Culture of the U.S.
Marines, copyright 2001 Marion F.
At one time it was the
largest "airline" in the entire world. The
most aircraft. Unlimited finances. Black
Ops. And, the American CIA ultimately
called all the shots.
First, a little
background: Prior to World War II, Japan
invaded hapless China. Desperate to stop the
Japanese, the American government sent Gen.
Claire L. Chennault and his "American
Volunteer Group" to China. These "civilian
volunteers" flew their P-40 fighters against
the Japanese Air Force during the struggle
for the Chinese mainland.
After the war ended,
America lent clandestine support to
Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek in his new
battle against the communists. Using the
framework of the American Volunteer Group,
the American government formed Civil Air
Transport (CAT) in 1947. CAT operated a
fleet of aircraft in support of the Chinese
CAT moved its
headquarters to fortress Taiwan in 1950,
after Free China set up its government
there. CAT also flew regular passenger
routes to Tokyo, Bangkok, and locations
throughout the Far East. During the Korean
War the aircraft of CAT flew a host of
never-happened missions that will never
find their way into American history books.
The shadowy CAT was
"obtained" by the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) after the Korean War. Flying as
Southern Air Transport, Civil Air Transport,
Air America, and Air Asia Ltd., the
"airline" operated at the direction of the
CIA in the western Pacific and in Asia
throughout the 1950s. When the French were
on the ropes in Indochina and the American
military could not officially intervene, Air
America took over. Its mercenaries
repeatedly flew into the firestorm at Dien
Bien Phu. Yet, for public consumption, the
aircraft and mercenaries never even existed.
When the war in
Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam heated up in the
1960s, the CIA consolidated its "airlines"
under the name of Air America. The CIA
recruited some of its pilots and
cargo-kickers from civilian sources. But,
most of the CIA mercenary airmen came from
the American military. Air America made it
patently clear who they wanted: "The most
highly skilled, adventurous, and patriotic
aviation personnel who could be found."
military pilots of that era had the
"unofficial opportunity" to apply for
reassignment to Air America. Those who were
accepted got "sheep-dipped" and vanished.
When next seen, they would be "civilians"
flying meticulously maintained silver
airplanes and helicopters in Asia. In small
black letters on the fuselage of each
aircraft: "Air America."
The motto of Air
America was simple: "Anything, Anytime,
Anywhere." Rice was rice. Hard
rice was ammo. SAR was an easy
way to get yourself killed. Cambodia, Laos,
North Vietnam, South Vietnam, or wherever,
it did not matter. When you do not
officially exist, there are no restrictions.
Most of the former
military sheep-dipped pilots and aircrewmen
survived. They surfaced years later,
mysteriously popping back up in the Marine
Corps, Navy, Air Force, or wherever they had
vanished from. No questions, no comments.
For the United States,
the war in Indochina ended in 1975. Air
America disbanded. In retirement the
mercenaries formed the Air America Club.
Official recognition, which had never
existed, would come 12 years later.
The Air America
Memorial was dedicated on 30 May 1987. It
stands at the McDermott Library at the
University of Texas, in Dallas. William E.
Colby, former Director of the CIA, delivered
the dedication address which he titled,
"Courage in Civilian Clothes." Beginning
alphabetically with Robert P. Abrams, the
bronze memorial lists the name of each of
the 242 "civilians" who lost their lives
with Air America. The inscription begins:
memorial is dedicated to the
aircrews and ground support
personnel of Civil Air
Transport, Air America, Air
Asia, and Southern Air
Transport, who died while
serving the cause of freedom in
Asia from 1947 to 1975 . . . .
William P. Clements Jr., Governor of
Texas, offered his greetings to the hundreds
of Air America veterans who attended. He
wrote: "It is high time that these brave
individuals be honored." Ronald Reagan,
President of the United States, was not
present. But, he sent a personal letter:
|. . . Unsung
and unrecognized, each of you
confronted danger and endured
terrible hardships, and each of
you rose to the challenge; you
never faltered. Although free
people everywhere owe you more
than we can hope to repay, our
greatest debt is to your
companions who gave their last
full measure of devotion. Just
as their names are inscribed on
this memorial, so their memories
are inscribed in our hearts . .
. God bless you, and God bless