National Security

CIA covert airline's Vietnam pilots finally getting recognition

BOISE, Idaho _ Bob Charters has lived most of his life with the secret knowledge that he contributed to the Vietnam War.

Some 40 years later, Charters is still fighting _ to stave off advancing cancer and to get recognition for the largely untold and misunderstood history of civilian pilots who flew covert CIA missions in Laos and Vietnam.

What little exposure the secret airline has gotten has come from books and the 1990 Mel Gibson movie "Air America," which is reviled by the real pilots. Few have heard the first-hand stories of the civilian pilots and the missions of Air America _ a front corporation for the CIA.

But earlier this month, the CIA released 10,000 pages of previously classified documents that detail Air America's secret missions.

Many of those missions were harrowing _ from rescuing downed pilots under enemy fire to ferrying humanitarian supplies, ammunition and soldiers.

Unlike their military counterparts, however, Air America's pilots didn't get medals or commendations.

"We were paid well," Charters said. "But the only thing we got were the (typewriter) ribbons that printed out our checks."

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