Royal Thai Air Base Nam Phong


Royal Thai Air Base Nam Phong

The Royal Thai Air Base Nam Phong in Nam Phong district, Khon Kaen Province, Thailand in June 1972 became a base of operations for United States Marine Corps air operations by Marine Aircraft Group 15, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.

Elements of squadrons that had previously been located in Da Nang, South Vietnam were moved to Namphong starting in June 1972. The advance party that first arrived landed to find basically an airfield in the middle of the jungle. At that time the base consisted of a runway, parking apron and a couple of wooden buildings. A United States Navy Seabee battalion was soon clearing the jungle and some 10 man tents were hastily erected to sleep and work in. Since the conditions were rugged, the base soon came to be called "The Rose Garden" after the song by Miss Lynn Anderson and the Marine recruiting campaign based on it saying "We never promised you a Rose Garden", depicting a scary Marine Drill Instructor addressing a mortified recruit.

The squadrons soon in residence included H&MS-15, MABS-15, VMFA-115 and VMFA-232 with F-4 Phantom IIs, VMA(AW)-533 with A-6 Intruders, VMGR-152 with KC-130 Hercules, and H&MS-36, Det "D" with CH-46 Sea Knights.

This group soon was joined by 3rd Battalion 9th Marines who served as the security element. The force occupying "The Rose Garden" was designated Task Force Delta. The base was made up of Marines, Sailors (Medical & Construction staff), Air Force (mostly cargo handing & GCA), and Thai military elements. The base was in existence until September 1973 when all the units returned to their home bases.

During Operations the base was used to fly air operations against targets in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

A group of these men were reunited on Memorial Day in 2004 for a reunion in Angel Fire, New Mexico. Miss Lynn Anderson was their honored hostess for a weekend which marked the first time in over 31 years most of them had ever gathered.

ee also

* List of United States Marine Corps aircraft squadronsWhile Marine Air Group 15 and MAG-12 conducted operations from Da Nang and Bien Hoa, the 1st MAW (1st Marine Aircraft Wing) completed efforts to relocate a portion of these units outside of South Vietnam. Initial relocation sites included Udorn, Ubon, and Utapao in Thailand. These bases were operating at maximum capacity with Air Force units, and the search also considered other locations. Fifteen miles northeast of the town of Khon Kaen, Thailand, was a 10,000-foot concrete runway built by the U.S. Air Force in 1967 (/investigate: airfield origin - claims include CIA construction circa 1955, Japanese construction during WWII /). Used as an emergency landing field and little else, it was situated centrally 340 miles west of Da Nang and 300 miles southeast of Hanoi.

1st MAW Commander, Major General Leslie E. Brown recalled:

“…when we started gluing this thing together, there were just three or four guys who were in it from the beginning. Brigadier General [Andrew W.] Andy O’Donnell, who was my assistant wing commander at the time, and a couple of other guys asking each other where the hell is Nam Phong? So we spread out the maps on the floor of my office and got down on our hands and knees and finally located the place.”

Maps and old intelligence reports indicated to General Brown that “there just wasn’t anything there”. There was no power, little water, fuel would have to come from the ports in Utapao and Sattahip by truck, and it was barely within flying range of Military Region 1 (MR-1) for MAG-15’s fighters. From General Browns perspective “…All the place had really was a runway and nothing else except a lot of rain, a lot of heat, and a lot of logistical problems to be resolved”. The location did have a greater degree of physical security than Da Nang, was large enough to accommodate the entire MAG, and it was usable for the operations if aircraft were refueled in the air or on the ground in MR 1.

On 11 May, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer and the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the plan to move MAG-15 to Thailand, specifying that the opening of Nam Phong would be on an “austere” basis – which was “a gross understatement”, according to General Brown. On 14 May, a planning conference was held on Okinawa by Lt.General Louis Metzger with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, 3rd Marine Division, and 3rd Force Service Regiment to consider the task. The immediate result was to send a survey team headed by Brigadier General O’Donnell, the assistant wing commander, to Thailand to determine existing facilities and to coordinate with the U.S. Embassy, Military Advisory Command, Thailand (MACThai), Seventh Air Force, and other supporting agencies.

