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Dirty little Secret in the land of a Million Elephants: Barrel Roll and Lost War.

In 1354, King Fa Ngum and the people of Laos began calling their kingdom "Lane Xang" which translated as "Land of a Million elephants." During these years, the capital was Luang Prabang which was surrounded by large grazing pastures, and home to hundreds of wild herds of elephants which were revered by the people. The great beasts lived peacefully off the thick and abundant forest vegetation and felt no pressure from the human population. For 600 years, the elephants and humans in Laos flourished. Things changed with the advent of French colonial rule, and grew worse during the second half of the 20th Century when elephant numbers dwindled due to growing human populations, technological pressures, and modern wars which caused the defoliation of their forests homes. As of 2016, there remained only 700 elephants in the wild and roughly 400 domesticated elephants.

The ruin of this once idyllic land began in World War II during the Japanese occupation and continued during the struggle to expel the French, climaxing with the "secret war" in Laos. Americans arrived in what the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) designated the "Land of Oz," in the 1950s to attempt to keep Laos from falling to the Viet Minh forces that had recently seized North Vietnam from the French. During the Cold War the U.S., with her allies, were confronted by the Soviet Union and hers. U.S. leaders embraced the "Domino Theory" which supposed if one Asian state fell those around it would also become Communist. This had happened in Eastern Europe after World War II and, when China had become a Communist state in 1949 followed by North Vietnam in 1954. In Korea in the early 1950s, the United Nations (UN) had prevented South Korea from being overrun by the Communist North.

Many in the U.S. feared states like South Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos would fall next. Laos was in the middle of this struggle. Operatives of the CIA soon confronted forces of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) supplied by Russia and China. The Laotians were about to experience all the horrors of modern war and lose its innocence forever.

War Comes to the Land of a Thousand Elephants

During the U.S. presence in Laos, the struggle for control of this tiny kingdom was fierce and ruthless. Like the rest of mainland Southeast Asia, the U.S. slowly entered the conflict seeking to prevent these nations from falling to what they believed were agents of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China (PRC). This effort failed and, when the U.S. departed in 1973, all of Indochina fell, leaving the people and lands devastated; with worse yet to come.

In looking back, most Westerners at the time knew little of the Laotian conflict. That was the way U.S. leaders wanted it. From the beginning of America's assumption of the military aspects of the Vietnam War, no political or military leader wanted the people ofthe US. to know about the secret war in Laos. Led by US. personnel and fought mostly by Laotians of varying ethnic backgrounds, this war unfolded in the shadow of the larger war in neighboring Vietnam. The outcome was no more successful, nor less destructive. This article focuses on the covert war and one specific aspect of it known as Operation Barrel Roll.

What Was Barrel Roll?

The U.S. air campaign, designated Barrel Roll, derived from the failure of the Geneva Accords of July 23, 1962, which called for the creation of a nonaligned and independent Laotian state. Throughout late 1962 and all of 1963, neutralist Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma was unable to establish a coalition government due, in large measure, to Communist intransigence. As a result, he requested and received U.S. military aid in the form of arms, equipment, supplies, and AT-28 fighter-bombers. Once they received these materials, plans went forward to initiate a primarily defensive war which included Barrel Roll. This air operation took place in northern Laos and officially lasted from December 14, 1964 to March 29, 1973.

The operation unfolded primarily to support ground forces of the Royal Laotian Government (RLG) and the native mountain people known as the Hmong. These irregulars were trained and supplied by the CIA and led by the controversial Gen. Vang Pao. The specific area of operation (AO) stretched from the Laotian capital of Vientiane on the border of Thailand north to the historic and, strategic Plaine de Jarres (PDJ) or Plain of Jars then, northeast to the Pathet Lao capital of Sam Neua located in Sam Neua province on the DRV border. (1)

The Plain of Jars was littered with hundreds of forty to sixty pound stone pots and jars which archeologists believed were crafted in pre-historic times. One expert described the Plain of Jars as a megalithic archaeological landscape. The jars were scattered around the upland valleys and the lower foothills of the central plain of the Xiangkhoang Plateau. (2) While there is disagreement over what the jars were, most archeologists believe they were funeral urns. (3)

The main air components of the campaign were covert units of the U.S. Air Force's 2nd Air Division (2AD) which evolved into the Seventh Air Force (7AF) and the Navy's Task Force 77. At the behest of President Lyndon B. Johnson; the Commander-in-Chief Pacific (CINCPAC), then Admiral Ulysses Simpson Grant Sharp, Jr., (1964-1968); Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (COMUSMACV), General William C. Westmoreland (1964-1968); and William Healy Sullivan, the U.S. Ambassador to Laos (1964-1969) in Vientiane, Rules of Engagement (ROE) evolved. Mostly at Sullivan's insistence, they placed heavy restrictions on all U.S. military forces in Laos and were augmented by restraints, rules, and policies determined by the Commander, 7AF, eventually William M. "Spike" Momyer. The ROEs also stated what was permitted or forbidden regarding air operations. (4)

By January 1967, Air Force and CIA leaders had divided Laos into operational sectors specifically A-G. Armed reconnaissance in northern Laos was designated Barrel Roll and operations in the south Steel Tiger. Later, Steel Tiger East was created. It was also known as Tiger Hound since it was part of air operations in the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).

In these AOs, U.S. aircraft conducted strikes around villages against targets of opportunity. They were allowed to attack any of these during the day or night if it was within 200 yards of a traversable trail or road. They could attack fixed targets of opportunity if the target was "a validated Royal Laotian Air Force (RLAF) A' or 'B' target or the pilot had the okay from officials in Vientiane or received fire from said target." (5)

Members of the ground and aerial Forward Air/Area Control System (FACS) and the AN/MSQ-77 guidance system directed attack aircraft to these targets. The AN/MSQ-77 was often employed during attacks against validated targets, day or night, and in all types of weather. Early in the Vietnam War, the U.S. did not have precision navigation capabilities like the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS). Many aircrews, especially in B-52 bombers, nicknamed BUFFs, could not "see" ground targets, and the existing navigation systems lacked sufficient precision to conduct the types of missions ordered by the Johnson Administration. (6)

Early in the Vietnam War, the U.S. did not have precision navigation capabilities

The Air Force developed the AN/MSQ-77 radar system to guide the aircraft to the target during sorties designated as Ground Directed Bombing (GDB). The radar portion of the system could follow any aircraft within 200 miles of the station allowing a single radar system to track planes over all of North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The ground station was originally called "Radar Bomb Directing Central" and was constructed as a computer containing vacuum tubes and a "Plotting Board," which literally drew a precise map for the tracked aircraft. These maps identified the aircraft's location in relationship to a chosen target. The computer constantly gauged the altitude, airspeed, wind drift corrections, and ground elevation changes using the ballistics of the bombs carried by the aircraft. In turn, the plotting board and computer operators alerted the aircrews to required changes in their flight path and, then, the exact moment to drop their bombs. More than 3/4th of all the bombs dropped in Vietnam, used this GDB process. (7)

The FACs, often known as "Ravens," had to request permission from the U.S. Embassy to direct attacks on targets within ten miles of the Cambodian border; during all night strikes against fixed targets unless under MSQ direction; and against large numbers of boats on streams and rivers other than the Song Ma River. Pilots making assaults without FAC or MSQ had to confirm their position beforehand via radar or Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) systems. (8)

Unique Zones

Within the Steel Tiger AO, the Allies created two zones employing slightly different ROEs. The first was designated Cricket West, or Fringe, near the Nape Pass which the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) used as part of their infamous resupply route known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During the Vietnam War, a variety of U.S. aircraft, including B-52 heavy bombers, conducted concentrated interdiction operations that included Commando Hunt I-VII. Cricket West was an area west of this interdiction zone. When NVA units, also called the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), jeopardized pro-American troop positions in this AO, U.S. and Allied aircraft provided Close Air Support (CAS). During the secret war as these operations expanded, the outer edges of the AO became known as Cricket Fringe. (9)

In November 1966, officials designated the other unique region the Steel Tiger Special Operating Area. It was a narrow strip of the eastern Laotian panhandle from a point barely north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) "along the NVN and SVN borders, south to Cambodia." Leaders sought to employ non-FAC authorized air attacks in this AO using air assets diverted from Operation Rolling Thunder to make specific CAS strikes. Allied sorties could not attack within twenty-five nautical miles (NM) of the Laotian cities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, or within 10 NM of Attopeu, Pakse, Saravane, Savannakhet, and Thakhek and, later, Muong Phalane. Eventually, "A-1 propeller-driven aircraft were authorized to penetrate within 10 miles of Attopeu when attacking targets along Route 110, a major enemy artery in the extreme south." (10)

Throughout the remaining seven years, officials persistently altered the ROEs based on the battlefield successes or failures of the non-Communist forces. Some were permanent and others temporary. One key example took place in January 1967, when planners expanded Barrel Roll to allow attacks against enemy highways. In one case, Soviet officials lodged a protest about strikes in the Khang Khay region. This halted the sorties for a time. Finally, an International Control Commission meeting at Xieng Khouang put the area off limits. (11)

All the air operations in Laos, such as Barrel Roll and Steel Tiger, began as an effort to get the Hanoi government to stop its material and personnel support for the National Liberation Front (NLF) and their military arm, the Viet Cong (VC), within the borders of South Vietnam. The major target of these aerial assaults was the NVA's main logistical route through Laos, the Trong Son Road, better known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Originally built during the French war, they had been expanding this corridor of roads and foot-paths since the late 1950s. They had 150,000 "volunteers" who lived in the jungles and maintained the Trail. By 1964, the Allies began an air campaign against mobile and stationary targets along the route "from southwestern North Vietnam, through southeastern Laos, and into South Vietnam." Concurrently, air assets were used for CAS missions in support of RLG forces, CIA-supported Hmong tribal forces, and Thai "volunteers." In what became the clandestine ground war in northern Laos, Barrel Roll worked to help the "secret army" hurl back incursions by the PAVN and Pathet Lao. (12)

Barrel Roll proved to be one of the most closely guarded secrets and most covert aspects of the U.S. military efforts in mainland Southeast Asia. Since delegates and national leaders at the Geneva Conference of 1954, and 1962, ostensibly agreed that Laos should be neutral, conducting a war there had to be kept a secret. Both the DRV and U.S. went to ridiculous extremes to assure the secrecy of military operations while slowly escalating military actions. Laos was neither, free or independent. Its lands were left ravaged and its people homeless, hungry, and abandoned by the rest of the world.

