Walkabout: A spontaneous journey through the wilderness of one’s choosing in an effort to satisfy one’s itchy feet, a need to be elsewhere, the craving for the open road, that space over the horizon…yes… something like that… you can’t quite touch it so you have to go find it because it’s you just know it’s there…Or maybe it just feels good to go walking around …
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Why go to The Plain of Jars?
Why should I go to The Plain of Jars in Laos? Here is the answer: First, a little background….. My father was a saver. He saved every piece of paperwork he received in his 24 years of service in the USAF. I have spent many, many hours reading, organizing, filing and putting everything into chronological order. He never talked about what he was doing in Thailand. But I found a map and started researching. And reading. And asking questions. Searching Google and Wiki. I finally figured out what in the hell he was doing over there. 7 June 1966 – Appointed Deputy Staff Office Top Secret Control officer in Osan, Korea.15 June 1966 – Notified via Special Order of reassignment to flying duties in C-47 aircraft.8 August 1966 – Transferred from Osan, Korea to Udorn, Thailand. Top Secret. I have spent hundreds of hours on the web searching and have bought and read numerous books on the secret war in Laos.
Long Tieng, or Lima 98.
If you spend time searching Google or Wiki for these key words: “Dogpatch”, “Moonbeam”, “Alley Cat”, “Airborne Command and Control”, “RC-47D”, “Operation Steel Tiger”, “Operation Barrel Roll”, “Operation Half Moon”, “Cricket”, “Vang Pao”, “Long Tieng”, “CIA Laos 1966”, “Butterflys”, “Ravens” – you will get an idea of what was going on over Laos in 1966.
For example, this is an excerpt from Wiki about Operation Barrel Roll : “Barrel Roll was one of the most closely held secrets and one of the most unknown components of the American military commitment in Southeast Asia. Due to the ostensible neutrality of Laos, guaranteed by the Geneva Conference of 1954 and 1962, both the U.S. and North Vietnam strove to maintain the secrecy of their operations and only slowly escalated military actions there. As much as both parties would have liked to have publicized their enemy’s own alleged violation of the accords, both had more to gain by keeping their own roles quiet.” I have searched many blogs and user groups and asked many questions. I received the following response from a Yahoo user group about some of my questions:
>>Fishbike53, read the following information word for word all the way to the end. You will find some interesting info about C-47’s in 1966.
Ø > SYNOPSIS: On July 19, 1966, an RC47D aircraft departed Udorn Airfield in > > Thailand en route to Sam Neua, Laos. The crew aboard the aircraft > > included Capt. Robert E. Hoskinson, pilot; Maj. Galileo F. Bossio, 1Lt. > > Vincent A. Chiarello, Capt. Bernard Conklin, 1Lt. Robert J. Di Tommaso, > > SSgt. James S. Hall, TSgt. John M. Mamiya and TSgt. Herbert E. Smith, > > crewmen. The aircraft was an unarmed RC47D Command and Control airship > > (Dogpatch 2). > > > > When the aircraft was 10-20 miles south of Sam Neua, it was attacked by > > enemy fighters. Radio contact was lost and the families were initially > > told there was no further word of the plane or crew – that they had all > > been lost on an operational mission in North Vietnam. > > > > It was later learned, however, that at least one, possibly two > > parachutes were observed in the air from persons on the ground, and the > > loss had occurred not in North Vietnam, but at 201200N 1041700E, which > > is in Laos. > > > > Primary objective of the C-47 in Laos at that point in the war was > > visual reconnaissance. American forces worked closely with CAS (CIA) > > primarily to weaken the communist supply link to South Vietnam via the > > “Ho Chi Minh Trail”. This particular plane, however, was working in > > support of the CIA’s secret indigenous army which was attempting to > > prevent a communist takeover in Laos. > > > > The crewmembers on these missions were normally highly trained in > > electronic surveillance techniques as well as versed in codes and > > languages. Accordingly, and as “there was no war in Laos”, certain > > details of the mission, such as the precise location of loss, were > > originally distorted. Later reports indicate that some of the crew > > survived the attack on July 29, 1966. According to a March, 1974 list > > published by the National League of Families of POW/MIAs, Bossio > > survived the incident and was missing in Laos. One 1971 report states > > that as many as 5 of the crew were captured. Chiarello and Di Tommaso > > were identified as survivors by Capt. Adair of Project Dogpatch. U.S. > > Air Force records still reflect the loss as having occurred in North > > Vietnam.
