A team of six, including TLCB member Bill Brown and I, returned from a successful trip to Nakhon Phanom and Ban Nahom, Laos.
The team departs Bangkok early in the morning for Nakhon Phanom. We spent the morning surveying the remains of the old Air Force base that has virtually been reclaimed by the jungle over the last 35 years. We found a few souvenirs but mainly what has survived are cement foundations, buildings, and hooches.
We were quite interested in seeing TLCB member John Middlesood’s work with the Thai schools. We were able to visit a school in session as well as have some time to play games with the children.
We were running out of time so we briefly visited another school where we viewed concrete lunch tables provided by the TLCB. The conditions were much improved in the Thai school from what we encountered in the villages of Laos however, the universal constant is the children and their laughter.
Finally! After several days of travel, the team crosses into Laos. The boats look rustic but very functional and have even been upgraded this year with seats, though I’d rather sit with the locals on bags of rice as we did last year.
After stamping out of Thailand, crossing the Mekong and stamping into Laos, we headed to the market and hardware store for supplies needed for this years projects. On the way to Ban Nahom, we stopped at the shop where desks (which the TLCB co-funded with the A1 Skyraiders Association) where being loaded onto trucks for the trip.
The team arrives in the village of Nahom late in the afternoon and settles in. Needless to say, we are the attraction, and the children are as eager this year to have their pictures taken as they were last year. Weather is much colder this year, and most of the team is unprepared for the colder climate. It makes the work in the schoolyard easier, but more blankets are soon needed to be able to sleep at night.
The teams first ful day in the village. Mornings tend to start early with villagers gathered around individual household fires. Team members usually oined the villagers during these morning gatherings to wake up, get warm, and enoy some interaction with our hosts.
After breakfast the team headed off to the school for TLCB-funded projects. The primary project was to get the first coat of paint on the school. We got most of the men in the village to pitch in and help with the painting, and by the end of the day we managed to get one coat of paint on the school.
That evening, we learned that a teenage girl from the village that had been injured by a bomb. The day before, this girl, with four of her friends built a fire outside the village to keep warm. Unbeknownst to them, they built ithe fire over a buried unexploded bomb. These bombs, left over from the war, still litter this area and are a danger to the villagers. Bill Brown and I cleaned and bandaged her wounds and prepared her for the ride to the hospital.
The nearest hospital was 4 hours away traveling over dark, dangerous roads and the only way she could travel is in the back of a truck-bed in the cold evening air. We made her as comfortable as possible and prayed for their safety.
When we left the village several days later we checked in on her at the hospital and were relieved to find out she was not only doing better, but well enough to travel home. I am certain that without our intervention she would have died from the infections in her legs.
The team concentrated on getting the other schoolyard projects completed. Those projects, also funded by the TLCB, include a teeter-totter, tetherball, basketball hoop and swing set. The villagers eagerly helped us with the construction. Later, we formally presented TLCB-funded desks and school supplies to the schoolmaster. He and the students were so appreciative of the new desks and supplies.
Our final full day in the village was spent playing games and doing crafts with the children. Simple games like Duck-Duck-Goose (or Duck-Duck-Pig since they didn’t know what a goose was) and Steal-the-Bacon were big hits with the kids, especially when the “older” folks joined in.
Later, the team visited a second school that supports this district (the school in Nahome is for 1st grade, the school in Thongkham is 1st-5th grades) and took Polaroid photos of siblings. The children then decorated picture frames during craft time and took them home to their families. This would be their very first self-portrait ever.
In the evening we had “Movie Night” where we provided dinner for the entire village. We set up a movie screen and used the new desks as tables where we all ate dinner together and watched the slide show and video of the past few days. The biggest hit was the close-ups of each person. They loved seeing themselves on the “big screen.”
Today we arose early, packed up and sadly said goodbye. The villagers all came out to say goodbye and thank us for all that we did.
The following is a list of accomplishments:
Delivered and distribution of school supplies:
- Desks (purchased with funds provided by TLCB and the A1 Skyraiders Association)
- School Textbooks (purchased with funds provided by TLCB)
- Started a Library (purchased with funds provided by TLCB)
- Reading Glasses that can be checked out from the library
- Notebooks (purchased with funds provided by TLCB)
- Sports Equipment
Built playground equipment (purchased with funds provided by TLCB):
- Basketball Hoop
- Swing Set
- Painted the school (purchased with funds provided by TLCB)
- Played games and made crafts with two schools’ chiildren
- Distributed toothbrushes and floss to each family
- Delivered blankets and sleeping mats
- Purchaed field clearing tools (for a future school and hospital in a nearby city)
- Purchased road-building tools (for a road that is half-way completed to the village)
- Bought dinner for the entire village for two days
- Provided medical assistance, transportation to the hospital and paid the bills for two bomb victims
It was a successful and wonderful trip. It was a team effort that involved many people and organizations including TLCB, A1 Skyraiders Association, and North-by-Northeast Tours. You are part of the team. You helped make an Impact in Laos.
“Where is the rest of the bone jarring road?” I wondered. It had only been 14 months since my
last visit and now the road to Ban Nahom was paved halfway to the village. Progress – and so
My “Impact Laos” team members and I were returning to Ban Nahom village to fulfill our vision.
The vision was spawned 14 months before when I searched for my fathers crash site.
