Episode 1014 of the Vietnam Veteran News Podcast is all about an interesting person from Lander, Wyoming, his dangerously interesting avocation and a book he has written about an unknown battle involving intrigue, danger and secrecy. A story in The WyoFile website titled: Climbing trip inspires war story by Kelsey Dayton tells about Sam Lightner Jr. and how his passion for rocking climbing led to him writing his book Heavy Green: The Collision of Two Unlikely Missions in America’s Secret War.
Lightner was raised in Jackson, Wyoming. At different times he has been fortunate enough to also live in southern Thailand, Banff, Alberta, and Moab, Utah, but Wyoming has always been “home.” Traveling and living in such diverse places has helped Sam greatly as a writer. Not only has it provided a plethora of settings to build stories upon, but also given insight into diverse people and cultures.
Lightner was not a Vietnam Veteran but he always had an interest in the Vietnam War since he was a child. The war dominated the news and some of his earliest memories. When he began his quest for new climbing sites in other areas of Southeast Asia, he turned to military reports, news clips and documentaries from the Vietnam War for clues.
That is where he discovered the fascinating story of Phou Pha Thi. A “sacred mountain” in Laos “believed by the locals to be inhabited by great “phi”, or spirits. His attraction to the mountain was its enormous sheer cliff faces that presented inviting challenges for rock climbers. During the Vietnam War the sacred mountain attracted the attention of the USAF because of its strategic heights and location being 100 miles south of Dien Bien Phu, 160 miles west of Hanoi.
In 1966 at the direction of the CIA the Hmong “Secret Army” recaptured the mountain from the North Vietnamese. The CIA then proceeded to build a 700 foot landing strip next to the mountain and setup Lima Site 85 for the purpose of direction air strikes against NVA operations. On March 10, 1968 the NVA reclaimed Phou Pha Thi.
Listen to episode 1014 to get the rest of the story about Lima Site 85 on Phou Pha Thi. Get a copy of his book and discover the fate of the hapless Air Force personnel stationed on the sacred mountain.