History of Impact Laos
On March 21, 1970, an American F4 fighter pilot was shot down over Laos. A search and rescue mission was launched from Thailand. Air Force Pilot Major Edward Hudgens took off in front to provide air support. As he covered the rescue helicopter and started his own return to base, Major Hudgens’ plane was hit by enemy ground fire. It crashed in a mountainous area of eastern Laos near the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail, killing Major Hudgens just three months before he was to return home. He was 39 years old. He left behind a wife Mary and four children; Stacy, Doug, Wendy and Jeff.
By the early 1990’s, diplomatic relations improved between the United States and Laos, and a U.S. government team was allowed into the region to excavate the crash site. It had been scavenged and the bigger pieces of the plane sold as scrap. But the excavation team found bone fragments and one tooth, remains they conclusively identified as Major Edward Hudgens’. The remains were flown back to the United States, where they were interred at Arlington National Cemetery in 1996 with full military honors.
Jeff was six years old when his father died. He knew little about the man and how he had lived in the last months of his life. But in 2002, Jeff had the opportunity to attend a reunion of his father’s fellow pilots in Thailand. He decided that if he could get to it while in the area, he would visit the spot where his father’s plane had crashed.
In October of 2002, Jeff left the reunion and traveled four hours by truck to a small, remote village in eastern Laos just across from the border with Vietnam. As he entered the village, people warned him to steer clear of a spot near the trail. They pointed to an area where a 1,000 pound unexploded bomb had been dropped 40 years before. It lay just 750 feet from a school house.
Jeff met with the village elders and held negotiations until an agreement was reached. The next morning, he hiked to his father’s crash site. Jeff closed a very painful chapter in his life that day. But he couldn’t stop thinking about the bomb, the school house with the dirt floor, the long term impact the war had on the people he had just met. He wondered what he could do to help destroy the bomb and improve the conditions of the school and the people at large.
After returning to California, Jeff pulled together a team of friends and developed ideas to reach out to this small village. Their vision became known as Impact Laos.
What happened to the bomb? Jeff contacted an organization that removes unexploded ordinance, and they destroyed the bomb along with three others just like it. That cleared the way for the many projects Impact Laos has planned and completed over the past decade.
Do you find this story compelling and wish to contribute? You can sponsor an individual or our general fund!