General O’Donnell and a Marine and Navy staff arrived in Thailand on 18 May, went to Bangkok, and then on to Nam Phong. There they found a runway, taxiway, parking apron, six butler buildings and an 8,000-square foot hangar.

/investigate: RTAF pilot training with T-21 piston aircraft operated out of Nam Phong during the period. Question exists whether RTAF training operations predated Task Force Delta arrival or commenced afterwards./

As General Brown had expected, the main challenges to operations was logistical. Nam Phong was (/hosted/) a U.S. Special Forces camp for the training of Laotian irregulars, who occupied the existing buildings and had constructed six other structures and training facilities. The 50 or so U.S. Army “Green Berets” and other advisors present found their pastoral surroundings altered by the arrival of the Marines. General O’Donnell concluded from his inspection that Nam Phong had potential for MAG-15 operations, but would require extensive development for the 60 – 90 day deployment envisioned by Admirals John S. McCain and Moorer. While in Thailand, O’Donnell negotiated terms of occupancy as a “Royal Thai Air Base” and arranged support agreements with the U.S. Army Support Activity, Thailand, for a logistical base through the port of Sattahip. General O’Donnell then returned to Japan and briefed General Brown on what was needed to support MAG-15.

A special organization designated Task Force Delta (TF Delta) was formed at Iwakuni, Japan on 24 May 1972 and it remained in existence until way after the end of the American involvement in Vietnam. General O’Donnell commanded the task force with a mission of opening the base at Nam Phong and assuming control of MAG-15. His initial task was to make the airfield ready to support tactical flight operations. This was undertaken by U.S. Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 5, Marine Air Base Squadron 15, (MABS-15), and Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron 15 (H&MS-15). General O’Donnell also maintained liaison with the 7th Air Force, the Royal Thai Air Force, and Military Advisory Command Thailand (MACThai).

A KC-130 tanker from Marine Aerial Refueler Squadron (VMGR) 152 arrived at Nam Phong on 24 May with 39 Marines, beginning the buildup of forces to over 3,200 men. The establishment of a U.S. Air Force aerial port detachment triggered the airlift of the advance party of 377 Marines, 94 U.S. Navy “Seabees”, 3 civilians, and 1,399 tons of material by MAC C-141’s and C-5 transports. (The combined movement of MAG-15, MCB-5, Logistics Support Group Delta (LSG-Delta) and supporting detachments to Nam Phong required 278 aircraft loads to move 6,259 tons of material and 2,064 passengers to make the field operational).

Construction began at once on 310 strong-back huts, 128 administrative and maintenance structures, a bomb dump, a 200,000 gallon Tactical Aviation Fuel Dispensing System (TAFDS) and storage for 360,000 gallons of Bulk Fuel. General’s Brown and O’Donnell developed a deep respect for the “Seabees”, the majority of whom arrived by ship and trucked inland to Nam Phong. Brown recalled “they worked hard and fast and never quit” on the base construction.

The movement of MAG-15 aircraft began on 16 June when 11 F4B’s of VMFA-115 “Silver Eagles” launched from Da Nang, completed air strikes enroute and landed at Nam Phong. They began flying sorties from Nam Phong on 17 June. By 20 June, VMFA-232 “Red Devils” and Marine All-Weather Attack Squadron 533 also arrived at Nam Phong. The A6A’s, “Hawks” of VMA(AW)-533 provided MAG-15 with an all-weather and night capability of 12 aircraft. Additional aircraft came from VMGR-152, Detachment Delta’s four KC-130’s for aerial refueling and an H&MS-36 Detachment of four CH-46’s for search and rescue. By 30 June Task Force Delta consisted of 17 F4’s, 12 A6’s, 4 KC-130’s and 4 CH-46’s. In view of JCS directed “austere” nature of this deployment, General Jones at FMFPac and General Brown at 1st MAW were personally involved with the “somewhat overwhelming” logistics support required, particularly for the A6’s.

