R I P Mac Thompson


Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
From today's Bangkok Post

Refugee hero MacAlan 'Mac' Thompson dies at 77


Refugee hero MacAlan 'Mac' Thompson dies at 77

Long-time resident and US citizen MacAlan "Mac" Thompson, a quiet hero to Hmong and other post-war Indochinese refugees, died Monday at his home in Pathum Thani's Lam Luk Ka district.

He died after a lengthy battle against cancer. Thompson was 77.

After graduation from Oregon State College in 1963, Thompson served in the US Army, including a tour at the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base.

He then joined, and worked extensively with, the US Agency for International Development. His main assignments came on many key projects during the war in Laos, beside both US and Thai officials and military officers.

Like many Americans in the "secret" war against North Vietnam inside Laos, Thompson worked closely with Hmong, both villagers and soldiers of the army of Gen Vang Pao, the major thorn in the side of North Vietnamese trying to obtain supply lines to the main war in South Vietnam.

The fall of Vientiane to the Pathet Lao on Dec 2, 1975, opened a new "career" for Thompson, after he evacuated to Thailand.

Working with a tiny group of "young Turk" veterans, he began lobbying and working on behalf of the Indochinese refugees - Vietnamese, Lao, Cambodian, but particularly Hmong - in order to move them to the United States.

Opposition inside the US government to any large intake of war refugees ran all the way to the White House and then-president Jimmy Carter.

But Thompson and his group worked for several years to meet, overcome and on occasion bypass anti-refugee regulations and sentiment.

By far his greatest success was convincing the US establishment to accept tens of thousands of Hmong and beat back heavy, often racist pressure to keep the former hilltribe people out of America on grounds they supposedly could never adapt to the climate or US culture.

Thompson and his small group were right, his opponents right to the top of government, wrong.

After the refugee crisis ended, Thompson dedicated his work to helping the recovery of Laos, chiefly through the Thai-Lao-Cambodian Brotherhood, a tightly knit network of veterans from the conflict.

In his last internet communication before his death, Thompson sent out an email detailing the success of many Hmong-Americans elected to high political positions in the US mid-term voting in November.​

Mac's story in his own words

Adventures of Mac Alan Thompson
As told by the man, Mac, who was there the whole time

1964, How I Ended Up in Thailand

I was at Ft Belvoir, Virginia from November ‘63 to early February ‘64 for Engineer Officers Basic Course (EOBC). After EOBC, I had my orders in hand for Ft Devens, Massachusetts, for my two year ROTC active duty tour. Before leaving Oregon,

I’d packed my car with all my hunting, camping, skiing, and skydiving gear, prepared to settle in.

Sometime in November or December, a guy came down from Personnel in the Pentagon and announced that anyone who wasn’t really pleased with his current orders, and who could find another 2nd Lieutenant to swap, just let him know by a December deadline. Since we were all newbies except for the OCS guys who were steps ahead, and all had the same MOS 1331, no problem…except finding that someone to swap with.

I put my 3x5 card up on the bulletin board and stood by. One guy came up and wanted to swap with Korea. In January. Sez I, no way. Another guy came up with Germany, but that was for three years. I put him on hold.

About a day before the deadline another guy came looking for me, pleading that he was from about 50 miles from Ft Devens and that his wife was seven months pregnant. The assignment he wanted to swap for? Camp Friendship, Korat, Thailand!

Of course I didn’t know where in the hell Korat might be, but I did know the map for Thailand. Given the timing, with the deadline staring us in the face, we got on the phone to the guy at the Pentagon and said, “Swap us!” He did, and here I still are, 50 years later.

November 1965: How I Ended Up In Laos

I was discharged from the Army in early November and back home in Lake Oswego, Oregon where I stayed in the furnished basement of my parents’ place. At the end of the month, two former roommates from my earlier time at Oregon State U drove through from Anchorage. They were headed to Mexico City for the university there and they asked if I’d like to come along. Sure, sez I; nothing else to do for the moment.

First night was spent down in Ashland, Oregon, sleeping in my friend’s ‘57 Ford station wagon. Breakfast in the morning was at the Southern Oregon College of Education’s cafeteria. On paying the tab, I noticed a 3x5 card on the bulletin board with job info, and wrote it down: International Voluntary Services, IVS.