Origins of the Laotian Tragedy

As early as 1961, the main U.S. concern in Southeast Asia was not in Vietnam but Laos. President John F. Kennedy was elected and sworn in amidst euphoria that he would create a new national order later described as "Camelot." No sooner had he assumed office than he ran into the realities of foreign entanglements that had begun during the previous administration. He had to face the problems in the developing world that were particularly acute in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. He believed Laos was, "The most immediate of the problems that we found upon taking office." On March 23, Kennedy held a nationally televised news conference focused on Laos. Pointing to a large map situated behind him, he explained that there existed a severe threat that the Communist "Pathet Lao insurgents, supported by the Russians and the North Vietnamese, would capture the northeastern part of the country." He explained that, '"Laos is far away from America, but the world is small. The security of all Southeast Asia will be endangered if Laos loses its neutral independence."' (13)

He went on to assert that while by itself Laos had little strategic importance, "it shared borders with six other countries and had traditionally served as a buffer zone between the more powerful neighboring states." America's major concern was that the "insurgency would spread and destabilize the rest of the region." If this happened, he warned they might come to dominate the entire region and threaten the security of all Southeast Asia. Thus began America's efforts to find a peaceful end to the crisis. This became the basis of the 1962 accords and the attempt at a coalition government. Ultimately, the Laotian situation facilitated the Vietnam War. (14)

As early as 1961, the main U.S. concern in Southeast Asia was not in Vietnam but Laos

On July 23, 1962, the U.S., the Pathet Lao, and the DRV had agreed to the toothless agreement in Geneva, Switzerland, which proposed to have all foreign military forces leave Laos and pledge not to use "Laotian territory for interfering in the internal affairs of another country." (15) Things began well enough when the Laotians established a coalition Government of National Union in the capital of Vientiane. On October 2, 1962, the deadline for the foreign troops to leave, the NVA still had 6,000 troops in the eastern half of Laos. (16) As this situation escalated, members of the Laotian military refused to support the new government. The U.S. fearful of a Communist takeover, began supplying the RLG through Thailand. Instead of a solution, the 1962 accords left Laos tangled in a web of the "political and territorial ambitions of Communist neighbors, the security concerns of Thailand and the U.S., and geographic fate." (17)

In late 1962, in spite of U.S. efforts at a diplomatic settlement, small skirmishes broke out between Royal Lao Army (RLA) factions and members of the Pathet Lao. Even with full scale war in the offing, negotiations continued with little success. Things soon went from bad to worse when members of the right-wing initiated a coup and arrested neutralist Prime Minister Prince Souvanna Phouma. Leonard Unger, the U.S. Ambassador to Laos told the rebels the U.S. planned to continue to support Souvanna Phouma. The irony of this was only a few months earlier, U.S. policy makers had called him "a tool of the leftists." This statement also impacted those Laotians in the middle by forcing them to shift political allegiance from the left to the right in order to survive. After months of maneuvering, in May 1964, the Prime Minister proclaimed a formal political alliance in which those on the right and center allied against those on the left. From this point on, all pretense of negotiations or peace came to an end. (18)

Fighting erupted on the Plain of Jars, with leaders and members of each political group rushing to pick a side. Faced with a real war, Souvanna Phouma requested the U.S. provide him with materiel support. Lyndon Johnson, the new president, who had been sworn in following the November 22, 1963 assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, acted quickly to bolster the center-right union and ordered military equipment and supplies dispatched to Laos. (19)

In November 1963, even before full-scale fighting began and not long after Kennedy's slaying, Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) proposed a tactical plan for the Laotian conflict which called for U.S. personnel to fly aerial armed reconnaissance sorties over Laos as part of a two-phased program that would alert Hanoi that the U.S. was stanchly behind both the Laotian government and, the pro-western government in Saigon even though their longtime puppet Ngo Dinh Diem had been overthrown and assassinated. Planners decided to fly these missions above the Laotian panhandle near the border of Laos and the DRV. (20)

Once the White House approved these sorties, U.S. pilots launched the first on May 19,1964. Members of Yankee Team, flying RF-101 Voodoo aircraft, executed low-level photo reconnaissance flights over southern Laos. From the start, enemy Anti-aircraft Artillery (AAA) fired at the aircraft. To counter this, escort aircraft were added to the mission package. On the 21st, U.S. aircraft reprised these sorties over northern Laos. This began America's total commitment to the war in Laos and later, Vietnam. The surveillance flights proved to be the beginning of the covert war in Laos. (21)

In response to these air operations, in June 1964, the Pathet Lao, supported by the NVA, launched a spring offensive in to the Plain of Jars. President Johnson countered by approving the initiation of Operation Barrel Roll that provided CAS for the RLG forces. On June 9, U.S. Air Force F-100Ds targeted Communist AAA. Thus, began a unique conflict that would last for nine grueling years. As noted, all during Barrel Roll operations, it functioned under a rather peculiar set of ROEs that originated from Ambassador Sullivan. At first, the missions proved relatively successful but, as time passed, and the war in Vietnam wound down, the supply of materials to Laos petered out and, in the end, Barrel Roll came to an ignominious conclusion. (22)

Internal Rivalries

Throughout the Laotian war, rivalries grew among various individuals and groups in Laos, Saigon, and the U.S. One situation arose between Air Force leaders at Udon RTAB and Saigon and those at the U.S. embassy in Vientiane. (23) Then Captain Richard Secord, the Air Force's liaison between the CIA and 7AF later complained, "We were always trying to pry assets out of the Air Force at times and places they didn't want to go. You had to push'em, cajole'em, at times threaten them... My people were always trying to corrupt the process because the process itself simply was not structured for our kind of war... It was a continual frustration." (24) Historian Timothy Castle contends that Sullivan attempted to relegate the Air Force commander and his staff, "To the status of clerks hired to carry out his airpower decisions." (25)

The 7th/13th personnel often complained about having to deploy their air assets to northern Laos and employing airpower, specifically modern tactical fighter aircraft like "long-range artillery." Those on the ground groused about what they believed was the Air Force's failure to comprehend that partisan forces did not operate like a conventional army. In the earlier mentioned Contemporary Historical Evaluation of Combat Operations (CHECO) reports, the ROEs for aerial combat in Laos were highly restrictive and aimed at protecting Laotian civilians. They limited crews, and constantly changed, making them convoluted to the point that many pilots saw them as unfathomable. Policy-makers in Washington and Vientiane seemed unable or unwilling to study the reality of the war and, thus, provided an assemblage of directives that governed every kind of mission for every service branch and every military region. (26)

Early examples of air combat rules stated that the Allies could not use napalm, no Communist vehicle could be attacked more than 200 meters from any roadway, and no NVA or Pathet Lao troops could be bombed within 1,000 meters of a pagoda. Eventually, concerns for the lives of the U.S. crews ended such limitations. They were replaced by other restrictions that created "no bomb zones" which provided the enemy with unintended sanctuaries. Since unmarked Communist hospital and pagodas were off limits, the NVA used them as ammunition dumps, supply caches, and AAA sites. Each time the Allies changed, the enemy adjusted. (27)

Initially, the U.S. advisors totaled roughly 750 individuals, while the NVA had approximately 7,000 in Laos. In turn, the Pathet Lao numbers continued to grow throughout 1964 and into 1965. From the outset, Kennedy had decided to counter Hanoi's violation of the Geneva accords without fanfare, thus, America employed covert measures rather than open a direct commitment of troops as Johnson would do in Vietnam during 1965. For this reason the conflict in Laos evolved into a secret war. In reality early clandestine assistance gradually turned into direct participation as U.S. pilots flew CAS sorties in support of RLG forces. (28)

As this process unfolded in Laos, Johnson began to increase the numbers of U.S. troops in Vietnam while he relegated Laos to a secondary status. The U.S. goals in Laos changed and were aimed at the destruction of the Ho Chi Minh Trail to curb the NVA resupply of its forces in South Vietnam. The role of shutting down the logistics infiltration route fell to U.S. airpower which also was supposed to prevent the fall of the feeble Laotian government and secure a stalemate. Since they were dependent on the American airmen for their very survival, the RLG gave the U.S. permission to bomb the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As Barrel Roll expanded in the late 1960s, American crews were flying 300 attack missions a day. The amazing aspect of this was that between 1962 and 1970, with the exception of a few minor news articles, the general public knew little about the Laotian war. Congress was aware of the conflict, but both the Johnson and Nixon Administrations kept a lid on information flowing out of Laos until 1970. (29)

One of the oddest aspects of the Laotian conflict was that the U.S. Ambassadors in Vientiane directed the US./Laotian tactical combat process. The three American ambassadors who served in Laos were Leonard Unger, William H. Sullivan, and G. McMurtrie Godley. Officially, they supervised all Americans in Laos on the "Country Team." This made them "responsible for directing all air operations in northern Laos." Even though they did not formulate the plans, they did, with Laotian government approval, designate the targets to be bombed. In short, "no enemy target could be bombed without their permission." Under these ROEs, aerial attacks were frequently tightly restricted in order to avoid hitting pro-Government irregular units "operating beyond the control of Allied authorities." (30)

According to General William W "Spike" Momyer, when operations began in Laos, the Air Force, in order to aid the RLAF, set-up Headquarters (HQ) Second Air Division (2AD), Thirteenth Air Force (13AF) at Udorn Royal Thai Air Base (RTAB), Thailand. It resided only forty-five miles from Vientiane and was headed by a major general who reported directly to the 13AF Commander and the 2AD Commander in Saigon as well as the U.S. ambassadors in Thailand and Laos. This officer, and his staff, developed the specific plans and directives that guided Barrel Roll missions. In April 1966, officials re-designated the unit at Udorn RTAB the 7AF/13AF when the Gen. Momyer stood up the 7AF at Tan Son Nhut Air Base (AB). (31)

Early examples of air combat rules stated that the Allies could not use napalm

Unlike other U.S. embassies, the one in Vientiane had an air staff component which expanded to 125 individuals by the end of 1969. Officials established air operations centers in each one of the five Laotian military regions. From these centers, U.S. pilots flew FAC sorties. Known as Ravens, these FAC flew "top cover" missions for Gen. Vang Pao and his Hmong irregular troops as well as RLAF and RLG forces. These daring and unconventional crews flew O-1s, 0-2s, U-17s, T-28s, and OV-10 Broncos. Their tours of duty lasted six to twelve months. They augmented these aircraft with C-47s used as Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Centers (ABC&CC). The Ravens performed hazardous covert duties that included unofficial missions since the U.S. and Laos maintained the illusion of standing by the Geneva Accords. (32) For those who recall, the famous television show "Mission Impossible" always opened with a recorded message telling Mr. Phelps that if any member of his team were killed or captured, the Secretary would deny all knowledge. The Ravens were in much the same situation. If they died or were captured in action their heroism remained a well-guarded secret.

Barrel Roll proved to be different from the combat in other regions of the Laotian theater of operations. As mention at the beginning, Laos, was ruled by a 600-year-old monarchy. The king lived in the royal palace in Luang Prabang and was a figurehead. The real government apparatus was located at Vientiane. Robert Pisor, in his book on the Siege of Khe Sanh entitled The End of the Line, describes the view of Laos from across the border as follows:

From the height of Hill 881 one could see the bone-shaped scar of an Army Special Forces camp at Lang Vei, the church steeple of Khe Sanh Village, the smoky hamlets of the mountain tribes known as Bru [Hmong], the air strip and bunkers of Khe Sanh Combat Base--and even thick-walled villas of French planters where wrinkled, brown women sorted coffee beans and gracious ladies served creme de menthe. All around lay a phantasmagorical landscape, the kind of place where trolls might live. An awesome, sheer-sided mountain of stone called Co Roc guarded the gateway to Laos, the land of mystery and green mountains that flowed gently around [Hill 881] to the South. Tiger Peak loomed large in the hazy far distance, a barrier near the boundary of North Vietnam. Down on the plateau, confusing tangles of thorn and vine and low brush gave way to incredibly dense stands of twelve-foot-high elephant grass. Plummeting mountain streams frothed white against house-sized boulders on the hillside. Across the valleys silent waterfalls flashed like sunlit diamonds in the deep, green, velvet lushness of the jungle. (33)

For their part, the Americans who served in Laos used the code name "The Land of Oz" for Laos, especially in the Barrel Roll AO. Since northern Laos was Oz or, sometimes, Camelot, Gen. Vang Pao was the "Wizard of Oz." While the officials in Saigon and Washington did not like the terms and tried to discourage their use, everyone who served in this "phantasmagorical" land used the names regularly. The CIA even gave themselves the code name "Controlled American Source." It was all part of the effort to keep the reality of the conflict under wraps. (34)

In a plot right out of a Hollywood make-believe movie, each faction in this vicious fratricidal war was led by a royal Laotian prince. The centrist Prime Minister was Prince Souvanna Phouma, while his half-brother, Prince Souphanouvong, better known as the "Red Prince," was the leader and organizer of the Communist Pathet Lao. Barrel Roll was in northern Laos which was made up mostly of mountains. The only real flat terrain was in the Mekong River valley on the Thai border. To add to distinctiveness of this part of Laos was the historic Plain of Jars which was located in the middle of the country. Roughly four percent of the land could be used for farming. The roadways were simple and limited, and there was no railroad. The main stronghold of the Pathet Lao was in eastern Laos on the border with the DRV. They established their capital at Sam Neua. The area controlled by RLG was in the west. The PDJ was located in between and was the main battlefield because it was the "strategic crossroads of Laos." It was a rolling and panoramic grassland more than 500 miles square with hundreds of enormous antediluvian stone jars covering the landscape. (35)

By the time U.S. and NVA advisors arrived, it was clear that neither the Laotians nor the Pathet Lao were very good soldiers. Hanoi's dispatch of regular troops helped bolster the Pathet Lao, while the CIA had, from the outset, been training the Hmong native mountain tribal people, led by the charismatic Gen. Vang Pao. They proved to be the most adroit warriors on the government side. Major General Vang Pao had once been a lieutenant colonel in the Laotian Army. His dynamic personality and enthusiasm inspired loyalty not only from his guerrilla troops but the U.S. advisors who fought with him. To station his forces in a more advantageous place, the Hmong left their ancient village homes in the north to take up positions in mountain strongholds near the PDJ. By 1968, the Hmong infantry totaled more than 40,000 soldiers. (36)

