Jim Lemon, retired U.S. Air Force pilot, stationed in Thailand pre Secret War, Forward Air Control (FAC) assignment in Laos, currently living in the Reno, NV.
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
Jim describes the location of the air base where he was stationed northeast of Thailand, Nakhon Phanom, where he began flying missions in the spring of 1967. His job was to stop communist movement of trucks and supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Describes the character of the war as “seasonal”.
03:39 – Clip 2
Explains that he was probably chosen to be a Raven because he was a bachelor and also that he was familiar with what was occurring in northern and southern Laos.
05:18 – Clip 3
Pulls out a map of Southeast Asia and shows where both airbases are located and describes his flight to Udorn Air Base (Thailand) and then to the Plain of Jars in northeastern Laos, where the Ravens received their training.
10:17 – Clip 4
Explains the movement of the Ravens from the Plain of Jars to the Lao capital of Vientiane to receive an orientation to the country and to learn what their assignments would consist of. Jim describes Forward Air Controllers (FACs) and how call signs changed from Butterfly to Raven because Butterfly interfered with the call sign of Firefly.
13:39 – Clip 5
Talks about the reason the Ravens were in Laos and discusses a book called Back Fire by Roger Warner which he believes provides an accurate description of how and why the United States got involved in Southeast Asia. Jim addresses the Geneva Conference and how the country of Laos needed to be neutral.
17:26 – Clip 6
Discusses the methods the U.S. used to maintain the status quo without a heavy military presence in Laos, especially through aerial bombing. The problem that occurred was that it was difficult to bomb specific targets and avoid friendly areas.
24:41 – Clip 7
Discusses the relationships of the Embassy and that it was extremely “laid back.” He describes that this was not the best way to fight a war but states that the people were “beautiful” and very kind.
31:47 – Clip 8
Continues to explain some of the different Laotian tribes and the conflicts between them.
32:36 – Clip 9
Recalls the differences between fighting in northern Laos with the Hmong versus southern Laos with the Laos Theung and the connection the Hmong made with the U.S. over the North Vietnamese.
38:57 – Clip 10
Begins to discuss his familiarity with the Laotian region due to previous experiences in the area and his eagerness to work in northern Laos as a Raven.
49:57 – Clip 11
Describes his home base versus some of the other sites that pilots worked out of in Laos. Recalls meeting Army Captain Joe Bush, which turned out to be Jim’s introduction to the campaign by the U.S. in northern Laos. Describes his first night in Laos and having dinner at General Vang Pao’s house.
52:53 – Clip 12
Recalls specific missions he was a part of, including preventing the North Vietnamese from rebuilding a road to infiltrate the Mekong River Valley. He further discusses his experiences working with General Vang Pao and how he (Jim) was once viewed as the hero of the day and received pig’s ear for dinner.
55:49 – Clip 13
Describes some of the standard missions that the pilots were involved in and what the best methods were to achieve their goals.
58:25 – Clip 14
Recalls his work on the Plain of Jars and General Vang Pao’s goal in controlling/defending it during the wet season. He further recalls the importance of Vang Pao and some of the measures taken to protect him from harm. He also recalls how the North Vietnamese would attempt to counter U.S. air support.
1:02:33 – Clip 15
Discusses some of the other missions he participated in, including Muang Kham (the head Hmong American base in the area 20 miles outside of North Vietnam). He discusses the base, the measures taken to protect the base, and Commander Le, “The Indian” who served on the front lines.
1:06:58 – Clip 16
Remembers the role of Commander Le’s troops and how the North Vietnamese would use the Embassy (Sam Neua/Xam Neua) as a safety zone. He further remembers the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam, how the weather determined if the bombers would complete the missions or not, and his role in these missions.
1:11:29 – Clip 17
Explains an incident including commando club (Combat Sky Club). He describes a specific mountain that the U.S. would use to look at Hanoi and place radar bombing capability on top so they could secretly bomb Hanoi.
1:21:21 – Clip 18 – Discusses the political conflict involved in the type of fighting to be used in the war, including President Lyndon Johnson’s opinion on the use of the Air Force. Reflects on the loss of lives from air missions (Air American, Raven, and Air Force pilots).
1:28:01 – Clip 19 – Describes living in Luang Chen and the adjustment for tribal groups of transitioning from an agricultural society to a city. Also recalls exposing locals to some aspects of American culture, such as movies.
1:36:56 – Credits