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Nakhon Phanom During The Secret War 1962-1975

56th Security Police Sq

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Picture by Phill Carroll

Pictures and text below provided by George Conklin

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George and "Ango" 0k31


The purpose of this paper is to provide me with some closure. To document the events of the time as I best remember them. I will not dwell on politics of the time nor will I engage in argument of how the war in Vietnam should or should not of been fought. Nor will I discus foreign policy, A Soldier goes where he is told to go and fights who he is told to fight. I will not make excuses or apologies. I do believe that these difficult times played an important roll in shaping this great nation of ours.

Dedication:

To all who served.... . not just the ones we hear about on the front lines, but those behind the scenes. The ones in base supply, those in the motor pool, the dinning hall,the maintenance shops. etc. To all who served.

To the Military Working Dog, Who's fate is still unknown. Who gave so much and asked for so little.

To my dog "Ango" 0k31 Who's Loyalty, Bravery and Friendship saw to it that I returned home.

To those who did not come back.....Thank You.To those of us who where so fortunate to come home.

Thank you! Welcome Home!!

I received my orders to the war in south east Asia while I was stationed at Nellis AFB Las Vegas, Nevada. I was first to return to Lackland AFB to receive further training. I entered the 3AZR combat preparedness course. This encompassed the use / training of heavier weapons than I was previously taught as well as a much greater detailed training program.

Then after taking 30 days leave, I found myself at Clark AFB in the Philippines, for two weeks of Jungle survival school and then on to my duty station at Nakhon Phanom.

I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand on the 29th of march 1970; Via Continental Airlines arriving at Don Muang Air Field. Upon exiting the plane the first thing I can recall was a stench followed by a blast of hot air and humidity. The stench was common to south east Asia as I found out later and was the result of rotting vegetation. It soon passed. but the humidity and the heat, never let up.

Upon checking in, it was learned that I would not catch my flight out for another three days and was given a voucher for hotel room and one hundred dollars per day per dim or living expenses. Now think about this,....They give this kid of 20 years. room and board in one of the best hotels in Bangkok three hundred dollars and then tell him he does not have to be back for three days... . Right then that should have told me just how craaaazzzzy this adventure was going to be.

Well, Hell yes I had a good time, made it through those 3 days OK, got back in time to catch my flight out to Nakhon Phanom or NKP as it was more commonly known. We boarded our plane, a C-130 at 08:00 and it was wheels in the well at about 08:35. This aircraft was packed with those of us who were going on to our duty stations and our baggage; and several cases of body bags, hundreds of them ....it made for a Quiet trip.

First stop, Khorat, then Ubon, then Nakhon Phanom. When the aircraft got low enough and on final approach to the runway the large rear cargo door was opened. The view was breath taking. The loadmaster wearing his monkey strap walked out on to the very end of that open door and double checked his load prior to landing just as he had on the previous landings.

We touched down on the runway and looking aft I noticed these big greenfoot prints as if some big green giant walked down the runway. Then it dawned on me.... . The jolly green giant- This was home to the 37th/40th ARRS who flew the HH-3E's and the big HH-53 Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopters.

I went over there as a dog handler and when I got there they had no dogs available to me. So I was temporally sent to base security, and worked mostly entry control points and as a SAT team member which was great work, straight days and good hours. I worked that for about six weeks and thenwas assigned to the K9 section.

My introduction to the K9 section or 'kennels' as it was referred to by us dog handlers; was quite novel. I soon found out that these people were serious and I was now truly among a unique sort. I was first assigned my primary weapon, the common M-16, then was shown around the kennels.

Off to lunch we went, we took the k9 truck; a 21/2 ton truck used to post the teams. This truck,commonly called a "Duce and a half" had a machine gun mount for the "60" and the truck bed was layered with sand bags for protection against land mines. At night this truck also saw to our needs of extra food and water for dog and handler, ammo, radio batteries, and back-up should we need it. It also carried a dog team as well for a crew of three and a dog.

We got through with lunch and then proceeded to the range so I could make sure my weapon was "on". (on target) then back to the kennels and I was know to be issued my dog. "Ango" was his name and his ear tattoo was "OK31" a dark dog (great for night work) was about five years of age, and no pushover. It took me three days to get next to that dog. But think about it; He just had this other guy for the last year and was taught that every one other that his handler was to be the aggressor.

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Over NKP flightline

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Each night we were to be posted in a different sector and post in that given sector. So we would not get board with the area or complacent. Made sense. Each post covered twenty bunkers on the line and these encompassed the entire base. First shift (Cobra Flight) went to work at dusk and got off work at about two A.M. Second shift (Tiger Flight) my shift, came on shift at about 22;00 hr. (10:00 P.M. and got off at dawn. So you see there was a period between 10 and 2 were most all teams were out on post.

