The Insignificant and Unknown of the Vietnam War…….Thailand REVISITED
Almost 10 years ago (November 7-2008 I first wrote an article which I submitted to a Vietnam Veterans blog site in order to provide insight to misperceptions and inaccurate information dating back to the mid-1970’s.
Upon posting the article there was a firestorm of insults and tactics meant to belittle me and other Thailand Veterans of the Vietnam War who served in the Southeast Asian theater and consider ourselves Vietnam Veterans. We served, were awarded the medals and wore the same t-shirts as our brothers in Vietnam.
There are many Vietnam Veterans who served in Thailand and Vietnam during the war years. They acknowledge the commitment and service performed equally in both countries. They often state that they worked longer hours and sometimes harder in Thailand than they did in Vietnam doing the same job. If you look at the dining facilities, orderly rooms and barracks (hootches) there is no discernible difference. Muddy camps in the rainy seasons; outhouses and outdoor showers during the early days gave way to more permanent facilities at some of the larger bases.
Smaller camps were wooden buildings with the risible wooden shutters covering screened windows for ventilation; walking on wooden pallets and/or PSP planking to and from the outhouses and showers; sitting on the grass or blanket watching the 35mm movie projected on a white sheet between two poles used to hold the volleyball net; signing for haircuts until payday and paying the barber twice a month; NCO club was the old dining facility after the new one was built.
I remember digging bunkers and foxholes while filling sandbags and insuring the fields of fire were cleared of obstructions. These fixtures were manned during alerts called down from battalion headquarters. The commander would call battalion and give a situation report as to when the base was “secure” and the time had better be good. Several facilities enjoyed USO troops touring SEA, Bob Hope was a favorite, as was Hugh O’brien and others.
Our facility in Northeastern Thailand was a trailer transfer point where all convoys headed to the Royal Thai Air Force Bases would transit and in many cases remained over night before loads moved out at zero dark thirty the next morning.
We had the same mission transport munitions and bombs to the Air Force so they could in turn take them across the fence over Laos to North Vietnam. We hauled general cargo from toilet paper, sodas, beer, whiskey, milk and ice cream to Air Force bases and small Army bases.
The roads up country were mostly unimproved cart paths, being mapped and built up by Army Engineers and cutting directly through the areas populated by the CT’s (Communist Thai’s) who had crossed over from Laos and North Vietnam. At its closest point, Nakon Phanom (NKP) Royal Thai Air Base was a mere 90 air miles from Hanoi.
During the early years beginning in 1962 all army personnel were under the 9th Logistical Command deployed from Okinawa to Thailand with a primary mission of civic action projects to build infrastructure (highways, roads, and bridges) where none had existed before linking Thailand together like a huge quilt. It had never before happened, and the conditions of working in tropical vegetation, searing heat and tropical diseases such as malaria tested the fortitude of many young men and women.
Later a new command was activated in Okinawa and deployed to Thailand as the United States Army Support Command, Thailand assuming the missions of the 9th Logistical Command and becoming the parent organization in Thailand. Adding to the mission was the training and pre-operational assistance of Royal Thai military forces to deploy to Vietnam in support of US forces. Training facilities were carved out of jungle and the training included many elements of USARSUPTHAI, to include 46th Special Forces personnel.
Officially there were no “combat” troops in Thailand, yet in the 1962 Crisis in Laos President Kennedy authorized moving combat troops along the Thai-Lao border region until the crisis subsided. US Special Forces trained Thai military and Thai police personnel on a variety of areas, as well as fielded teams into Laos on then classified missions. Army engineers were not called “combat” engineers but “Construction” engineers, again so as not to alarm the government or give the impression the US was an occupational force.
That being said we did have troops engaged in combat in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and several of our bases were attacked by Communist Thai, Pathet Lao and North Vietnam forces. Their names are on the wall in Washington, D.C.
US Air Force units and aircraft flying combat missions out of Royal Thai Air Forces Bases of Don Muang (Bangkok), NKP, Takhli, Udorn, Ubon, and Utapao and then classified locations inside Laos; During the ending years of the war US Marines relocated from Vietnam to Nam Phong Royal Thai Air Force Base and continued their combat missions over Vietnam; US Coast Guard operated navigational equipment at various locations throughout Thailand; while US Navy personnel provided guidance on all US Army construction projects throughout Thailand; CIA personnel flew classified missions from Udorn RTAFB into Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam using Air America/ Civil Air Transport aircraft.
A major mission of USARSUPTHAI was to support the USAF as they prosecuted the war in Vietnam and to defend, if necessary the nation of Thailand should it come under aggression by its neighbors.
Thailand was known collectively as part of the “Secret War” and in accordance with the wishes of the Royal Thai Government much of the activity was kept out of local and international media for fear of angering the communist neighbors surrounding a free Thailand.
Keeping communications under control and providing for Air Traffic as well as ground traffic were personnel under the 1st Signal Brigade maintaining links between theater stations and those in Hawaii and Washington D.C.
Thailand based army units received unit awards such as the Presidential Unit Citation, Valorous Unit Award, Meritorious Unit Commendation, RVN Gallantry Cross w/Palm, RVN Civil Actions Honor Medal for their service in Thailand.
Individual awards include the Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal w/60 Device for service in Thailand (1962 – 1975) IAW AR 600-8-22 CH 2, Para 13 and CH 9, Para 19.
Thailand Veterans are battling the effects of herbicide exposure (Agent Orange) and proving to the VA that we were even exposed. The VA has acknowledged that each of the Royal Thai Air Force Bases and some small army bases (unnamed) were sprayed with herbicides, but each Veteran must prove he was on or near the perimeter of an affected base, and by military occupational specialty (MOS) such as a military policeman who was a K-9 handler. That is not anywhere close to a proper determination for exposure. During an alert or an attack MOS is not a precursor to who mans the perimeter and who doesn’t. The person standing next to you in a foxhole or bunker could be anybody (cook, mechanic, driver, admin, etc).
Go here http://www.kohtang.com/ to learn of the Mayaguez Incident at Koh Tang, Cambodia.
There are several books to learn more about Thailand based troops during the Vietnam War.
I suggest reading “One Day too Long” by Timothy Castle about the 11 missing men of LS 85.
Another is “A Certain Brotherhood” by Jimmie H. Butler, COL, USAF (Ret) a FAC flying Cessna’s over the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
I have written several eBooks:
U.S. Army Engineers in Thailand 1962 – 1971 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/784524
U.S. Special Forces in Thailand https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/799654 and
United States Motor Transport Operation in Thailand 1966 – 1975 https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/772858
I am a retired US Army Transportation NCO (9/13/1967 – 12/31/1990)
I find that education is the key to fending off misinformation and leading to new thoughts on old ideas. I am the Real Truckmaster!