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The Thai Airmen Who Resisted an Empire

Started by thaiga, September 11, 2018, 05:37:41 PM

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33 Hours of Defiance:The Thai Airmen Who Resisted an Empire

In the darkness over the sea, air force lieutenant Srisak Sucharittham heard the enemies before he saw them.

It was 4am. Srisak and his friends had woken early to set out from their airbase to the nearby bay of Ao Manao. A senior officer was slated to visit their base, home of the Wing 5 Squadron, in the evening. So Srisak’s group went to catch fish for a welcome banquet.

Then he heard a sound: the rumble of engines. Unknown ships were entering the bay. Convinced something was amiss, they turned back and sounded the alarm. Dec. 8, 1941 had dawned on Thailand, bringing with it the flames of war.

“I was the first to see the barges. They were almost ashore, about 100 meters away,” Srisak said in an interview recorded before his death last year. “I ran to tell my wing commander to blow the emergency bugle and alert the wing.”

Less than four hours after crippling the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, tens of thousands of Japanese troops landed on Thai shores in their campaign to conquer Southeast Asia. Like the attack on Hawaii, the invasion caught the nation unprepared, and the Thai government led by Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram quickly sought a ceasefire.

But while the rest of the country laid down arms, Srisak and a small band of 120 soldiers at the Ao Manao airbase resisted the invaders for 33 hours, unaware of Bangkok’s capitulation. Over a third would die by the end of the battle.

Distinguished by their courage in the face of overwhelming odds, they remain the only air force unit to be awarded with the Medal of Honor to date.


Rain was falling on a recent visit to Ao Manao â€" Lime Bay, in English â€" on a recent afternoon.

The bay stretches, from south to north in a long curve, with its northern reach curling eastward to end at the foot of Khao Lom Muak, a 300-meter limestone mountain that towers over the harbor.

The bay is now under the military jurisdiction of the Wing 5 base, the home of a squadron responsible for guarding the airspace over Prachuap Khiri Khan province. It sits on the western side of the Lom Muak peak.

There is only one air force-owned hotel on the beach. Driving north toward the bay from the hotel, one would pass a small hill on the left â€" Wua Ta Lueak â€" before the road starts to curve sharply along with the beach toward Lom Muak.

It’s here that the Japanese landed, in full view of these two flanking hills.

Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined.

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