This site is dedicated to my friend, Craig Morrison, one of the best pilots I have ever known. Craig died in the crash of an unflyable T-6 on April 21, 1995. It is strangely ironic that, although, Craig should have been killed many times in Laos, he would die this way.
"As the war dragged on, so the myth grew. It started in the mid-1960s as a mix of gossip and bar talk among a battle-hardened elite who told stories that seemed fantastic to everyone who heard them. Apparently, there was another war even nastier than the one in Vietnam, and so secret that the location of the country in which it was being fought was classified. The cognoscenti simply referred to it as 'the Other Theater.' The men who chose to fight in it were hand-picked volunteers, and anyone accepted for a tour seemed to disappear as if from the face of the earth.
The pilots in the Other Theater were military men, but flew into battle in civilian clothes - denim cutoffs, T-shirts, cowboy hats, and dark glasses, so people said. They fought with obsolete propeller aircraft, the discarded junk of an earlier era, and suffered the highest casualty rate of the Indochinese War - as high as 50 percent, so the story went. Every man had a price put on his head by the enemy and was protected by his own personal bodyguard. Each pilot was obliged to carry a small pill of lethal shellfish toxin, especially created by the CIA, which he had sworn to take if he ever fell into the hands of the enemy. Their job was to fly as the winged artillery of some fearsome warlord, who led an army of stoneage mercenaries in the pay of the CIA, and they operated out of a secret city hidden in the mountains of a jungle kingdom on the Red Chinese border.
It certainly sounded farfetched, yet the talk emanated from people who commanded respect. Men like the Special Forces soldiers who fought behind enemy lines, CIA case officers who lived in the field year after year, and the fighter pilots who flew over North Vietnam. The pilots spoke of colleagues who had vanished into a highly classified operation code-named the Steve Canyon Program.
When such men reappeared they had gone through a startling metamorphosis. In the military world of spit, polish, and crewcuts, they stood apart; some sported long hair and mutton-chop whiskers or curling, waxed mustachios, and many wore heavy gold bracelets and GMT Master Rolex watches with wide gold bands. If they happened to be on the edge of a combat zone they carried a 9 mm pistol in a holster, the preferred weapon of the professional soldier of fortune. And, like a caste mark, each wore a 22-karat gold ring that had an oriental royal crest set into a red cloisonne top, with a roughly cut piece of locally procured diamond at its center.
Insiders who worked with them knew these pilots as the Ravens. It was only natural that such a romantic group should generate talk. That almost all of it was true, in one form or another, was never established at the time. The secrecy of their activities, and the very fact of their actual existence, was guarded throughout the war. Even the Air Force colonels whose job it was to interview new pilots for the program had no clear idea of what the mission involved.
The secret is still guarded today. A large number of the documents and oral histories relating to the activities of the Ravens during the Indochinese war will remain classified until after the year 2000. An official history of the war in which the Ravens fought, prepared by Air Force historians with Top Secret security clearances, will not be released for publication within the lifetime of anyone reading this.
The legend has become hazy, a half-remembered war story known only to a few veterans of Vietnam. 'The Steve Canyon Program? Yeah, I remember. The Ravens - a wierd bunch of guys who lived and fought out there in the jungle in the Other Theater somewhere. Hell, what was the name of the country?'"
For the complete story of the Ravens, read "THE RAVENS" by Christopher Robbins, author of Air America
The Ravens were FAC's in the secret CIA war in Laos. An honorable, if irreverent group who fought for something they believed in; not the politically correct war in Vietnam, but the war to help an embattled people; the peaceloving Hmong of Laos. Their war also helped save American lives, as they were not bound by the 1000's of pages of ROE; written out of ignorance by REMF's; rules that elicited a high cost; a bill paid by brave American soldiers in Vietnam with their very lives. The Ravens held to the high tradition that the word of the American people actually meant something, that honor, integrity and pride are words with profound meaning and that there are things worth dying for. For those who know the true story of Vietnam and Laos, there is great shame for America; shame brought on by the actions of such individuals as Henry Kissinger, Lyndon Johnson and Jane Fonda. I have met a number of the Ravens and they are devilish bastards to a man; but when the chips are down, there is no better man to call upon.
At one of the Raven reunions, the following poem was given to Craig Morrison, former president of the Edgar Allan Poe society. The verse was written by Art Cornelius after the death of his friend Sam Deichelman. Unashamedly emotional, and written immediately after the loss, the knowledge that it is not the work of a poet but the heartfelt tribute of a warrior to a fallen comrade gives its words a poignant authenticity. It is now a ritual reading at Raven reunions
In my memory I carry
The twinkle of your eye, the delight of your laugh,
And the courage that was life, as we expected every day to die.
The red mud stuck
To our boots and tires, the dust to our bodies,
And silver wraiths of mist swirled over and around Green mountains.
Smaller men stood taller and larger than our size,
But you towered over us all, your grin, your tears,
Every orphan was your child, every life a part of yours,
When Chou held on to the thread of life,
You'd have bled for him, breathed for him,
You'd have given your life for him, if you could.
We lived each day in fire and air,
And every dawn life's croupier spun the wheel again,
And I'd have been a better friend, but I trusted time.
There never was a man more strong, more peaceful,
More fierce, more fair,
And we were all proud to love you.
Perhaps one day when the fire is out,
Green mountains will show a flash of gold,
I'll see the twinkle of your eye
And smile again
And in the irreverent tradition of the Ravens, we have the following toast.
The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away - if that's not a square deal, I'll kiss your ass.
There are many things that need to be said of, about and to the Ravens, but I believe that the most profound thing that we as Americans can do is to understand just what they did and to say "Thanks".