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 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.

From LS-36, smaller STOL aircraft, like the Pilatus Porter (Schnozz) & U-10 Helio-Courier aircraft, and helicopters distributed to the smaller Lima Sites in the region. One of those sites receiving much support from LS-36 was LS-85. In Aug ’66 the USAF began installing TACAN at LS-85 which was important to the bombing effort in the North. (I’ll talk about LS-85 in another post.)

Jolly Green Giant at LS-36. This CH-3, the famous “Black Mariah,” was one of the first two “Jolly Greens” delivered to NKP... which were also the first two “Jollys” delivered to SEA. (US Government photo)

LS-36 was also a mobility site for VP’s forces. From there, they could be quickly deployed. After the loss of the bombing and TACAN systems at LS-85 in Mar ‘68, the USAF decided to install another TACAN system at LS-36.

The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Pathet Lao always contested LS-36. To the NVA, LS-36 was too close to Route 6 leading to the PDJ. Note that Route 6 was, at best, a dirt road, but it did lead to the PDJ.

I think as much as anything else, LS-36 pissed off the Pathet Lao. A Geneva accord had awarded the Pathet Lao control of the Houaphan province surrounding Sam Neua. LS-36 was less than 50 miles from Sam Neua… right in their “back yard.”

LS-36 was close to the Pathet Lao Headquarters in Sam Neua. (Photo courtesy of Edward Marek, Talking Proud)

In Feb ‘66 the NVA/Pathet Lao attacked and captured LS-36. It was after that fierce battle where the site was nick-named, “The Alamo.” Unlike the Texas Alamo, the defenders ultimately withdrew, and losses were small. Like the Texas Alamo, the attackers suffered the heaviest losses.

“Although the Communists won the field, they may have lost the battle.”

CHECO report, “The Defense of Lima Site 36”

Typical of the see-saw battles for control of the region, Vang Pao’s forces retook LS-36 three months later in May ‘66. The NVA attacked again in Jan ’67. The ’67  attack ended differently. When a force of 600-800 Communist troops attacked, air power made the difference. Close air support from a pair of F-105s and a hoard of A-1s drove the NVA/Pathet Lao out with an estimate of 250 KIA and many more wounded.

Again in late Mar ’68, the NVA/Pathet Lao prepared to attack. This time, hundreds of air strikes again saved LS-36. Pounded by the air strikes, the NVA withdrew without a battle. Finally, the NVA attacked again in late Feb ’69. This time they took LS-36 and held it for the rest of the war.

For more on the see-saw battles for control of LS-36 and the heroism that took place , click here for the details: Sidebar 3 – Heroes of the Alamo (opens in a new tab)

Runway at LS-36 today  – Pic courtesy of Don Duval, AKA the Midnight Mapper. Pic taken in 2012.

Today, LS-36 is abandoned. What remains are some war relics destroyed during the battles there. A dirt road leads to the site, and there appear to be no limitations on getting there.

Laotian Government tourism brochure for LS-36

Today the Laotian government is inviting visitors to come to LS-36. They even have a government brochure and a sign pointing the way.

Sign directing tourists to LS-36

Visitors are free to roam around to see what they can discover… that is… if they are willing to brave the still unexploded ordnance (UXO). UXO is still scattered around the area from all the bombings and close air support. As it is all over Laos, CBU “bombies” as well as artillery & mortar round duds are still there. Add to that, mine fields were sewn by the French in the 1930s, the Japanese in the 1940s, again the French in in the 1950s, and by the Hmong/CIA/AIR America/USA in the 1960s. Based on advice of several who have been there, it’s best to hire a guide from the nearby village.

Tin Roof Village
Tin Roof Village Photo courtesy of Don Duval

During the war, nearby villagers used flattened 55-gallon drums for their roofs. Some roofs in nearby Nakout still use that for their roofs.

War scrap still being used. Notice the PSP in the middle of the pic. Photo courtesy of Don Duval
LS-36, 2019
Google Earth Pic of LS-36 in 2019

Next up…  Place to go – Lima Site 85.

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