> > Related information (edited for grammar) below provided by Keith
> > Rohring:
> > This RC-47D was ‘bristling’ with electronics – the mission was
> > essentially to fly near the Ho Chi Minh Trail at precise dates and times
> > to pick up Hmong tribes people’s broadcasts of who was on the trail,
> > when, where, and how many. . .
> > Some team members of the SOG team were land based, operating along the
> > Trail, in Cambodia etc, leaving these gizmo-radios for the Hmong to use
> > to transmit, with a calendar of when they were to send. . . The
> > ‘observer’ status was unofficial, as there were folks who were traveling
> > onboard mission flights to become acclimatized to what was going on –
> > Chiarello and Cooperman were in an intelligence outfit – working at the
> > end of the Udorn runway in a shack at the time.
> > That’s where they were when the coin flip occurred. . . There are 8
> > names on Panel 09 around line 85 that were onboard that flight –
> > Chiarello was the odd man – the others were assigned to “chairs” as
> > crew, navigators, listeners, and charters of traffic. Of course,
> > everyone on these flights got their ‘flight pay’ – if qualified) –
> > combat pay and tax exemption – normally, C-47 crews based in Thailand
> > would make trips into South Vietnam to get their tax exemption – if
> > based and flying in Thailand alone; there was none of the above, just
> > regular flight pay.
So on July 19,1966, a C-47 flown by Capt. Hoskinson was performing Command and Control activity out of Udorn, Thailand, and was shot down over Sam Neua, Laos. On June 15, a month before Capt. Hoskinson’s plane was shot down, my father was notified that he was being sent to Udorn to do the same mission. On August 10 , 21 days after Hoskinson was shot down, my father was in Udorn and getting into a C47 and headed over the Plain of Jars in Laos to perform a similar mission.
Picked up the malaria pills (one a day for the next 2 months), diarrhea antibiotics (yikes……enough for 3 bouts) and then received 3 shots. Shots were free, but pills were $244.00. Tetanus, hepatitis A&B, typhoid and doubtlessly a few more bacteria, microbes, or whatever the hell you call them now will be immunity supporting travel partners. Received a half hour lecture on street food, (yes), wild places (yes, on the agenda), the importance of drinking bottled water and considerable cautions about mosquitoes….the daytime ones and the nighttime ones, the big ones and the little ones, the urban ones and the hinterland ones. Really? Picked up crisp, clean travel cash after reading that even the smallest cut, tear or stain would render US currency useless or reduce its value. After the Oaxaca trip in October where $1.00 = approx 12 pesos, I still think about conversion premiums. There is always a premium for currency conversion. In Laos $1.00 = 8,000 kip. $100.00 = over 80,000 kip. Will need to have a wad of money – tens of thousands of kips…….for even a tuktuk ride….. Per the phone carrier: Free texting and $0.20 a minute for cell calls from Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam. $4.19 a min from Laos. T I told my best friend Jerry that I would gladly call him from any where…..and often do…….and will……..from anywhere but Laos. The same message is affectionately presented to all followers of this blog.
Do not call me. Send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. But do please keep in touch. The internet is ubiquitous. Fishbike53walkabout B
Below are several photos of a map I found squirreled away in some of my father’s things.
The closeup of the map at the bottom of the page shows an area about 60 to 80 miles NNE of Vientiane, Laos. L98 is Long Tieng – often described as “The Most Secret Place on Earth”. I had the map framed and look at it daily. Considerable research resulted in an understanding of places and numbers on the map. My father never told me much about it or about what he was doing………but with much of the war in SE Asia now declassified and the power of the internet, I think I figured some of it out……. My father drew the lines, the numbers for the radio beacons, the distances from the beacons, the landing strips (Lima Sites). All the edges were cut off the map. It had been folded, refolded, creased, crinkled, crunched and folded again. It was obvious that it had been used very heavily.