In this area, the Hmong were easily supplied by the CIA's own proprietary airline, known as Air America. They also created a network of 198 "Lima Sites," which were comprised of airstrips as well as small enclaves of houses and maintenance hangars on mountain tops or hidden in valleys surrounded by mountains. These sites were designed so that light aircraft could land carrying the supplies and equipment for the Laotian pro-government units. These forces also used these sites as forward operating bases (FOB). (37)

For his part, Vang Pao's main military headquarters were located at Long Tieng, which was a little south of the PDJ in a flat valley surrounded by mountains on three sides. Air Force and CIA aircrews, operating undercover, joined him there. Here again, the base camp was code named to maintain secrecy. Americans and Laotians always called it "Alternate." Vang had his civil headquarters located near Sam Thong adjacent to Lima Site 20. In order to avoid attention, Long Tieng was called 20-A, or 20-A1ternate. (38)

The Patterns of Battle

As if the backdrop of Barrel Roll and the secret war were not strange enough, the pattern of battle was equally unique. Throughout the conflict, the ground war shifted back and forth due to the climate. From September to April, in the annual dry season, the Pathet Lao took the offensive. As the monsoon rains of the wet season arrived during May and lasted until September, the torrential rains turned the roads into a quagmire complete with sticky thick mud. The government's forces' defensive tactics proved to have the advantage since they could call on air support and use their mobility to keep the Communists at arm's length. In fact, neither side had the military power to decisively defeat the other. (39)

Not only did the Laotian climate guide the battle pattern, but the equipment and materials available to each side did as well. In Laos, the two sides were the opposite of what existed in Vietnam. The Pathet Lao, supported by the NVA, operated as a regular army, supported by tanks, trucks, and artillery. The RLG troops and the Hmong conducted operations as irregular guerilla units. At first, the U.S. advisors had tried to build up the RLA, but they proved to be poor soldiers. Thus, they increasingly turned to Vang Pao and his fighters, the majority of whom were very young. The longer the war dragged on, the casualties suffered by the Hmong reduced their numbers to the point that, by the 1970s, the U.S. had to depend on Thai "volunteer" forces.

In the early years, the Hmong proved strong enough to push the Pathet Lao back, and many Americans were hopeful they could stabilize Laos and keep the country non-Communist. However, each time they seemed close to victory, leaders in Hanoi infused significant numbers of new troops into the fight. Increasingly, these proved to be PAVN regulars. The U.S. was having a hard enough time defeating these troops in Vietnam. To ask the under supplied and outnumbered Hmong to face these forces became increasingly problematic. In order to give themselves an advantage in this combat, Vang Pao's fighters used the monsoon season to initiate offensive actions. Without dry roads to move their tanks and trucks, the enemy lacked the ability to move quickly and fell prey to guerilla actions. Once the dry season arrived in September, they could counterattack until March to retake territories the Hmong had worked so hard to seize. This see-saw war left things in a relative stalemate, which was the U.S. goal. To their credit, Vang Pao's forces were most often outnumbered and outgunned but performed courageously and skillfully. Often, they depended on air support from USAF and RLAF aircraft. Even so, they not only held their own, but many of their offensives drove deep into enemy territory. (40)

Forward Air Control

In the early days of the conflict, a major issue facing the Allied air campaign was the lack of FAC assets. In earlier wars, such aircraft had been designed to locate and identify ground targets. In this case, the Allies required similar assets to do the same job among the dense jungle foliage that shrouded the Laotian terrain. The U.S. did not have such aircraft in Laos or anywhere else for that matter. They had been phased out after the Korean War. (41)

Refusing to cave in, the CIA adapted. In 1963, Air Force officials sent four "sanitized" or "sheep-dipped" Air Commandos from their Combat Control Teams (CCTs) to work for the CIA in Laos. These individuals left one branch of service, had an extensive cover story created including letters to their family describing their new job, so that they could covertly work for another service or agency. Their career records were kept in a dual system so once this work was completed they could return to their former military branch with no loss of rank or pay. The CCTs were parachuted or landed by helicopters into forward zones. Once in place they provided air control for the aerial delivery of other personnel such as paratroopers. (42)

These Air Commandos and CCT members soon grasped the FAC problem and procured as many old FAC manuals as they could. Then they adapted these FAC tactics using the aircraft they had available, which included the assets of Air America. They immediately began flying missions in support of both ground and air forces. This included marking ground targets with smoke rockets and flares which evolved into an official program designated Butterfly, whose results proved to be better than anyone could have imagined. The Butterfly program lasted until late 1966. When Gen. Momyer visited Laos he was appalled by the eccentric nature of the operation and that many of those who were flying were neither officers nor trained pilots. When he returned to Saigon, he ended the program with three words, "that will cease." Still, the need existed, so those in Laos replaced the Butterflies with the FAC Ravens. (43)

The Ravens were Air Force officers who already had 500 flying hours or six months as FACs in South Vietnam. They volunteered to serve the last six month of their tours in Laos. During the war there were always shortages of crews and aircraft. Between 1966 and 1968, there were only six Ravens assigned to fly control missions for the growing number of U.S. sorties being flown over Laos. Even during the pinnacle of the program, "when they would control one-third to two-thirds of the tactical air (tacair) strikes in the Barrel Roll area, there were never more than twenty-two Ravens." (44) During a mission, the Raven pilot was accompanied by a Laotian observer to not only help identify buildings and landmarks but to obtain clearance from RLG officials for air attacks. This made things easier since, if they did not have permission to attack specific targets, U.S. attack aircraft had to get clearance directly from the embassy which precluded a rapid response to enemy ground targets. Ground-based Laotian Forward Air Guides (FAGs) were able to request quick air support missions even though they spoke little English. Without their Laotian observers communications between the FAGs and FACs would have been impossible. (45)

Another aspect of the Laotian conflict that was a reversal of the war in South Vietnam was that in Laos, the Air Force used conventional air power to support an unconventional ground war. This was significant since the war in Laos increasingly became an air war. The main role of the USAF in the Land of Oz was to cut off the southern part of the Mekong River Valley in order to create a buffer for Thailand, thus, protecting "the Laotian central government in Vientiane from a direct Communist threat; draining PAVN manpower and resources; and closing the approaches to the Ho Chi Minh trail." In turn, the U.S. employed their aerial interdiction assets to block enemy resupply efforts and secure Thailand. Above all, this was a primary reason to fight the war in Laos since Thailand was America's preeminent ally in mainland Southeast Asia. In 1964, then Secretary of State Dean Rusk, in explaining the growing American commitment to South Vietnam declared, "Laos was only the wart on the hog." (46)

The RLAF and Operation Water Pump

The Americans were not the only pilots or aircraft flying during Barrel Roll. No sooner had the 1962 Geneva agreement fallen apart than Souvanna Phouma requested U.S. aid for the RLAF. In August 1963, Kennedy approved the dispatch of AT-28 aircraft to Laos. Later, this was augmented with helicopters and light transports. In April 1964, Johnson directed the Air Force to send a detachment of Air Commandos to Laos to train RLAF crews. Known as Project Water Pump, the U.S. advisors both trained RLAF crews and assisted with aircraft maintenance. Based at Udorn RTAB in northern Thailand, they worked at forward operating locations (FOLs) in Vientiane at Wattay AB and other locations throughout Laos. The Air Commandos also trained Air America, Butterfly, and Thai personnel how to support ground operations. (47)

U.S. policy markers...believed all they had to do to secure Laos was fight a "holding action"

Since the Geneva accords officially prohibited any belligerent forces in Laos, the US. presence came under what became known as the "Country Team" policy, where military directives came from the U.S. ambassador in Vientiane. Unlike South Vietnam where the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) handled military policy and the allocation of military assets, in Laos there was no military command, and Ambassador Sullivan was in charge of armed forces matters. Unlike his successor, he was particularly forceful in the application of his authority. He frequently had quarrels with the military officials assigned to Laos. (48)

To further complicate the air operations in Barrel Roll, MACV was not part of the chain of command in northern Laos. Instead, the U.S. Pacific Command, located in Hawaii and commanded by a Navy officer, controlled air assets in Barrel Roll. The CINCPAC, operating under direct orders from the Johnson White House in the early days, in turn, provided directives to officials in Barrel Roll through Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) and 7AF leaders in Saigon. This cumbersome situation, that began with the President and took a circuitous route to Vientiane, meant strike missions were approved without an air officer with expertise in aerial warfare! (49)

Since CIA operatives had been in Laos since 1955, and there was no military presence, they took over the job of helping the central government in the civil war. One of the earliest aspects of this support proved to be the mysterious airline, Air America, which was stationed at Udorn RTAB. Among the forces they underwrote were the Hmong led by paramilitary officers like Vang Pao at Long Tieng and subordinate locations in northern Laos. This took on an important change of direction in May 1964, when Air America pilots, flying AT-28s with Laotian markings bombed and strafed Communist targets in the PDJ. Soon after, Water Pump pilots and crews began flying secret missions in support of the RLA and Hmong irregulars.

This was followed by American jet aircraft flying "Yankee Team" reconnaissance missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail and PDJ in Laos. To complicate matters, the enemy shot down two of these aircraft over the PDJ. In retaliation Air Force F-100s destroyed the AAA site. All of this provided political issues that led U.S. officials in Saigon and Washington to rein in the "cowboys" in Laos. The Water Pump personnel "enlisted airmen, and nonrated officers performed as FACs in Laotian aerial assaults from 1964 until the spring of 1967." These Air America aircraft employing the call sign Butterfly, located targets for AT-28s and tactical aircraft "diverted from North Vietnam to targets in Laos." In the end, "the Water Pump contingent was folded into Project 404, a program under which US. military personnel wearing civilian clothes were assigned as additional "attaches" to the embassy in Vientiane." (50)

Why was This the Strategy?

Originally, the U.S. policy makers based their decisions about Laos on the belief the struggle in Vietnam would be resolved within a year or two. They believed all they had to do to secure Laos was fight a "holding action." No one in Washington foresaw the Laotian conflict lasting ten years. (51) Colonel Perry F Lamy, an Air Force historian and the author of a research report for the Air War College, published in 1995, described Washington's view as follows:

Since the fate of Laos did not depend on a military solution in the air or on the ground in Laos and could only be decided by the outcome in Vietnam, winning the war against the DRV in northern Laos was not the objective. Instead, maintaining access to the country was paramount and keeping the Royal Lao government in power became the primary objective. For Hanoi, Laos was also a "limited war" with goals and objectives that were tied to its continued use of the Ho Chi Minh trail. (52)

Northern leaders not only made preservation of the Ho Chi Minh Trail paramount but, in order to keep the myth of neutrality alive they also had to maintain the fiction the conflict in South Vietnam was a popular uprising they had little if anything to do with. Thus, while the NVA might have been able to send in a large enough force to overrun Laos during much of the conflict they tried, instead, to maintain a stalemate that allowed them to keep open the infiltration routes into South Vietnam and operate them as free of U.S. attacks as possible. (53)

General Vang Pao

The one group capable of holding off the Communists during the "secret war" was the Hmong guerillas commanded by Vang Pao. In 1959, the former lieutenant colonel, whose family had been from an indigenous Hmong ethnic minority, joined the CIA's clandestine operations to resist Pathet Lao. Impressed by Vang Pao's skills and pro-American politics, the CIA soon worked out a plan to take the Hmong under their tutelage and train them to fight the Pathet Lao. What the CIA officials liked most was that the highland Hmong were more aggressive than the lowland Lao. To develop this group into a paramilitary force, they promoted Vang Pao into a leadership role to lead the Hmong. In 1961, the U.S. sent the first weapons to the Hmong and began their formal military instruction. To execute the latter process, American officials secretly deployed nine CIA specialists, nine U.S. Army Special Forces personnel, and ninety-nine Thai members of the Police Aerial Reconnaissance Unit (PARU). Once trained and armed, the Hmong became known as the "Secret Army" or the "Armee Clandestine." (54)

To some experts the Hmong were simply a tool of U.S. undercover foreign policy. Conversely, journalist and historian Jane Hamilton-Merritt, saw them as heroic anti-Communist warriors. Having spent many months with the Hmong, during and after the war, she lauded the secret soldiers as the only real group in Laos "dedicated to defeating the North Vietnamese Army (NVA)." In her famous book, Tragic Mountains, she defends Gen. Vang Pao calling him "a fearless leader and patriot." Some others criticized him as being a typical Asia warlord. (55) Hamilton-Merritt describes Vang Pao's military assets as follows:

Drawing upon years of guerilla warfare experience against the Japanese and Viet Minh, Vang Pao made full use of the advantages of unpredictability. Sometimes he ordered one aircraft readied for a mission. At the last moment, he jumped into another.... He had recently discovered that it was easier to direct fire fights by radio from the right seat of a slow-moving plane, flying at high altitudes. ...As visible as he was to his enemies, he remained a fast-moving, elusive, and unpredictable target. Needing little sleep, he thought and fought with the energy of several men. Both enemy and ally found it difficult to outguess him. (56)

Respected Vietnam historian, Dr. John Prados, in his books and articles on the topic, has questioned why Vang Pao, and not the RLG received the lion's share of U.S. material aid. To him the CIAs willingness to keep the RLG weak and allow the Hmong free rein "flew in the face of fostering the type of national government that could have defeated the Pathet Lao." (57) This certainly is an argument worth pondering, but the answer seems clear in that the CIA had been there first and, for years fought alone. Moreover, the bickering and divisions among the royal family and governing officials had already made the central government weak. Further, the U.S. had sent aid to support the RLAF and RLA. Besides, America's policy focused on Vietnam not Laos and as long as they could maintain a stalemate they were satisfied. Whether this was a good policy or not is certainly another matter and, one Prados makes very clear.