As it turned out, the A-6A proved it’s worth during this deployment with “full-systems” readiness. Lt. Colonel James C. Brown, the A-6 squadron Commander, believed the deployment of MAG-15 reinforced the expeditionary capability of the U.S. Marines in an age of sophisticated aircraft and “especially sophisticated” ground support equipment with all of it’s specific power and environmental requirements. “The A-6 aircraft required a higher degree of ground support facilities than either the F-4 or A-4. These requirements were met at Nam Phong after a difficult start-up period.” Colonel Brown credits this accomplishment to the innovation, perseverance and hard work of individual Marines.

Task Force Delta Command relationships

Seventh Air Force --------------- 1st Marine Air Wing >>> + >>> + . >>>>>Task Force Delta ------------------MAC Thailand + + ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ + + + + + + Headquarters 7th Counter + Detachment Detachment LogisticsTask Force Delta Intelligence Team + 152 36 Spt.Grp. + + MAG-15 + + ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- + + + + +H&MS-15 MABS-15 VMFA-115 VMFA-232 VMA(AW)-533 + + --------------------------------------- + + + MATCU-62 Security (3/9) AMPAC (Civilian Contractor)

The deployment and activation of TF Delta accomplished, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert E. Cushman, Jr., noted:

“…such an achievement was made possible only through the teamwork of dedicated professionals and numerous personal sacrifices. This matter is of considerable pride to me and should be a source of great individual self-satisfaction”.

While the activation of Nam Phong stands as an accomplishment in it’s own right, ultimately it’s significance rests on the purpose for which it was constructed, the destruction of Communist forces. General John W. Vogt, USAF, tasked General O’Donnell with conducting air operations over North and South Vietnam. For General O’Donnell this meant finding out what the Air Force wanted, as well as ensuring that General Vogt understood the capabilities of MAG-15’s pilots and planes. What resulted from this interaction with the 7th Air Force was a variety of new tasks and missions for Marine aircrews. General O’Donnell personally flew F-4 combat missions which earned him great credibility with the pilots of the task force and when discussing operational matters with the Air Force.

The distance from MR1 required airborne refueling and landing at Da Nang. The average flight time increased from one to two hours and the ordinance load reduced by 500 pounds to compensate for extra fuel. Support of operations from Nam Phong required three H&MS-15 detachments to “turn around” aircraft: Detachment Alpha at Da Nang to re-arm and re-fuel, Detachment Bravo at Cubi Point, Philippines for maintenance work and Detachment Charlie at Iwakuni for administrative and logistical liaison with 1st MAW. Detachment Alpha started at Da Nang on 3 July, increasing mission and sortie rate.

/Investigate: H&MS-15 Det A ("Turn Around" crew) operated out of Da Nang until the end of January, 1973, with the cessation of Viet Nam operations. H&MS-15 Det C would fold into H&MS-17 at Iwakuni in May of 1973. H&MS-15 Det B would return to Iwakuni in November of 1973 along with a H&MS-15 Detachment that would be sent TAD to VMFA-232 on 1 Sep 73 from Nam Phong to Subic Bay PI for Operation Pegasa II (missle shoot) at the conclusion of Task Force Delta operations./

On 8 July 1972, TFD aircraft intercepted two Communist MiG-19 “Farmers” over North Vietnam, the task force’s first air-to-air encounter with the enemy in it’s new area of operations.

Ground security considerations for the task force were different from those at Da Nang and Bien Hoa. Although Companies L & M, 9th Marines, moved into Thailand with MAG-15, Nam Phong’s location removed the immediate threat of ground attack that had existed in South Vietnam. The infantry Marines were formed into the TF Delta security element and designated “Sub Unit 1” (SU1) of MABS-15. The commanding officer was Major John M. Camanelli, an experienced infantry officer assisted by Captain Philip F. Reynolds as Executive officer and Captain Thomas D. Martin as Operations officer.

