Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department closed its embassy in Yemen, marking the third embassy closure in the region in recent months, and it remains unclear what will happen to the vacated embassy or the base that housed its Marine security force. Over the years, the U.S. has vacated dozens of other installations overseas, including shuttered embassies to disused military bases. Some of them were evacuated or lost during conflict, while others were simply abandoned when peacetime rendered them unnecessary.
In early 1968, U.S. Marines at a small, remote combat base at Khe San, just south of the Demilitarized Zone, held off a North Vietnamese siege for 75 days. The siege marked one of the opening moves in the Tet Offensive. Coffee fields now grow over the former battlefield, and only a handful of abandoned helicopters, a few restored bunkers, an overgrown airstrip, and a small museum mark the place where 500 Marines and 10,000 North Vietnamese troops fought and died.
The U.S. abandoned the base at Khe San in April 1971. Two years later, North Vietnamese forces rebuilt the airstrip and used it to fly to points further south. Today, plants have begun to reclaim the old dirt airstrip, though patches of the runway show through.
Khe San is now a regular stop for bus tours of the area. A, whose relatively new construction contrasts with the base, displays photographs and weapons from the Vietnam War. Outside, visitors can walk among American helicopters in varying states of disrepair and explore restored bunkers from the former base.
Kirkuk Air Base in northeast Iraq has changed hands twice in the last four years: first in a planned, formal handover, and then in a seizure amid the chaos of war.
The Kirkuk Province is a strategically important entry point into the Iraqi portion of Kurdistan, a region overlapping parts of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, populated mostly by members of the Kurdish ethnic group. Throughout most of the war in Iraq, the 506th Air Expeditionary Group flew combat missions from the base, where they also trainrf Iraqi Air Force pilots. Around 5,000 U.S. soldiers served at Kirkuk until 2011, when the U.S. military turned over the air base to the Iraqi military.
In June of 2014, after ISIS forces captured the city of Mosul to the north and Tikrit to the west, the Iraqi troops fled Kirkuk, leaving the base vacant and in disarray. A visiting journalist from described damaged and broken-down vehicles, abandoned aircraft, and a generally run-down state of affairs.
When the Iraq troops pulled out, known as Peshmerga claimed the abandoned base for themselves. By early 2015, the Peshmerga and Iraqi Shiite fighters had formed an to hold Kirkuk against ISIS.
From bases on Midway Atoll, American forces fought the pivotal Battle of Midway against the Japanese Navy in 1942. Today, commercial jets come and go from Henderson Field on Midway Island, also known as Sand Island, but on the atoll's Eastern Island, tropical wilderness is slowly overtaking the remains of Naval Air Station Midway Island. Terns and albatrosses nest on deserted runways, and invasive ironwood trees grow where military barracks once stood.
Contractors for the U.S. Navy built runways and base buildings on Eastern Island and nearby Sand Island in 1940. The Army Corps of Engineers had added seaplane shelters to Sand Island in 1938, and Pan American had used Sand Island as a stop for trans-Pacific flights since the mid-1930s. But the new runways at Eastern Island were longer. Most large aircraft bound for Midway came and went from Eastern Island for most of WWII.
Midway Atoll saw heavy use during the Korean War and through the decades of the Cold War. Personnel came to the islands on 18-month rotations, and many brought their families. Eastern Island hosted only a small contingent of about 100 sailors and Marines, and the last of those left in 1970, when the Navy designated Eastern Island a wildlife habitat. In 1996, it became a National Wildlife Refuge under the care of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Little remains of the former naval air station today. Departing personnel dismantled most of the wooden buildings and Quonset huts that once housed barracks, mess halls, and operations facilities. The few structures they left eventually gave in to time and weather. An in the 1980s found the remains of two gun emplacements, but most of the sandbagged gun positions that dotted the island during WWII had long since vanished. The runways are the most noticeable trace of the island's past: pale strips of tarmac nearly taken over by tenacious plants and nesting sea birds. Crumbling revetments still mark the ends of the runways.
On the rolling plains of Oxfordshire, U.K., a line of concrete hangars stand silent witness to the tension of the Cold War. Although they once housed U.S. Air Force F-111 bombers, today the U.K. considers them historical monuments. Like much of the rest of the former U.S. Air Force base at RAF Upper Heyford, the reinforced hangars have been vacant and disused since 1994.
RAF Upper Heyford served as a base for the U.S. Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC) throughout the Cold War, from 1950 to 1994. It had begun as a training field for Britain's Royal Flying Corps in 1916, and the Royal Air Force (RAF) trained at Upper Heyford through WWII. In 1950, the RAF transferred the base to the U.S. Air Force, which wanted to build four SAC bases in the area.
After the Cold War, the U.S. military saw little need for strategic bomber bases in the U.K. The last aircraft and personnel left Upper Heyford in 1993, and the Air Force formally returned the base to the UK's Ministry of Defense in September 1994. Since then, grasses and wildlife have reclaimed the flightline, but other buildings remain much as the Air Force left them in 1994. Mission command wait quietly behind heavy steel doors, with maps still hanging on the walls and the names of the last bomber crews still penciled in on duty rosters.