The Secret War Grows

When the 1962 accords were finalized, the U.S. put the "secret army" program on hold. Like the neutrality agreement, this did not last long. Since the NVA refused to actually remove its forces, Kennedy authorized a resumption of clandestine operations. The CIA and Thai military created "Headquarters 333," located at Udon Thani, and designed it to function as a joint Thai/American command center for covert military activities and intelligence gathering in Laos. As 1963 came to an end, the Hmong army had expanded to 10,000 soldiers. To sustain the pro-government units, Thai government officials covertly sent artillery units to northern Laos and, Air America increasingly airlifted supplies to the Hmong. The CIA also added to the number of aircraft they were flying and created the Bird and Son and Continental Air Services to facilitate logistics operations. (58)

The evolution of military activities reached another watershed in mid-March 1964, when the CIA initiated the aforementioned Project Water Pump. One key aspect of the program was the training of Laotian, Thai, Hmong, and Air America aircrews on how to fly the available aircraft and sustain aircraft like the AT-28 Trojan ground-attack aircraft. Members of Detachment (Det.) 6, 1st Air Commando Wing conducted this instruction at Udon RTAB, Thailand. On May 25, 1964, these units flew their first CAS mission in support of Vang Pao's Hmong forces. When Gen. Momyer shut down Water Pump at the end of 1966, the RLAF was reorganized into five wings of ten aircraft each. This ultimately proved more successful since Water Pump could not train enough pilots to keep ahead of the death rate of graduates or the departure rate of U.S. pilots. The need became so acute many Det. 6-trained personnel flew until they died. This non-standard operation came to Gen. Momyer's attention and he terminated the U.S. civilian pilot program. While Det. 6 continued to train pilots, the unit itself was absorbed into the 606th Air Commando Squadron. In 1967, the 606th became part of the 56th Special Operations Wing. As one report noted, "The air program did, however, create the world's only guerrilla army with air superiority." (59)

Who's in Charge?

The irony of the war in Laos was as the war in Vietnam expanded and the U.S. role increased, the original setup in Laos changed from its ad hoc nature to that of a "red headed step child." On May 29, 1961, Kennedy sent a directive to all U.S. government agencies operating overseas telling them they were to operate under the direct supervision of the ambassador. As mentioned, this "Country Team" directive meant, in Laos, "the American military came under the civilian control, since according to the neutralization agreement, there could never be a senior U.S. military commander within the country." This gave Ambassador Sullivan direction over military matters. He proved to be a controversial official who was both smart and arbitrary. Air Force and Army officials in Saigon hated him and saw him as an encumbrance to successful military operations in Laos. Sullivan constantly demanded total authority over every aspect of U.S. military activities in Laos. He frequently ignored sound advice from military liaisons and applied some of the most stringent and illogical restrictions ever conceived. This frustrated the military officials in Saigon, Hawaii, and Washington. MACV commander, Gen. William C. Westmoreland derisively referred to Sullivan as the "Field Marshal." (60)

This having been said, one must realize that Sullivan's position was very difficult. He was constantly saddled with the competing interests of the CIA, 7AF, MACV, and Thailand, which frequently did not mesh. In his efforts to balance all of this, he had to keep from alienating Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma who was an important ally of the U.S. and allowed the US. nearly total freedom of action in his country. (61) One aspect of the war that Sullivan was, in retrospect, right about was the kind of aircraft needed to fight this unique conflict. According to Christopher Robbins in his book The Ravens, the Ambassador was convinced that "a high performance jets flying at eight hundred knots... was not the most effective instrument to use against truck convoys that were moving at a snail's pace down the muddy Ho Chi Minh Trail." He directed that the Allies in Laos use propeller-driven aircraft, such as the AT-28s and A-1Es, as well as fixed-wing gunships to destroy targets along the infiltration routes. (62)

The original setup in Laos changed from its ad hoc nature to that of a "red headed step child"

This viewpoint has been supported by numerous historians and analysts during and after the Vietnam War. Earl H. Tilford, Jr., in his book Crosswinds, writes,

The Air Force was determined to fight the Vietnam War, to the greatest extent possible, with the aircraft in its normal inventory; high performance jets. Although the Air Force obtained a few Douglas A-1 Skyraiders from the Navy, along with some rebuilt T-28 trainers for use early on in Vietnam and later in Laos and Cambodia, the Air Force leadership was opposed to large-scale acquisition of planes designed specifically for counterinsurgency or low-intensity conflict. These latter planes tended to be propeller-driven aircraft--distinctly "unsexy" and, in the opinion of General Momyer, of limited use. Momyer argued, incorrectly, that jets were, in all respects, superior to propeller planes and could perform every task required for tactical aircraft in Vietnam. (63)

In my book on the development of the AC-119G/K I noted, "When the USAF joined the war in Southeast Asia in the early and mid-1960s... two camps grew up with the USAF--those who wanted to prove once and for all the ultimate virtues of fast-moving aircraft and those from the special operations world who believed in low and slow air power." Ultimately, aircraft like the AC-7, AC-119, and AC-130, proved their efficacy. The fact the AC-130s and other special operations aircraft are still in the Air Force inventory indicates their value then and, now. (64)

During Sullivan's tenure as ambassador, the senior in-country military officer was the AIRA or the ambassador's air attache. Led by an Air Force colonel, the AIRA's office was, at first, made up of the attache and six other individuals. As the air activities expanded in 1966-1967, this number grew to 117 Air Force personnel. The main Air Force role in Laos was to sustain the Royal Lao military and the Hmong forces in the north. This they did under the guidance of Project 404. The Air Force established five air operations centers in Laos. These included centers at Vientiane, Pakse, Savannakhet, Long Tieng, and Luang Prabang. Each provided the ambassador with intelligence, administrative services, communications support, and air operations help under a program called Palace Dog. (65)

Obtaining enough air assets to carry out their missions proved to be an increasingly difficult conundrum which became more stressful when Johnson approved the concentrated bombing campaign of North Vietnam designated Operation Rolling Thunder, Once these air attacks began, on March 5,1965, officials divided the Barrel Roll AO into two AOs. On April 3, operations in the northeast remained Barrel Roll, while the southern region, where interdiction attacks against traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail took place, was renamed Tiger Hound. Westmoreland's air officers in Saigon assumed command and control of this area. (66)

The decision to make this change took place on March 29, 1965, at a meeting of the Southeast Asia Coordinating Committee held at Udon Thani, Thailand. Here, Sullivan, officers from MACV, the CIA, and the 2 AD decided to create Tiger Hound and leave Barrel Roll in the ambassador's hands. Thus, operational control of U.S. air assets moved from CINCPAC, in Hawaii, through his air officer at PACAF, to the 2 AD. On April 1, 1966, the 2 AD became the 7 AF. Target attack permission came from the RLG, CIA, and/or MACV to be approved in Saigon. However, air operations in Barrel Roll did not receive a high priority under this arrangement. Officials decided U.S. aircraft could be deployed for interdiction in Laos only after aircraft met CAS requirements in South Vietnam. Provisions of the Honolulu agreements provided Westmoreland with "veto power over bombing, interdiction, and reconnaissance programs outside territorial South Vietnam." Thus, Barrel Roll fell behind South Vietnamese air operations, Rolling Thunder, and Steel Tiger on the priorities list. This meant that five percent of all U.S. Southeast Asia sorties were flown in northern Laos. (67)

The War Waxes and Wanes

From early 1965 and late 1968, the secret war in the Barrel Roll AO ebbed and flowed in rhythm with the monsoon seasons. The NVA and Pathet Lao attacked in the dry season while the Hmong launched counteroffensives in the wet season. Gradually, the ferocity of the combat increased with each engagement as the Communists employed more and better armed troops countered by America's use of more and better airpower. In July 1966, three Communist infantry regiments, one independent infantry battalion, and an artillery battalion, took the town of Nam Bac creating a defensive perimeter around the area just north of Luang Prabang. As the NVA and Pathet Lao continued their offensive, their lines of advance were attacked by Allied air assets, and they were forced to halt. In August, Vang Pao's troops smashed into the enemy defensive positions and drove them to within forty-five miles of the North Vietnamese border. Officials in Hanoi had to commit additional troops to halt the Hmong assault and saved their forces. (68)

During the dry season of 1967, Communists forces attacked again, this time across the Plain of Jars. The proRLG and Hmong troops suffered heavy losses. By the end of the year, things looked very bad. In spite of significant air support from the USAF and RLAF, the PAVN advance was relentless. They soon realized the impact of the TACAN facilities and that destroying them could curtail Allied air attacks. From December 1967 to August 1968, U.S. intelligence sources found that the NVA and Pathet Lao forces had grown from 50,000 to more than 110,000, with 34,000 being PAVN regulars, 6,000 advisors, and 18,000 support troops. (69)

On December 6, Lima Site 44 was overrun and three weeks later, on Christmas Day, Communist forces captured Lima Site 61, the location of a vital mobile facility. These assaults were part of a coordinated plan to eliminate U.S. airpower's ability to bomb and strafe their logistical system prior to their initiation of the infamous Tet Offensive of 1968. In conjunction with these pre-Tet strikes, the NVA and Pathet Lao struck key Laotian positions throughout the country. In northern Laos, the dry season saw the enemy take back Nam Bac. By January 13, the RLA had suffered 200 killed and 2,400 captured. It was a grim New Year for the Americans as the Communists slowly pushed forward, seizing territory in the north. Things were about to get worse in Vietnam with the Tet Offensive and the Siege of Khe Sanh. (70)

The RLG garrison at Ban Houi Sane, in the Laotian panhandle, along Route 9, twenty-one miles west of the Marine Combat Base near Khe Sanh, was overrun by the 24th Regiment, 314th NVA Division. For the first time in the war, a NVA unit in Laos fielded armored assets, specifically, Soviet-built PT-76 tanks. To the south, the PAVN's Group 565 defeated government troops in Khammouane Province and appropriated the entire rice harvest. With starvation in the offing for the common Laotian farmer, the enemy attacked Saravane and Attopeu, taking Allied forces completely by surprise. Once in control of these two towns, the NVA and Pathet Lao stopped to regroup and resupply their forces in southern Laos. With the larger Communist offensive about to begin all across Vietnam, the enemy seemed poised to take the all of Laos. (71)