It was on to Sacramento for a couple of days, then down to Los Angeles, where I about ran out of money. My two friends drove on south, while I caught a bus back to Portland, Oregon, and started writing job applications. I sent lots of applications out in December and January and even got a reply back from USAID: Rejected. I sent other applications out, private sector and government, including smoke jumping in Fairbanks and to IVS. Out of money, so I got a temporary job in a local grocery distribution warehouse unloading boxcars to keep up with my gas, beer, and jump bills. It worked.

Along towards April 1966, I got two phone calls the same Friday evening. The first came from an IVS interviewer who was traveling the U.S. doing—what else but—interviews. He was passing through Portland Airport and asked, “Could I come out Saturday noonish for a chat?” Sure, no problem.

The next call was from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Fairbanks saying they’d had some no-shows for their current smoke jumping training session and asked if I could get up there by Monday. I said I’d call him back on Saturday.

Saturday, I met with the IVS guy and he sounded pretty positive, so I agreed to go with him. I phoned back to Fairbanks: Nope, no go.

June 1966 saw me off to Washington, D.C. for a two-week IVS orientation program, including State Department and USAID briefings, followed by seven weeks of Lao language training at State’s Foreign Service Institute in Rosslyn, Virginia.

Late August, I was off to the Philippines for two weeks of rural development training at the University of Philippines’ facility at Los Banos. Manila was next, early September, where my group of 20 or so people was put on hold as the Wattay Airport in Vientiane was flooded. I said I’d go on ahead to Bangkok and wait out the flood up in Korat, and did so.

About 13 September or so, I received a telegram (remember those?) from the USAID/Laos Bangkok Operations Office (BOO), telling me to go to Udorn and report to the Air America office for a ride to Vientiane. Did so and caught an H-34 up to That Luang on 15 September 1966. After about a week in Vientiane, I learned that Wattay Airport had dried out sufficiently for smaller planes, and I got a Donier DO-28 hop up to Hong Sa, LS-62A, the start of my four years upcountry with IVS and USAID, followed by five years in Vientiane as the logistics guy for the USAID Refugee Relief program.

My upcountry time was spent at Hong Sa LS-62, Nam Bac LS-203, Xieng Lom LS-69A, Moung Met LS-158, Sam Thong LS-20, and Ban Houei Sai LS-25, along with several months in spurts at Luang Prabang LS-54. These sites are all shown on TLCB member Jim Henthorn’s super MapScan Project, which I use online quite often, here: Maps of South East Asia - Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia 1965 - 1975

So, it was just a bit of luck that I noticed that 3x5 card with the IVS info, wrote it down on a cash register receipt, and managed to fi nd it after the drive a few months earlier. That scrap of paper led to IVS, then USAID, and retirement in Thailand in 1992.

1968, June-August: How I came to USAID/Laos

Mid-June finished the two year stint with IVS. I got $500 to buy a plane ticket back to Oregon, but I spent it on local living expenses and job hunting in the area. I went down to Bangkok to submit a couple applications and also flew over to NKP in a Thai Airways DC-3 to the old gravel runway downtown, close by the Mekong River. Back in Vientiane, I was waiting for one of the applications to bear fruit and was running out of funds, hmmmm. While having lunch one noon in August at the American Community Association (ACA) cafeteria with several of the USAID/Refugee Relief Branch guys whom I’d run into now and then upcountry, one of them said that he was going on home leave shortly, and why didn’t I take his job on a short-term USAID contract while he was gone. Sounded like a good deal to me, so I did the paperwork for a four-month contract. The job was doing the Vientiane portion of the logistics of ordering up, storing, and moving relief supplies, rice, salt pots and pans and blankets, etc. out to the field of refugees.

Seems as though I didn’t screw that up too badly, so in December I was asked if I’d like to go to Sam Thong on the same short-term contact basis and work in the field. Sounds good to me, and I went to work for Pop Buell, didn’t screw that time up too badly either, so I was asked if I’d like to convert to regular USAID foreign service status. Sounded even better; a real job, so I did the paperwork. In June ‘69 I departed Laos back to Oregon for a few weeks, USG security clearance cleared, off to D.C. for a month plus of orientation to the foreign services. I Bailed out of that early, and went back to Laos in September and on to ten months at Ban Houei Sai. June 1970, I transferred back to Vientiane to be the logs guy again, including the basic scheduling for the C-46 rice drop program flown by Air America and Continental Air Services (CASI). Les Strouse, also a long-time TLCB member, did this for lots of years.

