Nakhon Phanom RTAFB,
 Royal Thai Air Base

During the Vietnam War, the defense of Air Force bases mirrored the conflict itself: There was no rear echelon once the entire country became a battlefield. Air Force bases relatively, unaffected by ground forces in past wars, were no longer considered safe havens. They, too, suffered from costly ground assaults and mortar shelling.

Within easy reach of North Vietnamese troops, Air Force bases in Vietnam and Thailand were attacked 478 times from 1964 to 1973. One hundred and fifty-five Americans were killed and 1,702 wounded, along with 375 allied aircraft being destroyed and 1,203 damaged. In fact, more U.S. planes were lost in ground action (101) than in dogfights with MIGs (62).

Bien Hoa Air Base, located 15 miles north of Saigon, was the first U.S. air base in Vietnam to taste the damage a small, well-trained force can inflict. A hit-and-run mortar attack destroyed  five B-57 bombers and damaged 15 others. The Viet Cong, in less than five minutes, wiped out an entire squadron.    

The attack hammered home a hard message. To fight in the air, the Air Force had to be able to fight on the ground."      Above Published in AF Times

Nakhon Phanom RTAFB was located in north east Thailand just a short 230 miles from down town Hanoi, North Vietnam. Nakhon Phanom city was just 9 miles east, located on the banks of the Mekong river and across the river from communist controlled Laos.

The base was better known as NKP, Naked Fanny or T-55 (on the navigation charts). NKP was carved out of the jungle by the Navy’s Mobil Construction Battalion Three “Sea Bee’s” in 1963. Soon this dirt strip was a “hot spot” for covert ops and NKP’s roll in the war against North Vietnam, was about to embark on it’s place in history.

In it’s infancy NKP was just a cluster of tents and a small airstrip of PSP (pierced steel planking) With a search and rescue roll as well as communications, NKP was to grow immensely over the next few years. With mission up grades brought the change in aircraft to fit the counter insurgency roll NKP was to now play.

By the time I arrived at NKP on April 01 of 1970, The Air Base had blossomed into an 8,000ft. Runway,15 bed dispensary, and 4,200 military personnel and 15 major units, including the 56th Air Commando wing, the 56th Combat Support Group.

Through out NKP’s thirteen year life span, the air base and it’s components were involved in many major events of the war in south east Asia. During the Tet offensive, NKP’s Task Force Alpha thru it’s “Igloo White program” monitored NVA troop movements from the DMZ and alerted the marines at Khe Sanh South Vietnam. This early warning saved many lives at Khe Sanh in spite of the continuous shelling they took from the NVA over a thirty day period. The re-supply of this battle again took place from NKP as well as other units in Thailand and South Vietnam.

On 21 November of 1970 elements of the 1st and 602nd Special Ops Squadrons as well as the 21st SOS joined forces from other bases in Thailand in an offensive rescue mission into the Son Tay prison camp on the outskirts of Hanoi north Vietnam. While no prisoners were found, this “Raid “ did force the North Vietnamese back to the Paris peace talks and in 1972 our POW’s were returned.

In may of 1975, the merchant marines container ship the “Mayaguez” was seized by the Cambodians and held at a Koh Tang island and the crew was taken ashore and imprisoned. Once again NKP had it’s turn at History; As hand picked volunteers from the 56th Security Police Squadron at NKP were assembled and a rescue attempt was made. Sadly while en route a CH-53 “Knife four two” carrying a flight crew of five a linguist and these eighteen security police men. Staggered out of formation and crashed into the heavy jungle killing all aboard. Days later the rescue was made bring these unjustly imprisoned men home to U.S. soil.

The 56th Security Police Squadron provided security for the base.  With over 300 members they manned entry control points, gun towers and maintained roving patrols. They unit had a heavy weapons unit and a K-9 section. The section had 65 Sentry Dogs and 6-8 Patrol Dogs. 

K-9 posts included the base perimeter, weapons storage area, flight crew quarters, fuel storage areas, as well as other sensitive areas of the base. We and our dogs were also used as listening posts and were sent to guard downed aircraft in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia until sensitive equipment and / or documents could be recovered or the aircraft destroyed. We were also used to detect trip wires, booby traps, mines and tunnels.

As I look back, some thirty years later, I know that god had his hand on my shoulder, as he did for all of us during those difficult times. Someday I hope to return to Thailand for some closure and to reminisce. As for my dog "Ango" there isn't a day that goes by that don't think of him.*

I am proud to have served with the 56th and the Air Force during those difficult and secretive years. That year I spent over there was quite possibly the most influential year of my life and I most certainly had the time of my life. That’s not to say it was good times, on the contrary, there were times of great sadness, fear, sorrow, and heartache. But non the less.....I am proud to have served.

~Today~

There is not much left of the air base as we knew it . As most all of the buildings have been salvaged or removed. The jungle has reclaimed the area and the snakes and animals have moved in. The runway and the taxiway have been maintained and there is a new terminal witch is used on a daily bases. The Thai army has a small detachment there as well and what it takes to maintain that mission.

The city of Nakhon Phanom is of course still thriving in spite of the economic down turn. New hotels and shops. The river front beach with it's park and a general renewing of the city is all geared towards the booming tourist trade since the war has ended, as people are discovering just what a beautiful country Thailand is.

*(I have since learned that “Ango” was humanly put down in August of 1974 due to complications of soft tissue sarcoma and died peacefully in his home / kennel at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base.)

by George Conklin

56th SPS, 1970-71

Above: Aerial View on NKP, Courtesy of J. W. Fuller

horizontal rule

Nakhon Phanom  RTAFB    Dogs of NKP   Handlers of NKP    

Arrival at NKP    F-105 Crash at NKP    NKP Memorial

NKP Perimeter   NKP, Then & Now    Visit to the Wall.

Photo Gallery 1    Photo Gallery 2     Photo Gallery 3    Photo Gallery 4

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