Southeast Asia in 1961

President John F. Kennedy met with General Maxwell Taylor and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, in Washington, D.C. These gentlemen sent the following people to Thailand in 1961 

I was 21 years old at the time, now I’m 81. I’m about to go into a senior nursing home and j learn I have no VA benefits to cover it. 

I just found this information about the airplane I was crew chief on. It did not get shot down in Vietnam. 080 (MSN 307) 1967: USAF 45th TRS (460th TRW). Mississippi ANG 153rd TRS, 186th TRG, Key Field, Meridian, MS. to MASDC Jan 4, 1979, as FF384. Departed Sep 5, 1984. To Allied Aircraft Sales, Tucson, AZ

The Able Mable Task Force

Although the Pipe Stem Task Force had been an experiment it had proven the worth of modern jet reconnaissance aircraft in a counterinsurgency (COIN) situation and had emphasized the need for a more permanent capability in SEA. A study group headed by Presidential adviser General Maxwell Taylor in 0ctober ‘1961 had urged prompt support for the South Vietnamese Government, including the use of U.S. reconnaissance aircraft to collect intelligence. Expecting the ICC to oppose any renewed U.S. reconnaissance from South Vietnam at that time, the United States made other arrangements. 

As early as 9 April. 196.l, the Royal Thai Government had agreed to a U.S. proposal to station three RF-lOlC’s at Takhli RTAFB to fly the reconnaissance sorties over Laos’, but the United States had taken no further action. Because the ICC had halted the Field Goa] RT-33 sorties over Laos, the Field Goal Task Force in July 1961 moved from Udorn RTAFB to Don Muang International Airport for better aircraft maintenance facilities and housing. Continued pressure from the JCS finally resulted in a renewal of the daily overflight of Laos. A Field Goal RT-33 flew a sortie over the Plain of Jars on 4 October 196’1. AII factors considered Thailand appeared to be the best potential base for a permanent U.S. reconnaissance effort over SEA at that time. U.S. Ambassador Kenneth T. Young approach the Royal Thai Government in October 1961. with a proposal to station four RF-‘l0lC’s at Don Muang Airport for reconnaissance over Laos and South Vietnam. Having earlier proposed just such a move, the Thai Government gave immediate approval. The 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron already was involved in Project Pipe Stem, so Fifth Air Force on 29 October told the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron to send four RF-101C’s to Don Muang International Airport for 30 days as Task Force Able Mable. PACAF authorized a task force strength of 45 people, including seven RF-l0lC pilots and enough technicians to man a photo processing and interpretation facility (PPIF). Thirteenth Air Force already had established an advance echelon (ADV0N) headquarters at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to control the growing number of Air Force units and people in SEA, and Detachment l0 of that ADVON managed U.S. Air Force activities at Don Muang Airport. The Data Channel provided the Ab]e Mab]e Task Force with normal housekeeping support. The senior Able Mable pilot served as a reconnaissance staff officer and RF-‘l0l operations officer for Detachment 10 and was responsible for Able Mable Task Force commissioner did not exist, there were low-frequency radio beacons in Thailand at Bangkok and Ubon RTAFB, Laos at Vientiane, and South Vietnam at Qui Nhon, Saigon, and Danang. Inaccurate maps and charts often forced the pilots to conduct area searches to locate their objectives. The most reliable maps of South Vietnam and Laos for some time were those of the French Auto club; copies were carefully passed from pilot to pi1ot. Strict orders to avoid overflight of Burma, North Vietnam, Cambodia, and China aggravated an already delicate navigation problem3 (U) Although they daily flew over sparsely inhabited areas largely controlled by hostile forces or aborigines, the Able_ Mable pilots had no formal rescue or recovery support. A handful] of Royal Laotian Air Force and civilian aircraft in Laos and a few U.S. Army helicopters in South Vietnam provided a limited rescue potential. As the number of high priority reconnaissance requests increased, Able Mable in early December l96l began keeping an RF-101C on strip alert at Don Muang Airport to provide a more rapid response. The growing number of reconnaissance missions scheduled each day, plus the strip alert requirements, strained the task force’s ability. There just were not enough RF-l0’lC’s to satisfy all of PACAF’s