1975, May-August: USAID/Laos Shutdown and on to State Dept Detail

26 June is an anniversary of sorts, the day in 1975 when I departed USAID/Vientiane and shut down USAID/Laos and was the last direct hire out the door. This was late afternoon, 1700 hrs or so, after Gordon Ramsey, the USAID acting director, and Bea Perez, his secretary, had flown out at about 1400 hrs.

As background, about 23 or 24 May 1975, a large group of leftist students and a few Lao USAID people, along with armed Pathet Lao troops, surrounded the USAID housing compound at KM 6 and the Na Hai Dieo USAID office compound downtown, locked everything up and said “Go home!” This resulted in a five-to-seven-day standoff. Then the USAID American staff, and many to most Embassy staff too, departed Laos in a semi-orderly manner, a whole lot different from the American departures from Saigon and Phnom Penh a few weeks earlier.

A number of USAID Americans, perhaps 20 or so, stayed around for a few weeks to enable a semi-orderly closeout of the Mission. People departed, mostly via air to Bangkok, day-by-day in the final drawdown towards the end of June.

For the previous 30 days, I’d been working on getting household effects (HHE) out of rental housing and moving them to the contractor packing them up for evacuation by air to Bangkok or Udorn. About mid-June I’d also started moving personal vehicles over to Nong Khai for onward shipping to the owners, wherever they might be.

About noon on the 26th, I’d gone back to the Embassy to say bye-bye to Gordon and Bea, as I was already on orders to stick around for another month working on HHE and cars. Gordon gave me The Word: all USAID staff in-country, all three of us, were now declared “persona non grata” by the Lao government.

Seems like Gordon had been over to the Ministry of Interior that morning to turn over the USAID managed “counterpart kip account,” really their money, but USAID controlled it. At times it was a lot, but USAID had been held up by the protesters earlier in June for increased severance pay, well beyond that required by Lao law.

Gordon, objected, but happily went along with it as the protesters were a small portion of the 2,000 or so Lao employees of USAID. He paid the severance out of the counterpart kip fund, actually paid for by the Lao government, even though they didn’t know it. Guess that’s what pissed them off when Gordon informed them that the remaining fund amount was rather small.

So, I’m told I also have to depart. The Charge D’affaire, Chris Chapman, said that I had to go along with Gordon and Bea at 1400 hrs. I said, “Can’t manage that, need to go down to my house and get the few things I have left there.” He said, “OK, go on to the Defense Attaché Office C-47 at 1600 hours.”

I said, “Can’t manage that either, and besides, I have my VW Camper over in Nong Khai, and want to pick that up.” He said something like, “Can’t go that way, the road to Thadeua has a number of checkpoints and road blocks managed by the bad guys.” To which I said, “Yes, and I’ve been through them lots of times recently, taking cars across to Nong Khai.” That seemed to surprise him, but Gordon backed me up and said I could manage an exit before COB. OK, done deal.

My real reason was that I had about 20 cases of Australian Foster’s Beer at my place that I’d just picked up from Ian McLeod and Steve Midgley, of the Australian Forestry Program, and I needed to change that back to $$$! I also had my new dart board case, with swinging doors and three-headed elephant on the outside, being fabricated, and I wanted to pick that up, too. There was a quick goodbye to Gordon and Bea, and around the corner to the Ozzie office, also near the That Dam. Ian out,

Steve there. We headed up to the That Luang area to check the dart board. Not ready. I arranged for Steve to pick it up in a week or so and then drop it off at Lung Mee’s house down at Thaduea, across from Nong Khai.

I was off to my house, quick packing of clothes, loading of the Foster’s, and getting my $$$. I was off to Thaduea by 1700 hours, 26 June 1975, done deal.

Later I saw a USAID cable that Gordon had sent when he arrived in Bangkok saying that USAID/Laos was no more, and that the last employee, me, had departed.

