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U.S. Bases in Thailand During the Vietnam War and Agent Orange

Over the years of this writer’s service at the Library of Congress, veterans and their families have sent me questions about maps that show the locations of U.S. forces in Thailand during the Vietnam War. Chief among the reasons that they have sought this information is because some American personnel were exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Thailand. Agent Orange is an herbicide that was used to defoliate the thick jungle in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, such as the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The intended result was to expose enemy forces who relied on the trees for cover. In Thailand, Agent Orange was used to clear the jungle around bases, as a means to enhance security. However, there was a terrible consequence: Exposure to Agent Orange resulted in cancer, birth defects, and other significant ailments. Public outcry and official investigations followed. In response to veterans and their families suffering from the effects of Agent Orange, the U.S. government makes a presumption of exposure for those who served on land in Vietnam for the purpose of filing a claim with the Veterans Administration. But in the case of veterans who served solely in Thailand, the Veterans Administration states: “To receive benefits for diseases associated with herbicide exposure, these Veterans must show on a factual basis that they were exposed to herbicides during their service as shown by evidence of daily work duties, performance evaluation reports, or other credible evidence.” This writer notes that the policy is source of debate, anger, and frustration for some American military veterans and their families. It should also be mentioned that the Veteran’s Administration outlines other situations where veterans may have been exposed to Agent Orange on their website.

Considering the amount of inquiry around this matter, finding official maps that offer highly-detailed depictions of the locations where Americans were based in Thailand and that were made during the Vietnam war has proven elusive, even at the Library of Congress. While trying to locate such materials, this author discovered an interesting map in the Geography and Map Division’s Titled Collection that shows the locations of U.S. military and civilian personnel located in Thailand during 1969. It includes, on its reverse, a map of American installations within the Thai capital of Bangkok. The division also holds a later edition of the map from 1972, which is not shown in this blog. Neither edition of the map appears to be widely distributed in libraries. Although this map does not provide enough detail to clearly illustrate the perimeter of any specific base, it does indicate how massive the American presence was in Thailand and helps to inform the scale of the related problem of Agent Orange exposure.

Another relevant source is a set of maps created by Army Map Service that is titled Thailand 1:50,000, Series L708, Edition-1. The set is held by the Geography and Map Division but does not appear in the library’s online catalog — a not so uncommon reality given the scope of the division’s some 5.5 million items. It has the call number of G8025 s50 .U5. The set, however, has a significant limitation: It was printed in 1960 and thus predates the arrival of most American military personnel to Thailand. While one can see the locations of Thai military facilities, absent are installations and perimeter defenses that may have been added later by American forces. Unlike the 1969 map mentioned above, the set is fairly distributed and is listed in twenty-one libraries, according to Worldcat.org. Information on the sheets is in both English and Thai. Cartographic information for the series was gathered from aerial photography conducted in the 1950s.

Before moving on to the 1969 map and example from the AMS 1:50,000 set, it is necessary to explain that the U.S. government viewed Thailand as a logical staging area for American forces because of its proximity to North and South Vietnam. Thailand also was buffered from the conflict zone by Laos and Cambodia, thereby making it safer for American personnel. With those factors in mind, the two governments reached a so-called gentleman’s agreement that permitted American forces to use Thai bases. A military map made in 1961 of Southeast Asia, which can be seen below, illustrates these points.

The 1969 map that was mentioned in the opening of the blog is titled U.S. Installations and Facilities in Thailand. The 652nd Topographic Engineer Battalion depicted the broad reach of American forces in Thailand, which can be seen below. This second edition was published by USARPAC (United States Army Pacific) on November 1, 1969. It is scaled at 1:1,562,500 and provides coverage for all of Thailand. The mapped data concerning American forces is broken down by color: Red symbols represent U.S Army installations and facilities that numbered 45; the blue U.S. Navy and Coast Guard installations that numbered 18; the green U.S. Air Force installations that numbered 28; and the brown “Joint and Others” locations that numbered 11. The latter group was composed of U.S. government civilian personnel, such as ambassadorial staff, intelligence analysts, contractors, and others. Of all the various branches of service, the USAF was the most active in combat operations. On the bottom of the map is a list of U.S. installations and facilities, broken down by service branch. The list also contains the UTM coordinates of the installations. On the reverse is a map titled U.S. Installations and Facilities, Bangkok, Thailand, 1 November, 1969. It shows that U.S. military and civilian personnel were located, largely, southwest of the Thai Royal Palace. Information is presented in a fashion similar to the front page.

The 652nd Topographic Engineers, U.S. Installations and Facilities in Thailand, 1972. From Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division Titled Collection, Thailand - Military (Subj.).

The 652nd Topographic Engineers, U.S. Installations and Facilities in Thailand, 1969. From Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division Titled Collection, Thailand – Military (Subj.).

