Lost In Laos
A Missing in Action Story
pilot’s memories about the Vietnam War as it relates to two helicopter
“Joker” gunship crews of the 48th Assault Helicopter Company who
were shot down in Laos during operation Lam Son 719 in early 1971.
Dan (Danny) Grossman CW2, BlueStar 16
Vietnam Jan 70 - Feb 72
on January 6, 2001
It is almost thirty years later, but it
seems like it happened yesterday. Operation Lam Son 719 was an incursion into
Laos by the South Vietnamese army together with American air support in order to
deny the North Vietnamese army the use of supply areas along the Ho Chi Minh
Trail. This operation was for many of the Pilots, Crew Chiefs, Gunners and
support personnel of the 48th Assault Helicopter Company (48th
AHC) the most memorable and terrifying struggle for survival they have yet to
can still remember many of my feelings during those dark days. The motivation I
had before the operation began; the insertions, extractions and support
operations; the way the air smelled most days; how scared I was during some of
those operations; the panic of the Vietnamese troops as they tried to hang on to
our skids during hot extractions; and the bitterness I and others felt as the
operation came to an end. Though many of my memories are carved in stone and
never will be forgotten, some of these remembrances are not as clear as others
as time has taken its toll. Therefore, a few parts of these stories may not be
completely accurate in every detail as they contain my personal memories of
those incidents together with some unverifiable facts and circumstances as
written in a loss report and information obtained from the Internet. However, in
the case of the downing of the Fred Cristman Joker 99 gunship crew, there are
undisputable facts and direct quotes from a cassette tape* recording of radio
conversations that were made as those events actually occurred. Where, in these
stories I quote directly, it implies the exact words as were spoken on the radio
that day as recorded on this cassette tape.
|Crew:||Frederick L. Cristman, Aircraft Commander|
|Jon M. Sparks, Pilot|
|Ricardo M. Garcia, Crew Chief|
|Paul Langenour, Gunner|
|Aircraft:||UH-1C Gunship, Number 65-09489|
|Date:||March 19, 1971|
|Location:||Laos, Loss coordinates: N 16 39.40 E 106 29.20|
It was a day that began like any other
day in Laos, but since it was nearing the end of the Lam Son operation, we knew
it would soon be all over. The worst was behind us; at least that was what many
of us thought. We just needed to wrap up a few things across the border and then
we could be normal fun-loving helicopter crews again. There would be lots of
drinking, jokes, war stories, bitching, bullshitting, and wise-ass remarks.
Yeah, life would be better. Our goal that day was to survive. That’s right,
just to survive. Many of the 48th crews had already been shot down at
least once before that day, and we didn’t want to make a continuing habit
about that. Besides, as the operation winded down, bitterness amongst us was
widespread regarding the way the Lam Son operation was conducted and how the US
military in Washington was declaring the operation a total success. We knew
That day I was flying a UH-1H
helicopter and was Aircraft Commander with Tom “Flame” Seymour as the Pilot.
I do not remember the names of my Crew Chief and Gunner as we often switched
crews daily. The mission was to extract a group of South Vietnamese troops from
a position just north of Highway 9 in eastern Laos and just ten clicks west of
the border with Vietnam. It seemed like it would be a piece of cake. After all,
no one ever mentioned that the South Vietnamese were in a hurry to get out of
there or anything to that effect.
As we departed PZ (pickup zone) Kilo
sometime that morning, it didn’t seem to be much of a big deal type of
extraction. I mean the 48th AHC slicks (troop carrying helicopters)
and Joker gunships were to be part of this major extraction that included many
other aviation and support units. The 48th was to be the last group
of slicks that followed other groups of slicks from other units some or most of
which, I believe, were from the 101st Airborne Division. Senior
officers from a battalion other than ours operationally controlled this
extraction. The officer in command, whose name is unknown, went by the call sign
of Change 20.
Well, when I say it didn’t seem to be
a big deal, I mean that we had at least twenty other helicopters in front of us,
if not many more. If there were to be problems, well, I figured that by the time
it was our turn to go in, the problems would have been resolved. At least that
was what I was hoping.