/Investigate: Captain Reynolds was replaced at the end of his tour by Captain Peter Pace as 3/9 XO. Captain Pace would eventually become the first Marine Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff./

The Sub Unit consisted of 11 officers and 363 Marines organized along the lines of a small infantry battalion---rifle companies with headquarters and service company support, including communications, 81-mm mortars, motor transport and medical sections. It’s mission was to provide base security and military police support to the task force. The Marines were armed with the full range of small arms, but were restricted to illumination rounds for their M79 grenade launchers and mortars. With no known external threat, Major Camanelli concentrated his efforts on interior guard and security of vital areas: the fuel and ordnance dumps, the flight line and maintenance facilities. Guard towers, bunkers, barbed wire and chain-link security fences were built to control the perimeter and vital areas. The size of the base required more men for guards than SU 1 could provide and was augmented by MABS-15 and the flying squadrons. After the initial 90-day TAD period passed for the “Grunts”, Headquarters Marine Corps assigned infantry replacements directly to 1st MAW. Major Campanelli hired 100 Thai auxiliary security guards from the Special Forces Camp to augment the Marines and on 30 July guard dogs arrived.

The Rose Garden Grows

Task Force Delta air operations were of three distinct types: day fighter-cover, day ground-attack and night ground-attack. These missions in turn were associated with specific geographic areas and targets. Most numerous were daytime flights supporting MACV and the South Vietnamese in MR 1, MR 2 and Route Package 1 during the combat to regain Quang Tri Province. These tasks were conducted with F-4’s and A-6’s using bombs, rockets and cannon fire. Sorties normally consisted of two to three aircraft each. Daily the aircraft lined up on Nam Phong’s single runway with engines screaming at 100 percent power as the pilots checked engine instruments. Each aircraft then took off in turn and quickly rendezvoused on its climb out to the target area. Many of the Marine flights hit a target, flew to Da Nang to refuel and rearm and then flew another mission on the return to Nam Phong.

Fighter cover was in support of the ongoing strikes by 7th Air Force against the North Vietnamese political and economic infrastructure. The strikes, which had begun on May 8, were part of an extensive naval and air campaign to pressure the North Vietnamese into a negotiated settlement. The campaign included the mining of harbors, attacks against economic targets, the use of precision guided munitions (smart bombs) and a massive increase in the size and duration of strikes with the aim of reducing the flow of supplies into North Vietnam and support to their operations in South Vietnam. In contrast to the previous, graduated campaigns, commanders took all necessary steps to ensure target destruction.

Marine F-4’s conducted combat air patrols to protect aircraft from North Vietnamese reaction. This required them to fly a specified orbit point from which to cover tanker, command and control, electronic warfare and rescue aircraft over Route Packages 4,5 and 6. From orbit points they could track and engage North Vietnamese interceptors and air defense positions. The Marine KC-130’s refueled the fighters going in and coming out. The missions witnessed Marine air integrated with the Air Force in air-to-air and deep penetration flight profiles.

The interdiction of roads and trails in the Barrel Roll and Steel Tiger areas of Laos were the missions assigned to VMA(AW)-533 crews with their night armed reconnaissance abilities. LtCol. Brown wrote, his squadron “…began interdicting convoys on Route Package 1 on 12 August and, like our entire effort, it was relentless. To the enemy, this increased bludgeoning was crippling…”

1st Lt. Gary W. Dolgin described the aircraft and men engaged in these night flights in 1972:

Aircraft 155707….has a long shadow cast behind her indicating a time late in the afternoon. She sits quietly, fueled, armed and with power unit attached. In a few hours a crew of one pilot and one bombardier-navigator will walk out to her, the sun will have since set. The crew will do a pre-flight inspection, strap in, fire up, check out the entire aircraft system and take off. An hour or so later they will be inside North Vietnam terrain following at 420 knots over mountains and down in valleys headed for a target regardless of weather.

General O’Donnell passed command of Task Force Delta to Brigadier General Robert W. Taylor on 23 August. Three days later, VMFA-232 lost an aircraft to a MiG-21 ‘Fishbed’ over Laos. Both crewmembers ejected – the intercept officer was recovered and the pilot was missing in action. Colonel Aubrey W. “Tal” Talbert, Jr. commanding MAG-15, reported that to support the continued effort, the “…maintenance and supply effort to provide full system aircraft needed in the hostile skies of North Vietnam has been substantial.” For maintenance crews, the beginning and end of all efforts was to get their pilots and planes in the air on time, “the primary objective to achieve a Marine aerial victory over enemy aircraft.” Life in Nam Phong or the “Rose Garden, as it was now properly known by its Marine occupants, revolved around the cycle of fragging, scheduling, briefing, arming, fueling, launch and recovery activities that always appeared to be at odds with the normal routine of living. The routines of day, night, sleep, meals and the calendar had relatively little meaning in the operational and maintenance cycles of air units at war.