needs. Although the task force had flown for only 30 days before that time CINCPAC extended the project indefinitely. By the end of |961, the task force pilots had flown more than. 30 reconnaissance sorties over Laos and South Vietnam, exposing more than 53,000 feet of film. The 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, faced with an indefinite stay in SEA, decided to rotate its aircraft and pilots every 6 weeks to ease the aircraft maintenance workload and to share the experience among all the pilots. Each pilot averaged’15 to 20 sorties during his 6 weeks in Thailand, acquiring experience that he never could have gained from a normal training situation. l Able Mable RF-10lC pilots at first flew about 78 percent of their missions over Laos and 25 percent over South Vietnam, but those percentages soon reversed. The missions over South Vietnam involved crossing the Laos panhandle, photographing the assigned objectives, and returning to Don Muang Airport. Objectives in northern South Vietnam, however, stretched the fuel range of the RF-101c’s dangerously close to the limit and forced many of the pilots to land at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to refuel. PACAF on ’18 November had designated the Pipe Stem PPIF as 0perating Location Number two (0U-2) for Able Mable. 0L-2 processed the film from RF-IO’IC’s landing at Tan Son Nhut. Air Base for fuel and reloaded their cameras to enable them to fly another sortie while returning to Don Muang Airport. Pilots on missions to photograph high priority objectives in South Vietnam also landed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base to allow the personnel to expedite film processing and exploitation. As the number of high priority reconnaissance requests increased, Able Mable in early December l96l began keeping an RF-101C on strip alert at Don Muang Airport to provide a more rapid response. The growing number of reconnaissance missions scheduled each day, plus the strip alert requirements, strained the task force’s ability. There just were not enough RF-l0’lC’s to satisfy all of PACAF’s needs. Although the task force had flown for only 30 days well before that time CINCPAC extended the project indefinitely. By the end of 1961, the task force pilots had flown more than 130 reconnaissance sorties over Laos and South Vietnam, exposing more than 53,000 feet of film. The 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, faced with an indefinite stay in SEA, decided to rotate its aircraft and pilots every 6 weeks to ease the aircraft maintenance workload and to share the experience among all the pilots. Each pilot averaged 15 to 20 sorties during his 6 weeks in Thailand, acquiring experience that he never could have gained from a normal training situation. Most of the RF-10C’s crossed into Laos at one of five border points, and each of those points led to specific objective areas. The Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese thus could predict with some certainty the objectives of each RF-l0l even before the aircraft actually crossed the border. To make the Pathet Lao’s defensive task even easier,85 percent of the RF-l0lC’s were over their objectives during the same 2-hour period each day. That offered major advantages to the opponent. When PACAF headquarters learned of those standardized missions, it directed the mission planners to vary takeoff times, routes, altitudes, and similar operational factors on a random basis to confuse the Pathet Luo. Pathet Luo Small arms fire hit four RF-lOlC’s within a few weeks, but none suffered serious damage. AIl were below I,500 feet above ground level (AGL) over Laos when hit. Thirteenth Air Force headquarters reacted on I February 1962, directing that the Able Mable RF-lOlC pilots fly higher than 5,000 feet over roads and waterways to avoid further small arms fire damage. Three days later, however, Thirteenth Air Force headquarters abolished all altitude restrictions and again left mission tactics to the task force personnel as another safety measure, Thirteenth Air Force headquarters ordered that teams of two RF-‘101C’s f1y reconnaissance missions over Laos whenever possible, particularly those missions against transportation which seemed to produce the most ground fire. In addition to providing rescue control for the loss of one of the RF-101C’s, the two aircraft formation almost doubled the width of the swath photographed and greatly reduced the possibility of a camera system malfunction in one aircraft voiding the mission Many standard concepts of tactical reconnaissance proved invalid.

