Bridge and the Art of War

June 1973 turned to July. Most days, everything went as planned: TO-Take Off, rendezvous with the tank, take on gas—we loved the big gas station in the sky—get the target information. Contact the FAC; drop some surprises on the commies, back to the tank, and then home. Mission accomplished. In the first month at Udorn, I had flown 18 combat missions.

F4 sunrise over Cambodia 1973

By early July 1973, we had formed a bridge group. It is hard to imagine combat-hardened fighter jocks playing bridge, but many nights we often sat in the covered deck area and played. We invented the concept of B&B–Bombing and Bridge (and of course: Beer). It was an excellent way to unwind after combat. Indeed, we thought at the time healthier than spending each night at the club. Once again, thought is the operative word.

Many nights as we sat there, the base fogger trucks would come around spraying to control the mosquitos. We would be playing, see the truck approaching and spraying its white fog in the area and then duck back into our rooms until it passed. I later heard that these were the same trucks that sprayed herbicide, possibly Agent Orange along the perimeter.

Herbicide was used throughout SEA to defoliate areas. Around the base perimeter, there was a road that we often walked. At the time, we knew nothing of Agent Orange usage or the danger of exposure to it. You could see the bare dirt with nothing growing on it.

Near the perimeter were Thai homes, and we often saw their children swimming in the klong by the barren, dead defoliated zone. Sometimes we would see families taking buckets of water from the klong after the water drained from the dead area during the monsoon.


Although I didn’t know it, riding my bicycle each day to the squadron exposed me to it. The road from the hootch area passed along the base’s perimeter, and as I rode to the squadron, I breathed in the fumes of the spray. This exposure proved to be a time bomb.

Wing Headquarters

In the late 1970s, after I had returned to the US, I began to experience odd symptoms: my skin burning for no reason, and I had twitching in my arms. In the early 1980s, I became seriously ill. The symptoms included soreness, rashes, burning, and increased sensitivity to all kinds of chemicals. These issues continue to this day, but they have lessened their severity over time without medical help.

The air force flight surgeons could never determine the cause of my problems. Like many others exposed to defoliants or herbicides, these reactions only began to be experienced years later. Sadly, for those of us in Thailand, there has to date been no satisfactory resolution of claims for herbicide exposure at Udorn.

So each night, blissfully unaware of the dangers of breathing the fogger spray from the trucks, we sat outside, drinking beer, and played bridge.

And each day, it was business as usual bombing the commies.

About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in 13 TFS, American History, Combat, F-4 Phantom II, Thailand, U Dorn RTAFB, Udorn RTAFB, Veterans and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bridge and the Art of War

  1. Terry Heggemeier says:

    I too share the same story, same time, same place, to include biking the perimeter to the 14th Sq. No known symptoms.

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