Community relations area added 05/30/05, last updated 07/23/14.
An important, but
often over looked aspect of the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing,
Batcat, was the contribution wing personnel made to the local
community in Thailand. Initial efforts began in the Korat
city area, and later spread to other cities in Thailand,
continuing throughout the history of the 553rd Reconnaissance
Wing until disbanded.
Beginning early in 1968 the 553rd Reconnaissance wing began an outreach program with different agencies in the city of Korat. Contributions were made to St. Marys Orphanage, local Korat schools, Korat City Observation and Protection Center for Juvenile offenders, Nakornajsima Provincial Hospital, then reached out further to the McKean Leprosy Hospital, located in Chiang Mai, the Lady Mo shrine in Korat, Korat Wayward Boys Home, the local Christian Missionary Alliance and Boy Scouts, and others.
Here is some detail of the people to people contributions made by members of the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing with the citizens of Thailand.
While most of the community efforts which originated from the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing can be categorized as a wing effort, one man stands out. TSgt. Jose Espinoza of the 553rd Electronic Maintenance Squadron. Espinoza started his help with a letter to his wife asking for clothing for the children of St. Marys Mission Orphanage in Korat. Mrs. Espinoza along with her friends went to work and within a month had collected 9 cartons of clothing, toys and children’s books. Mrs. Espinoza and her friends, at their personal expense, mailed these to TSgt. Espinoza at Korat, who provided the items to the orphanage. Helped by the Friends of the Children of Vietnam, Mrs. Espinoza sent 24 more boxes of clothing, toys, children’s books, soap, and other essential items to her husband, TSgt. Espinoza. So much so that storage became a problem. Working with the Korat RTAFB base hospital, these items went to the village of Wat Dong Wa in Korat Province.
I didn't know
about this effort while I was at Korat. I only learned of
this outreach from the official histories on microfilm.
Unfortunately the microfilm wasn't clear enough to read the
first name of Mrs. Espinoza. Maybe some of you in the EMS
squadron know, if so please pass her first name along to
Project English Teacher (PET) was probably the most consistent community outreach program performed by the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing. In this program volunteers from all ranks, from A1C to Major, and all squadrons of the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing acted as English teachers to the Korat public schools. Going to local Korat schools these individuals from the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing helped with English lessons. Thirteenth Air Force rated this as the most outstanding community relations program in Southeast Asia. This would be a continuing project from early 1968 to the time the wing was disbanded.
Bill Herridge was a
Batcat PET. Read about finding an unexploded bomb in the
school while teaching Thai youngsters. Take a look
inside a typical classroom, while Batcat Bill Herridge is
at Rongrean Sipchet Thai school - image 1 and here is another
image of Bill teaching at
Rongrean Sipchet Thai school - image 2. The article
talks about a special
Herridge wearing his Thai school
shirt. Images are 133K, 120K and 98K respectively.
Stu Whipple was another Batcat who taught English in a Thai school. B&W about 133K. Added 06/12/13.
Many others also helped with the PET outreach. In this view John Allen is with Thai School kids. My thanks to John Allen for this image. B&W about 32K. Added 07/23/14.
Another effort from the 553rd EMS came from TSgt. Bobby Franks and SSgt. Vere Myers who volunteered their help to the Korat City Observation and Protection Center for Juvenile Offenders.
Another community project which occurred during 1969 was the JOC/AFTN Radio Marathon. This was actually a joint effort of the Army at Friendship and the USAF at the adjoining Korat RTAFB. Some $7,000 was raised form the marathon, which was presented to the Nakornajsima Provincial Hospital.
During a two week campaign, the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing collected almost $2,000, which wing commander Col. Timmermans presented on June 18, 1969, to Dr. Gilbert E. Fisher, Director of the McKean Leprosy Hospital at Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Another way the Wing helped the hospital was to purchase wooden Batcat plaques which were made by the patients. These plaques were the ones presented to distinguished visitors by the Wing. In addition the Wing presented to the hospital a gift of clothing donated by the Southeast Asia Waiting Wives Club of Patrick AFB, Florida.
Here are some
examples of the plaques made by the patients at the McKean
Leprosy Hospital. This image shows a Wooden 553rd
Reconnaissance Wing Plaque. This particular example was
given to Col. Mollish as a Honorary Batcat. Shown here is
another example of the work of the McKean Leprosy Hospital
patients, a Wooden 554th
Reconnaissance Squadron Plaque. This example once
belonged to 554th Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Donald Doyle.
I purchased this from another Batcat who obtained it at an estate
sale. The 553rd Reconnaissance Wing helped the McKean
Leprosy Hospital by hiring patients to make the plaques.
When the wing returned to Korat they were made available for sale
at the Base Exchange.
Later in the year,
Mrs. Thomas E. Morris, wife of a former wing member, collected 21
boxes of clothes and then delivered them to Lake City,
Florida. An EC-121R returning from IRAN overhaul in Florida
was loaded with the boxes of clothes and flew them to Korat
RTAFB. The wing then flew the clothes to Chaing Mai for
presentation to the McKean Leprosy
During January 1970, the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing, and other USAF personnel from Korat RTAFB, constructed a pavilion at the Lady Mo shrine in Korat city. Lady Mo was the Joan of Arc of the Far East, the heroine of Korat. She led her people to victory over the invaders at Korat. Included in the pavilion was a 6 foot model of the EC-121R.
Members of the Wing worked with other USAF personnel from Korat RTAFB to remodel the Thai/American Police Station in Korat. Materials for the remodeling came from both base and Thai sources. Col. Mitchell, 553rd Reconnaissance Wing commander represented Batcat at the dedication ceremony.
At the request of the 554th Reconnaissance Squadron, two officers of the Thai Police Force attended the commanders call meeting. They provided information on Thai customs, particularly to inform squadron members about actions of U.S. military personnel which Thai’s consider offensive.
The Korat Wayward Boys Home received help in the form of lumber. Personnel from the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing salvaged the lumber and other material from old barracks being dismantled at Korat RTAFB.
Each week during 1970 some 35 Thai school children were given a tour of Korat RTAFB. The 553rd Reconnaissance Wing Civic Action Officer, spoke fluent Thai, and provided the guided tours.
Several times mention has been made of the clothing drives. Most of these occurred when the wives of personnel stationed at Korat got together in the U.S. and spear headed local campaigns for clothing, books, and needed essentials. Once they were collected transportation could be provided on board Batcat aircraft returning from Inspect and Repair As Necessary (IRAN) flights back to Korat. Most of the donated clothing was presented to local hospitals, particularly the McKean Leprosarium, and others were delivered to the leprosarium at the village of Khon Khaen.
Hope you enjoyed this information. It shows that the people of Batcat performed not only their required military duties, but also found time to help others whenever they could. While this important human aspect of helping others continues in all branches of the US military today, many American's are totally unaware of these efforts. I look forward to hearing your stories about Batcat outreach programs.
Thank you - Larry