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Yankee Air Pirates

USAF Uniforms and Memorabilia of the Vietnam War

Vanishing Memories at Tan Son Nhut

Posted on March 6 2014 by François Millard

Since Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, nothing had really changed at Tan Son Nhut until recently. The old airfield, built by the French in the 1920’s had seen the beginnings of civilian transport in Indochina. Then during WWII, French, Japanese and British aircraft were in turn deployed there. Important military action was seen during the First Indochina War, and by 1957, the new Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) moved its Headquarters there. Four years later, the first permanently assigned American unit was deployed.

Over the next fourteen years, all kinds of aircraft would take off and land from the airfield: C-123s with Mule Train, A-1s and A-26s with Farm Gate, RF-101s with Able Mable, and later RF-4Cs, AC-119 Gunships to name a few. Tan Son Nhut would be reputed as the busiest airport in the world. During the January 1968 Têt Offensive, Tan Son Nhut was one of the worst places to be as the air base was literally stormed by the enemy. A fierce battle unfolded and the valiant Security Policemen of the 377th SPS managed to secure Tan Son Nhut AB until some U.S. Army elements could reach the base.

What used to be TSN 377 Combat Support Group Consolidated Base Personnel Office and probably also the 460th Field Maintenance Squadron building. Those had been built under the French. Taken in 2009.

What used to be TSN 377 Combat Support Group Consolidated Base Personnel Office and probably also the 460th Field Maintenance Squadron building. Those had been built under the French. Taken in 2009.

Until the last days of the war, Tan Son Nhut was at the heart of the South Vietnamese defense system and became a major target of the North Vietnamese final offensive in 1975. The base was bombed but around two hundred aircraft managed to escape to Thailand or to the 7th Fleet cruising nearby in the South China Sea.

The first time I landed at Tan Son Nhut was back in 1999. I had read so many books about the war, I needed to see Vietnam by myself and landing at Tan Son Nhut proved to be really moving. With a low ceiling due to a monsoon storm, the first impression was that the place was gloomy. After landing, the airplane went at a slow pace towards its parking spot. And to my surprise, it looked like the war had ended just a few months before. Not much had changed and the aircraft shelters were still there, some still bearing markings, especially one with a huge yellow peace and love sign. When the aircraft stopped and the doors opened, humidity, heat, smells seized all of us. At the time passengers disembarked on the tarmac, and that was a great feeling too! To the right of the aircraft, tails from numerous warbirds were visible, parked behind steel aircraft revetments. For sure, I was in Vietnam!

What remained of several C-130s, at least one AC-119 and a CH-47, as it was in 2009.

What remained of several C-130s, at least one AC-119 and a CH-47, as it was in 2009.

A new international terminal opened in 2007. Yet, domestic flights still use the old one that saw so many U.S. servicemen arrive and depart from Vietnam. Since then, many things have changed and memories of the past are getting leveled.

Also taken in 2009. Concrete shelters. The runway is just behind. Parking area on the front.

Also taken in 2009. Concrete shelters. The runway is just behind. Parking area on the front.

Same location in November 2012.

Same location in November 2012.

It seems the Vietnamese authorities have decided to move on and erase the last traces of the war from Tan Son Nhat, as the airport is now called.

A tremendous quantity of information and photos about the wartime air base can be found on the Tan Son Nhut Association website: http://www.tsna.org/

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