Tom Palmer, retired U.S. Air Force pilot stationed in Japan at the start of the Vietnam War, volunteered for special program/assignment in Laos, currently living in CA.
Note: To listen to a specific clip, move the slider on the video to the designated clip time listed below.
00:00 – Introduction
00:44 – Clip 1
Tom starts with an overview of his career as a fighter pilot. He was stationed in Japan as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) in 1965, when U.S. became involved in the Vietnam War. Arrives that year in Vietnam for 6 months of temporary duty. Volunteered to return in 1969, and was asked if he wanted to volunteer for a special program (Steve Canyon program). He becomes a Raven.
03:28 – Clip 2
Describes process of becoming a Raven. All ID cards are taken away and personal goods put into storage. In Vientiane, he was issued a Laos driver’s license, his only ID.
03:57 – Clip 3
Explains why he volunteered to be a Raven.
04:16 – Clip 4
Describes arriving in Long Cheng and meeting General Vang Pao. Tom (age 35) was the senior Raven at Long Cheng. Was responsible for supervising Raven’s operations, which involved meeting nightly with Gen Vang Pao.
06:10 – Clip 5
Explains more about dinner meetings with Gen. Van Pao, including style of eating. In the map room, they go over plans for next day.
07:54 – Clip 6
Remembers Gen. Vang Pao’s actions as truly being a great general.
08:14 – Clip 7
Explains organization of typical day, meeting with his Robin (Backseater) and working together to determine best way to carry out the day’s plan.
09:58 – Clip 8
Responds to question about how he might spend a day off. Typically would go to Vientiane or Udorn (Thailand). Airplane maintence usually happened in Udorn.
11:23 Clip 9
Responds to question on daily interactions, with closest interactions being with their Backseaters (Robins). Tom relied on his Robin for crucial feedback on targets. Ravens and Robins were equally important for the safety of each other.
11:54 – Clip 10
Describes memorable flight over Laos, close to Vietnam border, when they spotted – and bombed – a suspicious object, which turned out to be a surface-to-air (SAM) missile. The resulting explosion was unbelievable. A second memorable flight took place in T-28 plane, when plan was struck by rocket, but, fortunately, did little damage.
14:32 – Clip 11
Responds to question about outside reporters wanting information about the Secret War. Because U.S. was not supposed to have military people in Laos, reporters were not welcomed.
16:05 – Clip 12
Talks about transition out of Laos and the Secret War. After 6 months in Laos, he was burnt out from the hectic life at Long Cheng and requested a transfer. In May 1970, transferred to Pakse, in southern part of Laos, on Cambodian border – just as Cambodia entered the war. Five months later, chose Japan as his next assignment. But soon got bored, and returned to Laos for a 4th tour.
17:12 – Clip 13
Describes his last tour and recognizing it was time to retire.
18:28 – Clip 14
Recalls movie-worthy scenes from the Secret War and recommends capturing the spirit and gentleness of the Hmong people.
19:36 – Clip 15
Responds to question on what he thinks teachers and students should know about the Secret War. Feels they should know why we were there. Explains 3 factions in Laos government when war starts to heat up: communists (Pathet Lao,) loyalists, and neutralists – who did not get along with each other.
20:43 – Clip 16
Recalls that news of the Cambodian war came to him via a Thai pilot who flew in at night.
21:50 – Clip 17
Reflects on why Cambodia was not a secret war, yet Laos was – due to Geneva Accords.
22:44 – Clip 18
Shares his pride in what he – and the U.S. – did to help the Lao people. Explains that the Pathet Lao (Laotian) resented the North Vietnamese being in their country. Adds a movie-worthy flight memory.
23:51 – Clip 19
Praises the contributions of the Hmong people during the war, with Gen. Vang Pao being a great asset.
25:05 – Clip 20
Shares story about Gen. Vang Pao attempting to take back the Plain of Jars from the North Vietnamese, against U.S. orders – but succeeded and saved the city of Long Cheng.
26:30 – Credits