Elsewhere on the base, a private development group demolished about 80 buildings in 2013 to make room for a. A handful of other private businesses have also set up shop in buildings on the base, but other buildings stand vacant. Most are locked and boarded up, but vandals have broken into a few, like the former base hospital, leaving broken glass and graffiti in their wake.
By spring 1975, the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) had surrounded the city of Saigon, capital of South Vietnam. On April 28, they began firing rockets and artillery at Tan Son Nhut Airport, and the U.S. began Operation Frequent Wind, an airlift of Americans and hundreds of Vietnamese nationals from the city. On the morning of April 30, 1975, the last helicopter took off from the embassy roof as crowds swarmed the compound. Three and a half hours later, Saigon officially fell to the PAVN. The long war had ended, Saigon had become Ho Chi Minh City, and the U.S. Embassy stood abandoned.
After the war, the Vietnamese government turned the former U.S. Embassy, along with the former U.K. Embassy across the street, into offices for the national oil company, PetroVietnam. The company seems to have done little to maintain the buildings, which slowly crumbled as the years went on. Visiting American tourists often stopped outside the old embassy, and for many in the city, the compound stood as a silent, looming reminder of the war years.
Twenty years after the fall of Saigon, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam began to thaw, and Vietnam returned the former embassy compound to the U.S. State Department, although it would never again be a working embassy. Saigon had been the capital of South Vietnam, but Hanoi had become the postwar capital of Vietnam, so the U.S. presence in Ho Chi Minh City would be only a consulate.
In 1997, Ambassador Pete Townsend, a Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war, declared the building's disrepair a safety hazard and decided to. It fell during the summer of 1998, and the State Department built a new consulate on part of the property. The site of the old embassy building itself is now a park adjacent to the consulate. Large concrete planters from the original embassy, which the Viet Cong used as cover during a 1968 attack on the embassy, still stand in the park.
Today, the Iranian government calls this two-story brick building in downtown Tehran "den of espionage" and "nest of spies," and murals calling for the downfall of the U.S. line its 15-foot-high perimeter walls. In 1979, a revolution in Iran ousted the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and brought the fundamentalist Islamic ruler Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power. That November, students supporting the Iranian Revolution seized the Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
After the release of the hostages, the Iranian military moved into the former embassy. It became a training center for the Revolutionary Guard, the branch of Iran's military responsible for law enforcement and domestic security, known for violently breaking up protests. The few who have been allowed inside since say that the building looks eerily unchanged from those tense days in 1979 except for drastic additions to the décor. The Iranians lined the walls with anti-American propaganda, from a painted mural in the stairwell blaming the U.S. for the September 11 attacks to posters accusing the U.S. of war crimes.
Upstairs, past the, the Iranians display an odd assortment of items from the former embassy in a museum whose captions contain the same Anti-American rhetoric as the rest of the building but belies an odd fascination with the building's former tenants.
Glass display cases house photographs and office equipment like typewriters and telephones, but they contain some more colorful items, like encrypted telex machines and a soundproofed "glass box" which would have been used for the most secret conversations between U.S. personnel. In a vault secured with a combination lock is what the Revolutionary Guard claims was once a. Also on display are the shredders embassy staff had used to shred piles of classified documents before the takeover. In the aftermath, the same student group who had seized the embassy spent hours reassembling the shredded pages and taping the strips of paper together; they later published the documents.
When the fighting in Tripoli intensified in late July 2014, the Embassy's 70 civilians and 80 Marines evacuated in a convoy across the desert to Tunisia. The State Department reportedly considered a Saigon-style helicopter evacuation too high-profile, but the low profile desert convoy travelled with a hefty including two F-16 fighter jets and a contingent of Marines in V-22 Ospreys, ready to land in case of trouble.
Civil war had raged in Libya since 2011, when protests escalated into a revolution that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. In 2014, an alliance of militia groups calling itself Libya Dawn was fighting to take Tripoli, and by August, it had succeeded. from Tripoli told of rampant looting and ransacked houses.
U.S. Ambassador Deborah Jones and her staff had left the embassy buildings and grounds in the care of local security guards. About a month later, on Aug. 31, militia members had about a mile from the main embassy compound. A YouTube video showed men diving fully clothed from the balcony of a diplomatic residence into a swimming pool, while others gathered on the patio, some holding weapons. The General National Congress, appointed by Libya Dawn, quickly said that the pool partiers were Libyan Dawn militia, but they were actually only trying to protect the embassy. Jones told the press that the main compound remained secure.
Jones herself, along with a portion of her staff, had relocated to Malta, where they run the U.S. diplomatic mission to Libya in absentia. The State Department insists that the situation is only temporary, calling it a "suspension" rather than a closure. "Our plan is for them to come back," a State Department spokesperson said in an October 2014 press briefing.