The BlueStar flight was led by Captain
Floyd Lewis (call sign, Traps 15), a very likable guy that enjoyed being called
“Home” for hometown kind of guy. Since I was raised in New York City, I was
used to calling people that anyway. We became friends soon after we met. Our
Joker gunship support included, in part, Steve Knowles (Joker 98) and crew, and
Fred Cristman (Joker 99) and crew. Fred was a personal friend of mine. He was a
great guy and we had talked many times in the bar at Ninh Hoa about everything
from the song We Got To Get Out Of This
Place to the rear ends of Vietnamese hooch maids. I did not know his other
crewmembers well and have some trouble remembering them.
I am not sure whether Steve and
Fred’s gunships were to support only the 48th slicks that day, or
whether the plan called for the gunships to support the entire extraction. But
somehow soon after the extraction began the Joker gunship team was right up
front supporting slicks from the lead units. As the extraction began to turn
sour, I began to realize that this piece of cake extraction was not going to be
that nice little neat piece of cake I had expected. In fact, it actually turned
out to be just another typical day in Laos. It was another day where the South
Vietnamese army got themselves surrounded and asked American helicopter crews to
save their butts. As we returned to Dong Ha later that afternoon, I realized
that this day was a very big deal indeed. It was a nightmare that many in the 48th
AHC will never, ever forget. Three out of four of Fred’s gunship crew would
never return home, and there was nothing any of us could do about it.
As the extraction began, I remember the
BlueStar group of slicks started to bunch up. We were then ordered to circle
south of Highway 9 for spacing purposes. It was then that I realized just how
badly this extraction was going. After a few minutes in the holding pattern, I
realized that it was just another case of – here we go again. I remember the
butterflies in my stomach as the shit began to hit the fan. I remember praying
that I hoped we wouldn’t have to go in there. I never had much luck flying
into hot PZ’s before, and I was not pleased. Though “Flame” said nothing
at all, I could sense that he was feeling the same way. He and Jesse Dize had
been, not so many days before, shot out of the air as many of us watched them go
down on fire.
we continued to hold south of the highway, visibility was poor as the
combination of haze and residue of gunpowder and smoke expended that day created
a condition where we could not see the PZ very well. A very short time later a
helicopter was shot down in the PZ. However, it was not clear to which unit the
helicopter belonged. After some radio conversations, a slick was ordered to
rescue the downed crew. As the slick approached the PZ this was heard on the
(the operation’s officer controlling the entire extraction) to the rescue
“...I got the smoke on station, uh,
how far out are you?”
“About a click out at this time.”
“OK roger, come on in and try to make
it, and then we’ll put the smoke in after you get out of there.”
as he talks to Hammer 229, the USAF spotter aircraft:
“Let’s don’t try to put the smoke
in until I get this one slick in there to recover the crew, and then we’ll put
the smoke in and we’ll go ahead with the whole lift to get, eh, those people
out of there.”
Just then I heard on the radio...
“We’re hit, we’re hit, pilot’s
hit and ...(unintelligible). Get Mr. Smith out, help Mr. Smith out. Help Mr.
Apparently this rescue aircraft was hit
during his approach or while on the ground in the PZ.
“...my aircraft is hit but I’ll be flying this
thing back until something quits on me. And, uh, I believe my pilot is seriously
Shortly thereafter, a smoke screen was
as he talks to Hammer 229:
“Ok now we want that smoke as close
to the LZ as you can get it, uh, over the west, southwest and northwest...”
“OK sir, understand that you are
going to make the pickup on the LZ itself down where the two choppers are...”
Two choppers? What two choppers? From
this point onwards it seemed very unclear to me what was going on. Now someone
was saying that there were two choppers down in the PZ? Well, I thought that the
chopper that was just hit, the one with the wounded pilot, was flying out of
there. That left only the first chopper down in the PZ. I didn’t understand as
I heard no other mayday or distress call or any other call regarding a second
aircraft going down in the PZ. What the heck was going on? Well seconds later I
found out when the following conversation was heard...
(Captain Lewis, BlueStar flight lead) as he calls Change 20:
one of our birds is in there, we’d like to go help get them out.”
we’ve got the Lotus bird going in...and we’ll go in in order here, and
we’ll get your Joker out, uh, uh, first business.”
40’s aircraft (Lt. Keith Howell) as his Peter Pilot (co-pilot) made this
got a Joker down!”
Joker is down?”
