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River Rats

In addition to the very serious business of developing better tactics, the “practice reunions” also involved parades, lots of humor and fraternal events. Here, Col. Robin Olds rides an elephant from the flightline to the officer’s club. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In addition to the very serious business of developing better tactics, the “practice reunions” also involved parades, lots of humor and fraternal events. Here, Col. Robin Olds rides an elephant from the flightline to the officer’s club. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Pictured here are a few of the many funny, creative floats made for the “practice reunion” parades. The “biplane” is sitting on top a bomb loader. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Pictured here are a few of the many funny, creative floats made for the “practice reunion” parades. The “biplane” is sitting on top a bomb loader. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association was formed in Thailand in 1967 to improve tactics and coordination among aircrews flying over North Vietnam. Rich in tradition, it grew into a fraternal organization which has lasted far beyond the Southeast Asia War.

Early in 1967, Col. Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) commander, hosted the first joint tactics conferences between wings to improve methods and exchange ideas about the air war over North Vietnam. Not only were the discussions productive, but in meeting together, the aircrews strengthened bonds of friendship and trust.

In May 1967 a tactics conference at Korat, Thailand, arranged by F-105 pilot Col. Howard "Scrappy" Johnson, 388th TFW, became the first meeting of the "Red River Valley Fighter Pilots." The term, coined at this gathering, came from the name of the river that runs through North Vietnam.

The May 1967 conference also became known as the first "practice reunion" because the first "real" reunion was expected to take place after the war, when the POWs would be able to attend. The success of the meeting spawned a second "practice reunion" at Ubon in August 1967, where the nickname "River Rats" and their emblem were established.

Other "practice reunions" followed, with the first "real" reunion taking place in 1973 upon the return of U.S. POWs. Today, the River Rats focus on fraternity, generating awareness of POW, MIA and KIA issues, providing scholarships for the children of those lost in action and promoting the importance of American air power.

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Related Fact Sheets
Brig. Gen. Robin Olds: Combat Leader and Fighter Ace
Return with Honor: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia
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