Legacies of War works with community members of all generations, Laotian-Americans, other Southeast Asians and war veterans to collect life stories and varied perspectives from those affected by UXO and the Secret War in Laos. Through our ongoing educational outreach, the Legacies of War curriculum and National Traveling Exhibition program, these stories are showcased in the exhibition piece, “Our Shared Journey.” This year, in honor of Veteran’s Day we are expanding “Our Shared Journey” online, to highlight specifically, the varying perspectives of veterans who served during time Laos was bombed. As part of the healing process, comprehensive historical and present day reflections allow those who were involved in war to share their experience and personal commitments to clearing UXO in Laos.
We believe in order to continue honoring Veterans’ legacies it is imperative to support the effort of clearing Laos of UXO. We invite you to read and share these Veterans’ stories as part of greater understanding of the legacy of war.
Heartfelt Dedication to Nouthak Saopeng
I’d like to honor my father Nouthak Saopeng, a veteran of the Laotian Civil War and the Vietnam War. He served with the Royal Lao Army.
My father was a great man who risked so much for his family and country. After the takeover of Laos by the communist government he escaped with his wife and three children in 1979 to give them a better life in America. Sadly, he died of an unknown sleeping death syndrome in 1987 enjoying a short time in the United States. He inspires me to live life fully knowing that death can come at any moment. His decisive action has given me the opportunity to enjoy the freedoms to choose a better and wiser path for myself and my future.
A bomb free land is the key to growth and development. Legacies’ mission to eliminate bombs and ordinance from Laos would have been what my father would have wanted. He loved his country, his people and his family and what better way to honor his service then to care for the land in which he oversaw as a boy in that village, a soldier of that country and father of children to return.”
Larry Schwab’s Perspective
“The fact that Laos was more heavily bombed than any country in the history of warfare has left we will personal conflict. As do many other people, I hope for peace forever in this region, and yet I realize that I am a child of the country and culture that is responsible for enormous destruction in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Armies historically don’t clean up their own messes. They don’t rebuild homes, they don’t restore civilian losses, and they don’t clear landmines and cluster bombs that they have deployed.”
Larry Schwab was drafted during his medical internship to serve as a medic in Vietnam, a war he personally did not approve of. But he felt it his duty to serve his country and apply his medical skills to wounded soldiers. In May 1968, Schwab’s resolve was tested during an assault on his base that caused many casualties. His long and detailed description of that horrible night is testimony to the vivid memories that war inflicts on its survivors; he suffered nightmares from the experience for years. Schwab returned to Vietnam in the 1990s to provide medical treatment and advice, and he became active in the international movement to ban land mines.
Source: Veteran’s History Project
“I loaded scores of bombs during the war in Laos and Vietnam. I returned to Laos in 1998 and many times thereafter. I know first-hand the damage all these bombs and bomblets dropped by the US do. I have attended funerals. I have met kids without limbs due to bomb explosions. Please help the great folks of Legacies get US government cooperation and other funding for removal of all our bombs. Lao people and Americans deserve no less. Half measures do little. Full funding will.”
Lee Thorn is a Vietnam Veteran who has worked on programs for veterans and other war survivors for 43 years. He is currently the Chairman of Jhai Foundation, which specializes in participatory, sustainable development that includes technology transfers to Asia, Africa and South America.
“My family and I came from Laos as refugees, and I wanted to give back to the country that gave so much to me. In the US Navy, I was decorated for my service in the liberation of Kuwait. Today, as Local Veterans’ Employment Rep (LVER) I continue to help veterans here in America finding work, but I also know it is important to build a legacy of hope for those in Laos who still live with the danger of UXO long after the war ended.”
Lance Sayavong served in the US Navy aboard the USS Missouri from 1990 to 1992, D Division, in the Medical Department
“It was the height of the Vietnam War; 1966 and I was 19 years old. My father was an Army soldier stationed in Vietnam. He advised me to join the Air Force. I enlisted in the Air Force and while waiting to go, I received my draft notice. I was sent to Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas for basic training and then sent to munitions maintenance training at Lowry AFB in Denver, Colorado. My first duty station was McConnell AFB in Wichita, Kansas which was a training base for F-105’s. After eight months there, I was deployed over 9,000 miles across the globe to to Korat, Thailand. I ended up being stationed there for one year, from April 1967 to April 1968. I was a “Munitions Maintenance Specialist” (461) with a rank of Airman Second Class (E-3).
Thailand was total culture shock. It was like another planet; it was total sensory bombardment. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the weather were completely alien to me. My arrival in Thailand coincided with Songkran, the annual water festival that celebrates the new year with a massive water fight. It wasn’t all play though. My first week was spent processing in which included training and a lot of paperwork. My first job was delivering bombs and missiles to the planes on the flightline with a farm tractor. The ammunition storage point was across the street from the flightline and only stored one days usage of munitions.
After three months, I joined the “hauling crew” which brought the daily munitions to the base from the munitions storage area located eight miles away. This was considered the “glamour” job. Accompanied by an armed Thai soldier, we drove bomb loaded tractor-trailers along the highway from the bomb dump to the base. Our primary load consisted of transporting 30 bombs at a time, each weighing 750 pounds. We also hauled CBU’s, 500 pounders, 2000 pounders, 3000 pounders, missile parts, and 20MM ammunition. We carefully loaded the bombs with a crane, packed them in with a two by four and tied them down with chains. Our work started late in the day around 4:30 PM and would often last into the early hours of the morning, sometimes even until sun-up. Each evening we would receive the “frag sheet” which listed the required munitions for the next day. Our work day ended only after we hauled the specified amount.