I was not the only one who was confused. How, when and under what circumstances
was this Joker gunship shot down, and which crew were they? But events did not
subsequently focus on the downed Joker crew and little, if anything, was said
about it from that point onward. Change 20 apparently wanted to get more slicks
into the PZ as fast as possible, and he did not order anyone to pick up the
downed crewmembers. It was only minutes later that we found out it was Fred
Cristman’s Joker 99 aircraft.
the smoke screen was in place the extraction continued.
as he spoke to Lotus 32 (the slick flight lead):
you’re doing alright, shoot to the right side of the smoke screen up there.
Now Lotus 32, I want your entire flight behind you and I want the Spasms and
everybody else to go on in there. Let’s take advantage of that smoke.”
then I heard on the radio...
this is 15, I’m dropping down to start our run.”
later one of the fighter aircraft or the spotter aircraft reported that he was
hit by a 51 caliber round. Very shortly thereafter came this...
break it off, let’s don’t try it.”
you go 20.”
20 then told all the flights to head back to their staging areas.
as he responded to a question from Traps 15:
I hope to get you one (a release) momentarily.”
guess we’re going home.”
then proceeded to Khe Sanh to refuel when this message was heard...
do not take the flight to Khe Sanh, they are again receiving incoming.”
we still had enough fuel to get back to Dong Ha, we initially decided to go to
PZ Kilo to regroup. Whether or not we actually landed there or not, I don’t
remember. However, sometime after crossing back into Vietnam, the following
radio message was received...
in a conversation with Change 20:
were going to find out for me about our downed crew, Joker
99...(unintelligible)...from the ground troops. Do you have anything for me at
can you contact Serpent 20, over? Serpent 20 is the CAV; he took over as we
departed. We’re on another ball game at this time.”
what the heck is Change 20 talking about, I thought? That statement sounded like
he was passing the buck. Who was this mysterious Serpent 20 and where in the
world did he come from?
as he called back Change 20 after trying to contact Serpent 20:
uh, frequency response from, uh, Serpent 20 people that are running the PZ. Is
there any possible way you can contact the people on the ground, over?”
come up 62.05.”
air to ground conversation I did not hear as Captain Lewis switched to that
frequency. Meanwhile, we had received our official release for the day. On the
way back we received additional word...
talking to the Traps (BlueStar) flight:
20 (Major Klose, our Battalion Operations Officer) is pretty pissed off on how
Change 20 was handling our downed crew...”
as he was talking to Dragon 20:
only had one aircraft shot up, that was a Charlie model. We had another aircraft
shot up and that’s in Laos down in the first LZ we went into, sir.”
one of our other gunships had also been hit.
these other...(unintelligible)...dudes they definitely got their shit weak, and
they haven’t told me anything about my downed crew. One man tried talking to
them (the troops) on the ground, and they made no effort to get these men out of
there. They would not allow me to go in there myself or break off any of my
flight to go in, and they have given me no information whatsoever. Now, tee tee
time ago, Serpent 20 was out there running the show, and I came up on his push
and there was no Serpent 20 in the area. And so, uh, I got negative knowledge
about my four crewmembers in that ship except for the three KIA’s...”
This was the first time I heard the word KIA’s. Maybe Captain Lewis got some
word on the FM frequency that I didn’t hear.
have the same report, and, uh, what is being done. I’ll take care of it, and
if necessary we’ll get them tomorrow.”
are moving (the South Vietnamese) to an alternate location. There is one
what is this tomorrow shit, I thought? It sounds like an instant replay of what
he (Major Klose) said after Jon Reid & Crew were shot down a month before.
is the final conversation as recorded on the cassette tape. We landed at Dong Ha
some time later. I don’t remember exactly what we did after the flight, but I
do know that most of us were not happy about how one of our crews, our friends,
were left behind especially after we volunteered to go in and get them out. This
unhappiness lasted for a long time, even to this very day. It prompted some of
us to want to tell the real story of Lam Son 719. We, the helicopter crews, knew
better than most what was really going on out there. The fact was that the South
Vietnamese army was getting their butt kicked, and badly too. Some of us
eventually did speak our minds. That is another story that should be told some
the best of my knowledge, no BlueStar slick or Joker gunship ever went back to
that area despite the continuing requests we made. However, on January 5, 2001,
I learned something that I never knew before when one of the most highly
respected pilots, a man of unquestionable credibility, Ed Newton, e-mailed the
BlueStar group the following statement:
were briefed every morning about actual and possible recovery missions for the
day. My recollection was that Reid & Cristman's aircraft was discussed. We
were told that a light fire team from either the 173rd or the 282nd had over
flown the site the previous day and had taken such heavy fire that the area was
considered "off limits". No signs of survivors (either visually or
beepers) were observed. We were told that another attempt was going to be made
for another over flight. I believed that happened with the same results...”
me, and I am sure to many others, leaving the Joker 99 crew behind was a
betrayal forced upon us by others. Our commanders betrayed us once before as you
will learn in my next story, and we should have known better. Maybe we should
have just gone back there ourselves without permission and set up our own rescue
extraction. Would that have meant disobeying orders? Sure it would, but why not?
