Found this on an old Udon Thani Forum that has gone cold, but thought it was interesting and wanted to share it.
U.S. Military lands at Udorn – Thai government authorities in Bangkok did not not brief local officials at Udon Thani that U.S. troops were to arrive at the seldom used airstrip south of the village. Suddenly during the sleepy morning hours of late February 1961, large 4-engine, Hercules C-130 and C-124 Globemasters began stirring up the dust as they touched down on the long concrete runway at Udorn. An embassy officer was dispatched to explain to the local governor why his province was suddenly host to American troops already setting up a base camp at the airfield.
An account of those early days:
1st Lt. Bill U’Ren would command 55 Marines in a security detail. “My Bn Commander was Lt. Col. Martin J. Sexton, CO of 3d Bn 3d Marines. I spent most of my time working with Col. Johnson and his small staff going over intelligence reports, photos and maps of the Udorn area. We could only deploy 300 men as specified by the Thai Government.”
Local people sat along the dusty roadway watching as a great number of C-130s and C-124s landed with supplies and equipment. Within a few days the tent camp, the shops, landing control equipment, emergency equipment and fuel farms were operational. “Udorn was a very rural area when we arrived so we were the biggest show in town. There was no fence around the airport which caused us no end of trouble. Civilians and robed Buddhist monks were continually walking across the runway. The local police was suppose to secure our outer perimeter, but they did not seem to have control of civilians. There was a Thai Air Force Major who could speak English and he helped us with some of the problems.” said U’Ren. He added, “I was never really convinced that the Thai police or Army were going to be of great help if we got raided from Laos. We never had a problem, but I had a combat load of a day and a half ammo just in case. The terrain was not very defensible. We were very vulnerable if the bad guys wanted to hit us.”
“Engineers built the permanent camp out of mahogany on the other side of the runway. This was difficult. The camp was built several feet off the ground because the monsoons did leave areas of water all over the airport facilities. The living areas and mess hall were screened off because of the bugs.”
Another Service member, Larry Simeone, who was deployed to Udorn from Okinawa, Japan, remembers:
“We didn’t have the slightest idea where we were going. Some thought Africa and others speculated Indochina. No one had a clue except for a few Marines who managed to pull one last liberty before deploying. When they came from town where they had told the girls that they were deploying.” The men all had the same story; the bar girls all said in fractured English, “I think you go Thailand.” Operational security kept the enlisted men out of the loop, but the bar girls knew the scoop as their loose-lip customers let them in on the TOP SECRET.
Simeone continued, “When we arrived at the Udorn airstrip there was nothing in the area but a single concrete airstrip and an abandoned air traffic control tower. Our first work detail was to open the air traffic control tower and make it habitable. Years of neglect had made the structure home to many of northern Thailand’s prolific insects. Cleaning out years of spider and bug infestation was not a typical Marine combat engineer mission, but Marines pride themselves on innovation and adaptability. There were no landing lights on the runway; we used smudge pots, lamps fueled by diesel fuel to light up the runway in the event of an emergency night landing.”
Larry Simeone and the group of combat engineers worked 10 to 12 hours a day to get the base built. Only after housing had been provided did they get to go on liberty. “We had to get the tents up off the ground because of the local snake population and the intense rainy season. We had to build platforms about four feet high and on them build strong-backed tents supported by a lumber frame. We worked ten hours a day, 7 days a week for about two months. Only after the camp was established were we able to have liberty in Udorn.”
“Before going on liberty we were briefed by the local U.S. Informational Service (USIS) official on cost of beers, women and transportation. We were stationed adjacent to a Thai Army base and made more money than they did. We were advised not to inflate the local economy and price our Thai Army allies out of te market: 3 baht for a pedicab ride into town, 5 baht for a beer, and 20 baht for a bar girl. At that time the conversion rate was 1 baht = 5 cents.”
“Liberty in Udorn in 1961 was a unique experience. Locals were unfamiliar with Westerners. We’d be sitting in a restaurant having a few beers and enjoying a civilian meal, and a crowd would gather outside to watch us. Thais were great! They were friendly, happy, attractive people and a joy to meet. We would be walking down the street and they would approach us and shake our hands and practice their English. However, some of the black Marines had a different story. They complained that Thais would not wait on them or serve them.”
Simeone’s memory is still quite vivid of those early days. “Udorn was pretty provincial. I think there was one bar on town which was owned by the local police chief, but you could purchase beer at most restaurants. By the time I rotated back to the States a few months later, there were four or five bars complete with loud music, floor shows and bar girls to accommodate Marines and Air America personnel on liberty.”