Operation Saklolo

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name: Operation Saklolo
Location: Republic of the Philippines
Date: July 21–August 15, 1972
Emergency: Weeks of torrential rain flooded northern and central Luzon, killing more than 300 people and isolating 700,000.
Organizations: 374th Tactical Airlift Wing; 36th, 774th, and 776th Tactical Airlift Squadrons; and 31st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron
Airlifted: More than 2,000 tons of food, medical supplies, clothing, fuel, and other relief supplies; and at least 1,533 passengers, including Army disaster assistance relief teams and medical evacuees.
Aircraft Used: C–130, HC–130, H–3, and H–43 (numbers unknown)

The approach of a series of typhoons and tropical storms brought weeks of torrential rain to the island of Luzon in the northern Philippines during July and early August. In July, more than 77 inches of rain fell over central and northern Luzon, putting some highways under three feet of water. Over 300 people died and 700,000 were isolated and in need of food. By August 4, about 100,000 flood evacuees had crowded into 40 shelters in the Manila area. This was the worst disaster in the Philippines since World War II.

The Philippine government sought relief from the United States, whose Agency for International Development sponsored a humanitarian operation called Operation Saklolo. U.S. military organizations from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force participated in the operation under direction of RADM John H. Dick. To feed the isolated flood victims, bakers in Manila prepared thousands of nutribuns, high protein bread rolls, from AID flour. Relief officials set up a Philippine regional disaster relief coordination center at Clark AB in Luzon. Admiral Dick organized an airlift to transport the nutribuns from Manila to Clark and distribute them from Clark around Luzon.

During Operation Saklolo, Air Force C–130 Hercules cargo airplanes transported 2,000 tons of relief supplies in Luzon, including food, medical supplies, clothing, and fuel. The aircraft were flown by the 36th and 774th Tactical Airlift Squadrons, on rotational duty in the western Pacific, and the 776th Tactical Airlift Sq of the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing, based at Ching Chuan Kang AB in Taiwan. Most of the C–130s delivered nutribuns from Nichols Field near Manila to Clark AB, where they were distributed to flood victims by trucks, helicopters, and boats. Each C–130 delivered an average of 75 tons of cargo per day, flying in poor weather that included low ceilings, poor visibility, and heavy rain. Three C–130s shuttled daily between Manila, Clark, and the U.S. naval base at Subic Bay during the operation.

At least one Hercules flew relief supplies from Davao in the southern Philippines to Manila for flood victims in Luzon. Clark AB’s 31st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron also employed HC–130s to deliver food among key points on Luzon during the emergency.

To distribute food and other supplies accumulating at the Clark AB relief center, Admiral Dick relied on Air Force helicopters at the base and Navy and Marine Corps helicopters from nearby Cubi Point NAS. Air Force H–3s and H–43s from the 31st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron transported hundreds of bags of nutribuns to flood victims, some by landing on small areas of high ground surrounded by floodwaters and some by airdropping in regions without landing zones.

Crowds of hungry people flocked to each helicopter as it landed or descended, hoping to get some of the food. The 31st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron distributed 50 tons of food, medical supplies, and clothing from Clark AB to villages in central and northern Luzon cut off from normal transportation routes. Small H–43s transported Army disaster assistance relief teams around the island, where they gave over 305,000 cholera and typhoid inoculations. Larger H–3 helicopters flew medical supplies and food, including rice and nutribuns, from Clark AB to villages around Luzon. The Jolly Green Giants evacuated medical patients to hospitals in the Manila area. Among the Air Force helicopter pilots were Capt. Loran Rodway and Capt. Richard P. O’Dell. Captain O’Dell represented the 31st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at an awards ceremony in Manila at the conclusion of Operation Saklolo.

At that ceremony, President Ferdinand Marcos awarded the Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation to 30 U.S. military organizations participating in the flood disaster relief operations. The operation reinforced friendly relations between the United States and the Republic of the Philippines during a crucial stage in the Vietnam War and proved that the two nations could work together in a common cause. It also demonstrated that U.S. military organizations from several services could carry out joint operational goals.

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