Conceived as pinpoint photography of carefully delineated objectives, prestrike reconnaissance more often than not required mosaic-type photography of a large area so the photo interpreters could search for elusive targets. Rather than dashing across a single spot, the RF-‘l0lC droned back and forth to expose hundreds of photographs, often while under sporadic small arms fire. Post-strike reconnaissance was equally frustrating because dense foliage soaked up bomb bursts, quickly hiding any damage. Reconnaissance in SEA was vastly different than it had been in the Korean conflict or much of World II, but the Able Mable team had to apply many o1d reconnaissance principles to new situations. One new requirement called for the RF-101C pilots to use a T-ll precision mapping camera to produce photography for the correction and construction of maps and charts. The Tif camera could be fitted into the second camera bay in place of the three KA-2 cameras, but the RF-I0IC was not the stable quarters that withdrew the proposal. Meanwhile, PACAF decided that the l5th and 45th Tactical

Reconnaissance Squadrons should share the Able Mable duty, changing responsibility every 6 months. As the first changeover neared, Thirteenth Air Force headquarters asked that the force be increased to six aircraft, but again PACAF simply did not have enough RF-l0lCs. As a consequence, the l5th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron sent only four RF-101Crs from Kadena Air Base to Don Muang Airport on 23 May’1962 to relieve the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance squadron.  

Special Air Warfare and the Secret War in Laos: Air Commandos 1964–1975 (defense.gov) 

Early Vietnam Service – F-101 Voodoo | Weapons and Warfare 

http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/1956.html

https://lelandolson.com/

Bangkok and Don Muang Royal Thai Air Force Base

Bangkok – Wikipedia 

Don Muang Royal Thai Air Force Base – Wikipedia 

“In November 1961, four RF-101C reconnaissance aircraft of the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron stationed at Misawa ABJapan, and their photo lab arrived at Don Muang under “Operation Able Marble”. The RF-101s were sent to assist RTAF RT-33 aircraft in performing aerial reconnaissance flights over Laos. “That was our secret mission to Thailand.”  Amazon.com: Leland Olson: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Category:Vietnam War in 1961 – Wikimedia Commons

Top two pictures on left was our work area. Top right Ferris Anderson at barracks,   

Bottom right Salvatore Pusateri at the Marble Temple. Bottom left Capitol area. 

Top two was our work area. Bottom left temple of Gold Buddha and Lee at barracks.  

Bottom right another temple.  

temple of golden buddha wat traimit – Bing 

Leland waiting to enter the temple. The light was so poor my camera didn’t work well, they discouraged photos. 

Leland 1961

A nice little bug infested klong ran past our quarters. It was usually full of snakes the same as our outside

showers and toilet. The mess tent was at least several hundred yards away.

Served warm in quart bottles, that 11% beer was made for short parties

Statue Of King Vajiravudh

The famous Thai Dancers.

Temples everywhere.

https://lelandolson.com/

The US Air Force Museum

https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/579668/early-usaf-reconnaissan

The U S Air Force museum continues to honor pilots from throughout history. The Vietnam War era is of most interest to me, the events that took place during my service to the country. I served in the US Air Force from 1958 through 1962. Two of those years were spent at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. In November and December 1961 we were sent on a temporary duty assignment to Thailand. It was a secret mission with the name Able Mabel Project. The pilot in this story  Capt. Jack Weatherby flew my aircraft when I was the crew chief on RF-101 C 56-080. I strapped him into my aircraft many times in 1962. He was shot down and killed over North Vietnam in 1965. I hope to honor his memory and the memory of all the other pilots who served in the Vietnam era.

https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/579606/capt-jack-wilton-weath

