Secret Heroes to be Recognized by CIA, UT Dallas

Event Will Reunite Air America Pilots With Airmen They Rescued in Vietnam

April 15, 2009

Pulled from newly declassified Central Intelligence Agency files, tales of real-life dramatic rescues will come to light at a public symposium to commemorate and acknowledge the brave crews of Air America, the CIA’s once secretly owned airline.

“Air America: Upholding the Airmen’s Bond” is being presented by the CIA and The University of Texas at Dallas on Saturday, April 18, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the University’s Conference Center Auditorium.

Attending the Symposium

Parking: Available in lots I and J (see: Because of a major construction program at UT Dallas, attendees should enter the main campus from the west side, off of Waterview Parkway and drive up Drive A, where they will see signs directing them to Lots I and J, near the Conference Center.

Hundreds of former Air America personnel from across the nation are expected to attend the event. The symposium will feature two panel discussions with Air America pilots and crews reunited with some of the U.S. servicemen and CIA station chiefs they rescued.

CIA Historian Tim Castle, Ph.D., chair of the agency’s Center for the Study of Intelligence, will moderate a panel discussion, “Laos Rescues: Lima Site 85 and Other Military Rescues.” Former combat pilot Joe Guilmartin, Ph.D., now an Ohio State University history professor, will moderate the second panel discussion, “The Final Days: 1975 Rescue Efforts During the Fall of South Vietnam.”

The symposium is part of the CIA’s continuing efforts to declassify and release its materials about Air America. Approximately 10,000 copies of declassified documents are coming to the McDermott Library’s existing Civil Air Transport/Air America archives, which is part of the University’s History of Aviation Collection. The documents will augment the library’s significant Cold War collection and reveal the untold story of Air America and covert activities of the CIA during the Vietnam War.

“These documents are essential to understanding the untold history of America’s involvement in Southeast Asia,” said Larry D. Sall, Ph.D., dean of libraries at UT Dallas. “While there are many Cold War collections, we wanted one that would reveal a covert side of that period in history. In these newly declassified documents, we believe we have that.”

Skilled in flying the mountainous terrain of Southeast Asia, Air America crews created their own search-and-rescue force, comprised of UH-34D helicopters and T-28D attack aircraft. Air America crews monitored emergency calls over military radios and flew to the rescue of fellow aviators, often encountering enemy fire, but saving the lives of 21 American pilots. After the U.S. military increased its air missions in Laos and Vietnam, Air America became primarily responsible for rescuing all downed U.S. aviators. In 1975, with North Vietnamese communist troops advancing on Saigon, Air America helicopter crews evacuated about 41,000 American civilians, U.S. government personnel and South Vietnamese loyalists.

From its beginning in 1950, Air America was an aerial lifeline that flew supplies to remote government outposts or evacuated refugees throughout Southeast Asia. Sometimes called “the most shot-at airline,” it conducted clandestine activities for the CIA under the cover of a civilian airline until it was disbanded in 1975. In the UT Dallas McDermott Library hangs a memorial plaque with more than 240 names, the employees of Air America and its precursor, Civil Air Transport, who lost their lives while flying for the airline.

Sponsors of “Air America: Upholding the Airmen’s Bond” include Raytheon Co., the Association of Foreign Intelligence Officers (AFIO) and Stephen Clouse & Associates.

Media Contacts: Meredith Dickenson, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]
or Brandon V. Webb, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4321, [email protected]

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Famous pictures of helicopter rescue during  the fall of Saigon

The now-iconic photo shows a last-minute rescue before the North Vietnamese overran the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon on April 29, 1975. The photograph has been consistently identified as showing the rescue of people on the roof of the U.S. Embassy. It is actually an Air America helicopter on the Pittman Apartments in downtown Saigon, where senior Central Intelligence Agency employees were housed. (Photo by Hubert Van Es/Bettman – Corbis)

A helicopter rescue during a battle in Vietnam

An Air America search-and-rescue Sikorsky UH-34 helicopter pulls a pilot to safety in the midst of smoke from a rescue flare at a site in Laos. The print was donated to UT Dallas by Allen Cates of Air America.

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May 25, 2018