SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- A former New York Army National Guard officer, author and historian with personal ties to the Vietnam War provided an educational lecture program to the public about the New York Air National Guard's participation in Vietnam Feb. 23, 2019 at the New York State Military Museum.
Retired Army National Guard Major Patrick Chaisson was inspired by the wartime service of his father, an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War, to research and share the stories of what he believes is an overlooked part of the military during the war.
"I wanted to shed light on an almost forgotten aspect of the Vietnam War," Chaisson said. "I wanted to know what it was like for [my father] and those that deployed with him, served with him, and what it was like to come back."
Chaisson, whose research and published materials have covered a significant portion of New York National Guard military history, has given this lecture about New York's Air National Guard in Vietnam at multiple locations so far this year, including Katonah, N.Y. and to Civil Air Patrol Cadets at the Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, N.Y.
The New York Air National Guard provided a wide range of support during the Vietnam War, and Chaisson pointed out the specific New York missions to provide strategic airlift and tactical fighter support to the combat forces fighting in Vietnam.
The Air National Guard in Vietnam began flights regularly in 1966 to support Military Airlift Command operations to Japan and South Vietnam. Other Air Guard elements supported aeromedical evacuation flights across the country to free up active duty Air Force resources for similar missions in Southeast Asia between 1965 and 1969.
The Air National Guard also deployed four fighter squadrons to Vietnam after the 1968 Tet Offensive.
From May 1968 to April 1969, about 350 Air Guard members of New York's 136th Tactical Fighter Squadron from Niagara Falls deployed to Vietnam with their 20 F-100s Super Sabres to fly close air support missions.
The squadron, joined by New Mexico Air National Guard crews of the 188th Tactical Fighter Squadron, arrived in Vietnam at Tuy Hoa Air Base to reinforce the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing.
Known as "Rocky's Raiders" in honor of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the squadron conducted interdiction strikes, conducted visual and photo reconnaissance, rescue combat air patrols, and suppressed enemy antiaircraft artillery.
One squadron pilot, Captain Joseph L'Hullier, was killed on a fighter support mission after ejecting from his aircraft that was damaged from ground fire during a high angle dive-bombing attack near Chu Lai, South Vietnam, July 25, 1968.
Another pilot, Lt. Julius Thurn survived when his F-100 was shot down after his attack to support a Special Forces Camp. When he parachuted from his aircraft, he could not be extracted by Air Force rescue crews due to the ongoing fight. He was ironically saved by the Army Green Berets he was supporting who fought their way to him for pick-up.
Three others from the squadron died during training accidents prior to the squadron deployment to Vietnam.
1st Lieutenants Raymond Reader and Robert Wolf were killed in a midair collision in March 1968 and
Maj. Richard Dye was killed during air to ground combat training in April.
The choice to tell these stories now came as soon as he had completed enough research, Chaisson said. His goal was to share what he learned as soon as possible, and it seemed fitting to him to be able to share it at a time when it was happening fifty years to the day that he gave his presentation.
"These men have such amazing stories that they've never been able to share, simply because nobody's asked them," Chaisson said.
Chaisson's presentation was scheduled at the museum as part of the New York National Guard and Military History Museum's partnership with the Department of Defense Vietnam War 50th Commemoration.
In his research, Chaisson met with veteran Airmen from the Vietnam era in an effort to share their stories.
One of the airlift stories he shared highlighted "Operation Christmas Star," a mission that involved 78 Air National Guard planes, from thirteen different states, delivering 406 tons of donated gifts to the troops deployed in in Vietnam for the holidays in 1965.
The Air Force did not have sufficient airlift to move such vast quantities of donated holiday goods, and Air National Guard elements across the country volunteered missions to bring the donated items and baked goods to Vietnam. So great was the response that even after the airlift, an additional 270 tons had to be sent by ship.
For this mission in November and December, 1965, New York deployed nine C-97 Stratofreighters from home stations in Brooklyn, Westchester, and Schenectady. The missions included flights from the 106th Air Transport Wing, with elements of the 106th Military Airlift Group, 105th Airlift Wing and 109th Airlift Group flying the missions.
The crews flew 2.1 million miles supporting those missions and carried an average of 15,000 pounds of cargo on each flight.
The New York airlift crews would continue to fly a total of 222 missions in to Vietnam through 1969.
Throughout the New York Air National Guard's time in Vietnam, Airmen received a number of combat awards for their contributions, including 25 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 30 Bronze Stars, 156 Air Medals, 325 Commendation Medals, three Purple Hearts and five Vietnamese Gallantry Crosses.
Chaisson's presentation coincides with the Military History Museum opening of its newest exhibit for the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The new permanent exhibit highlights artifacts and narratives of a number of New York veterans of the Vietnam War.