All of the pilots in this picture flew my plane so I got to know them well. I recall one day when Lt. Weatherby landed, he said, “I was flying low over a clearing in the jungle,  I saw all these people, I thought they were waving at me, he said hell they were all shooting.” We found a few small caliber bullet holes in the wings. We had to come up with a special putty to close small bullet holes with. That became routine but created a lot of work removing panels to inspect for other damage. One day after we’d been flying out of there about a month a 50 caliber round went through the canopy right behind Major Harbst. A piece of plexiglass cut his neck. He was possibly the first US Air Force pilot to be injured by enemy fire. I don’t recall ever hearing anything about it later. I did communicate with his wife, she wrote to me after he passed away. The Major got through Vietnam and retired from the Air Force. I have lots of fond memories of those days but also sad memories as more information comes out.

https://lelandolson.com/

Secret Mission

Able Mable Crew.JPG

Able Mable Crew after 1000 Sorties South Vietnam

I was in the U.S. Air Force from 1958 through 1962. I was stationed at Misawa AB, Japan from 1960 through 1962. The biggest secret I ever had to keep was when twenty-four of us received orders at Misawa, Air Base that we were supposed to ship out for an unknown area for two months starting on 1 November 1961.

Our orders read hand carry weapons as required, personnel will have in their possession all necessary field equipment including two blankets, shelter-half, and mess gear. Personal copy of immunization record, medical clearance, and personal
identification tags. Security clearance for this mission is secret and top-secret. We left Misawa Air Base in two C-130 cargo planes. They were both loaded with aircraft maintenance equipment. We all wondered where we were headed, maybe a camping trip, huh? I didn’t think much of the tent idea.

We refueled at Okinawa and then proceeded to Clark Air Force Base, Philippine Islands. One day was spent there for processing. We still didn’t know our destination when we left there. A short time after takeoff we found out we were the members of the first Able Mable Reconnaissance Task Force. We landed at Don Muang RTAFB, Bangkok Thailand on November 6, 1961. Everything we needed to get four RF-101C’s ready for flying was packed with us on two C-130 cargo planes.

When our planes rolled to a stop and the rear of the planes opened. We were surrounded by Thai Army Soldier with weapons in their hands. They knew we were hand carrying weapons on the planes and they wanted us to turn everything over to them before we got off. So they took our guns and ammo. This was supposed to be a secret mission but the Thai Government sure had a copy of our orders. If we wrote letters home we were told not to give our location. Stay out of trouble, don’t embarrass the USA while you are here, wear civilian cloths if your off duty.

We immediately began unloading and setting up our maintenance area to get the planes ready to start flying the next morning. We found out the next day we would be eating from a tent field kitchen and using the old G.I. Mess Kits while we were there. Three big garbage cans full of boiling water to dip your mess kit into after chow. Our quarters was an old building the Japanese used for prisoners in the 1940’s but it served as a roof over our heads. We set up cots with mosquito nets over them. It sure beat sleeping in a tent! We had outside latrines and showers, there were boardwalks to get there. Often times there were snakes underneath the boards, I traveled quickly to shower or latrine. Our photo lab crew had a portable lab tent set up processing photos as soon as the first planes landed. “Able Mable Reconnaissance Task Force”. The aircraft were ready on 7 November and began reconnaissance sorties over Laos the next day.

I kept the secret of the Able Mable Task Force to myself but it soon became well known to the world that the U.S. Air Force was flying sorties and out of the Royal Thai Airport. This was an international airport with planes coming and going day and night. The Thai government set us up on the far south end of the runway. We used a big old hanger that was partly in the jungle. The U.S. flying reconnaissance missions over Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam continued for many years out of Thailand. In the years soon to follow there were different airports built in Thailand and South Vietnam.

(“Able Mable Reconnaissance Task Force”).