From 1961 to 1975, the United States Air Force deployed aircraft throughout Thailand, and these planes were responsible for the majority of USAF air strikes over North Vietnam. The first base of operations for American forces was at Takhli Royal Thai Air force Base, which is located approximately 144 miles northwest of Bangkok. USAF fighter-bombers first arrived in late 1961. The base, predating the arrival of American forces, is depicted on the map Amphoe Ta Klhi, Sheet 5060 I, AMS Series L708, which is shown below. The base is situated in the upper left of the map. Facilities such as the control tower, headquarters, living quarters, and others are indicated, but the official perimeter of the base of is not clearly discernible. Other key bases for USAF operations included Korat, Ubon, U-Tapao, and Don Muang, and Udorn. Agent Orange was employed around many of these airfields and other U.S. installations in Thailand.

Army Map Service, Thailand 1:50,000 Series L708, Amphoe Ta Khli, Sheet 5061 I, 1960. From Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division Set Map Collection. G8025 s50 U5.

This writer hopes that these maps will help shed more light on this understudied facet of the Vietnam War; in addition, and no less important, raise awareness about American service personnel who were exposed to Agent Orange while in Thailand. Some stories about the impact of Agent Orange can be heard firsthand by way of the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, which contains interviews with Vietnam War veterans.

More information on this topic can be found in a book series titled Veterans and Agent Orange.

20 Comments

  1. Dana Upshaw
    September 10, 2019 at 7:28 pm

    I was stationed at Ubon RTAFB IN 1971/72 as a B57G maintenance crew chief. I learned of my exposure to Agent Orange on April 29, 2019…47 years after the fact. That knowledge helped me reconcile in my mind the illnesses and diseases I’ve suffered for the past 30 years.

    Most discouraging was when I attempted to locate Veterans who served with me, the first five I researched had all died of otherwise presumption-of-service-connection diseases and illnesses before the VA ever conceded that toxic herbicides WERE used in Thailand. Their policy of claimants having to prove “duty on or near the perimeter” is flawed as it does not allow for any possibility that the toxic dioxin contaminants spread throughout the bases by vehicle and foot traffic, atmospheric natural winds and turbulence created by aircraft and helicopters, munitions movements, dust storms, animals, flowing ground waters after rain storms, etc.

    Do not be fooled by lack of public attention or the passage of time! The bottom line remains that no matter the location or mission, YOUR military members served 24/7/365 in toxic environments and now have to fight the VA for benefits! And that is absolutely not right!

  2. Gerard Lager
    September 19, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    I served in Ubon Air force base late 70-71 as a mechanic.

  3. William Bobbitt
    September 20, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    I served at Ubon, 72-73 on the line in security forces. I have suffered diabetes, and a rare skin disease Bullous pemphigoid. It’s nasty with blisters and incurable. I am not getting timely reembursement of meds under FOREIGN MEDICAL PROGRAM. I live in Bangkok but not much longer I am so sick. God bless

  4. j mack wilson
    September 21, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    I served with usaf at korat rtafb 6/69-7/70 with tdy to numerous other bases in Thailand and Vietnam. medical complications ever since. may 2019 filed with va but never connected service with all these complications and now have to prove everything is service connected.

  5. John L Farmer
    September 21, 2019 at 2:30 pm

    Served in Ubon RTAFB from1/6/72 to1/6/73 sensor shop and Security Police Augmentee. Developed a nonexploding module for sensor security that saved countless F4 delivery aircraft. Also defended the base March15/16 overnight attack by NV soldiers setting up a mortar as a diversion signal to the others that were to attack through the main gate. The mortars never got off. I shot all four involved in that my SP’s M16 was jammed and I had a half clip of twenty bullets used 9 to kill all four, the Thai army took care of the NV soldiers in town. Jailing some who died there days later.

  6. gary e mcevilla
    September 24, 2019 at 4:19 am

    no mention anywhere of U.S. marines at airbase in namI liphong , Thailand. Better known as “the Rose Garden. we lived in tents, waited for rain to shower and ate c-rats until the seabees came. The base was surrounded by jungle. There were canine units there. Marines were secuity for the 9th marines out of danang and those that left from okinawa.

  7. gary e mcevilla
    September 24, 2019 at 4:22 am

    no mention anywhere of U.S. marines at airbase in namI liphong , Thailand. Better known as “the Rose Garden. we lived in tents, waited for rain to shower and ate c-rats until the seabees came. The base was surrounded by jungle. There were canine units there. Marines were secuity for the 9th marines out of danang and those that left from okinawa. called era vets same as those living home every day in the states. Classified the same. Its a dishonor and flagrant insult.

  8. D lashay
    September 24, 2019 at 10:58 pm

    Any one in Udorn around 1971? I am trying to find out what they sprayied the antenna field with to keep the weeds down. Does anyone know or remember how clean the camp was from weeds.

