16 April, 2022

Profile 161: "323" - Vought A-7D as flown by Charles "Alex" Wright, 388th TFW, 3rd TFS


I'm not sure what it is about being a History Geek (HG) that is so danged compelling.

Maybe it's the ability to keep calm in the face of chaos.... or see multiple sides of the same issue.  Or, maybe it's knowing the answer before others even understand the question...

Whatever it is, History Geeks (HGs) command respect. 

Why?  ONE WORD:  Perspective.

A trite, dated trope?  Bah.  The whole world is a trite, dated trope.
HGs know this.


Look at the pencil sketch.  It's a Vought A-7D Corsair II circa May, 1975 and based at Korat, Thailand.

* break break *

On the whole, 1975 was a year of malaise.   In case you're wondering what "Malaise" actually is, the graphic below showed up on a quick search.  Evidently, an Icon Designer figured this was the best way to represent the condition in pictograph... 

At first, I couldn't quite figure it out as it looked like someone dancing.   So, I googled popular songs of 1975 and immediately saw that Barry Manilow had his first #1 chart hit with the song "Mandy" in January!

Now, if any song can knock you into a state of malaise, it's MANDY.   And if you actually were forced to dance to the tune, it'd look EXACTLY like above.  Try it yourself.  I'll wait...

See what I mean?  

However, if you're a stickler for details, let's let "the dictionary" define the term.


Malaise — /məˈlāz/   noun

A general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.
"a general air of malaise"


Why the malaise-iousness?  Well, if we were transported back in time to the United States circa May of 1975, the following would be depressing the collective consciousness:

• President Nixon's 1972 Watergate Scandal not only ruined his leadership, it also brought the ruin of the Presidential Office into the living rooms of every American that had a TV. 

• The formal withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam in 1973.  Granted, it should have been a time of celebration but the reality is, the war had stirred up so much muck, the moment 'felt' like a disaster cleanup.

• Sure the VN war POWs were home by April '73 but a third of them were either divorced or in the process.  Putting it into perspective, that's about twice the rate of the average population.

• Saigon fell, leaving an era of military men & women feeling as if they'd been cheated by their political leadership as well as cheating the very people (South Vietnamese) they'd believed they were trying to protect.

• When Nixon resigned from the Presidency, VP Gerald Ford was promoted.  One month later, Ford pardoned his old boss, ironically ruining his own chance at a legit chance of winning the 1976 election. 

• Inflation had a mind of its own — in 1975, it had cracked 9% (and wouldn't slow down until the Reagan-era of the 80s).

• American cars were (almost all) garbage — bloated behemoths powered by emissions-strangled engines, clad in orange-peeled paint, fake-wood appliqué and acres of soft, sticky, velour.  Oh and Ford was still selling burning Pintos.

• And if you were a man, the fashion industry absolutely hated you.  See the guy with the mustache?  I don't blame him for scowling.

True story.  I asked an old person about what they remembered from the 70s and the answer I received was a grunt, sneer and wave of the hand as if someone had just farted.

Malaise indeed.

However, HGs understand that the human story is one narrated by Newtonian voice.  It works like this: when something sucks, another thing blows.  And if you were a Southeast Asian Communist in 1975, your whole world was blowing RED.

• Vietnam was now Communist (April).
• Cambodia became Communist (April).
• Laos became Communist, too (December).


Now's a good time to get back to the A-7D above (or below for that matter(.   Specifically, the A-7D, S/N 71-0323 assigned to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) based at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB), 12 MAY 1975.

For most of the Vietnam War, Thailand hosted any number of bases for American fighting aircraft.  Ubon, Udorn, Tahkli, U-Tapao to name a few.  But none were as big or involved as Korat.  From 1962 through 1975 "Korat" was the largest USAF base in Thailand, sending massive amounts of sorties into North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos... I tried to look up how many sorties but simply couldn't figure it out.  My guess?  Over half a million.   For a single-runway base, Korat was a happening place.

Until 1975.

I found this map here.  It's a pretty cool personal page on Korat AFB

By 1975, the withdrawal of American forces left a much smaller aerial footprint in Thailand.  No need for the deed, right?   The Thai government was as tired of war as everyone else.  With Cambodia and South Vietnam's fall, Thai politicos wanted nothing more than to secure its own government (which had growing Communist influences) and stay out of conflict.  Period.  The Thais imposed restrictions upon the U.S. on what kinds of missions could be flown from Thai bases (including Korat).

Thus, the A-7Ds of the 388th TFW were simply a vestige feather of a once-mighty (now black-eyed) Eagle.  I can envision the moment now — a hot May afternoon,  a row of green, brown and white A-7s sitting idle, waiting for nothing more than to go home... more malaise.

Meet Lt. Alex Wright.   He was one of the new arrivals to the USAF's cream of fighter pilots.  Too late for the action of the Vietnam War, he figured he would wind out his Southeast Asian tour flexing his aerial muscles to no one in particular and then end up back in the states.

Alex said, "Now John, look carefully.  I want my A-7 to be weathered.  See the fading?  Chips of paint? Like that. (he paused) Like me now!"  He thought that was funny.  To me, this story is not funny at all.

On the morning of May 12, Alex was just another bored American fighter pilot, biding his time in a part of the world where he wasn't wanted or needed.

By 1430 hours, however, the gods of war decided the Vietnam War needed one more battle...

(and we'll get to this notion of HGs having 'perspective' in the next post)

I hate "SEA Camo" (SEA = South East Asia) because no one is really sure what it really looked like.  Think I'm being funny?  Look up photos for yourself, multiply that by the raging sun, humidity, wear, tear... but I do know that Alex's A-7D was painted with "anti-flash white" on the bottom. And even then, it was filthy.