Many of you will remember this seminal date. In fact, I should clarify that and say that the number who will recall the importance of this date is diminishing at an alarming rate. The attrition seems to be attributable to some innocuous weed killer sprayed here and there for a number of years.
The VA recognizes January 9th, 1961 as the official “Opening Ceremonies” Day in Saigon and May 7th, 1975 as the day the last Marine boarded a Huey and struck our colors atop the US Embassy. Nothing like taking third place and bringing home the Bronze, hey? In some confusion, the military disagrees and uses April 30th, 1975 as “Flag Removal Day”. Actually, it was April 29th for the record.
Thirty eight years ago today (by VA’s metric), if you ignore the International Dateline conundrum, we abandoned ship and bailed out. Air America aircraft packed up for shipment at Tan Son Nhut AB were unceremoniously abandoned to the incoming PAVN and NVA regulars who overran the base.
While I certainly cannot find fault with the May 7th date, I strongly disagree with the 9 January, 1961 date. Obviously, VA overlooks the medal struck specifically for us by our loyal allies at the top of this page. It clearly announced 1960 as our official entry into this “boundary dispute”. In reality, I can offer lay testimony that my father was sent over by the Air Force to tactically reconnoiter the situation as early as 1954, prior to the fall of Dien Bien Phu and the French’ ignoble retreat up Route 7 to Vientiane, Laos in a complete, disorganized route.
He “visited” again in 1958 for a fact-finding mission to ascertain the training needs of the fledgling Republic of South Vietnam’s air force. His next visit in 1963 was to cement a stronger relationship between the US and South Vietnam’s nouveax dictator (and former fighter pilot) Nguyen Cao Ky. Ky, like my father, was a devil-may-care risk taker and fighter pilot so they got along like peas and carrots. Dad was instrumental in transferring a lot of old T-6s, P-40s, A-1Ds and other antiques sitting mothballed at Davis Monthan to supplement the mishmash of assorted aircraft the Vietnamese Air Force was flying at the time.
Dad’s next Southeast Asian adventure began with his assignment as Vice Commander of 7th AF under Gen. William “Spike” Momeyer. This was June 1966 through February 1968. Spike wanted pilots to lead from the cockpit rather than fly a desk back at 7th AF HQ in Tan Son Nhut. This was just my dad’s cup of tea. He was never happy below 20,000 feet ASL. Being a Major General, he was not permitted to engage in actual combat so he relegated his flying to 149 missions in F-4 and RF-4 reconnaissance birds.
His replacement, Major General Robert “Bob” Worley, took over and was promptly shot down and killed July 23, 1968 north of Da Nang. Thus ended the era of generals flying in combat. As an aside, I went to high school with his son Rob prior to our fathers’ deployment to RVN. Rob went on to an illustrious AF career in his own right and also attained the same rank as his father. He currently works for VA.
Ostensibly, we “exited” the Republic of Vietnam as a fighting force in 1973. This was a good publicity ploy but was not reflected by our actions in the air. We continued to bomb the NVA to keep their feet to the fire long enough to extract a “peace accord” in Paris and retrieve our POWs incarcerated in Hanoi.
Any discussion of when we “left” SEA actually provokes even more arguments as to when we actually arrived. President Eisenhower was farsighted enough to envision a need to contain the expansion of communism. Towards that end, the Berlin airlift and innumerable other “brushfires” little-known to the American public transpired that will probably never see the light of day. As an example, how many of you know that F-100s from the 31 Fighter Wing (Return With Honor) were sitting on the aprons at Elmendorf AFB in Alaska in the winter of 1957 loaded out with tactical nuclear devices awaiting a call to nuke the Kamchatka peninsula back into the stone age?
Rarely have Americans been called to war and suffered such ignoble treatment at the hands of their own military and the American public. For thirty years it was unfashionable to mention you were a Vietnam Vet. Now we are greeted with open arms and lauded with the inane “Welcome home” sobriquet. Excuse me. I came home in 1972. The Hare Krishnas were not the only ones there at San Francisco International who came out to greet us either. So for all of you fellow brethren who broke bread there and survived, I offer this as the thirty eighth celebration of Vietnam Band of Brothers Day. Unfortunately, we are a dying breed that will soon be harder to find than a spotted owl.