Oral Histories

To a Raven from the son of a Robin – Behind the scenes at EGUSD

Thanks to an email from Steve Ly, Elk Grove City Council Member (former EGUSD board member), we had the opportunity to attend a special event at California State University, Sacramento: author Gayle Morrison’s  presentation about her recent publication Hog’s Exit: Jerry Daniels, the Hmong, and the CIA (Modern Southeast Asia Series). The event was sponsored by the Wayne Maeda Asian American Studies Archives, Full Circle Project, Hmong American Experience. CSUS launched their Hmong American archives project on December 1, 2014.

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After listening to Gayle’s riveting account of U.S. air support during the “Secret War,” we knew we had a new section to add to our TOR Vietnam War oral histories archive.

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Photo: Gail Desler and Gayle Morrison

Steve organized a lunch date for us to get together with Gayle, which provided an opportunity for us to dig deeper into her research on the covert involvement of the U.S. in Laos. It was during this discussion that Gayle mentioned that a Raven pilot lived in Lodi, just a few miles south of Elk Grove. The Ravens were fighter pilots used for forward air control in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency during America’s Vietnam War. The Ravens provided direction for most of the air strikes against communist Pathet Lao targets.

Steve immediately acted on Gayle’s tip and connected us with former Raven pilot #12, Gene Hamner. Steve’s father was a Robin. Robins were Hmong soldiers serving as “backseater” aircrew to support U.S. Raven pilots. These Hmong soldiers learned English to translate radio messages to assist Raven pilots in locating enemy ground movement.

The subject line of Steve’s email to Gene –  To a Raven, from the son of a Robin – inspired us to connect with our videographer, Doug Niva, and arrange for an all-day filming session with Raven pilots currently living in Northern California and Nevada. Thanks to Gene’s commitment to help us move forward, we were able to meet and interview four of his fellow Ravens: Joe Scheimer, Jim Lemon, Tom Palmer and Bill Williams.

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Photo: Jim Lemon, Joe Scheimer, Tom Palmer and Gene Hamner

It was an amazing and very full day delving deeper into the “Secret War” and learning from the lived experiences of these pilots what it was like to serve in a war where your identity had to be left behind upon landing in Vientiane, Laos.

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Our Raven pilot oral history interviews are still in the editing stage. We are currently working to get all of the timecoded video clips annotated so our EGUSD teachers can start creating lessons for our students. We will post more about the interviews as we get closer to adding them to our TOR Vietnam War oral histories archive.

Gail and Kathleen

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