I spent a few days around Nong Khai, as I needed to get my own HHE in the pipeline for shipping back to the U.S. Back on 9 May, after seeing Saigon and Phnom Penh for down the tubes (DTT), I’d loaded up about everything I owned—stereo stuff, books, boxes of crap, clothes, etc, in my VW Camper and took it all over to Nong Khai, and left everything there. After arriving Nong Khai, I reloaded the van and headed down to the Udorn branch of Transpak Lao—I think it was just south of the airbase. I’d met a couple of the Lao staff there previously in Vientiane, which was handy as I needed to get my HHE packed in a plywood shipping box and labeled as “Duty free, in transit” for Thai Customs, and get the proper shipping documents slapped on the box. They did that, and moved the box on to the airbase and put in temp storage with other HHE, already evacked from Vientiane. Nice folks, they were. I went on down to the USAID/ Laos, Bangkok Operations Offi ce (BOO) on Soi 1 Sukumvit to check in.

I then took a few days off and drove back up to Nong Khai, and on 15 July 1975, returned to Thaduea to pick up my dart board case. The Thai immigration guy said something like, “Hey, thought you’d been thrown out.” Well, yes, but there’s this dart board case I need to get. “OK, up to you,” sez he.

Over at the Lao side, there were about the same comments. The “rightist” Immigration guy, who’d been there for a long time, and whom I’d passed by lots of times over a year or more, convinced the PL immigration guy that this was a reasonable request. No one would really want to abandon a new dart board case, especially one with a three-headed elephant carved on the front. Done deal; over and back to Thailand, then back to Bangkok.

I got the dart board (still have it) and went back to Thailand and on to Bangkok where I spent a couple of weeks helping to sort out the loose-packed HHE that’d been flown out of Laos and was just stacked in long piles in a warehouse. Then got a call from the Embassy, Tom Barnes I think it was, asking if I wanted to go up to Udorn and help out with the refugee influx from Laos. Sure, sez I; much better than the alternative of returning to USAID/Washington and getting laid off. I was still an “L” at the time, Limited Tenure, and USAID was then in a massive cutback program.

That State department “refugee” gig turned out to be about seven year’s worth, with a couple of six-month breaks back with USAID in D.C., and ended in August 1983. Interesting times.

It almost sounds like Travels With Charley, but below is what I sent in a postcard just after I departed Laos in 1975, found by Anne, my sister back in Oregon.

Postcard, Mac to Mom, 28 June 1975, mailed from Thailand:

Hi. As I’ve always said, be flexible! Wednesday afternoon, 25 June. Got a cable from State Department, approving 30 days TDY for me attached to Embassy, Vientiane. So, Thursday afternoon rolls around, the Ambassador calls, and I have to leave Laos on two hour’s notice. At least I was the last USAID out. The other two left by air at 1530 and I came out through Nong Khai at 1630. I’ll be TDY in Thailand, now, for 30 days, and then, maybe a little vacation, so I should still be through PDX toward mid-August or early September, en route to D.C.

After that, who knows?

Little did I know! During that month in Bangkok, July 1975, I got picked up by State’s budding Indochinese refugee program, and except for a split 13 months back in D.C. in 1977 and 1978, didn’t depart Thailand until August 1983, eight years on!

In late May 1976, I received a letter from USAID/Bangkok staying that my “TTLA” was being exercised. That’s Termination of Time Limited Appointment. I was an “L” at the time.

This gave me 30 days to depart Thailand and get back to AID/ Washington for out-processing.

I had the “big sads,” as we used to say in those days, when that same afternoon I received a relayed State cable from AID/ Washington saying only “If you accept appointment to the AMED program, action requested reftel will be negated.” Not knowing what “AMED” was, and given the circumstances, I accepted. About 31 May 1976, I packed up my gear at Udorn and drove down to the Golden Palace Hotel on Soi 1, then over to the REF office to see Lionel.

Next day, I was off to USAID/BKK to talk to the EXO there.

He knew of the AMED program, and said that it was pretty difficult to get into. It was a new deal, a two-year intense OJT to train management/executive officers. An applicant needed to be nominated, interviewed, etc. Hmmm, not me. What the hell, I said, go for it. It was back to the office, confer with Lionel, cable off to Shep to see about postponing my arrival from August ‘76 to later in the year. Shep wrote USAID, and December was agreed upon.

