‘An Agent Orange Christmas’ Thailand
Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide, laced with dioxin, chemically eliminated dense jungle growth for military purposes during the Vietnam War. The elimination of jungle providing enemy concealment was a primary use of Agent Orange. Nations exposed to Agent Orange during the War include Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Korea, the Philippines, Okinawa (Japan), Guam and locations unknown.
In Thailand alone, Agent Orange was deployed at U-Tapao, Don Muang, Ubon, Udom, Takhli Nakhon, Phanom, and Korat. The U.S. Airbase at U-Tapao (Hu-da-pow). Thailand was closely associated military operations during the Vietnam War. The following offers insight in to events at U-Tapao, a considerably sized airbase. Information was gained through Vietnam Veteran’s accounts and minimal public record.
U-Tapao served as an Airbase to Nuclear and conventional Special Forces of the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command (SAC) and other vital U.S. Military Forces. The spy plane and fastest manned aircraft known to exist, the SR-71 Blackbird, operated from U-Tapao on occasion. One SR-71 is known to have crashed on orders to land at U-Tapao despite weather conditions exceeding the operational capacity of the spy plane.
The SR-71 photographs likely detailed nuclear weaponry emplacements and equipment in the former U.S.S.R. or Soviet Union (Russian Federation). The B-52 Stratofortress Heavy Bomber and KC-135 Aerial Refueling aircraft operated from U-Tapao. B-52’s and KC-135’s, both remaining in U.S. Military service today, were among military assets required to maintain U.S. air superiority over the skies of Vietnam.
KC-135’s provided routine and emergency aerial refueling to a wide variety of aircraft, such as B-52’s and F-4 Phantom’s. F-4 Phantoms commonly provided Close Air Support to U.S. Infantry. B-52’s conventional bombings left large jungle areas landscaped in bomb craters; night skies went bright as multiple B-52’s delivered hundreds of bombs. U.S. political restrictions limited use of B-52’s on known enemy targets; such military restrictions based in politics are best left for other forums. Ultimately, the capabilities of B-52’s brought Agent Orange to U-Tapao.
Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs), provided to the North Vietnamese by the Soviet Union became the primary weapons platform employed to destroy U.S. Aircraft in flight. However, other tactics to prevent B-52’s from operating were employed. U-Tapao offered location for a U.S. airbase of considerable physical distance from Vietnam offering increased security of stationary aircraft between missions. However, physical distance did not deter North Vietnamese infantry attacks and sabotage. Unlike the U.S. Airbase at Okinawa no large body of water separated Vietnam from U-Tapo. Highly determined North Vietnamese Infantry Forces traversed jungle terrain seeking to disable or destroy U.S. aircraft at U-Tapo.
December 24th, 1972, Christmas Eve, a KC-135 crew preparing to land at U-Tapao witnessed the Airbase under assault by North Vietnamese Infantry. To date, the Christmas Eve assault on U-Tapao is the only such attack officially acknowledged. Veteran’s accounts support multiple attacks and attempted sabotage at U-Tapao. The Christmas Eve assault acknowledged by the U.S. Government was a ‘Sapper Attack’ (infantry specialized in explosives) in which ‘satchel charges’ (easily carried explosives) were placed on, in, or near aircraft. Any of the eight jet engines utilized by a B-52 were prime targets for a satchel charge. Estimates of ‘Christmas Eve’ Sapper assault varies from 3 to 10 North Vietnamese Sappers, with an unknown number of supporting forces in the jungle surrounding U-Tapao. U.S. Forces defending the base prevented Sapper satchel charges from detonating on U.S. aircraft. This attack led to the use of Agent Orange at U-Tapao.
To deny enemy infantry concealment in the jungle surrounding U-Tapao C-123 aircraft were sent in to spray Agent Orange at least 2,000 yards around the Airbase perimeter. U.S. Military personnel reported Agent Orange initiated the rapid death of the jungle exposed to Agent Orange. By New Year’s Day, 1973, Agent Orange had caused the jungle surrounding U-Tapo to die. Remaining tree trunks were removed by heavy equipment. Agent Orange spread through water and soil contamination. Contamination of soil and water allowed human consumption. Thus, the questions remain as to the impacts upon humans directly exposed to Agent Orange at U-Tapao and beyond.
Written by Jason Van Orstol, son of a Vietnam Veteran with the help of witness accounts.