You may recall, my dad, Maj. Edward M. Hudgens was an A-1 pilot on a search and rescue
mission for two downed F4 pilots in the Mu Gia region. As he was returning to Nakhom Phanom,
his tail section blew off. His plane crashed into the side of a karst 45-minute hike from Ban
When I returned home from Ban Nahom in Oct 2002, I formed a team of friends from my church.
Team members included fellow TLCB member Bill Brown (stationed, ironically, at NKP the same
time as my Dad), his brother Bob, dentist Greg Armi, Jeff Meyer, Ken Macon, Jeff von Richter
and me. Supporting us from North by Northeast Tours was Montri, Sak and John Learned.
We finalized the vision and formulated a plan. We wanted to make an impact on poverty stricken
Ban Nahom and surrounding villages. We decided to call it “Impact Laos”. Our overall objectives
were to focus on dental/medical needs and to help the kids and villagers in Ban Nahom and
The goals of this particular trip were to evaluate the dental needs of the kids, build a concrete
school floor, procure and deliver helpful items like blankets, shoes, soap, shampoo, toothbrushes,
toothpaste, school books, school and medical supplies.
I also felt it was important to involve those who fought in the war. I approached both the A-1
Skyraiders Association and TLCB during the October reunions about participating in the project.
Both enthusiastically agreed and donated funds towards the project.
After a night in Bangkok and an early flight to NKP we visited the old base. Bill was looking for
the old putting green he had built in 1969. We didn’t find it (how do you loose a putting green?). I
had learned the exact location of my Dads hooch at the A-1 reunion. We found it but there was
not much left but the foundation.
We met TLCB member John Middelwood and his wife at dinner near the night market. After
dinner, a few of the guys headed off the check out the night market where they dined on a few
beetles, silkworms and grubs! Sadly, I was in heavy discussion with John and was unable to
DAY 2: HEADING OUT
The next day we crossed the Mekong River, entered Laos and drove a not-so-bumpy four hours
to Ban Nahom. Everywhere we went, we were the center of attention. We started taking pictures
of the kids then flipped the digital camera around to show them the photo. The joy it gave the
kids and adults was addicting and this practice continued for our entire stay.
After a wonderful dinner cooked by Montri and a meeting with the local and District leaders, it was
off to bed.
The next morning we began our first day of activities in Ban Nahom. Bothers Bill and Bob Brown
entertained the kids with a homemade box hockey game and by making bamboo hula-hoops.
Seventy-one year old Bob even road a bicycle backwards!
Then it was on to building a cement schoolroom floor funded by TLCB. To get water to the
school for the cement, women and girls four years or older, carried water from the riverbed to the
school, up a 40-foot embankment and 200 yards to barrels outside of the school. Inside, Bill and
Bob taught the locals and us “Farangs” (westerners) how to lay concrete. We were amazed at
the tenacity of the Brown brothers.
John Learned was a welcomed surprise member to our group. John is part of North by Northeast
tours and set up a small medical center for minor medical issues.
During floor construction, we set up a dental clinic. Dentist Greg and his assistant Jeff Meyer
performed dental assessments and cleanings on the village children. They showed the kids
proper brushing techniques and introduced flossing – an unheard of practice. Following their
dental exam, patients received a new toothbrush, bracelet or toy and a Polaroid picture with the
dentist. The prized pictures were a big hit as this would be their first ever.
Dr Greg also treated several dental conditions in some adults. These included one nighttime
wisdom tooth extractions using only a headlamp for illumination. In all, Greg and Jeff saw over
70 kids and 20 adults. What an accomplishment!
The next day’s objective was to complete the school floor. The first day it took almost the entire
day to complete a little more than 1/3 the floor. By the second day, we had the system down and
completed the floor after lunch. The first day, we were very hands on but by the second day, the
last few sections of concrete were being laid entirely by the villagers.
DAY 5: THE FINAL DAY
The final day’s agenda included distribution of supplies and a trip to my fathers crash site.
The team distributed supplies to each head of family. Each family received sleeping mats,
blankets, shoes, soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste. The recipient’s appreciation is
almost too hard to articulate.
Each student received notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners and a prized school
uniform. The youngest were so precious. Their little “praying hands” and “Khop Jai” “thank yous”
were too cute.
We also purchased schoolbooks for grades 1 thru 5 and distributed them to the Ban Nahom
School (Grades 1 thru 3) and the Ban Thongkham school (Grades 3-5). In addition, we shared
some of the supplies and medicines with the two neighboring villages of Ban Thongkham and
A group of thirty or so villagers and team members made the 45-minute hike to my dad’s crash
site. We mounted a memorial plaque onto a prominent rock. This rock prevented many of my
father’s remains from being washed down the side of the mountain. It was here the JTFA found
most of my dad’s remains here including his identifying tooth.
While the plaque was being mounted, I stole a few moments by myself. I thought of my Dad, I
thought of what we had just accomplished in the village, I thought of all the people who made it
possible. From North by Northeast Tours to the A-1 Skyraiders Association and the Thailand
Laos and Cambodia Brotherhood, our co-workers, family, friends and wives, the Impact Laos
team received a tremendous amount of support. Without all of them, this trip would never have
A vision that was spawned 14 months ago was complete for this trip. We will be back. We made
a difference. We We will continue to Impact Laos.
I knew my Dad would be proud of us all.