The post you were on also dictated which weapon you would carry, most all posts you would carry your M-16. Posts such as the fuel storage and the weapon storage area (armament for the Aircraft) you would carry a .38 cal. pistol and a 12ga. shot gun. Base supply (mostly patrol dogs) would carry .38 pistol and M-16, where as Some other post would carry an M-203 grenade launcher on there M-16s.

We had three strands of concertina wire surrounding the base, followed by a area of about 25 yards of cleaned bare ground. "No man's land" and then some "tangle foot" This crap, was about 4f. tall (just taller than most guys crotch) and tapering to about 10ft wide. The wire that made this stuff work was more barbed wire zigzagged back and forth so you could not negotiate it at all. More bare ground and then flood lights that were along the perimeter road. The road it self (more bare ground, pavement) and then the bunker line. Every ten bunkers was a observation tower and at it's base, a heavily fortified bunker with an M-60 machine gun.

We operated between the Concertina wire and the Tangle foot. It seemed like a death sentence for us and we hated it. As we received a new commander, he too saw the hazard and allowed "us" to make the necessary changes. We were now behind the bunker line. We now had the cover and concealment we needed, the lights were now no longer lighting us up, but they were lighting the perimeter up as they always had but we could use it better.

This was better but not with out it's negative side. Back in the bush was better but it lent it self to more injuries to the dogs. i.e.. snake bite, and other creepy crawlers. We dealt with it, over came it and adapted. it was our habitat, the nights darkness and the jungle.

There was several occasions where one of us dog handlers would have to go out with the SAR teams and secure the crash site. This lent it self to some harry times as even though this was Thailand "Charlie" the V.C. was out there. Because we were so close to Laos, the V.C. would cross the Mekong River and make the way to the airbase and take a crack at us with their mortars, rockets and of course they were all ways probing our perimeter to try and make a "zapper attack" ( a small band of v.c. with explosives ) on our aircraft and key points of the base.

As the "First line of defense" we K9 were most often the point of harassment fire. One night I found a string of claymore mines that was turned around and was now facing us. As it was supposed to go.... . They ( v.c. ) would come up to the wire and when we would detonate the mines we would of course blow ourselves up. Another night,we found over 300 ft. of wire missing, I mean .... GONE! No where to be found. This, they figured, was just a case of theft. My question is why weren't they detected. There were no K9 alerts, no trip flares, tower guards did not see any thing through their starlight scopes... nothing. Were they really thieves or was it more physiological harassment? were we really told the truth?

If you think that's unnerving, try living with a bounty on your head. Yep, $2,500 U.S. ; it goes to show you just how much we were a pain in the ass to "Charlie". One more reason to stay on base. like I stated earlier, everything we needed was on base. Why push the point, if the .v.c. wanted me, well they were going to have work for it. I was going home come hell or high water!

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November 21, 1970; The Raid.....the Son Tay Prison raid. The rescue of our POWs in North Vietnam. I was working that night, the night of the 20th of November. I'll remember this night more so than any night of my life. My post was one of those along the flight line. Between the Taxi way and the active runway about the first third of the way down. Earlier that night at guardmount, we were told we were on alert and to be more watchful and careful. About 02:00 or 02:30 things on the flight line started to heat up. Aside from the usual night flights, things were really pick'en up.

That night everything that could fly was loaded with ordinance, Taxied out to the arming area and took there place in line for takeoff. First the Fac's, then the A1's then the AC119's and then the Two RH-53 rescue "birds" (I found out later that the RH-53's went on to Udorn, Thailand farther up north and picked up the army special forces teams that were to effect this raid.)

I cannot describe the feeling that night, Excitement, Fear Pride. I knew right then and there that the war was coming to an end or....we were really going "to get in to it". As all hell was about to break out! As the aircraft took off one at a time, the noise was getting progressively louder, Thunderous as those A1's took off, followed by the 119's (both a/c used the same engine, 18cyl. 1200 h.p. the same ones the B-29's and B17's of WW ll fame) But tonight the 119's also used the jet engines for assisted take off and the noise was truly deafening, I felt my self shake it was that loud. The flames from their exhaust was illuminating the sides of the aircraft. What a sight.

The fact that the AC-119's needed their jet assisted takeoff , told me they were heavy, heavy with ammunition and fuel. This told me that they had along way to go, or they were going to hang around some where, and ether way kick more butt than they usually did. Somebody was going to get their Ass's KICKED but good.... .

As all the aircraft departed; the now quite, was eerie.... after all that racket. I got together with the dog handlers on ether side of me and we talked about what had just taken place. We were all nervous and uneasy as what this might mean.

