Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tracking Down the Heritage

At Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base in the O'Club bar there were plaques on the wall. They were large teak wood shields and they held individual brass name plates of people who had completed 100 combat missions over North Vietnam. One plaque contained the handful of names of those with 200--a very small group indeed.

That was in the late '60s and early '70s. There were never more than a couple of hundred guys who made the board. The base is still there, but the US presence is long gone. A couple of time there have been combined exercise deployments in which USAF forces in the Pacific have visited and flown from Korat, but it is a sovereign Thai military installation now. Some of the guys have returned to Thailand and a few tours have been granted access to the base. The club is still there and the buildings are older but still recognizable.

A question came up about two weeks ago in an online group of fighter pilots regarding who had flown and made that short list of 200 missions North. That led to a wondering about what ever happened to the plaques. Did they simply get lost over time?

The magic of the Internet and the network of guys worldwide went to work. First response to the question came from one of the bunch who was an Air America pilot who fell in love with the culture of Asia and a local woman in particular. He has remained in Thailand. He is firmly in our communication loop and has a lot of connections with the ex-pat community and the Thai military. In short order the report came back that the plaques were not at Korat. No one there knew where they went.

That might have meant a dead end. Some suggested that they may have been packed up and sent to the archives when the US moved out of Korat. We confirmed that they hadn't made it to the National Museum of the USAF at Dayton. They expressed an interest in finding them and possibly adding them to their 100 Missions North display.

Today the word came in from Europe. The national CINC-Rat, the boss of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilot's Association (aka River Rats) had met a guy at the Ramstein Air Base Germany club bar. The individual had just reported to Europe from his previous assignment at Hill AFB in Utah which is the current home of the 388th Fighter Wing. He confirmed that the plaques are saved and have been in the possession of the 388th where they are proudly displayed on the wall of the wing headquarters building.

That's good to know.

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