Even as this situation was unfolding, on January 12, Lima Site 85, one of the most important sites, was assaulted. It had a 700-foot runway and TACAN facility which Air Force personnel had built in 1966. In early 1967, they augmented the system with an all-weather capability. It was manned by sixteen to nineteen Air Force communications experts. The enemy's attack on the TACAN Lima Site 85 was unusual since one of its components involved aerial combat. As the NVA attacked LS-85, they used two Soviet-built AN-2 Colt biplanes, of the North Vietnamese Air Force (NVAF), to bombard LS-85 on top of a craggy peak known as Phou Phathi. The only U.S. aircraft immediately able to support LS-85 was an Air America Bell 205 helicopter, which had launched to avoid air-dropped 120mm mortar rounds released by the Colts. Once airborne, the chopper pursued one of the AN-2s, which had already been damaged by ground fire. The Colt crashed as it attempted to make evasive turns. With this plane downed, the helicopter pursued the remaining aircraft. The Americans fired at the Colt with an AK-47 pointed through a sliding window. They shot down the fragile biplane killing the enemy pilot. (72)

For the time being, Phou Phathi was safe. However, the NVA was not going to let things alone because, by late January, the combined TACAN/TSQ-81 LS-85 site, on top of the mountain, was providing targeting control for fifty-five percent of the Rolling Thunder air attacks over North Vietnam and twenty percent of the air strikes in the Barrel Roll region. With LS-85 helping U.S. aircraft kill so many Communist troops, it became a primary target of the NVA. LS-85 was in need of reinforcements to protect it. Part of the problem was the charade of neutrality in Laos and the U.S. decision not to even arm the so-called contractors running the site. They were Air Force communications personnel. This delusionary posture led to disaster! (73)

On March 11, Communist units, spearheaded by sappers of the 41st Dac Cong Battalion, supported by the 923rd NVA Infantry Battalion, assaulted the Lima Site 85. This time, the strike was so swift it caught everyone by surprise, and LS-85 was overrun. Of the sixteen Air Force technicians at the site, five escaped, but eleven were never heard from again. While officially declared missing in action (MIA), they were most likely killed. This was not only a sobering event but one that impacted circumstances in northern Laos and for Air Force air strikes in North Vietnam. The site had to be replaced, so Vang Pao sent his forces to attack enemy positions in Moung Son and Nakhang The Hmong, in spite of heavy resistance, finally seized these high points. In July, the U.S. built new TACAN sites. With Lima site capabilities restored in the area, the secret army could take the offensive during July and August. The Hmong forces were assisted by 742 American CAS sorties, with 450 others being made in other parts of the Barrel Roll region. (74)

In looking back, late 1967 and early 1968 proved to be a turning point in the conflict. The NVA forces were now totally committed to the war in Laos. They were running things and the Pathet Lao were merely figure heads. They maintained intense pressure on RLG forces, all year round, regardless of the weather cycles. The Laotians no longer had any respite to regroup. To deal with this grim circumstance, during the 1969 wet season, officials in the new Nixon White House approved Air Force proposals to launch a major air campaign in Barrel Roll designated Rain Dance. It coincided with Vang Pao's offensive in the Plain of Jars. On March 17, the USAF launched eighty strikes, each day, for twelve days. It proved so successful, as did the Hmong offensive that it was extended until April 7. In the end, the Air Force flew 730 sorties. (75)

Determined to keep the pressure on the enemy in Laos, on May 22, Air Force aircraft initiated Operation Stranglehold which lasted for five days and focused on Routes 6 and 7, a major part of the NVA's logistical lifeline. Even with the heavy losses they suffered, the NVA launched Campaign Thoan Thang or Total Victory, in June. Supported by dozens of tanks, they quickly took Moung Soui. Air crews flew 103 strike missions, while the RLAF flew forty-four AT-28 missions trying to save the town. There were just too many NVA troops. Seven new battalions had arrived from the North since April, and they simply overwhelmed the town's defenders. (76)

In June, with Moung Soui under siege, Nixon sent G. McMurtrie Godley to replace Sullivan as ambassador to Laos. He was well aware of how the CIA conducted paramilitary operations, having been the ambassador to the Congo in the mid-1960s when pro-government mercenaries had defeated the Simba rebels. He immediately changed the ROEs, eliminating ninety percent of them and relaxing the rest. This allowed for an increase in the bombing in the Barrel Roll and Tiger Hound AOs. The results came quickly when more than half of the in habitants, of the once heavily populated Plain of Jars, fled the area and took refuge in camps in southern Laos. Members of the Agency for International Development (AID), who kept refugee rolls, reported these numbers had risen from 130,000 per year in 1964 to 1968 to 230,000 in February 1970. (77)

On August 6, 1969, Hmong fighters launched a full scale counterattack, designated Kou Kiet or Redeem Honor, in Military Region 2. The weather was very wet that summer, with 46 inches of rain falling in July alone as opposed to the normal 16 inches. Supported by RLAF and American CAS mission, they swept across the Plain of Jars pushing the Communists before them. With muddy bogs replacing the roads, the NVA's logistics flow stopped. Whenever the weather improved, Allied planes flew 145 sorties a day in support the Hmong. Without adequate resupply, the enemy withdrew the west. For the first time since 1961 the entire Plain of Jars region was under RLG control. When the campaign drew to an end in October, official reports counted 25 tanks, 113 vehicles, six million rounds of ammunition, 6,400 weapons, and 202,000 gallons of fuel captured or destroyed, most by the air attacks. Things were so positive, that Sullivan as he left declared, "We believe that damage to the enemy represents the best results per sortie by tactical air in Southeast Asia." (78) Clearly, airpower had played a major role in the temporary victory by the RLG forces. During the summer, the number of sorties flown in the Barrel Roll AO increased from 300 per month to 200 per day. (79)

The 1970s see Major Changes

As the new decade began, the combat pattern repeated itself when the Communists launched yet another offensive. Commencing in late December 1969, it rapidly retook all the lands they had lost during the wet season including Xieng Khouang and the lion's share of the high ground surrounding the Plain of Jars. It was a disaster even worse than the one experienced in 1968. In February 1970, Ambassador Godley literally begged the President to approve B-52 attacks to prevent all of Laos from being overrun. On February 17-18, 1970, the BUFFs launched thirty-six missions against NVA targets dropping 1,078 tons of bombs. This air/land engagement became known as the first battle of Skyline Ridge. The B-52 raids were awesome and effective. They were augmented by night missions designed to destroy vehicular traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The U.S. deployed AT-28s, AC-47s, AC-119s, and AC-130s flying roughly 3,000sorties. So fruitful were these raids that, by March 18, NVA/Pathet Lao units had to retreat or be wiped out. This provided a break for the Hmong who had been pushed back to the very outskirts of Vang Pao's base camp at Long Tieng. Concurrently, the Air Force was preparing for Operation Commando Hunt III which became the largest commitment of the B-52 strategic air weapons to that time. Designed to shut down the Trail, its affect was spectacular in terms of total destruction of enemy traffic. However, it could not completely stop the enemy from diversifying the Trail or from sending troops and supplies into South Vietnam. (80)

The Beginning of the End?

In spite of their losses, the Communist's situation had already begun to improve in mid-September 1969, when officials in Hanoi sent the last two regiments of the 312th Division, specifically the 165th and 209th; the rebuilt 316th Division; the NVA 866th Infantry Regiment; the 16th NVA Artillery Regiment; a tank company; six sapper and engineer battalions; as well as ten Pathet Lao battalions to bolster their forces in Laos. These were the units which, on February 11, 1970, launched the previously mentioned dry season Campaign 139. They had retaken the PDJ by February 20. The Hmong and RLG troops fell back, first to Muong Soui, then to Xieng Khouang. Within five days, they had to abandon Xieng Khouang. The Communists seized Xam Thong on March 18, the last strong point between the NVA and Vang Pao's headquarters. Officials in Washington approved Operation Goodlook, the desperate insertion of B-52s into northern Laos. This campaign forced the enemy to withdraw on April 25. However, unlike previous ebbs and flows of the war, significant numbers of the 316th and 866th stayed behind both to assist the Pathet Lao and prepare for new assaults in the dry season. (81) One CIA study, from the time period, reported that, in 1970, "About the most positive thing that can be said about Laos is that it still exists as a non-Communist state." (82)

As the 1970s began, a worn out Souvannah Phouma turned seventy, without a successor. While the RLG soldiered on as the seasonal back-and-forth combat dragged on, the regime steadily grew weaker, while the PAVN and the Pathet Lao grew stronger. In the 1960s, the one thing the RLG could count on was U.S. support. President Nixon was deeply disturbed by high U.S. casualties at battles like "Hamburger Hill" so in May 1969, he sped up "Vietnamization." (83)

Two key aspects of this new policy were the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the competition for shrinking U.S. tactical air assets. One report revealed that in December 1968, "approximately 700 American strike aircraft had been available in-theater." By April of 1972, only 313 were still present. (84) This pattern was mirrored in Laos when on July 18, 1972, the 22nd Special Operations Squadron (SOS), stationed at Nakhon Phanom, was disbanded. On December 20, the 602nd SOS stood down, with only the 1st SOS still providing CAS missions for RLG ground operations. The pilots and crews of the RLAF tried fill in for their departed U.S. counterparts and flew dozens of additional missions. In 1968, they flew 10,000 strike sorties. Between 1970 and 1972 this jumped to an average of more than 30,000 a year. (85)

Based on the existing C2 process involving the AIRA, CIA, and 7 AF, airmen had precious little real control over air assets or targeting. Air Force leadership requested that Raven FACs assume a lesser role. Instead of a larger Air Force role, local leaders used more Nail FACs from the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron at Nakhon Phanom. At this point, they had begun transitioning to OV-10 Bronco aircraft. While the Nails flew more sorties in Military Region 2, they never really made inroads into the role of the Ravens. (86)

This time, the PAVN and Pathet Lao forces did not withdraw into North Vietnam during the rainy season and stayed to prepare for their own offensives. Early in the fight, air mobility and transport responsibilities performed by personnel working for contracted aircraft and those operating the Lima Sites, had afforded the Hmong with an advantage over the PAVN and Pathet Lao forces who were utterly dependent on the limited number of real roads in Laos. Thus, the Communists focused a great deal of attention on repairing, expanding, improving, and diversifying their road network inside Laos. As a result, they could pour increasingly large amounts of supplies, equipment, weapons, and personnel into the little war torn kingdom. In the 1970s, this allowed them to keep their logistics and communications lines open all year long. (87)

In the 1970s, concerned by growing Hmong casualties, U.S. authorities in Washington and Saigon came to believe the best way to preserve them was to stay in their defensive positions all year, and stop their wet season offensives. They wanted Vang Pao to fight a holding action at the edge of the Plain of Jars, so he could hold as much territory once a seemingly inevitable cease-fire came to pass. Nixon's advisors insisted U.S. airpower be employed to interdict Communist supply lines, not as CAS in support of ground attacks. Vang Pao, ever the proponent of the offensive, continued to launch attacks during the wet season in these last years of the war. As time passed, his successes began to grow smaller. During 1971, with B-52 Commando Hunt bombing operations ongoing along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Communists forces in Laos, having weathered increased air attacks, regrouped and launched yet another offensive called Skyline II. Again, the Hmong defenders, supported by 1,500 U.S. CAS sorties, pushed the enemy back. (88)

In America, the public was gaining an increased knowledge of the secret war. In October 1969, Missouri Democratic Senator Stuart Symington (the first Secretary of the Air Force), chair of the oversite subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, began hearings on Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad. These closed sessions unveiled the history of the secret war to Congress. In spite of the resulting censored transcript, the level of commitment to Laos began to leak to the public. In 1971, when the Pentagon Papers were published, the flood gates opened, and Nixon had no choice but to divulge the degree to which America was involved in Laos. (89) This made it more difficult for the U.S. to respond to NVA and Pathet Lao threats. In the spring of 1972, after investigating the ground war in Laos, a Congressional delegation reported, "No one we met in Laos, American or Lao, seemed to have any prescription for the future other than to continue what's being done now." (90)

As the 1970s continued to unfold and, as members of Congress and the public grew disillusioned with the war, the President withdrew more American forces. Congress funded fewer dollars to provide military stores to the Vietnamese and Laotians. In March 1971, 17,000 ARVN forces, supported by U.S. airpower, initiated Operation Lam Son 719. A major component of the 'Vietnamization" program, Presidents Nixon and Thieu hoped it would finally destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail and enemy safe havens in southeastern Laos. Lam Son 719 started well enough with several enemy supply caches being destroyed near Tchepone. However, the ARVN forces soon found themselves on the verge of disaster. In spite of public claims of victory by Thieu and Nixon, the ARVN were pushed back by 36,000 NVA. They barely escaped being wiped out because U.S. air strikes and hundreds of U.S. Army helicopters airlifted the survivors out of the death trap. The B-52s flew 1,358 sorties and dropped 32,000 tons of bombs, while the helicopters flew 160,000 sorties and had 168 destroyed. (91)

In America, the public -was gaining an increased knowledge of the secret war

The ARVN offensive had failed and, soon, the NVA redoubled their efforts to expand the Laotian infiltration network westward, pushing Royal Lao forces back toward the Mekong River. Officials in Hanoi soon realized that RLG forces in the southern panhandle were not the equal of the hardened NVA troops. With such ineffectual troops facing them, they moved south and seized the important town of Attopeu on April 30, 1971. (92) In hindsight, with Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger undertaking negotiations with the Communists to get the U.S. out of Indochina, and the President having promised to get America out of the war, Allied defeat in Laos might have been predictable as early as 1972.

