Riding to the Thai Army Base
A slight uphill rise for 40kms beckons me to pull up short for the day but after a steep climb it's easy downhill and flat riding all the way to Lad Ya 95kms from Dan Chang.
After arriving at the Thai Army Vietnam Veterans Memorial Museum it's time for a quick shower and then a wander through the memorial park.
I've finished for the day, rest up for the night close by Lad Ya town before returning to Dan Chang the next day.
A fantastic marble and stainless steel memorial stands high in the park inside the army base, surrounded by museum memorabilia of the war in Vietnam 50 years ago - tanks, a C134 mini version Hercules cargo plane, Iroquois Huey helicopter, 105 howitzer artillery piece, and the last one of its kind from the Vietnam war I'm told - the AC-47 Spooky Attack Cargo Plane.
Carrying an armament of three General Electric GAU-2/M134 7.62mm miniguns mounted facing out from the side of the plane.
Missions were classed as close air support. The VietCong called it The Dragon Ship, the US Soldier and Allied troops called it "Puff the Magic Dragon" as it resembled the flames from the dragon's mouth and nose when its mini guns let almighty loose on their targets below.
Thailand’s attitudes and actions towards the Vietnam War was best described by Thai Foreign Minister, Thanat Khoman in an interview to the ABC Scope program in May 1967. He explained that Thailand was very much a voluntary and active participant in the Vietnam War. His reasoning behind these actions was both as a means of defense of its own borders as well as helping to bring stability to the region as a whole.
Thailand had a different outlook to many of its neighboring countries. It had never been under colonial rule and therefore did not have the anti-colonial antipathy towards the newly perceived colonial conqueror – the United States. Instead, Thailand saw the United States as the only power who could help stave off the seemingly relentless advance of communism. It was a monarchy with a government of both civilian and military participation and very strongly anti-communist.
Geographically it held a strategic position with regard to the attempts to stem the communist spread throughout SouthEast Asia. It shared a common border to the east with Laos, Cambodia and its airfields, from which American planes took off to bomb communist targets, which were only 18 minutes flying time from North Vietnam.
In the wake of World War II, SouthEast Asia witnessed rapid growth and expansion of communism under the influence of Soviet Union and China. North Vietnam, receiving massive support from these socialist countries, formed many warring groups such as Viet Cong, Khmer Rouge and Pathet Lao to forward its causes – mainly to annex South Vietnam.
Thai Government anticipated the foundation of the communist regime in China, the deterioration of French colonist rule in Indochina and hegemonic ambitions of North Vietnam as an emerging threat.
Thailand’s worries escalated when communist North Vietnam launched large-scale overt and covert operations in South Vietnam and adjoining areas including Cambodia, Laos and hinterlands of Thailand. The rapid advancements of guerrillas and regular troops of North Vietnam exposed Thai frontiers. In 1961, the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) revolted against the Thai government and began an armed struggle. Many other communist groups, emboldened by the rise of communism, fanned insurgency in Northeastern provinces of Thailand.
Northeastern Thailand, comprising of 15 provinces and bordering Laos, was the most vulnerable place to the communist terrorists and soon became the newest target of communist subversion. This was a backward region populated by people having pro-communist affiliations and sentiments.
An editor of Bangkok Post newspaper in an interview with a foreign correspondent reiterated the sensitivity of these provinces to the communist threat as there was an
expected presence of around 1,500 communist guerrillas.
To counter this guerilla threat, Thai government deployed 30,000 men comprising of regular Army and Police personnel escorted by helicopters.
Thailand has long developed a close tie with the United States. In fact, they signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce in March, 1833 – the first U.S. treaty with a country in Asia. This relation was developed further since World War II as reflected in multiple treaties, economic and military assistance between the
Thailand had already formed a formal alliance with the United States since 1954 as they joined the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) upon the discovery of the “Thai Autonomous Region” group founded in South West China.
Thai and American leaders saw eye to eye and need to stop communist expansion in Asia. Thailand, given its strategic geography and communist threats inside the country, played a crucial role in American strategies in Southeast Asia.
Thailand provided Air and Ground bases to the United States, and soon became the largest station of the United States Air Force in Southeast Asia. From 1961 to 1975, the United States installed 7 air bases at Korat, Udon Thani, Nakon Phanom, Ubbon Ratchathani, Khon Kaen, Utapao and Bangkok. Among them, Utapao was a B-52 air base that had great strategic importance. Thai officers commanded each base although the activities were largely carried out by American’s. These bases had more than 400 aircrafts and 25,000 service personnel.
Thai Air Force not only maintained its own planes at each base but also had the task of providing group and air security for the huge installations.
In 1969, the Thai government deployed more than 12,000 combat troops, which included Queen’s Cobras and Black Panther Division of Royal Army Volunteer Force, to counter the guerilla forces in South Vietnam. Additionally, it had also dispatched around 26,000 volunteer recruits.
Thai troops comprising regular and volunteer men proved more effective and deadly against the guerrillas due to awareness of local geography and culture of the region as compared to the U.S. troops who were alien to the area.
However, Thailand’s involvement in the direct conflict was not without cost. In total, 351 Thai troops were killed in action while some 1,358 men were wounded in the war.
North Vietnam finally succeeded in reunifying Vietnam in April 1975. Emboldened by its victories and exit of American troops, North Vietnam expanded its influence and range of military activities in the region.
Thailand had to face the wrath of insurgents within its frontiers for years after the war. Most of all, its direct involvement in the conflict proved too costly for Thailand in form of political, economic and human loss, but nevertheless, opened up doors for foreign aid and assistance that later improved
the Thai economy.
Truck Sams - Training in Thailand
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