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The Purity of A White Rose

June 18, 2020

Jack Anderson of the Washington Post published an article in 1969 regarding the war in Laos. He ignored the fact that the war was illegal though he claimed “rampant contractor corruption” in its execution. Forget the fact that U.S. forces had been illegally seconded in Laos carrying United States Agency of International Development (humanitarian) identity cards, though they were directing guerilla and mercenary armies to fight and drop bombs. The shocking headline was Esso, where the author worked at the time, was accused of bribing the U.S. Government Naval Inspector with women. The alleged objective was to overlook safety measures in fueling illegal aircraft in remote areas of Laos. The accusation was beyond any reason as we rode some of the same aircraft ourselves. 
In fact, a mysterious “Mister Seri” was named as the source of a bribe involving a prostitute in the White Rose Bar in Vientiane, Laos. Yes, Khun Seri was our Thai/Chinese manager in Laos where I was involved in the Air America contract administration and fuel delivery. Seri’s defense was that as the Naval Inspector did not have any local currency, Seri merely loaned him some until the next day. Nonetheless, one cannot imagine the wrath in the halls of Standard Oil of New Jersey to be accused in the Washington Post of providing prostitutes to U.S. government employees. Curiously, one would expect that it was quite common in Washington government circles. 
We kept Seri quarantined in Vientiane until a new Naval Inspector paid his first visit. Seri asked that I join the inaugural visit and we went for drinks the first evening. Well, Seri took us to the infamous White Rose Bar shown below. Vientiane was an Asian version of “Casablanca” in most every respect-no rules, competing armies and often dangerous. The White Rose Bar fit perfectly in that environment as it has been credited as having the blackest reputation of most any watering hole or house of prostitution in the world. As we drank a beer on that particular evening, a young lady performed a miraculous feat with a pack of cigarettes while we sat in comfortable chairs in the middle of the concrete dance floor. She could have been featured on the Ed Sullivan equivalent show of XXX porn. In a few minutes, the Naval Inspector asked if he could borrow money from Seri to take the cigarette lady upstairs for a personal interlude. I went nuts and pulled both of the guys out of the bar-"déjà vu” all over again. 
Air America, the secret CIA Air Force, was our airline of choice for travel in Laos. Private aircraft operated by spooks were safer than commercial planes even though the bad guys might shoot at you. Spook planes had no schedules and were always able to leave if things got dicey rather than being required to spend the night to conform with peripatetic commercial airlines schedules. The preferred Air America plane was the Pilatus Porter, as shown below in Luang Prabang, which was readily available to us for the visiting dignitary from Washington. 
After our evening at the White Rose Bar, Khun Seri, the Naval Inspector and I flew to Luang Prabang in the north and then on to Ban Houi Sai in the western part of Laos which was the main gateway for opium smuggling from sources in Thailand and Burma. As we approached Ban Houi Sai, the pilot circled above the two roads into town to determine if any “unfriendlies” controlled the routes. When we landed, a jeep picked us up to go into the town. The Naval Inspector was indignant that we were not taking the closest route. As he did not speak Lao, he was unaware that we were advised that the Pathet Lao communists controlled the shorter road trip. When he continued to argue, I told him he could walk the short road but we were driving the long road.  
Fast forward to several months later when the Southeast Asia manager of a major insurance company headquartered in Bangkok found me in a crowded late-night bar in Vientiane. He asked if I could pull an Air America pilot off of his French boss as the pilot was beating him to death. Surprisingly, the bar was so packed and the noise level so great that few people were aware of the incident. The Texan pilot had the guy over the bar while repeatedly pounding his fist into him. In my best Texas talk, I asked what had happened and he said the “frog” had insulted his date. I pulled the pilot off of him and asked the Frenchman to apologize, which he did. I then turned to see that the special date of the pilot was the “smoking hot cigarette girl” from the White Rose. On a subsequent flight from Vientiane to Bangkok, the plane was held while the same pilot was loaded on a stretcher. It turns out, he had been shot down in Laos and was in pretty bad shape. I refrained from asking him if he had a cigarette.  
Once I attempted to sell two DC-3 aircraft that were collateral for a bank guarantee backing a debt owed to Esso. However, the president of the bank suggested that it would be unwise to press for payment as the bank was owned by the Prime Minister of Laos. As the debt to Esso was $10,000, I assumed I could get at least that amount by selling the planes to one of the illicit airlines in Laos. When I approached the Corsican Lao Air Charter manager, he jumped me for not selling them aviation fuel in Ban Houi Sai. He then pulled a 45-caliber pistol from his desk drawer to make his point though my focus was on his deeply stained fingers from chain-smoking Gauloise French cigarettes. I promised to leave Vientiane the next morning to return to Bangkok and research the matter. It turns out the CIA had leased a plane to him and were not being paid, so they demanded that we not sell him fuel. There was a spook pilot in Vientiane to fly it back to Thailand of which the Corsican was aware. I caught up with the pilot and advised him to forget the plane and swim the Mekong back to Thailand that evening if necessary.
A DC-3, similar to the one shown above, was leased to the Corsican drug runner and the CIA-backed owner said if it was not safe they would hold Esso responsible if it crashed. Upon returning to Bangkok, I told the owner that indeed it was not safe as I had flown it into Luang Prabang the week before and the left wing was covered in oil requiring us to fly through the mountains rather than over them. It came as no surprise that the aircraft crashed a week later on its way to Luang Prabang and the Corsican stole the two aircraft I tried to sell to him as they were parked down the runway from his hanger. If you have never walked up the inclined aisle of a DC-3 early in the morning after a late night on the town, it is hard to imagine the effort involved. Further, a wing covered in oil is nothing compared to the unknown setting of where you would be landing and required to stay for a time as all of the spook planes were flying Hmong casualties out of the base nearby. It was unclear where the greatest risk might be-crashing into the side of a mountain on approach or not being able to leave if the Pathet Lao took control of the airstrip.  
You might wonder why I knew Lao Air Charter smuggled drugs? I stood under the wing to get out of the sun in Ban Houi Sai once while the plane’s crew took seats out of the plane in order to load bales of most fragrant opium to be subsequently refined into heroin. The only thing “pure” about the Corsican-managed Lao Air Charter was the quality of the heroin they smuggled into Saigon which found its way to the U.S. troops.  
Laos, during this period of time, gave special meaning to the adage to “live every day as if it were your last."

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