I liked Thailand a lot. I had many Thai friends and learned enough of the language to get by. Because we had many Thais working for us, there was an interpreter assigned to our unit. He arranged for us to donate empty CBU crates to a nearby village for use in the construction of a Buddhist temple. I was picked to deliver the first load on my day off. I remember that it was twenty-five miles but took over an hour to get there due to rough roads. These CBU crates were made of plywood and held together with metal clips. Inside, there was a two piece styrofoam insert which cradled the CBU. Many times I saw kids floating on the styrofoam inserts in the klongs (canals) downtown.
My base was considered a “combat” base and our pilots were shot down almost daily over North Vietnam. However, on the base our only danger was handling live munitions (for which we received no extra compensation or hazardous duty pay). Near the end of my tour in Thailand, there was an explosion at the bomb dump that did extensive damage and killed three airmen. It was a big dose of reality as to what those bombs could do.
We were busy everyday, however the times when a truce was drawn between the United States and North Vietnam or when bombing was suspended, we worked much harder. In fact, many more missions were flown those days. Nothing was official but word around the base was that we were bombing Laos and Cambodia. Rumors circulated that there had been even more of these “missions” the previous year. In addition to these missions, word was that when the pilots (for whatever reason) couldn’t drop their load over North Vietnam they were diverted to Laos and Cambodia.
On the base, I never thought of the rumored bombings of Laos and Cambodia as a “Secret War” and at the time I didn’t have any idea of the extent of damage. I once worked with an ex-marine who claimed he was deployed to Laos and Cambodia and I wasn’t even sure whether to believe him or not. In April of 1968, I left Thailand and returned to the United States. I was sent back to McConnell AFB in Wichita, Kansas as a “seasoned” veteran. There I supervised a crew assembling practice munitions and then became a munitions inspector.
Over the years I read things now and then about the bombing of Laos but it didn’t sink in. It wasn’t until by chance I was watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations: Laos that the magnitude of our involvement and the effects of the remaining UXO really hit me. I cried. Compelled to learn more, I began searching for more information on the internet. Through my searches, I found several groups working to restore peace to Laos including: Article 22/Peace Bombs and Legacies of War. I felt compelled to sign Legacies’ petition because I had had a small part in it.
The war has been over for almost 40 years and innocent Laotian people are still dying because if it. My feeling is maybe if this issue of UXO received national attention across the U.S. (maybe on “60 Minutes” or another mass-reach program) more people would pay attention. Now I do what I can to share information about the issue of UXO in Laos. I share links on my Facebook page to help spread the word. I gave my nieces, who are in high school, Peace Bomb bracelets with the hope that they share the story with their friends and classmates. I’d like to see a more intense effort to clean up the mess and rid Laos of UXO. I want the clean-up process to be accelerated so it takes much less time than the 200 years currently projected.”
Rod Kline served in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. He was a “Munitions Maintenance Specialist” (461) with a rank of Airman Second Class (E-3). He served overseas in Korat, Thailand from April 1967 to April 1968. He currently lives in Pennsylvania working as an instrumentation specialist at a water treatment plant. Rod supports Legacies of War’s mission to raise awareness about the history of the Vietnam War-era bombing in Laos and advocate for the clearance of unexploded bombs, to provide space for healing the wounds of war, and to create greater hope for a future of peace.
“During the Vietnam War, I served at the height of the Tet Offensive. It was shortly after I served, now over 40 years ago, that the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Congressman Jerome R. Waldie, representative Paul N. McCloskey Jr. and others first exposed the truth about the U.S.State Department led bombing of Laos. The “secret” effort to cut off North Vietnamese supply lines that ran through Laos was not a U.S. Air Force led effort, nor one that the American people or Congress were aware of. The bombing of Laos was led under the direction of the U.S. Ambassador to Laos and the extent of the damage inflicted was purposefully concealed. Cluster bombs and white phosphorus were used against a civil population of country for who the U.S. was not at war with. To this day America does not support the bombing civilian targets, yet the bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force continue to claim the lives of a people who are not and never were at war with us.
For as long as I live I will continue to do all that I can to help the victims of Agent Orange (in Vietnam) as well as those who are and were affected by the U.S. bombing operations in Laos. Laos is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia and yet one of the smallest recipients of U.S. assistance. Less than 1% of UXO contaminated land has been cleared, which means that there is a massive amount of work to be done in order for this issue to be resolved. I will continue to do my part in urging the U.S. State Department to increase funding. For the sake of the innocent in Laos and in honor of our Veteran’s legacy it is the responsibility of the U.S. Government to help clear Laos of UXO and help rebuild a nation suffering from attacks waged against them decades ago.”
Congressman Faleomavaega (D-AS) has been representing the territory of American Samoa in the United States Congress since 1989. Re-elected in November, 2010 to a twelfth term by the people of American Samoa, Faleomavaega is the longest serving and only Samoan in the U.S. Congress.
Faleomavaega’s service is wide-ranging and includes, but is not limited to; serving as a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the House Committee on Natural Resources. He is the first Asian Pacific American ever to Chair the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific and now serves as Ranking Member. Faleomavaega is a member of the Congressional Asia Pacific American Caucus. He is Vice Chair of the Army Reserve Component of the National Guard and Reserve Components Caucus. He is a member of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, the Congressional Oceans Caucus, and the Congressional Native American Caucus. He served in the U.S. Army and is a Vietnam Veteran (1967-1968). He served in the Army Reserve where he was a Captain in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps. From 1982-1989 he was also a proud member of the 100 Battalion 442 Infantry Reserve Unit, Honolulu, Hawaii.