The need for adequate ground security was highlighted by terrorist attacks on Ubon and Udorn Air Bases in October. Concern for base security was at its peak at Nam Phong, recalled 1st Lt. George R. “Ross” Dunham of VMGR-152 Detachment Delta when the sound of an explosion from the flight line brought cries of “Incoming, hit the bunkers” from the billeting area. When the smoke had cleared, investigation determined that the accidental discharge of an air-to-ground rocket had occurred in the arming area. The ground threats to the safety of TF Delta remained self-induced or those from the burgeoning local “Black Market” and economic enterprises outside the base. Major Kent C. Bateman, the VMA(AW)-533 executive officer believed that this situation precluded a real sense of involvement by the enlisted Marines. As only the aircrews experienced combat, “there was little sense of urgency by the ground and support personnel.”

When Major Kenneth N. Zike took command of MABS-15’s Sub Unit 1 on 26 November, it had expanded to include 200 Thai auxiliaries. Patrolling outside of the perimeter, out to 16 kilometers from the base, was now the responsibility of Thai military forces because of the reluctance of the Thai Supreme Command to allow the U.S. Marines a ground combat role in Thailand. General Taylor and Royal Thai Air Force Special Colonel Supot, the base commander, signed a joint base defensive plan at the year’s end, alleviating the remaining security concerns. This plan tasked SU 1 with manning 27 bunkers and towers of the internal defensive position. The Thai’s manned the remaining 53 positions. Lighting and fencing continued to be installed and improved by the Marines. Two mobile reaction platoons were formed: one established near the combat operations center and the other at the bomb storage area. MABS-15 provided an additional civil disturbance platoon for riot duty.

With the arrival of the fall monsoon weather, conditions for visual delivery of ordinance declined. For the F-4’s this meant level bombing using release points obtained by TACAN cuts, LORAN-equipped aircraft and the USAF Combat Skyspot control stations. The A-6’s continued to operate day and night over the roads and trails of Route Package 1. By now, at the political level, Linebacker operations and successful South Vietnamese resistance brought the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table. Operations continued through the 23 October halt of bombing North Vietnam above the 20th parallel. The 7th Air Force noted in November that VMFA-115 and VMFA-232 had the highest sortie rate of any land-based F-4 units in Southeast Asia. The offensive operations resumed with all-out air attacks against the North (Linebacker II) beginning on 18 December and continued until combat flights against the north in Vietnam ceased at year’s end (Hanoi returning to the Paris Peace Talks).

Statistics can only indicate the magnitude of the effort of TF Delta and MAG-15. Figures only implied the human costs and achievements of the aircrews and men who kept them operating; the personnel of Task Force Delta contributed toward the South Vietnamese defense and the U.S. air offensive of 1972. The North Vietnamese Army’s transition to mobile warfare made it dependent on fuel, ammunition and other supplies that were vulnerable to destruction from the air. In the resulting battle of attrition, airpower had a crushing effect on the enemy. Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, USN, as a prisoner of war and an eyewitness to American airpower from the North Vietnamese capital in 1972, stated that, “If I learned nothing else during eight years in wartime Hanoi, it was that Clausewitz is as right today as he was during the Napoleonic Wars: the name of the game in war is to break the enemy’s will.” This was the stated purpose of airpower. The North Vietnamese relied, however, on Ho Chi Minh’s rejoinder to the air effort: Hanoi, Haiphong and the other cities and certain enterprises may be destroyed, but the Vietnamese people will not be intimidated! Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom!”