On the top right corner over the crease in the map you can see “Plaine Des Jarres” or The Plain of Jars. Much of his flying was over this region in 1966 as a USAF pilot. The war in Laos was a “Secret War”. U.S. Activity in Laos was classified until the Clinton Administration. The CIA was running the entire show in Laos, so it was covert – everything about activity in Laos was covert. Secret. Dangerous. Officially, the U.S. was not involved in Laos. But we were, big time.
Long Tieng, or Lima 98.
The map is full of lines, radians from radio beacons, distances, landing strips, etc. The Plain of Jars was a major link to the Ho Chi Minh trail and a primary route of transit for equipment, food and soldiers into South Viet Nam. Depending on the time of the year, (monsoon season) control of much of the region often shifted between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” This area that he flew over is a primary destination of my travels. To walk on the Plain of Jars. My father was not dropping bombs from his plane…but he did in WWII. That is another story and just might be the next walkabout.
In Laos, he was flying a WWII era C47 outfitted with a payload of first generation radio receiving and relay equipment, communications specialists and a Lao national or two. They communicated with Hmong ground forces, spotter aircraft (The Ravens), the inbound fighter/bombers, and the CIA in Vientiane, the Lao capital. The plane was basically an early version of AWACS.
In less than year after his missions were over, all the work stations were upgraded to a module that fit inside a C130.
Targets were ID’d by a “Raven” or a “Butterfly” flying a single engine spotter aircraft. The location was transmitted to the C47 and bombing of the coordinates was approved by Lao nationals in the C47. Fighter/bombers were called and radioed to the target coordinates. The target was marked with smoke by the Raven/Butterfly and then bombs were dropped by the fighter/bombers. Then Ravens flew back over the area and reported damage assessments. Laos had more tons of bombs dropped on it during the war in SE Asia than all of the bombs dropped by all the planes – German, English, Japanese, American…….during WWII. The countryside is riddled with unexploded ordinance, or UXO’s. The quantity of UXO’s is unimaginable. There are still millions of UXO in Laos and hundreds of people are maimed or killed each year. More about the jars on the Plain of Jars in a future blog.
Here is a little info on UXO’s: Quick Facts and Figures:
Lao PDR is the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in history
Approximately 25% of villages in Laos are contaminated with Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)
More than 580,000 bombing missions were conducted over Laos
Over 2 million tons of ordnance were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973
Cluster munitions or ‘Bombies’ (as they are known locally) are the most common form of UXO remaining
More than 270 million bombies were dropped onto Laos
Up to 30% failed to detonate
Approximately 80 million unexploded bombies remained in Laos after the war
All 17 provinces of Laos suffer from UXO contamination
Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured as a result of UXO
Over 50,000 people have been killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents in the period 1964 to 2008
41 out of the 46 poorest districts in Laos have UXO contamination
Check out the following link for information about Ravens doing the real dirty work and some great information about Long Tieng:
Per Wiki – regarding L98 (Lima 98) on the map above: L98 (AKA Lima 98. Later L98 was renamed L20 Alternate) or Long Tieng – was often described as “The Most Secret Place on Earth”. It was located in a valley at 3,100 feet elevation, high enough to have chilly nights and cold fogs. It was surrounded by mountains and on the northwest side of the runway were karst outcrops several hundred feet high. In the shadow of the Karst outcrops was “Sky” the CIA headquarters in Long Tieng. Jerry Daniels, a CIA officer codenamed “Hog,” is said to have named Sky after his home state of Montana, known as “Big Sky Country.” Long Tieng was protected on three sides by limestone mountains.
“What a place is Long Tieng,” said USAID officer Jim Schill. “Tribal soldiers dressed in military garb standing next to traditionally dressed Hmong, with Thai mercenaries milling about. And the Americans here are mostly CIA operatives with goofy code names like Hog, Mr. Clean, and Junkyard. The town itself is not much. There’s one paved road running through it and tin shacks on either side with eating shops, food stalls, and living quarters.”
During the Secret War, Long Tieng became the largest Hmong settlement in the world. In the words of one author, Long Tieng “became a desultory metropolis, an unpaved, sewerless city of 30,000 where Hmong ran noodle stands, cobbled shoes, tailored clothes, repaired radios, ran military-jeep taxi services, and interpreted for American pilots and relief workers.”