king to remain, but they then ruled by brutality and intimidation until the end of WWII. They publicly tortured and killed the existing leaders or anyone who opposed them. They even imprisoned King Vong for a while. Although King Vong was a strong supporter of the French (after all, they installed him on the throne), the Japanese forced the him to denounce French rule.

I’m pretty sure Soup was taking notes on the Japanese brutality… notes and lessons he would take with him in the Civil War to come.

Following the end of WWII, the French came back to reclaim their “protectorate”… all of Indochina. King Vong welcomed the French back. However, the princes (Soup, Savana, Champ and Ravioli) formed the “Lao Issara” (Free Laos). The group was made up of mostly princes and educated elite of the country. Their goal of was freedom from France. Free Laos proclaimed itself to be the “official” government of Laos in late 1945.

Getting rid of France was about the only thing members of Free Laos agreed on. They soon fell apart, the French came back to assume control, and most Free Laos members went back to the existing government. Depending on who is telling the story, before the Free Laos dissolved, Prince Soup was either expelled, or left on his own over disagreements. Soup wanted to collaborate with the Vietnamese Communist Vietminh and was a strong supporter of Uncle Ho.

Soup & Uncle Ho
Soup and Uncle Ho.

Soup went to Vietnam along with a few dozen followers who were all dissatisfied with the developments in Laos. They were given training and support by the Vietminh. By 1950 Soup and his followers formed as the “Pathet Lao.” They were dedicated to fighting against French Imperialism. At the time, Soup along with others who formed the Pathet Lao, wanted to get rid of the monarchy.

Later, when the Pathet Lao fully was established, Soup announced it was his goal for Laos to become a Communist country. Based on his collaboration with Uncle Ho, I suspect it had always been his goal. 

I should note here that a few sources (including places on Wikipedia) indicate the “Laos Issara” group was the basis of the formation of the Pathet Lao. I’m reasonably sure this is not correct. It was Soup and his small band of followers that formed the Pathet Lao.

Early on, the Pathet Lao weren’t much of a force. They fought minor skirmishes against the French along the border between Vietnam and Laos.But that was about it. It wasn’t until 1953 when the Vietnamese army (Vietminh) and the Pathet Lao attacked into Laos. They took over the town of Sam Neua and the surrounding province of Houaphen.  Sam Neua and the province became the headquarters of the Pathet Lao and remained so until they took over the country on 2 Dec 1975.

I should mention here, that there were very few Pathet Lao in the force that took over Sam Neua and Houaphen. It was primarily the Vietminh that provided the fighting army. The Vietminh, subsequently the NVA, would provide the majority of the fighting force for the Pathet Lao all they way to 2 Dec 1975.

From the early beginnings, the Pathet Lao (always with large NVA support), waged the Civil War for the next two decades… first against the Royal Laotian forces and then against the forces backed by the CIA and US Military. They showed a dedication and ruthlessness like the Japanese had demonstrated during World War II.

Ultimately, when the US withdrew their CIA, Air America and Military support of the Royal Laotians, the Pathet Lao achieved all of their goals