Maybe if we did, things would be different today, I don’t know. To me this
whole lousy extraction and the missing Joker 99 crew were quietly swept under
the rug by certain individuals who wanted no part of this failure. How easily
some of the on-scene commanders forgot the promises they made to us (“we’ll
get your Joker out first business...” and “...I’ll take care of it and if
necessary, we’ll get them tomorrow”). Oh how comforting they made us feel
(they thought) by saying those words while they knew those very words were
hollow. All we ever wanted from those guys was for permission for us to take
care of our own. We didn’t want to have some other unit do it tomorrow; we
wanted to do it that day. If something were to go wrong during a rescue, it
would have been our blood that would have been spilled not theirs, as they would
have been circling high over the PZ.
what of the aftermath of Joker 99 and crew? Well, Paul Langenour, the ship’s
Gunner survived as he and a group of South Vietnamese troops walked out of Laos
and were picked up in Vietnam. When we heard he survived it brightened up our
day. Langenour is probably the only person alive who can fill in the blanks on
how his aircraft went down and under what circumstances.
the years I have heard several different accountings regarding what became of
Joker 99 and the other two MIA crewmembers. One story I read over the Internet
that came from a major organization that seems to have very high credibility,
said that US aircrews flying overhead after Joker 99’s landing in the PZ did
not see the three missing airmen escape from the aircraft. However, the report
did say that a defector, whose battalion engaged American helicopter forces in
Laos around this time, was said to have captured a helicopter pilot who was then
taken to a field hospital where he later died. The background of this crewman,
as stated by the defector, seemed to match that of a crewman from the Joker 99
aircraft. Another report said that some of the crew exited the helicopter and
ran, unknowingly, towards an advancing North Vietnamese force. One other report
said that after landing in the PZ, a mortar round hit the roof of the aircraft
and it burst into flames.
I guess, we’ll never know what really happened to Fred and his crew. Some day,
possibly after retirement, I would like to visit that site and have a look
around myself. The site is just west of the small village of Ban Sou Doun.
Surely one of the village elders must remember something, especially after all
the forces withdrew. The PZ was probably well scavenged by the local people in
the area. Somebody must know something.
should be noted that all three MIA crewmen were never reported to have been in
the North Vietnamese prison system. They are still listed as Missing In Action.
*Many thanks go to Rick Lester who gave me a copy of this
cassette tape while in Washington DC during the July 2000 VHPA reunion. Without
this tape, I could never have reconstructed the exact sequence of events as they
occurred. And regarding this recording, I did not include every radio call from
every aircraft. In order to keep the story a reasonable length, I used my
discretion and included only the most important calls. Also, if my memory serves
me correctly, there were other very important radio calls from the BlueStar
flight to Dragon 20 (regarding a rescue request by our flight) that are not
recorded on this tape. It is possible that the tape was switched off and on
during this operation.
It was common practice for some pilots to tape operations in
Laos since there were major incidents occurring nearly every day. Lt. Keith
Howell made this particular tape recording. I had an identical tape of the
day’s events as well as tapes of other Laos operations, but all were lost in a
flood in West Africa in 1982.
An Open Case
The downing and loss of Joker 06 & Crew
|Crew:||Jon (Jake) E. Reid, Aircraft Commander|
|David M. May, Pilot|
|Randolph L. Johnson, Crew Chief|
|Robert J. Acalotto, Gunner|
|Aircraft:||UH-1C Gunship, Number 66-00700|
|Date:||February 20, 1971|
|Location:||Laos, exact loss coordinates unknown|
Since the very beginning of the Lam Son 719 operation, which started on February 8, 1971, the BlueStar and Joker gunship aircraft of the 48th AHC were at very high risk every time they crossed the Vietnamese border into Laos. In fact, on the very first day of the operation we had two slick aircraft shot down. Thankfully, both crews were rescued immediately and were returned safely to Dong Ha, our home base. It was a tradition that started long before I joined the 48th and probably started as soon as the first group of aircraft flew in the very first war - that if an aircraft was shot down, someone would try to rescue the crew. That was it, period. And you could bet your last dollar on that.
