On the morning of February 22, 1973, a pair of F4 Phantom fighters of the USAF Eighth Fighter Wing took off from Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, heading northeast towards the panhandle of Laos. Armed with 500lb bombs and two cannisters each of MK118 cluster munitions, the fighter’s goal was the same as that flown by thousands of US warplanes over the preceding nine years: the destruction and disruption of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the North Vietnamese supply lines that traversed the jungle-covered mountains of southern Laos.
To the crew piloting the Phantoms, this was a routine mission flown dozens of times a week. Such missions generally began the same way: a forward air controller, or FAC, piloting a small prop-engine plane on a reconnaissance mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail would have spotted a target through the jungle canopy and called in an airstrike to destroy it. According to US military records detailing that morning’s attack, the target spotted by the FAC was simply listed as ‘Trucks.’
In less than 30 minutes the Phantoms reached the target area, a shallow valley just a few kilometers from the Banghiang River in Savannakhet province Laos. As one of the few parts of the Ho Chi Minh Trail not ringed by tall mountains or covered in thick vegetation, the area had already witnessed over 100,000 similar strikes during America’s war in southeast Asia. Guided to their target by the FAC, the Phantoms released their ordnance and headed back to Thailand. The bombing assessment conducted by the FAC was listed as ‘results not observed.’
Nothing gleaned from the official US bombing data indicates that anything about this sortie was out of the ordinary. The only thing noteworthy about it is that, just hours before the Phantoms took off, a ceasefire order was signed in the Laos capital under which the United States agreed to halt all bombings and the North Vietnamese agree to withdraw all troops from Laos. This meant that this sortie, along with roughly a dozen concurrent strikes that same day, represented the final cluster munition strikes carried out by US forces over Laos.
On February 11th, 2023, a HALO Trust UXO clearance team responded to a report by local villagers of an item of UXO found just a few hundred metres from the recorded last cluster munition strike in Savannakhet province. After a short search of a mud-filled bomb crater, HALO Team Leader Kiengkham located the reported item, an MK118 cluster munition, the same model as those dropped during the final strike.
"There were planes flying overhead every day during the war. The Vietnamese had many bases and bunkers to hide from the bombs, but the Laos villagers had to hide in the forest and live off wild rice. All the houses were destroyed and many people died during that time. After the war my family moved back to the area, but in the decades after the war many people in the village have been killed by unexploded ordnance while farming or foraging."
The HALO Trust USA | Copyright © 2023
CARRONFOOT, THORNHILL, DUMFRIES, DG3 5BF
The HALO Trust is a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England No. 2228587. Registered Charity No. 1001813 and (in Scotland) SC037870. Registered Office: One Bartholomew Close, Barts Square, London EC1A 7BL
The HALO Trust (USA), Inc. is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization US Federal Tax ID Number 52-2158152
Office: 1730 Rhode Island Ave NW, Suite 206, Washington, DC 20036
By registering for our updates, or making a donation to us, you expressly agree to your information being used by The HALO Trust and The HALO Trust (USA), Inc. in accordance with our privacy protection policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.