Task Force Delta, The Tigers Depart

As Operations Homecoming and End Sweep were completed, some Marines were still at war. Task Force Delta combat sorties continued in Cambodia, just when “…it appeared that MAG-15 would not be involved in combat air operations” (FMFPac MarOpsSEA,pp.6-6 to 6-8; MAG-5 ComdC, Jun73, P.10)

The March 1973 dry season saw the Khmer Rouge trying to take Phnom Penh, and closing all major highways into the Cambodian capital. The situation for the Lon Nol government was critical with the interdiction of the Mekong River, the Major supply artery from South Vietnam. The defense of the capital and the reopening of the river required direct American air support to the Cambodian Army. Marine Aircraft Group 15 continued operations until April, flying missions assigned by the 7th Air Force for daytime bombing and strafing controlled by airborne controllers. This involved the F-4’s of Marine Fighter Attack Squadrons VMFA-115 and VMFA-232, flying 12-20 sorties per day. “Moderate to heavy” anti-aircraft fire by the communist’s was received from 23-mm, 37-mm and SA-7 weapons in positions set up along major communication routes. Previously, the Khmer Rouge had used small arms and 12.7-mm machine guns. Beginning 11 May 1973, the Marine All-weather Attack Squadron VMA(AW)-533 conducted strikes using airborne moving target indicator and ground radar beacons to carry out armed road reconnaissance at a rate of five sorties per night. The distances flown to the targets required in-flight refueling by Marine Aerial Refueling Squadron 152 Detachment Delta before and after the target areas were hit. By June, the beginning of the annual monsoon, the ground crisis had passed with the help of MAG-15. By not authorizing continued funding, Congress brought to an end to this support that summer. By then, Task Force Delta had flown 10,215 combat sorties involving a total of 30,998 flight hours and 24,584 tons of ordnance. Three A-6’s and two F-4’s were lost in Combat.

/Investigate: VMFA-232, VMFA-115, and VMA(AW)-533 continued interdiction operations in Cambodia and Laos up until Aug 14th, 1973. Marine replacement personnel were still being deployed to Nam Phong in early August of 73. While the Aug 15th deadline was known to many in the upper ranks, it was apparently uncertain if it too would be just a transient stand-down./

The “on again, off again” nature of Task Force Delta’s deployment, its isolation and the proximity of Thai civilians and available “recreational” drugs, increased the importance of law enforcement as the duration of the stay in Thailand extended beyond the ceasefire. As the unifying effect of combat was removed (/challenge: combat operations continued through 14 Aug. 73/), the social tensions that had been suppressed manifested themselves in unrest, drink and drug related incidents and violations of military law. A serious incident of racial unrest occurred in July 1973 with a series of confrontations among black and white Marines that escalated into a mess-hall riot and resultant bitterness. In the subsequent investigations and court cases, it developed that a mixture of air and ground Marines was a factor in this turmoil, compounded by the short-term rotational nature of personnel assignments. Major John T. “Jack” Dyer, Jr., a combat artist from headquarters Marine Corps, assigned to Nam Phong that summer, recorded the scene in words and pictures in 1973:

…The Rose Garden experience will soon be history, remembered most vividly by those who were there. With the passage of time the unpleasant heat, dust, mud, long hours of hard work, nightmarish combat flights, tepid showers when available, four holers and Montezuma’s revenge will fade slowly from memory. Until the next time, “The Marines don’t promise you a Rose Garden, just one good deal after another.”

This was the situation faced by Colonel Darrel E. Bjorkland who assumed command of MAG-15 from Colonel Talbert on 26 July 1973. Increased concerns for internal security brought increased emphasis on SU 1 defense forces, which now included a “K-9” dog section, a criminal investigation detachment, customs inspectors and a military police platoon. Their functions included manning roadblocks, running patrols and maintaining a temporary detention facility. Marine commanders also employed more positive solutions in providing adequate recreation, education and personal-services support to meet the wing commanders goals of “racial harmony and the elimination of drug/alcohol abuse.” Some of the more innovative “human relations” methods conflicted with the more traditional ones. These were grounded in obedience to orders as opposed to sensitive treatment of social minorities. As in other Marine Corps units, the answer to leadership problems was found in pride and purpose. Whether innovative programs or traditional leadership values resolved the social issues found in American society remains a matter of conjecture.