 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USAF_Able_Mable_reconnaissance_pilots_in_Thailand_1961.jpg

First six

First six “Able Mabel” pilots from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, Misawa AB, Japan.
Front row (left to right): 1Lt Fred Muesegaes, Maj Ken Harbst, Detachment Commander (45tj TRS Ops Officer), 1Lt Jack Weatherby
Back row (left to right): Capt Ralph DeLucia, Capt Bill Whitten, 1Lt John Linihan
Jack Weatherby – On a later tour was KIA over North Vietnam and was awarded the Air Force Cross (posthumously).
Muesegaes, Weatherby, Linihan and Whitten (in chronological order) flew the RT-33A previously on “Field Goal”
Picture taken at Don Murang RTAFB, Bankok, Thailand in front of RF-101C, 56-079 “Mary Ann Burns” which was my squadron assigned aircraft. We were less than six weeks into growing our mustaches when the picture was taken – probably around the first week of December 1961.

pilots - Copy

Don Muang 45th TRS

Don Muang 45th TRS

The first six U.S. Air Force “Able Mabel” pilots from the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, Misawa Air Base, Japan, at Don Don Muang RTAFB, Bangkok, Thailand in front of the McDonnell RF-101C-65-MC Voodoo (s/n 56-079, “Mary Ann Burns”), in December 1961.
Front row (left to right): 1Lt Fred Muesegaes, Maj Ken Harbst, Detachment Commander (45tj TRS Ops Officer), 1Lt Jack Weatherby;
Back row (left to right): Capt Ralph DeLucia, Capt Bill Whitten, 1Lt John Linihan.
Muesegaes, Weatherby, Linihan and Whitten (in chronological order) flew the RT-33A previously on “Field Goal”. On 29 October 1961, four RF-101s and ground crews from the 45th TRS were ordered by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff to deploy to Don Muang (“Able Mable Reconnaissance Task Force”). The aircraft were ready on 7 November and began reconnaissance sorties over Laos the next day.
Date December 1961

Leland

Leland

Leland Japan 1961

Leland Japan 1961

Misawa 4 (2).jpg

I was a member of the first Able Mable Reconnaissance Task Force. After leaving Japan we refueled at Okinawa, then spent one night at Clark AFB, Philippines. The last leg of the flight must have been fairly high altitude, there was frost on the walls in the plane. We were packed in like an odd assortment of sardines with equipment and parts all over.

We landed at Don Muang RTAFB, Bangkok, Thailand on 6 November, 1961. Everything we needed to get four RF-101C’s ready to start flying was packed with us on two C-130 cargo planes. When our planes rolled to a stop and the rear of the planes opened. We were surrounded by Thai Army with weapons in their hands. They knew we were hand carrying weapons on the planes and they wanted us to turn them over before we got off the plane. So they took our guns and ammo. We immediately began unloading and setting up our maintenance area in an old hanger. We had the planes ready to start flying the next morning.

We found out the next day we would be eating from a tent field kitchen and using the old G.I. Mess Kits while we were there. We ate real good, the food came in from a Navy ship. Our quarters was an old building the Japanese used for prisoners in the 40’s but it served as a roof over our heads. We set up cots with mosquito nets over them. There were friendly little lizards all over the walls and ceiling eating bugs, It sure beat sleeping in a tent! We had outside latrines and showers, there were boardwalks to get there. Often times there were snakes underneath the boards, I traveled quickly on the boardwalk. Our photo lab crew had a portable lab tent set up processing photos as soon as the planes landed.

These five brave pilots and many more flew low-level reconnaissance flights over Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and received small arms fire almost from the first missions. There were no guns on these planes, only cameras to shoot with. Later they were sitting ducks for surface to air missles. Major Harbst landed one day after a 50 Cal round shattered the canopy right behind his head. I saw some blood on his neck when I was unstrapping him from his ejection seat. A piece of the canopy hit his neck just below his helmet. He might have been the first American hurt by enemy fire. Over 58,000 died before that war ended. We spent two months flying many missions out of Don Muang RTAFB. The Able Mable project later move to a different airbase. Many of those brave pilots were shot down later in the war over North Vietnam. I knew these five pilots personally and helped send them off on their missions. I was the crew chief on RF-101C 56 – 080. A/1C Leland Olson

December 1961, Thailand pictures.

Don Muang 1.jpg