Nakhom Phanom and the Vietnam War.

The History Junkie is always learning new things.  Love it!

Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, better known as “NKP” or “Naked Fanny,” was the northern most station in Thailand, situated just across the Mekong River from Takhet, Laos.  During the Vietnam War, NKP proved vital to the American cause.  For years, the base existed on the fringes, as a well-guarded secret.  But eventually, its own exploits garnered enough enemy attention to out it forever.

U.S. Air Force veteran, John Firestone arrived at NKP in 1968.  He served with the 1st Special Operations Squadron.

John Firestone - Nakhon Phanom (NKP)

“I landed at Phu Cat, but only spent a few days there before they moved me onto … Nakhon Phanom,” he said.  “Most of the aircraft were actually old WW II planes—A-1Es, A-1Ds, B-26s, all prop jobs.  I remember there was a program on Armed Forces Radio that played two hours of music from the forties.  There were still some old-timers around that liked that stuff. Well, I’m sitting in the shop and that music’s playing.  I look out the window at the runway and an A-IE taxis past.  I tell you what, it felt like I’d been transported back in time to World War II.  I couldn’t help but think that back then, somewhere, some guy had that exact same experience.”

Nakhon Phanom used its aging aircraft arsenal for highly specialized tasks.  “Our job was primarily ground support.  Although we were in Thailand, we were still very near to Vietnam.  …You just couldn’t get close enough to the treetops with a jet going 300 miles per hour.  If you had to get in tight to help some troops, the slower the aircraft the better.”

Apart from his normal duties, Firestone also offered his services for more unique assignments. “They asked for volunteers for what they called ‘kicking flares.’  We’d go up in C-123s, arm these million-candle watt flares, put them in the tubes and send them out when it was time.  They would light things up for the ground troops. We took quite a few hits from small arms, but thankfully the bottom of a C-123 was armor plated.  But still, hearing bullets hit the undercarriage of your aircraft gave you the willies.  Actually, we had one make it through. It came right up through the floor, real close to our crew chief.  It was then that I decided, maybe this wasn’t such a great use of my free time after all.

“When we’d lose an aircraft, we’d send teams out as cannibals.  We couldn’t get parts from the States for a lot of those old WW II birds like the A-1E.  So, when one would get shot down, we’d try to find it and reclaim all the salvageable parts.  An army unit would typically set up a perimeter around the downed plane and we’d get to work.  We got in a couple of firefights, but they weren’t much to speak of.  I remember being down under a wing that had broken off.  Like everybody else, I was just holding my weapon up above my head, up above the wing, firing away.”

Firestone finished his initial assignment in November 1969.  In 1972, he completed a second tour of duty in Vietnam and returned to the States.

3 Responses to “Nakhom Phanom and the Vietnam War”

  1. RICHARD BLUME says:

    I was stationed at NKP in 1967. Yes, it was a secret base going to the town along the river (mekong) brings back memories. I was in the 1998th comm. sq. .. First landing in NKP naked fanny was surreal going back in time seeing the A1E skyraiders , B-26′s which were modifed into A-26′s and helicopters. My destination was never told to me until we landed … It was a rescue base primarily.

    • John Sweet says:

      Actually it was the 1987th Comm Squadron. View the web site I host in memory of those who did not return home. I vol. to kick candles but working in the Tactical Units Operations Center with a T.S. Clearance my Commanding Officer said “Not with your job!” so end of story.

      Long time back…but been to Laos on several occasions; even Long Tieng
      where the old Air America base was. Check my NKP web site for pictures and what we do today in memory of the guys who did not return home. Lots of aid to kids in there memory through the TLC-Brotherhood. Links and pages in the above site. WELCOME HOME!

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