After I got back to AID/Washington and had been in the AMED for a few weeks, with the other fi ve guys, three of whom I knew from USAID/Laos, our training coordinator told me that Homer Stutzman had heard through the grapevine that I was being shit-canned. It turned out that Homer had pulled the strings that worked. FYI, I never had the opportunity to thank him for that, because he was down in Central America by then, on reassignment, and died not too long thereafter. I did manage to send Jean, his wife, a note at a later date. I’d known Homer in Vientiane and Jean assisted at the ACA Library, where I often traded.

Back to AMED, I dropped out temporarily in August 1977, when Lionel and Shep rang the bell for volunteers to go to Asia and work with refugees. I went to KL for two months, then extended my leave from AMED for another couple of months, October and November, to go back to Bangkok with Lionel and Tom Barnes. December 1976, I was back to AMED until June 1978, when the shit really hit the fan when Lionel phoned from Bangkok, saying in essence, “Get your ass outhere, could use the help!”

I dropped out again from AMED, this time permanently. I had several high level counseling sessions saying I’d be ruining my USAID career by doing this, but what the hell, I figured it’d be more fun and useful in the end. And it was.

August 1983—April 1987 was spent with USAID/Washington, living in my small townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia. I still managed to spend about a month in Thailand each summer on vacation, if only to maintain my tolerance for Singha. April 1987 saw me off to Khartoum for two years with USAID. Sudan was not my favorite country, but happily I ran into several others who had spent time in Laos and must have been under a bit of a rain cloud. I got to know Les Strouse well during this period. Les also was my guru in making home brew beer, a necessary skill in Sudan. Bob Moberg was also there and it seems like we got together 4-6 evenings a week to tell lies about our former times in Laos. I should have taped these; had some good tales, all true, of course, no BS!

In June 1989, I transferred to USAID/Cairo, which was to be a four-year tour. I just couldn’t take that after Khartoum, so I called in lots of favors from just about everyone and made it back to Thailand with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in the Anti-Piracy Program. Vietnamese “boat people” were still escaping towards Thailand and Malaysia and being preyed upon by Thai fishermen, the “pirates.” The program was semi successful with at least 100 Thai fishermen arrested by the Thai Marine Police, the Navy, and civil authorities, taken to court and jailed. Then in summer 1991, the boat people just stopped coming to Thailand.

How I Decided to Retire: Fall 1991, I phoned back to USAID/

Washington asking what they had in store for me now. They asked if I wanted to go back to Africa. No friggin’ way was my reply. Then how about back to USAID/ Washington? Nope to that option, too. So with nothing else on tap, and with sufficient time and age for early Foreign Service retirement, I punched out 3 January 1992, right here in Bangkok.

A contributing factor to the decision to retire early could be that Sunee and I’d gotten together by this time. I finally bit the bullet and got married while back in Oregon in 1999, after eight years of “practice.” It seemed to be about time to do so. She’s been with me on lots of the Lao trips. After retirement, I was making the occasional trip up to Vientiane for short visits, but no upcountry runs. I heard about the TLCB and joined about 1998 or ‘99, about the same time a Les. Come 2006, I made my first real road trip upcountry with author Roger Warner, to Long Tieng, really interesting after a 20-plus year absence. That got me thinking about the TLCB’s Assistance Program, so starting in 2007 I’ve made two to four trips a year working with local officials to improve their schools, largely new replacement tin roofs, concrete floors, toilets, furniture, etc, all funded by TLCB and some outside donations. A number of photo albums for these trips are online here: www.tinyurl.com/mfkz3rv Time marches on, family here gets larger, two new grandkids have joined the household, grandson March 2014 and granddaughter in September. Keep things hopping, they do, but I still manage to carve out time for the occasional TLCB Lao trip. December 2014 was the last trip to Long Tieng and the PDJ area, along with a February 2015 trip with five TLCBers also to the PDJ.

In summary, I must say that my nine years in Laos and seven years with State on the Indochinese Refugee Program were the best and most satisfying years of my working life, and I wouldn’t change any portion of those times.

Some links on Mac



Mac has posted on GTR on and off a few times over the years, keeping us honest in our facts.
He was an absolute mine of information & a true compassionate man dedicated to helping the Hmong in Laos.
His work and devotion was tireless, helping those who needed help the most.
May he R I P.