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By 1963, the Pathet Lao had withered in importance and Hmong guerrillas supplied by the CIA and operating with Air-America-provided logistics were able to challenge the North Vietnamese for control of those portions of northwest Laos that were important to them. Air AmericaU-10 Helio Couriers and Pilatus Porters, single-engined aircraft capable of landing on a postage stamp, supported otherwise isolated outposts with rice and ammunition and shuttled guerrillas from place to place. Larger C-7 Carabous and C-123 transports hauled heavier loads into valley-bottom airstrips. During the wet monsoon, air mobility gave the anti-communist forces the advantage, and they went over to the attack, seizing the strategic Plaine des Janes on an annual basis from 1967. Conversely, during the dry months of the northeast monsoon the North Vietnamese regulars occupied territory more or less at will. However, northern Laos was a sideshow for them, and both sides continued to pursue the war there on a limited basis.


In early 1966, Air Force F-105s were allowed to attack military targets in northern Laos, designated the BARREL ROLL area. A handful of Air Force FACs - volunteers who were required to volunteer without being told what tor-based at Air-America-supported bases in Laos directed air support for Van Pao's forces under the RAVEN call sign. Officially, there were no American combatants in Laos - notwithstanding that Thailand-based aircraft could only strike targets in North Vietnam by overflying the country - and they were not allowed to wear insignia of rank on the ground. It was an Alice-in- Wonderland existence, described brilliantly in John dark Pratt's semi-fictional novel, The Laotian Fragments, and it could not last. As the U.S. presence in Vietnam and Thaii-anri nww thp scale and Dace of Oderations increased. And as the war in Vietnam grew in scope and intensity, Laos was drawn inexorably into the maelstrom. Since the war in Laos did not exist officially and was cheap to wage, at least in dollar terms, it continued according to its own rhythms even after the American withdrawal from Vietnam. Only with the fall of Saigon, and Vietnam, did U.S. support stop, and when it did, it was with traumatic suddenness. Faced with a total cutoff of support and the overwhelming power of the North Vietnamese, the anti-communist position collapsed, with Vang Pao and a handful of supporters fleeing to safety in May of 1975.


Yet the war continued. Hmong refugees coming into Thailand throughout the 1980s confirmed the combat was continuing as North Vietnamese and Laotian forces moved to stamp out the anti-communist resistance, using poison gas and Soviet-developed microtoxins - the so-called Yellow Rain- according to some sources. The struaale continues even today.







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