Photoreconnaissance over Laos was a little known but highly significant chapter of the Vietnam War. Throughout the conflict, American pilots took great risks to gather vital intelligence on North Vietnamese efforts to use the Ho Chi Minh trail system in Laos to supply insurgents in South Vietnam. Flying unarmed aircraft in areas heavily defended by antiaircraft weapons, these pilots faced the risk of shoot-down on every mission.
As the commander of a detachment of reconnaissance pilots on Kitty Hawk in 1964, Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Cloud was one of the first African Americans to achieve a command position in Naval Aviation. The son of a police officer from San Diego, Cloud entered the Naval Aviation Cadet program in 1952 to avoid the Korean War draft but soon discovered an inner talent for flying and a strong love for the Navy despite experiencing prejudice at some points in his career. (more…)