  9. stover, jack
    September 27, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    I was stationed at Takhli RTAFB from jan 1969 to jan 1970 as an ECM repairman on EB-66 AC. would like any info from fellow airmen about agent orange. *personal information removed per policy*

  10. Jerry bruns
    October 2, 2019 at 7:29 am

    To jack stover. I was at Takhli from June 1969 to June 1970. Worked on the trim pad. Would like to contact you.

  11. Kearny, Pat
    October 6, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    I was stationed at Korat from Jan 1975 to June 1975. An EWO on AC-130s A&H Models. Crewed a Spectre on Mayaguez recovery. Would like to contact fellow airmen stationed at Korat during that period.

  12. Marcus E Parsons
    October 9, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    I was in UDORN in 1969 to 1970 as an RF4c Mechanic. When we arrived at UDORN we were told that we would probably be sent to AUGMENTEE duty for 30 days to help the SECURITY POLICE to help guard the base PERIMETER. They were UNDERMANNED. There had been an attack in 1968 and they sprayed the base perimeter with AGENT ORANGE as a result. Well I got called up and guarded the base perimeter. I have since developed NON HODGKINS LYMPHOMA STAGE 3 CANCER a VA PRESUMED AQUIRED DESEASE from exposure to AGENT ORANGE. I have since applied for compensation been turned down because the VA says there is no record of me serving as an AUGMENTEE on the BASE PERIMETER. I have heard of other guys having missing records from military. I have been trying for 3 years to get COMPENSATION with NO GO from the VA. Can you help what do you guys think pretty sorry.

  13. ROBERT CHATMAN
    October 13, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    i WAS IN THE ARMY IN THAILAND FROM 1967/68 AND WAS STATION IN KORAT, UDON, AND BANGKOK AND HAVE BEEN DENIED DISABILITY FOR AGENT ORANGE . ANY ONE BELIEVE
    THEY HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO AGENT ORANGE AND HAVE BEEN DENIED DISABILITY BENEFITS PLEASE CONTACT ME

  14. Roger Mason
    October 17, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    I served at Udorn from November 1972 until November 1973. I worked in the ECM shop spent many days & nights on the flight line. I never saw anyone mow the grass around the taxiways or runway. It was completely dead year round in spite of the wet seasons heavy rains. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 56. I have suffered all the side effects as a result of surgery and I still have prostate cancer. The VA has blown me off for years. HOWEVER there is an important bill (HR2201, Presumptive Exposure to Herbicide of Thai Vets. It is currently stuck in subcommittee, I suggest you contact your congressman and ask them to cosponsor it.

  15. Paul Crosby
    October 19, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    To Pat Kearny
    I was stationed at Korat from December 1974 until October 1975. I worked in the ECM shop.

  16. T D Williams II
    October 20, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    I was stationed at Udorn in 1967. I worked our normal 7 day 12hour shift. I was an aircraft Mech and was in the 606 Air Commando Squadron. We worked on the Air America ramp next to the F102 run up area next to the deflector barrier. Lived in the old barracks with no windows just screen. I am quite sure we did everything thing but devour agent with our daily meals and duties. Va working on claim currently on appeal. Don’t give up keep fighting for our rights and benefits.

  17. John Sweet
    October 22, 2019 at 2:48 pm

    Do your homework before writing articles. Nakhon Phanom was a front line base during the Secret War yet you don’t mention it. Guys who were there as well as Laos and Cambodia do not have coverage over A O. We all raised our hands and went where they sent us but now they force a division between us and wait for us to just die. Stage 7 prostate cancer myself along with three auto immune diseases. Oh I guess I forgot to mention exposure to A O increases your chances of developing autoimmune diseases by a factor of several hundred thousand. Of course you would have trouble finding that information in the physicians reports submitted to Congress on A O since that paragraph was stricken by CONGRESS from the report. But I found it. The whole affair is a travesty of justice without honor for our service.

  18. Ryan Moore
    October 22, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    Hello John,

    Thank you for your comment and your service. Nakhon Phanom is on the map titled U.S. Installations and Facilities in Thailand by the 652nd Topographic Engineer Battalion. It also is listed on the map’s index under Army bases, which appears in red.

    Ryan Moore
    Library of Congress

  19. Jack Gagnon
    October 28, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    Was stationed at Takhli RTAFB from May 68 to May 69. Took 13 yrs to get VA to accept AO claim. Most of us young airmen were required to train for and deployed to perimeter as part of base security. Using that argument and other documents, BVA ruled in my favor and Ordered VA to rethink their denial for all those years. Still took a year, but rating was finally approved.

  20. Bud Snyder
    November 15, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    I was stationed at Utapao May 68 to Jan 69. The pol tank farm 16 hours on night shift. Fenced in compound back fence the base perimeter. I was approved for AO exposure. Ischemic heart disease and diabetes. Claim approved the first submission. I had pictures of my duty section with no vegetation and an identical picture I took 37 years later tank farm covered in vegetation.

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