In May 1997, at the unveiling of the Air America Memorial at The University of Texas Dallas McDermott Library at Richardson, former CIA director William Colby, said that Air America aircraft were not combat aircraft but only used as transport aircraft. However, Dr. Joe F. Leeker, obtained sufficient visual documentation in the very library dedicated by Colby to prove otherwise. Most of the images were taken by Air America personnel as there were no correspondents in the neighborhood. Unlike the conflict in Vietnam, the secret war in Laos did not welcome the news media. In fact, to leave the capital city of Vientiane and venture elsewhere in Laos, a separate visa was required and was granted only to those directly involved in the war effort. If you happened to be riding an Air America plane, no visa proof was required. Those of us with an Air America connection would have found Colby's comments amusing though they were in keeping with all the U.S. presidents who had a hand in the war during their tenure. We can expect deceit and a failure to tell the truth from the CIA though it appears that it continues even today at the highest level of government. We are most thankful for the tireless efforts of Dr. Leeker to document his findings in Air America in Laos III-In Combat over the course of more than 21 years.
At the outset, many Air America aircraft bore the airline identity as shown below. Originally, the Prime Minister of Laos, Souphana Phouma, stated the air transport was a pure humanitarian mission. However, over the years as operations evolved to become one of armed conflict, all markings disappeared. This type of helicopter was used to supply remote locations with "hard rice," a.k.a. munitions and leap-frog special ground troops from one location to another. We would provide aviation fuel in drums to some of the helicopter locations for them to refuel if they were under fire.
However, the unmarked Air America helicopter below is obviously transporting a canon representing a grander scale of "hard rice." Incidentally, the same helicopters used to hover over our airfield in Luang Prabang, Laos acting as observers while we fueled T-28 attack aircraft. At first observation, their presence was comforting but caused some concern as to why it was necessary and a conclusion that we had nowhere to go once an attack might begin. All alone with no way home.
President Eisenhower was the first to take the gloves off and eliminate advertising the aircraft identity when he authorized the deployment of Air America B-26 bombers to attack Pathet Lao positions with what was affectionately referred to as "hot soup" or bombs.
The image below illustrates Texan pilots on the airstrip in Luang Prabang awaiting drop locations for their bombs shown underneath the wings. Sitting under the wings was something we all learned as the preferred spot to avoid the blistering sun.
The image below shows two other Texan pilots returning to base following a bomb run as their "hot soup" had been dropped on the "unfriendly positions." For some reason, a large number of Texan pilots took "early retirement" from the U.S. Air Force to then be "sheep-dipped," or cleansed from all government connections, to become Air America contractors. Once the thrill of living on the edge got into their system, it was very difficult for them to return to a pure civilian life in the real world. Therefore, many of the pilots and kickers (crew who unloaded cargo upon touchdown) gravitated to either south Texas, Florida or to Africa for other adventurous activities flying "cargo" in C-123 aircraft where the tail opened. Interestingly, if a landing zone were under fire, the plane would barely touchdown and resume take-off while the crew literally would apply force to cause the pallets to slide off the open aircraft.
On occasion, the "the unfriendlies" would even the score as this line-up of destroyed T-28 aircraft sitting on the Luang Prabang runway following a night attack illustrates. Today, Luang Prabang is a beautiful place to visit. In the old days, it was equally beautiful and charged with excitement though most tourist guides would advise anyone to return to Vientiane in the evening, if at all possible, as bad things often happened after dark. One night I sat in a courtyard in Luang Prabang with some "lifer" American USAID guys in Laos having a beer when I realized we four guys represented the enemy behind enemy lines and it would be prudent to take cover somewhere less visible. In fact, one of them had once been left for dead when the Pathet Lao overran his mission which was truly a humanitarian one.
Nothing like file photos taken by the actual parties involved to illustrate the deceit of the highest levels of U.S. Government since the 1960's. On national television, there was a TV news message of President Nixon denying the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail that wound its way through Laos. Several days before I heard the bombings some 40 kilometers away from where I was staying in Laos-no reporters/no evidence. However, some politicians have the con ability to cause their followers to ignore what they may have physically seen or lies they heard. No matter what - justice usually follows some fine day as President Obama personally apologized to the people of Laos on an official visit to Vientiane, Laos.