Gradually, the U.S. withdrawal of forces under the Nixon Doctrine's Vietnamization program was also changing the nature of the war in Laos. Instead of Hmong ground operations supported by U.S. CAS air attacks, by 1971, Air Force strike missions were mostly interdiction sorties. CAS sorties had shrunk from 114 sorties per day to 38, or 70 percent from the previous year. (93) The truth is that while the Hmong troops comprised roughly fifteen percent of the RLG's forces, they were suffering seventy percent of its casualties. To quote Kenneth Conby, "The grinding nature of the conflict was also having a cumulative effect on the adult male population of the Hmong. Severe attrition had forced the Hmong into a numbers game they could not win." (94)

General Vang Pao was aware of the adversities facing his people and his cause. On more than one occasion, he told his American allies that, without increased support and supplies, he would have to migrate the Hmong to Thailand. In November 1969, he even contacted the Pathet Lao in an effort to negotiate a settlement where the Hmong would stop attacking the Communists and let them create a semiautonomous state in Xieng Khouang Province. (95)

The official CHECO Report, penned by Lt. Col. Harry D. Blout, remarked "the very fact that RLG and PL talks were even being considered was indicative of the success of U.S. air support to Laos." Pathet Lao leaders were not opposed to these talks. They welcomed them. However, the reality was that they were now in bed with the NVA, and no negotiations were going to take place without Hanoi's approval. By late 1971, things had changed throughout Indochina, mostly in favor of the Communists. They were now involved in a new war in Cambodia, and the American's were gradually leaving. This meant leaders in Hanoi could make strict demands, since they held most of the good cards. Time was on their side. (96)

Blout's report further asserted, "After years of advances and retreats in northern Laos, the vastly stronger and better equipped NVA may have decided that their gains by arms have been incompatible with their losses to U.S. air." Blout concluded ominously:

As the wet season closed it was easy to be pessimistic about the war in Northern Laos. General Vang Pao's decimated guerrilla force had not achieved significant wet season gains. The NVA was still present in large numbers while the U.S. was scaling down.... With the enemy beginning his offensive... from positions that he held, the dry season campaign could well prove to be the RLG's last. If the RLG were to fall, formal agreements partitioning the country into pro-and non-Communist areas could mean the end of all hopes that Laos could serve as a buffer. The threat of Communism to Thailand would be considerably increased. (97)

Trying to Find a Solution

As Vang Pao's forces shrank in numbers, the situation began to mirror Robert E. Lee's conundrum during the height of the American Civil War. Both commanded brave and dedicated troops, but the longer the wars went on, their ability to replace those they lost became ever more difficult. On the other hand, their enemy grew stronger with each passing day both in terms of supplies and manpower. In a desperate effort to provide more troops to Vang Pao, the Allies came up with a plan, designated Project Unity that recruited Thai "volunteers" to fight with the Hmong. From 1971 to 1972, these forces assumed much of the ground war in northern Laos. By the end of 1971, the number of Thai soldiers reached 8,000 men. In 1972, this number grew to 17,800. Ultimately, their forces totaled 3 artillery and 27 infantry battalions. In the spring of 1972, it seemed the Hmong and Thais might be able to salvage the situation in northern Laos. (98)

In October 1971, Souvannah Phouma reluctantly agreed to talks based on the conditions laid out by the Pathet Lao. On the 14th, delegates from both sides gathered in Vientiane to hash out the preliminary guidelines for the negotiations. Two weeks later, the Secretary General of the Pathet Lao, Phoumi Vongvichit, arrived and conveyed the Communist demands which included: an end to US air attacks in Laos; the departure of U.S. advisors and military personnel; an election for a new National Assembly; the creation of a coalition government; and reparations and resettlement for those Lao who had been forcibly relocated. (99)

The pace of the talks was decided by "the perceived military success of the protagonists"

During negotiations involving both Vietnam and Laos, the pace of the talks was decided by "the perceived military success of the protagonists." Thus, the RLG pushed to come to a settlement before the Communists launched another offensive. This they failed to do and, on December 17, 1971, the NVA initiated Campaign Z, which was led by Maj. Gen. Le Trong Tan and consisted of a multi-division assault. Le had commanded the NVA troops that defeated the ARVN during Lam Son 719. The RLG and Hmong stood little chance as the NVA sped across the Plain of Jars and reached the outskirts of Long Tieng. Previously, the Pathet Lao and NVA were unable to complete the job. This time, they were supported by a battery of 130 mm artillery. The situation became grim for the defenders as they were constantly shelled. (100)

With the pro-RLG forces holding on by their fingernails, Thai Unity troops arrived in the nick of time to stop the enemy. B-52s began regular bombing strikes and, by January 17, 1972, the NVA had been repelled from the high ground around the valley. Still, they held most of the Plain of Jars and, rather than fall back, Gen. Tan redirected his advance southwest and, on March 18, they overran Sam Thong. The NVA, then, returned its attention to Long Tieng without success. On April 28, they retired to defensive positions. They had come very close to total victory but, by failing they assured the ebb and flow pattern would continue. On May 21,1972, RLG and Hmong forces, supported by CAS sorties, launched yet another offensive designed to retake the Plain of Jars. For 170 days, intense fighting raged across the historic plain coming to a halt on November. 15 In spite of the effort, the pro-government forces could not defeat the NVA and Pathet Laos. The Communists were reported to have killed 1,200 RLG and Hmong troops. If this is even close to accurate, it was a devastating loss the RLG could hardly replace. (101)

The War Takes on a New Direction

On March 30, 1972, Senior General Nguyen Giap launched a conventional invasion of South Vietnam called the Nguyen Hue, or the Easter, or Spring Offensive designed to win the war as the U.S. began its draw down. The gamble failed to pay off due to the massive US commitment of airpower during Linebacker I which lasted from April to September 1972. While the daring effort failed in South Vietnam, it drew U.S. attention away from Laos and Cambodia. Also diverting American public attention was the election of 1972, in which President Nixon won reelection. With RLG and Hmong forces drained nearly dry, officials in Hanoi, believed they saw a chance to remove the largest thorn in their side in Laos--Vang Pao's army. With battles raging all across South Vietnam, they initiated a new attack on Lon Tieng. (102)

Once the Easter Offensive began, U.S. airpower assets returned, in force, to both Vietnam and Laos. The operational tempo of the conflict in northeastern Laos grew as well. With plenty of air cover, RLG, Hmong, and Thai forces attacked key NVA and Pathet Lao positions. This time, instead of waiting for the dry season, the Communists immediately counterattacked in order to become "well postured for the peace negotiations." (103) The Pathet Lao and PAVN initiated this new assault in August 1972. It lasted until November and came to within sixteen miles of Vang Pao's headquarters. Once again, it was stopped by concentrated B-52 and F-111 Raven fighter-bombers strikes. Still, the Communists held the advantage and, on November 10, 1972, succeeded in convening cease-fire talks between their Pathet Lao brothers and Souvanna Phouma's RLG. Realizing the cease-fire talks were imminent, Communist forces used the negotiation period to seize the remaining pro-government strongholds on the Plain of Jars. (104)

Once the Easter Offensive began, U.S. airpower assets returned, in force

Throughout the Paris negotiations, there had never been discussions of a formal Laotian cease-fire to be part of the final accords. When it was finally signed on January 27, 1973, there was none. American and North Vietnamese representatives had verbally stated there would be a ceasefire no longer than fifteen days after the agreement was signed. Article 20 of the Paris Peace Accords dealt with Laos and Cambodia. In theory, both the North Vietnamese and the U.S. vowed to respect the neutrality of both nations and withdraw their troops. (105)

As Christopher Robbins, says in his book on the Ravens, to expect Hanoi to uphold this agreement after they had sneered at previous neutrality accords, "took optimism bordering on an act of faith that they would now abandon the ambitions and struggles of thirty years because of a clumsily drafted afterthought in a document they had no intention of honoring anyway." (106)

As soon as the Paris Accords and the Laotian neutrality were in place, U.S. military and civilian personnel began leaving, not just from Vietnam, but all of Southeast Asia. Ambassador Godley was left in shock by the outcome. In his heated remarks regarding the agreements, he declared, "We had led him [Souvanna Phouma] down the garden path. Let's face it, we were cutting and running... Once we were out of Vietnam the only way we could have protected Laos was with an Army corps. It was totally out of the question and we knew it. We were licked." (107)

The RLG now had to decide if they should conclude a separate agreement with the Pathet Lao at any cost or carry on the fight with no hope of victory. Leaders in Hanoi also wanted a quick end to the war in order to assure their troops and logistics personnel unrestrained use of the Ho Chi Minn Trail. With the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, both sides grasped the fact the U.S. was leaving and they had to act fast to solidify their position. On February 21, Souvanna Phouma signed an agreement with the Pathet Lao entitled "Restoration of Peace and Reconciliation in Laos." In the hours leading up to the execution of the ceasefire, savage fighting transpired with both factions trying to grab as much territory as possible before the cease-fire went into effect. In truth, this settlement was a fantasy, since the Communists had no intention of withdrawing their troops from Laos or stopping their use of the Trail. (108)

On February 22, 1973, the cease-fire went into effect even though not all of the fighting stopped. The worst fighting occurred near the town of Paksong which was the last RLG strong point on the Bolovens Plateau. This was particularly important because it was high ground that overlooked the Mekong River. To prevent it from falling to the NVA, Souvanna Phouma requested the U.S. send aircraft to bomb the advancing enemy troops. The Air Force dispatched nine B-52s and twelve tactical fighters-bombers. On February 24, they hit major targets on the outskirts of the town halting the attack. This became a pattern and, by the end of the month, the BUFFs had flown 1,417 sorties and obliterated 286 targets in northern Laos. (109)

Again, on April 16 and 17, the Prime Minister requested U.S. air support, and the Air Force sent B-52s to attack NVA troops assaulting Ban Tha Vieng on the Plain of Jars. While the Air Force continued to fly missions to support the Laotian forces, the cease-fire had hung the RLG and Hmong out to dry. The B-52s and tactical aircraft missions lasted into mid-April with the final Barrel Roll sortie flown on April 17, 1973. On 5 April 1974, the two sides established a coalition government by a royal decree. Souvanna Phouma was the president. The Pathet Lao soon took over from the center neutralists. The war was over and the enemy had won! (110)

Barrel Roll & the "Secret War" Come to an End

Pursuant to the cease-fire agreement, on June 4, 1973, all U.S. and Thai personnel departed Laos. The Communists were supposed to leave as well. They did not! Between 50,000 and 60,000 NVA remained in control of large portions of Laos. Even before this happened, the U.S. began an airlift out of Long Tieng to Thailand in order to evacuate as many of the Hmong as possible. Another 40,000 to 50,000 marched out of Laos on foot. On December 2, 1975, the Pathet Lao removed most of their rivals and, soon, the coalition government and the monarchy were replaced by a Communist provisional government. Then they dissolved the provisional government and established the Lao Peoples' Democratic Republic. (111)

