What Links the US War in Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh Himself (Besides the Obvious, I Mean)?
Above Photo: Lockheed F-104 Starfighters at Udorn Thani air base in Thailand during the Vietnam War.
During the Vietnam War, the US air base at Udorn Thani (as it was known back then) in northern Thailand was vital to the war effort in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
From Udorn, fighters were able to patrol the skies over the battlefields, they were able to fly sorties to bomb bridges and other strategic targets, and to attack the supply routes of the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong, especially, and ironically, the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Aircraft and helicopters from the base also flew frequent search and rescue missions over the jungles of Laos and Vietnam and, at night, reconnaissance flights and intelligence-gathering planes flew out of Udorn over the Trail as well.
The CIA’s cloak and dagger airline, Air America, was also based at Udorn, as were many of the planes used in the Secret War in Laos, when not flying out of Long Tieng. Udorn’s proximity to Laos and North Vietnam (40 minutes flying time from Hanoi) made it an ideal location as they fought their bitter war against Ho Chi Minh’s soldiers.
Who’d have thought that only forty years earlier, and only a couple of kilometers away from Udorn air base, another group were using Udon Thani as their own base in Thailand to fight a different but equally bitter war in Vietnam.
This time their leader in Thailand was none other than Ho Chi Minh, who had a house in nearby Ban Hang, which was then a wild jungle full of tigers and elephants. He used Udon Thani to drum up support from the local Vietnamese traders who had migrated there from Vietnam, by travelling up the Mekong, over the centuries. He was fighting for Vietnamese Independence against the French colonialists.
His presence in Thailand was a secret, and he stayed here for three years, from 1928 – 1931, frequently travelling to other areas of Thailand with large Vietnamese populations.
Ho Chi Minh also had a house in Nakhon Phanom, where there was another large US air base located during the Vietnam War, forty years later, ironically set up with the intention of defeating Ho’s assault on South Vietnam. Nahon Phanom air base was also within frequent air-striking distance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
We visited Ho’s house in Udon Thani today, and while I was expecting to be massively disappointed, I was actually quite impressed.
Of course the house isn’t his real one, but it is located in the area in which he lived and it was constructed as faithfully as possible from contemporaneous accounts of how he lived.
What was once dense jungle surrounding the house is now rice fields, and when I stopped to take a couple of photos I was struck by how like Vietnam the landscape was.
Inside the house and the large exhibition centre which has been built with Vietnamese-Thai business donations, we were shown around by a custodian who was full of information, although only a few exhibits are labelled in English, and my wife had to do some serious simultaneous translation from rapid-fire Thai to English.
The house is well worth a visit if you’re in the Udon Thani area and, amazingly for Thailand, the road signs for the house actually lead you right to it. And if you’ve ever driven around Thailand, you’ll know how exceptional that is.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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