But as we and the rest of the nation / world would find out.... the raid on the Son Tay Prison camp was a failure, as all the prisoners were moved. Some how the North Vietnamese found out. What a demoralizing blow. I believe that the rescue teams returned home intact.

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Working on the perimeter in this line of work lent it self to some interesting times, some of which where mentioned earlier. But here a few come to mind. (notice how you speak of one thing and it reminds you of other things ). At the end of the runway, was an area that was referred to as "the Drop Zone" this is where aircraft with in-flight emergencies would "drop" their ordinance prior to landing.

This drop zone extended from the end of the runway to just off base in the shape of a "v". As it was part of the perimeter it to had to be defended and there were dog teams out here as well. Now if there was an inbound emergency they would notify us and we had to make it out to the road fast so the truck could pick us up. But as luck would have it, when this did happen (it happened a lot) the truck would be on the other side of the base. Go figure.

I remember one such incident where this happened to me and it was quite unnerving to be standing out in the open and this F-4 driver was in a hurry to get on the ground and was coming in hot and fast and did not want to "go around". The call went out Tabasco...Tabasco...Tabasco...Clear the drop Zone...Clear The Drop Zone....inbound In-flight Emergency, Fox 4 (F-4) Battle Damage, Engine fire and Smoke in the cockpit. ETA one five mikes (15 min.)

I looked to my left and saw the head lights of the truck and looking straight out off the end of the runway I saw the landing light of the F-4. Talk about feeling alone- Who was going to get there first? I was nervous, there for the dog was nervous. He was shaken like he was poop'n razor blades.

The truck got there first and before I was seated, was roaring down the road to pick up others and then Whaaaaaammmmm The F-4 dropped Two snakes and some nape.( 2 mk 82 snakeye 500 pound bombs and a napalm canister) All though safe, we could feel the heat and some of the concussion.

One of my buddies could not make it to the pick -up point and had made his way out of the zone on his own and was fine. We did not know that and were quite concerned about him. Until word was received. After that he was NEVER very far from the road. Funny how that works.... .

Another time that comes to mind was the night I was on the perimeter where both Alpha and Bravo sectors came to gather along the flight line. We had an in bound AC119 Gunship coming in with "Hot Guns" which meant that the guns were so hot from firing that the heat alone would detonate the ammunition and the guns could just continue to fire uncontrolled.

The guns were mounted on the left side of the a/c and as the a/c would land these now hot guns were pointed at the flight line as he would land. Not a good idea; so the powers to be had the AC-119 come in from the other direction, so the guns were pointed away from the base and out to the jungle and the perimeter. Once again, Tabasco.....Tabasco...Tabasco... I found my self waiting for a late pick -up, the aircraft landed with out incident.

We also had our share of transit aircraft as these too were shot up and made their way to NKP. This night we had a Navy A-6 Intruder come in. Again I was along the flight line and this time I merely ducked into a bunker as he landed. Prior to coming to a stop right in front of me he blew the canopy and then as the a/c stopped, both crew men escaped the a/c and ran in my direction. I hollered at them and they took shelter in the bunker with us. They were a little nervous about the dog though.

Several times through out my tour,"Ango" was to save my bacon. Well this particular day wasn't so different. As I don't remember the day, I do remember that I was down town at "Johnny's " (a quaint little bar along the Mekong river) with some of the local talent.

Having to work that night, I decided that I would catch a decent meal. We had pretty good chow at the "Skyraider Inn". Named after our many A-1 Skyraiders (call sign HOBO/ SANDY ). So I jumped on the bus and got off at the main gate and took a taxi back to the hooch.

It was when I got back to the hooch, that I heard of this F-105 Thundercheif (thud as they called it) was inbound with battle damage, a fire warning light and smoke in the cockpit. Word traveled fast.

Well this Lt.Col. couldn't make it in and "punched out". He "hit the silk "about a quarter mile out . The aircraft impacted just outside the base perimeter and the debris splash took out our concertina wire, tangle foot and numerous trip flares leaving a gaping hole in our defenses.

Continuing on, the aircraft (or what was left of it) slid across the perimeter road and slammed into the observation tower and the M-60 machine gun bunker at it's base. B-29 or Bravo-two Nine (as it was better known) which was located at the end of the active runway, Was now destroyed. Given the fact that it was daylight, there was no U.S.A.F. Security Policeman posted there, but we did lose the life of the Thai guard posted in the bunker. The pilot, made it out just fine.

At guardmount that night, I was Taken aside and met with my flight chief, kennel master and some brass from the head shed. I was then Briefed on the "events of the day" and was promptly given my post. Yep, you guessed it ...That gaping hole at Bravo two nine.... .

