The Kansas City Star (and other papers) reported an Associated Press story that the French government will award the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award, to the seven surviving CIA pilots who flew supply missions to French troops in what is now Vietnam. They flew as “civilian employees” of Civil Air Transport, a CIA front company, in unarmed cargo planes. They knew that if they were captured or killed they would not be acknowledged as U.S. government employees, but they also have been denied retirement benefits on the grounds that they were technically not government employees. The French award is thus a welcome commemoration.
The AP reporter questioned UGA historian William M. Leary, who has written extensively about covert CIA air operations in Asia, about the news.
“The pilots of Civil Air Transport flew a variety of deeply covert and often hazardous missions for the CIA, sometimes at the cost of their lives,” Leary said. “They were the true secret soldiers of the Cold War.”