The following is an except from Fred’s 8-part reminiscence of his trip to Vietnam and Laos, to retrace his steps from the war. You can find the entirety of his writing on his Facebook page, some of which have also been posted on our Post 8870 FB page.
Meeting Seng Keu
Route 7 is a major route in northern Laos. It connects North Vietnam with the PDJ in the center of northern Laos. A major infiltration route for the North Vietnamese, it remained under Communist control throughout the war; however, our CIA supported Army of Hmong (ethnic Laotian hill people) conducted regular operations in the area and the road was continually surveilled by airborne FACs and subjected to routine interdiction sorties.
Nong Het is the eastern most town on Route 7, lying just a few miles from the border with Vietnam. The village has the distinction of being the birthplace and childhood home of General Vang Pao, the leader of the Hmong Army. At Nong Het, we met, quite randomly on the street Seng Keu, an 80 years old Hmong. Upon hearing that I had been in the Air Force, he jumped up, grabbed my arms and told me we had been comrades. He told us his story.
Seng Keu served in the Hmong Army. He had fought with a Special Guerrilla Unit (SGU)almost exclusively in Barrel Roll, (Operation Barrel Roll was a covert U.S. Air Force and Navy Task Force interdiction and close air support campaign conducted in the Kingdom of Laos from 1964 to 1973, concurrent with the Vietnam War.) moving from Lima Site to Lima Site as the ebb and flow of operations dictated. Initially, his unit, like most of the newly formed SGU units engaged in guerrilla operations, ambushing enemy units and then quickly retreating into the relative safety of the jungle. In time, however, Vang Pao’s forces began to be used in more of a conventional warfare role, against NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and PL (Pathet Lao) forces, with U.S. air support.
I sat, mesmerized, as Seng Keu ticked off the names of the familiar locations at which he had engaged NVA and PL forces in skirmishes. Seng Keu was delighted to learn I had been involved in the war in Barrel Roll. When I told him our call sign was Alleycat, he held my hands and thanked me for the many nights when Alleycat had sent Spooky (gunships) to his team when they were engaged with the enemy. We marveled at how the paths of our lives had crossed so many years ago. It was as if we had always been friends and brothers.
We talked more about Seng Keu’s life during the war. He and his wife had raised 14 children, five of whom had died. Two of his sons had died while fighting against the PL and NVA. I felt privileged to have met a person with whom I shared a wonderful moment of bonding, respect, and friendship. At one time, we had been connected on the battlefields of Laos, and 45 years later, we re-discovered that connection.