My mission, was to enter that area just off base and secure it. I was assured that there was no ordinance left in the area as EOD cleared it and deemed the area safe. Yea right.; the checks in the mail too. Hell, there was 20 mike-mike rounds scattered all over the place.

Well, who am I to argue. After checking out my assigned weapon and a few extra "slap flares" (hand fired parachute illumination flares). I then proceeded to the kennels and picked up my best friend and partner-"Ango" (ear tag 0k31). A dark dog of 5 years and about 75 pounds. He knew his job and did it well.

This night he was to save my life... Upon entering the area I immediately sized up the situation, Wind direction, cover and concealment and the best way out should things really heat up, bunker locations etc. Call sign: "Night Fighter Six Four".

Earlier at the briefing it was best determined that I clear the area and then take-up a defensive position where as if any one entered the area I would call in the dog's alert and then receive the necessary help from the sectors QRT(quick reaction team) the QRF(quick reaction force) and of course the Thai AF as well as our nightly orbiting HH-3E / HH 53 Helicopter with flare kicker, "Sunspot "search light and 7.62 minniguns. We also had a very eager mortar pit crew at our disposal and K-sat (K-9 security alert team).

Now the vegetation was something else, as you could get down on your hands and knees and see for many yards. Yet, if you stood on your feet you then could only see for a few feet. As Ango and my self were clearing the area; he stopped and looking over his right shoulder, streaked passed me and proceeded to rip into one of three individuals lurking under this bush just inches by my side.

I let him chew, as I was know very busy with two others that failed to heed my challenge. I'm now "popping illumination" and squeak'n and freak'n on the radio. It did not take long for the QRF in their M-113 to come bust'n in, as did the QRT from bravo sector in their 706 / v100 armored car. I had learned later that they were never very far away.

Well, One Thai national got away, which we figured was OK as he / she could tell the others that..... , "It's not the dark you have to be afraid of .......But what hunts in the dark" and that you don't fool around with those K-9 cops at NKP. One of the other teams caught another and of course Ango, my dog, had his trophy.

As things settled down and we debriefed. It was then determined that the Thai that Ango had got had a US issue bayonet on him (I wonder where he got that?) and at the time the dog had struck all this guy would have had to do was to thrust his hand and arm up and he would have got me between the ribs and probably my liver. I would have just bled out...... . Right there.

With only thirty days left of my tour at NKP I found my self "Short". A term all of us "In country" would use as our time here was indeed short. We would celebrate this time in our lives with the "Shortimers calendar". This calendar was in cartoon format and each day had a square that was to be colored in as the days went by. Mostly Obscene, the last three days would of course be the most intimate parts of the female anatomy.

As we got closer to our day of rotation home ( the day we would go back to the world) our duties got lighter as this would assure us of going home, supposedly. Our last night there was a party for those of use who were going back. Then all would accompany us to the Terminal and watch us leave on the "Freedom Bird" and would sing "leav'n on a jet plane" by John Denver. Can you imagine a handful of guys drunk and or hungover singing out of tune.... every one laughing and then joining in.

Back at Don Muang, in Bangkok, An over nighter, and then onto the states. Once on board the commercial flight, there was a lot of hooping and hollering, yelling and screaming. A party all the way home. As each of us received a bottle of wine, cheese and some crackers.

Our arrival at Travis AFB California was Very anti-climatic and we encountered the war protesters and their bothersome chants and cat calls, booing etc. We felt hurt, betrayed and angry. It's taken me sometime now, for me to get over it, but I feel I have for the most part.

For my efforts during my tour of duty in Southeast Asia I was awarded the Presidential unit citation, Outstanding Unit award, Meritorious service Medal with palm leaf, Vietnam service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.

As I look back, thirty years later, I know that God had his hand on my shoulder, as he did for all of us during those difficult times. Some day I hope to return to Thailand for some closure and to reminisce. As for my dog "Ango" there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of him....... .

Today, there is not much left of the air base as we new it. As most all of the buildings and structures have been salvaged and removed. The jungle has reclaimed the area and the snakes and animals have moved in. The runway and taxi way have been maintained and there is a new terminal which is used on a daily bases. There is also a small detachment of Thai army there and what it takes to maintain that mission.

The city of Nakon Phanom is of course still thriving with the economic up swing. New hotels and shops. The beach and park along the river, and a general renewing of the city, all this geared towards the growing tourist business since the war has ended. People are discovering just what a beautiful country Thailand is.

I now live in Fort Benton, Montana with my wife of thirty years, my two daughters and two cats. We are working a catering business, and my hobbies are knife making and organic gardening. ......Sawadee Krup!

56th Security Police II