With the fall of Laos to the Pathet Lao, the final Indochina domino had fallen. In April and May of 1975, first Cambodia had fallen to the Khmer Rouge and, then, Vietnam to the NVA. It was a devastating defeat for U.S. foreign policy. Worse, it was stain on the military and diplomatic reputation of the U.S., which took decades to wash out. As for those who had fought with the Americans, thousands went into exile, while millions were left behind. They were either uprooted from their homes or faced deprivation and death at the hands of the pitiless winners. Perhaps the best summation of the fall of Indochina comes from Cambodian statesman, Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, days before his execution at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. He had written the U.S. Ambassador to refuse the U.S.'s offer of evacuation saying,

I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people who have chosen liberty.... You leave and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under the sky. But mark it well that, if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad because we all are born and must die one day. I have only committed this mistake in believing in you, the Americans. (112)

Summary & Conclusion

In an effort to preserve a non-Communist Laos, U.S. and Allied aircraft had dropped nearly three million tons of bombs on "neutral" Laos, three times the tonnage dropped on North Vietnam. During Barrel Roll, less than 500,000 tons were dropped in northern Laos or, around, six percent of all the bombs expended by the U.S. and Laotian crews during the war. Between early 1965 and late 1968, Allied aircraft flew nearly 100 Barrel Roll sorties a day. This number rose to 300 in 1969 and, then, declined to 200 in 1970. From 1971 to 1973, they fell to 100 per day. For those flying these missions, it was a sad result. Much like air operations in Steel Tiger and Tiger Hound, the effort and performance proved to be heroic but, in the end futile. (113)

During the 100 months that Barrel Roll operated, CIA pilots and operatives, U.S. Air Force crews, and Thai volunteers risked everything to help the RLG hold off the Communists who had invaded the Land of a Million elephants. While its main job had been to provide air cover for the Hmong, it also afforded other air crews time to attack the enemy infiltration routes in the Steel Tiger region during Operations Commando Hunt I-VII interdiction campaigns. This helped maintain the RLG in power. (114) Even so, when the cease-fire began in the summer of 1973, "the NVA controlled two-thirds of the land area and one-third of the population of Laos, approximately the same amounts that they had under their control in 1961." According to one report the total ordnance expenditure for Barrel Roll and Steel Tiger, from November 1, 1968 to February 28, 1973, including U.S. tacair assets and B-52 sorties but "not Royal Lao Air Force or Vietnamese National Air Force" units, was 316,880 tacair sorties in Steel Tiger and 84,416 in Barrel Roll. In addition, tacair ordinance was 955,544 tons and B-52 was 743,703 tons. (115)

In spite of these impressive numbers, the reality, as alluded to earlier, was that the Air Force and CIA ran a shoestring operation in Laos. In fact, Barrel Roll, proved to be fourth on the priority list for U.S. air assets coming in behind air missions in South Vietnam, early on Operation Rolling Thunder and, even Steel Tiger. Even after Rolling Thunder ended in 1968, Barrel Roll continued to be last. Once Linebacker operations began in 1972, they got even fewer assets. Statistically, they received an average of only 10 percent of the Air Force's available tacair resources. Another example of this circumstance took place during the NVA's Easter offensive when Linebacker reduced the airstrikes over northern Laos to only 5 percent. (116)

Another key goal of all the air operations in Laos was to protect Thailand and to discourage the NVA from invading Thailand. However, neither Barrel Roll nor Steel Tiger provided clear cut theory or plan for a strategic victory. All it did was assure a strategic stalemate. This was done with a loss of 131 American aircraft between 1964 and 1973. By comparison to other air operations this was a very low loss rate. (117)

The relative success of the overall operations remains difficult to assess. As with most attempts to count kills or damage, many things prevent accuracy. Crews in the Barrel Roll operation area often provided inflated bomb damage assessments. This was not necessarily intentional. The mountainous terrain, poor weather, ground cover, the lack of ground forces to provide confirmation, not to mention the communications and language issues between U.S. spotters and Hmong ground troops, all helped lead to inaccurate numbers. Thus, officials developed an exaggerated notion of how effective air crews in Barrel Roll were performing. The results of Barrel Roll, "which were made obvious by the repeating seasonal nature of PAVN and Pathet Lao offensives," lead to the conclusion U.S. airpower was very effective. (118)

Whatever achievements were realized, it was done at a tremendous cost to the Laotian people and nation. When the U.S. departed the Republic of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia their fates were sealed. These nations, alone had little, if any, chance to defeat the North Vietnamese invaders, which were abundantly supported by the Soviet Union and the PRC. The fratricidal bloodletting in Laos had been part of the U.S. plan to buy time in order to preserve the independence of the Republic of Vietnam. While the stalemate worked for a time, South Vietnam fell anyway. To quote Col. Lamy's paper on Barrel Roll:

The cost of this effort was enormous in terms of Hmong lives, aircraft loss, and US aircrew losses. US military advisors and Ravens served finite lengths of time in Laos: six months to one year tours. However, the Hmong fought this war until they died. An entire generation of Hmong men were killed in this conflict. Likewise, the RLAF aircrews flew until the war ended or they died. Several hundred thousand refugees lost their homes and were displaced. Ultimately, the cost to the Laotians was their country and the subsequent Communist retribution taken against the minority people of Laos who fought the North Vietnamese. This punishment continued well into the 1980s. (119)


(1.) Project CHECO Report, by Major John C. Pratt, "The Royal Laotian Air Force, 1954-1970," (Hickam AFB, HI: HQ PACAF, 15 Sep 70), [hereafter Pratt Report].

(2.) For details on the PDJ, see N. Lombardi, Jr., The Plain of Jars, (UK: Roundfire Books, 2013).

(3.) Jane Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans and the Secret Wars for Laos, 1942-1992, (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1993), [hereafter Tragic Mountains].

(4.) Project CHECO Report, by Capt. Edward Valentine, 7th AF, DOAC, "USAF Operations from Thailand 1 January 1967 To 1 July 1968," 1 Dec 68, http://www.chancefac.netyROE/Laos_1967-68.htm, [hereafter Valentine Report]; Project CHECO Report, by Captain William R. Burditt, "Rules of Engagement, October 1972-August 1973," (Hickam AFB, HI: HQ Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), 1 March 1977), [hereafter Burditt Report].

(5.) Valentine Report; Burditt Report; Project CHECO Report, "U.S. Air Force Reconnaissance in Southeast Asia," file K717.0413-65, 25 Oct 66, published 4 Nov 66, [hereafter USAF Recon]. See, "Summary of Air Operations, Southeast Asia," Vol. 103, (Hickam AFB, HI: HQ PACAF, 1965-1973), [hereafter Air Ops SEA]. Pursuant to the role of the branches of government & military played, see Neil Sheehan, Hedrick Smith, E.W. Kenworthy, & Fox Butterfield, The Pentagon Papers as published by the New York Times. (NY: Bantam Books, 1971).

(6.) B-52 crews affectionately called their "ride" BUFF meaning "Big Ugly Fat Fellow or Fuc."

(7.) Global Security.Org, "MSQ-77,"

(8.) Valentine Report. For more on Ravens or FACs, see Burditt Report, pp. 1-14.

(9.) Burditt Report; Valentine Report.

(10.) Valentine Report.

(11.) Ibid.

(12.) Air Ops SEA; Burditt Report; Pratt Report; Roger Warner, Shooting at the Moon: The Story of Americas Clandestine War in Laos, (South Royalton, VT: Steerforth Press, 1996), p. 135, [hereafter Shooting at the Moon].

(13.) John T. Correll, "Barrel Roll," Air Force Magazine, August 2006, http://www.airforcemag. com/MagazineArchive/Pages/2006/August%202006/0806roll.aspx, [hereafter Correll Article].

(14.) Ibid.

(15.) Arnold R. Issacs, Gordon Hardy and MacAlister Brown, Pawns of War: Cambodia and Laos, (Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1987), p. 69, [hereafter Pawns of War]. Other books worth reading include, Alfred W. McCoy and Nina S. Adams, ed., Laos: War and Revolution, (NY: Harper & Row, 1970) and Joseph J. Zasloff, North Vietnam and the Pathet Lao: Partners in the Struggle for Laos, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970); John Prados, Presidents' Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations from WWII through the Persian Gulf, (Chicago: elephant Paperbacks, 1996); [Presidents' Secret Wars].

(16.) Ibid., p.72.

(17.) Timothy N. Castle, At War in the Shadow of Vietnam: U.S. Military Aid to the Royal Lao Government, 1955-1975, (NY: Columbia Univ. Press, 1993), p. 46, [hereafter Shadow of Vietnam].

(18.) Isaacs, et. al., Pawns of War, p. 74.

(19.) Col. Rod Paschall, The Making of a Clandestine Army, (Boston: Boston Publishing Company, 1988), p. 113, [hereafter Clandestine Army].

(20.) USAF Recon; John Schlight, A War Too Long: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia, 1961-1975, (Washington, D.C.: The Center of Air Force History, 1993), p. 19, [hereafter A War Too Long]; Project CHECO Report, by Major John C. Pratt, "The Royal Laotian Air Force, 1954-1970," (Hickam AFB, HI: HQ PACAF, 15 Sep 1970), [hereafter RLAF, 1954-1970]. For another important work on the early years of the Vietnam War, also see John Schlight, The War in South Vietnam: The Years of the Offensive, 1965-1968, (Washington, D.C.: Air Force History & Museums Program, 1999).

(21.) USAF Recon; RLAF, 1954-1970; Schlight, A War Too Long, pp. 19-20.

(22.) Perry L. Lamy, Barrel Roll, 1968-73: An Air Campaign in Support of National Policy, (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air War College, Air University Press, 10 May 1995), pp. 5-21, [hereafter Barrel Roll]; USAF Recon; RLAF, 1954-1970. For more on this aspect of the War see, Carl Berger, ed., The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973: An Illustrated Account, (Washington, D.C.: Office of USAF History, 1984).

(23.) Col. Michael E. Haas, Apollo's Warriors: USAF Special Operations during Cold War, (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Univ. Press, 1997), pp. 178-179, 192, [hereafter Apollo's Warriors]; Lamy, Barrel Roll, pp. 13-19; Air Ops SEA.

(24.) Warner, Shooting at the Moon, pp. 195-196.

(25.) Castle, Shadow of Vietnam, p. 90.

(26.) Valentine Report; Burditt Report; USAF Recon.

(27.) Jacob van Staaveren, Interdiction in Southern Laos, 1961-1968, (Washington, D.C.: Center for Air Force History, 1993), p. 66, [hereafter Southern Laos]; Christopher Robbins, The Ravens: Pilots of the Secret War of Laos, (NY: Bantam Books, Inc., 1988), pp. 32-39; revised edition, Robbins, Ibid., (Bangkok: Asia Books, 2000), pp. 33-37, [hereafter The Ravens]. Also see Robbins book Air America, (NY: Avon Books, 1979), [hereafter Air America].

(28.) Correll Article.

(29.) Ibid.

(30.) Gen. William H. Momyer, Airpower in Three Wars, (Washington, D.C.: Office of USAF Hist., 1978), pp. 86-87.

(31.) Ibid., pp. 86-87, 192, 196.

(32.) Ibid., pp. 86-87, 199-200.

(33.) Robert Pisor, The End of the Line: The Siege of Khe Sanh, (NY: WW Norton Press, Inc., 1982), p. 15.

(34.) For more on the Hmong & Vang Pao see, Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains. For the code names, see page 97.

(35.) Correll Article; Walter J. Boyne, "The Plain of Jars," Air Force Magazine, June 1999, p.78.

(36.) Correll Article; Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp.


(37.) For more on the Lima Sites and Air America, see Dr. Joe F. Leeker, "Air America in Laos II--military aid, Part II, Air America in Laos: military and paramilitary aid 1968-1973," First published on 29 May 2006, last updated on 24 August 2015, Part2.pdf.

(38.) Ibid.; Correll Article; Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp. 69-94, 100-112, 120-129.

(39.) Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp. 69-94, 130-143.

(40.) Ibid., pp. 144-170; James S. Olson, The Vietnam War:Handbook of the Literature and Research, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993), pp. 269-273.

(41.) Haas, Apollo's Warriors, p. 216.

