The U.S. military presence in rural South Vietnam became so large and so pervasive in 1966 and 1967, that few South Vietnamese peasants could avoid contact with the big, brash Americans and all of their machines. But the interactions between the two peoples rarely fostered cross-cultural understanding. Rather, the contacts were almost always of a military nature or of some sort of monetary exchange.
Journalist and historian Bernard Fall reported that in mid-1966 the U.S. had 1,700 helicopters (most armed), 400 U.S. Navy fighter-bombers (both in-country and off-shore), and about 1,000 Air Force combat aircraft at airfields across South Vietnam.[i] In the first four months of 1966, the Air Force flew 97,000 sorties (including airlift, strike, and reconnaissance) in South Vietnam.[ii] And the number of sorties kept going up. At the end of 1966, the Air Force recorded 355,904 sorties of all types for the year. The Air Force almost doubled that number in 1967 when it flew 672,935 sorties.[iii]
On any given day in 1966 and 1967, the skies above South Vietnam filled with the shrill screeching sound of fighter-bombers and the whump whump of Hueys and Chinooks. National Geographic reporter Peter White remembered the big base at Danang, “I found Da Nang bad for my eardrums, lungs, and eyes. Landing fields throbbed with jet fighters and propeller-driven dive bombers, with tiny artillery spotters and huge planes carrying enormous radar domes on their backs; with reconnaissance craft; with five varieties of helicopters and seven of transports. They made a lot of noise.”[iv] Continue Reading »