All the while, planning continued and was completed to withdraw the Marines and to return Nam Phong to the Thai government. Task Force Delta’s Operation Plan (Op Plan) 1-73 (Operation Sunset) was used as a basis for the 10 August 1973 program directive from the Military Assistance Command, Thailand (MACThai), that standardized the anticipated base closure. Brigadier General Manning T. Jannell replaced General Taylor as commanding general on 14 August 1973. Jannell arrived from Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, D.C., where he had been the Assistant Quartermaster General. The withdrawal of the Marines seemed imminent, but no date was set. After 15 August, efforts were made to ready Task Force Delta for departure while maintaining a high level of operational readiness. Marine Corps units by their expeditionary nature are prepared to deploy with standing embarkation plans and special containers and packing material for all items of equipment. Inspections by MAG-15 embarkation officer, Major Frederick J. Schober, uncovered a major problem in the disintegration of “embarkation boxes” from exposure to the elements in the tropical conditions of the Rose Garden.

General Jannell was directed to carry out OpPlan 1-73 on August 27 1973 when the Joint Chiefs of Staff had approved the shut down of Nam Phong with a target date of 30 August. Task Force Delta’s command chronology recorded, “received execute order for retrograde. Today is designated as “R” day. After U.S. notification of the Thai and Japanese governments of the move, General Jannell proceeded to relocate all tactical aircraft, 4.5 million pounds of cargo and 2,147 men. This had to be carried out as to ensure the least disruption of combat readiness of the units involved. The movement itself consisted of the fly-away of tactical aircraft, air transport for the people, and sealift for the equipment. The airlift required 106 MAC C-141’s and C-5’s; in addition, VGMR-152 and the Pacific Air Traffic Management Agency used their C-130’s throughout the 11-day movement. At 0600, 30 August, the A-6’s of VMA(AW)-533 launched down the runway at Nam Phong for the last time. They were followed by on the next day by VMFA-115 and on 1 September by VMFA-232.

/Investigate: H&MS-15 was split in two - 1/2 of their support facilities and the administrative units returned, with VMFA-115, to Iwakuni, Japan. The other half of H&MS-15 support facilities and personnel were attached TAD to VMFA-232 and on 1 Sep deployed to Subic Bay, Philippine Islands. On 11 Nov. 1973 VMFA-232, the TAD segment of H&MS-15 and H&MS-15 Det B. returned to Iwakuni, Japan, and H&MS-15 was finally completely reunited. Also of note: those attached to VMFA-232 at this time have the distinction of being the last Maine Aviation Combat squadron to leave the Viet Nam war theater./

Because of the previous planning and anticipation of the move, the final withdrawal from Thailand took on its own momentum. Some delay occurred to obtain commercial trucks to move the sea echelon 400 miles to Sattahip. Once at the port of embarkation, the officer-in-charge of the movement unit found that expected U.S. Navy amphibious ships were not available and that Military Sealift Command’s SS Green Forrest and Puerto Rico would provide the lift for some 7 million pounds of cargo, which was mainly the vehicles of the task force.

General Jannell completed the turnover of facilities and remaining equipment to a representative of the Thai Supreme Command. After calls on the U.S. Embassy and MACThai, General Jannell supervised the final color detail at Royal Thai Air Force Base Nam Phong at 0800, 21 September 1973, as the “American Flag was lowered…signifying the departure of the final increment of the 2,100 U.S. Marines stationed at the facility in support of Cambodia air operations.” Present were the Thai Minister of Defense and the commanding General of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. “Approximately 50 members of the press flew in from Bangkok to observe the final departure,” recalled Jannell, who met them, along with MAG-15’s Colonel Bjorkland. The story of the “Rose Garden” was closed with this last official act. By now most Marines were gone; on 23 September both commercial ships were on their way to Japan and on 2 November 1973, the task force was dissolved.

Footnote: On 24 September 1973, the Marine Corps Historical Division noted that “we should accept this time and date as being the official end of the U.S. Marine Corps participation in the Southeast Asian War.”(HQMC [HD] , Director of Marine Corps History memo dated 24Sept73)

External links

* [http://namphong.com Reunion website]


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