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Air America in Laos I - The University of Texas at Dallas

Air America in Laos I - The University of Texas at Dallas

Air America in Laos I - The University of Texas at

Last updated on 23 August 2010 Air America in Laos I – humanitarian work by Dr. Joe F. Leeker Part II A) Humanitarian work in Laos from the Tet Offensive to the Cease-fire Agreements: Air America 1968-1973 Air America’s operations for USAID/Laos While in South Vietnam, the Tet Offensive of late January 1968 meant a complete change in the war, it did not affect Laos very much. 1 But if we understand the Tet Offensive as a prelude to an overall more aggressive strategy of North Vietnam, there were indeed some very important changes that affected Laos. First, the war became more conventional, when North Vietnam brought big guns and entire battalions into Laos, resulting in a similar strategy on the pro-western side that, to a certain extent, replaced the old guerrilla strategy. Then, beginning in 1969, the traditional pattern of the war in Laos – during the dry season Communist troops would advance to the west, but during the rainy season they would be pushed back to the east by pro-western troops supported by Air America aircraft – no longer worked, as then, the Communist troops continued their attacks during the rainy season. 2 On the humanitarian side, all this meant an enormous increase in the number of refugees to be fed and also an increased number of refugee resettlements and of downed aircraft whose crews had to be rescued. Vientiane’s Wattay Airport, the starting point of Air America’s food-drops (with kind permission from Dan Gamelin) Flights for USAID’s Refugee Relief program: food-drops As to the rice drops, an article published in a 1969 issue of Air America Log describes the situation as follows: “Air-delivering 10-million pounds of rice and related commodities a month – mostly by free-fall airdrop, but some by landed delivery – is no mean accomplishment. Aerial rice deliveries are made seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, weather permitting. Air America does it – and does it consistently – month in, month out; year in, year out.” Then the text continues illustrating a photo: “Above, you can see the beginning of the action (except for actually filling the bags with rice). Customer rice has just been trucked into the Air Transport Operations Group (ATOG) warehouse at Air America’s Base, Wattay 1 Bill Lair, interview with Steve Maxner, December 2001, written version, p. 157, at: http://star.vietnam.ttu.edu/ 2 Kirk, Wider war, p.228. 1

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