Air America: (Excerpt from Warrior
Culture of the U.S. Marines,
copyright 2001 Marion F. Sturkey)
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
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 Nationalists.
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."
All aggressive 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
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
|This 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