Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Air America Veterans Still Denied Benefits

For those of you who may have missed the news, in a classic Sleazy Pete maneuver, the Director of National Intelligence issued a report saying that Air America employees who served during the wars in Southeast Asia, particularly in Laos, should not be given retirement benefits.

In the US, this report has gotten little media coverage, but the Vancouver Sun has a recent but brief article that outlines the case.

Over the space of 25 years, over 2,500 people served Air America as these civilian pilots and their crews worked together to transport vital cargo and supplies across the region.

Air America was the largest of several US airlines who provided communications and logistical air support to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA's) forces in Laos. In terms of aircraft numbers, their fleet size was comparable with those of the largest airlines in the world at that time.

 Air America, Inc. was formed in July 1950 as a 100%-owned subsidiary of the Pacific Corporation, with a worldwide charter and contract operation primarily centered on deliveries in the Far East. Air America operated supply-dropping missions in Laos under contract to USAID.

Owned by the CIA, they played a leading role in logistic air support of the CIA-backed forces in Laos from 1959 to 1974, including the Hmong, Khmu, Mien, Lao and others who served in the conflict. And now, the Director of National Intelligence, in classic form, is washing America's hands of the whole affair, denying any responsibility or obligation to those who served.

Over 240 Air America pilots died on duty as they flew throughout South Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Their main objective was logistical, including supplying General Vang Pao's 45,000-man army in Military Region II. The biggest parts of Air America's mission was their support of refugee supply, movement and resettlement.

Due to the Geneva Accords, no US military planes were permitted to be based inside Laos, so Air America came to play an essential role with their helicopters, transports and STOL aircraft. Air America provided the only Air Rescue Service in the area during the early 1960s.

When you see the classic picture from the last minute rescue from Saigon, that's an Air America helicopter:


Air America pilots were among the last Americans to leave when Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam collapsed. They operated up to 30,000 flights per month by 1970. These pilots airdropped or landed over 20,000 tons of foodstuffs (mainly rice) in Laos and helicopter flight time reached more than 4,000 hours a month often under heavy fire.

Today, nearly 40 years later, only 500 of those who served are still alive. And once again, the United States is turning its back on its own history, its own legacy. They and many others deserve better.

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