(42.) Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp. 211-224. Air Commandos are, members of Special Operations units that fly SOF aircraft. For more on them, see William P. Head, Shadow and Stinger: Developing the AC-119G/K Gunships in the Vietnam War, (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2007), [hereafter Shadow and Stinger] ; William P. Head, Night Hunters: The AC-130s and Their Role in U.S. Airpower, (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2014), especially pages 1-142, [hereafter Night Hunters].

(43.) Christopher Robbins, The Ravens: The Men Who Flew In America's Secret War In Laos, (Bangkok, Thailand: Asia Books, 2000), p. 140, [hereafter The Ravens]; Haas, Apollo's Warriors, pp. 216-217; Carl Berger, ed, The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973: An Illustrated Account, (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1984), pp. 123, 130, [hereafter USAF in SEA].

(44.) Robbins, The Ravens, pp. 70-72; Lamy, Barrel Roll, p. 35; Berger, ed, USAF in SEA, p. 130.

(45.) Robbins, The Ravens, pp. 71-72; Lamy, Barrel Roll, p. 36; Berger, ed, USAF in SEA, p. 130.

(46.) The Rusk quote is in, Martin Stuart-Fox, A History of Laos, (Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge Press), p. 136. For a more on U.S. intervention in Laos as part of its Vietnam strategy, see Marilyn B.Young, The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990, (NY: Harper Perennial, 1991).

(47.) Correll Article; Air Ops SEA; Pratt Report.

(48.) Correll Article; Air Ops SEA; John T Correll, "Disunity of Command," Air Force Magazine, (Jan. 2005), p. 34.

(49.) See note 45.

(50.) Correll Article.

(51.) Robbins, The Ravens, p. 137.

(52.) Lamy, Barrel Roll, p. 26. For items used to support this, see Oral History Interview, Department of the Air Force with Col. Paul Pettigrew, USAF, 5 Mar 70, Maxwell AFB, AL, pp. 9-11; Schlight, A War Too Long, p. 187.

(53.) John Morocco, Thunder From Above volume in Robert Manning ed., The Vietnam Experience, (Boston: Boston Publishing, Inc., 1984), p. 26, [hereafter Thunder From Above].

(54.) Paschall, Clandestine Army, pp. 107-108; Robbins, The Ravens, pp. 134-135. See, Thomas Briggs, & Leo Thomas, Cash on delivery: CIA special operations during the secret war in Laos. (Rockville, MD: Rosebank Press, 2009).

(55.) For details on the Hmong "Secret Army" and Vang Pao, see Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp. 113-120; 136-143, 189-197, 198-210.

(56.) Ibid., p. 136.

(57.) Prados, President's Secret Wars, p. 273.

(58.) Castle, Shadow ofVietnam, pp. 60-61; Air Ops in SEA.

(59.) Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp. 190-197; Neil Sheehan, et. al., Pentagon Papers, p. 289; Haas, Apollo's Warriors, pp. 180-188,193; John Morocco, Rain of Fire: Air War, 1969-1973, volume in Robert Manning ed., The Vietnam Experience, (Boston: Boston Publishing, 1986), [hereafter Rain of Fire].

(60.) Robbins, Air America, p. 151; Castle, Shadow ofVietnam, pp. 54-55, 77; Morocco, Rain of Fire, p. 30; Haas, Apollo's Warriors, pp. 179-180.

(61.) Morocco, Rain of Fire, p. 30; Air Ops in SEA.

(62.) Robbins, The Ravens, p. 115.

(63.) Earl H. Tilford, Jr., Crosswinds: The Air Force's Setup in Vietnam, (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1994), p. 76, [hereafter Crosswinds].

(64.) Tilford, Crosswinds, pp. 122-123; Head, Shadow and Stinger, p. 10.

(65.) Morocco, Rain of Fire, p. 29; Castle, Shadow of Vietnam, pp. 85-86; Air Ops in SEA.

(66.) Tilford, Crosswinds, pp. 123-124; Air Ops in SEA; Head, Night Hunters, p. 57; William Head, "Operation Tiger Hound," in Spencer C. Tucker, ed., Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Vol. II, (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1998), pp 690-691.

(67.) Schlight, A War Too Long, p. 188; Air Ops in SEA.

(68.) The Communist view can be found in The Military History Institute of Vietnam, Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954-1975, translated by Merle L. Pribbenow, (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2002), p. 213, [hereafter Victory in Vietnam]. For a U.S. viewpoint, see Prados, President's Secret War, p. 282; Kenneth Conboy with James Morrison, Shadow War: The CIA's Secret War in Laos, (Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 1995), p. 187, [hereafter Shadow War].

(69.) Prados, President's War, pp. 280-282.

(70.) Conboy, Shadow War, pp. 187-188.

(71.) Ibid., p. 188.

(72.) Ibid., pp. 190-192; Tilford, Crosswinds, pp. 120-121.

(73.) Conboy, Shadow War, p. 189.

(74.) Ibid., pp. 193-210; Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp. 171-188.

(75.) Conboy, Shadow War, pp. 209-210; Project CHECO Report, by Major John C. Pratt, et. al., Air Support of Counterinsurgency in Laos, July

1968-November 1969, (Hickam AFB, HI: HQ PACAF, 10 November 1969), [hereafter Air Support in Laos].

(76.) Conboy, Shadow War, pp. 210-213; Air Support in Laos.

(77.) Morocco, Rain of Fire, p. 46.

(78.) Conboy, Shadow War, pp. 217, 248.

(79.) Morocco, Rain of Fire, pp. 42-45; Air Support in Laos; Project CHECO, by Kenneth Sams, Lt. Col. John Schlight, and Major John C. Pratt, Air Operations in Northern Laos, 1 November 1969-1 April 1970, (Hickam AFB, HI: HQ PACAF, 5 May 1970).

(80.) CHECO Report, by Lt. Col. Harry D. Blout & Melvin F Porter, Air Operations in Northern Laos, 1 November 1970-1 April 1971, (Hickam, HI: HQ PACAF, 3 May 1971); Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp. 189-197; William P. Head, War from above the Clouds: B-52 Operations during the Second Indochina War and the Effects of the Air War on Theory and Doctrine, (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 2002), pp. 46-48, [hereafter War from above the Clouds]; Earl H. Tilford, Jr., "Bombing Our Way Back Home: The Commando Hunt and Menu Campaigns of 1969-1973," [Bombing Our Way Back Home], in William P. Head and Lawrence Grinter, Looking Back on the Vietnam War: A 1990s Perspective of Decisions, Combat, and Legacies, (West-port, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993), pp. 123-144, [Looking Back]. For more on fixed-wing gunship, see Head, Night Hunters, pp. 112-144.

(81.) Morocco, Rain of Fire, p.45; Victory in Vietnam, p. 255.

(82.) Isaacs, et. al., Pawns of War, p. 105.

(83.) William P. Head, USAF Special Study, Their Tears Fell Like Monsoon rain: Iconic Battles of the Vietnam War, (Robins AFB, GA: 78 ABW Office of History, 2016), pp. 282-355, [hereafter Iconic Battles], pp. 357-382.

(84.) Major A.J.C. Lavalle, Airpower and the 1972 Spring Invasion, USAF Southeast Asia Monograph Series, (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1985), p. 14. For more on this, see Head, Iconic Battles, p. 384; Tilford, Crosswinds, p. 143; Project CHECO Report, by Captain Charles A. Nicholson, The USAF Response to the spring 1972 NVA Offensive: Situations and Redeployment, (Hickam, HI: HQ PACAF, 1972), p. 21.

(85.) Lamy, Barrel Roll, pp. 29-30; Conboy, Shadow War, pp. 263-264.

(86.) Lamy, Barrel Roll, pp. 34-36; Conboy, Shadow War, p. 265.

(87.) Lamy, Barrel Roll, pp. 33-34; Conboy, Shadow War, pp. 299-300.

(88.) Lamy, Barrel Roll, p. 33; Conboy, Shadow War, p. 299.

(89.) Lamy, Barrel Roll, p. 33.

(90.) Isaacs, et. al., Pawns of War, p. 104.

(91.) For an account of Lam Son 719, see William P. Head, "They Called Defeat 'Victory": Lam Son 719 and the Case for Airpower," Air Power History, (Summer 2016), Vol. 63, No. 2, pp. 7-26, [They Called Defeat "Victory]. For operation in Barrel Roll, see Project CHECO Report, by Major William W. Lofgren and Major Richard R. Sexton, Air Operations in Northern Laos, 1 April-30 November 1971, (Hickam, HI: HQ PACAF, 22 June 1973).

(92.) Isaacs, Pawns of War, p. 104; Head, They Called Defeat "Victory."

(93.) Schlight, A War too Long, p. 207.

(94.) Conboy, Shadow War, p. 249. For more on attrition, see Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp. 263-276.

(95.) Conboy, Shadow War, p. 249; Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp. 200-210.

(96.) CHECO Report, by Lt. Col. Harry D. Blout, Division of Operations Analysis, Air Operations in Northern Laos, 1 Apr-1 Nov 70, K 717.0413-65, (Hickam, HI: HQ PACAF, 15 January 1971), p. 34.

(97.) Ibid.

(98.) Conboy, Shadow War, p. 405.

(99.) Isaacs, et. al. Pawns of War, p. 105; Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp. 239-247.

(100.) Victory in Vietnam, p. 302.

(101.) Ibid.

(102.) Head, Iconic Battles, pp. 282-355; Head, War from above the Clouds, pp. 392-418.

(103.) Lamy, Barrel Roll, p. 33.

(104.) CHECO Report, by Major William W Lofgren, Jr., The Air War in Laos, 1 January 1972-22 February 1973, (Hickam AFB, HI: HQ PACAF, 15 October 1974).

(105.) Robbins, The Ravens, p. 365.

(106.) Ibid.

(107.) Ibid. See also, Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp. 225-229, 240-245.

(108.) Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp. 225-229; Air Ops in SEA; Lamy, Barrel Roll, pp. 33-38. For details see, Morocco, Rain of Fire, pp. 29-30; Tilford, Crosswinds, pp. 75-77. For more on the air war after Rolling Thunder, see Iconic Battles, pp. 282-355.

(109.) Earl H. Tilford, Jr., Setup: What the Air Force Did in Vietnam and Why, (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1991), p. 272.

(110.) Isaacs, et. al. Pawns of War, p. 133.

(111.) Ibid.; Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains, pp. 293-322.

(112.) Col. Harry G. Summers, Jr., Vietnam Magazine, April 1995, accessed from http://www. 28 March 2013.

(113.) Air Ops in SEA; Head, War From Above the Clouds, p. 95; Tilford, Crosswinds, pp. 178-180; Head and Grinter, Looking Back, p.119.

(114.) For more on Operations Commando Hunt I-VII, see Tilford, "Bombing Our Way Back Home," pp. 123-144.

(115.) Lamy, Barrel Roll, p. 37. Original source, Department of the Air Force, "Summary of Air Operations," February, 1973, 1-1. For more on this topic see Air Ops SEA.

(116.) Lamy, Barrel Roll, p. 40.

(117.) Ibid., pp. 40-48; For detailed numbers for U.S. aircraft losses in the Second Indochina War, see Chris Hobson, Vietnam Air Losses: United States Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps Fixed-Wing Aircraft Losses in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973, (Hinckley, UK: Midland Publishing, 2001.

(118.) Lamy, Barrel Roll, p. 42.

(119.) Ibid., p. 48. For more on the Hmong's suffering, see Hamilton-Merritt, Tragic Mountains.

Dr. William P. Head is Chief, 78th ABW History Office, Robins AFB, Georgia. He received his Ph.D. in U.S. diplomatic history from Florida State University in 1980. He has fourteen book-length publications to his credit. His most recent book is Shadow and Stinger: The History and Deployment of the AC-119G/K Gunships (Texas A&M, 2007). For this work, he received the AFMC Book Award and won the Frank Futrell Air Force-level prize. He is currently awaiting publication of his third book in the gunship trilogy, entitled Night Hunters: A History of the AC-130s and their Role in U.S. Air Power (Texas A&M Press). This work has been released as an Air Force special study. Dr. Head has authored forty articles and a like number of book reviews in such journals as Air Power History, Virginia Review of Asian Studies, Journal of Third World Studies, Journal of Military History, and the Journal of American History. He has made presentations on Modern Military, air power, Asian and American history to 106 scholarly meetings over the past thirty years.
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Author:Head, William P.
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Date:Dec 20, 2017
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