That was one of the shocking parts
about the Reid & Crew loss. In addition to the tragic loss of the crew, our
friends, it was the first time in Laos that we lost an entire crew, and we were
not even allowed to search for the downed aircraft.
The reason I am writing about the loss
of the Reid & Crew aircraft last even though the tragedy happened a month
before the loss of Cristman & Crew, is that I cannot tell the complete story
of this incident. What I can write about is approximately one third of the
story. Perhaps another third can someday be told by either a crewmember of Steve
Knowles’ gunship which was gun team lead during that re-supply mission, or
another person who has first hand knowledge of the incident. The last third of
the story may never be known. That is, what happened after Reid’s (Joker 06)
aircraft crashed. From what is now known, Jake Reid’s and David May’s bodies
were recovered near the crash site and returned for burial in the USA. But what
about Randy Johnson and Robert Acalotto, did they survive the crash? And why
haven’t their remains been recovered? Apparently they did survive, at least
initially, or their bodies would have been recovered with the others near the
site. Did they try to escape and evade? If so, were they captured or did they
die in the Laotian jungle? Who knows? Who will ever know?
It was February 20, 1971, a day that we
were to perform ash and trash missions from what I remember. There were no major
insertions or extractions that day, and we were just sitting around PZ Kilo
waiting for things to develop.
Some time later, I was ordered to lead
a flight of four Huey slicks to re-supply a group of South Vietnamese troops in
Laos. I do not remember who my crew was that day or who crewed the other three
slicks. Our gunship cover included Steve Knowles & Crew and Jake Reid &
Crew. Nothing more that I can remember was disclosed to me at that time. I did
not know or don’t remember what the conditions were at the LZ or whether or
not the LZ was hot. I did not, however, feel intimidated about the mission.
After all, part of our re-supply contained food and other things not of an
urgent need. I do not remember taking much ammunition, if any at all. Well, if
we were not taking ammunition, it probably wouldn’t be all that bad, right?
There were no worries.
Although I don’t remember the exact
location of the LZ, and since there are no coordinates of this location
available that I can find anyway, I estimate it to be somewhere between six to
twelve clicks south through southeast of the Delta 1 (not Delta) fire support
base. Again, I cannot be sure of the exact location of the area, but I still
have a clear memory of the surrounding area and the LZ itself. It was located in
the lower lands near where a road runs generally northwest and southeast in a
small valley. The immediate area seemed somewhat flat with few very low hills
that were covered with grass. The mountains that were on the west side of the
area were the same group of mountains where Fire Base Lolo was located although
Lolo was well to the north and west of the area.
I can remember approaching that LZ and
first seeing it out my one o’clock position. That’s why it is so easy for me
to describe. This LZ appeared to have been occupied for several days. It was
maybe 100-200 meters diameter and looked more like a small staging area than an
LZ. I was surprised to see this type of camp out there. I thought to myself that
this place is in the ideal location to be overrun. Gee, didn’t anyone ever
think of that, I thought?
We approached, landed, unloaded, and
departed the LZ without incident. Shortly after we climbed to altitude, Steve
Knowles radioed me that someone had spotted something and they were going to
check it out. Something to that effect anyway. I think we agreed to meet up
either somewhere enroute, back at Khe Sanh or PZ Kilo. That was the last message
I heard from any of the two gunship aircraft that day. At some point on our way
back to Khe Sanh, I remember trying to call Steve and Jake. I tried several
different times. They never answered me. Since we needed to refuel we headed
directly to Khe Sanh. Well, I wasn’t particularly alarmed at that point
because I figured that Steve and Jake were possibly up on their own VHF push and
had their UHF receiver toggle switch off. I am not sure, but I think the
gunships had their own frequency, possibly VHF, that they used. I don’t
We landed at Khe Sanh and as we were
refueling I was deciding what to do next. I tried to call Steve again, but no
response. Just then, guess who popped up at my left side window? Right, it was
Steve. He had a very desperate look on his face. He was yelling through the
window something about his wingman being in trouble and was still in Laos. I
just cannot remember his exact words, but I got the picture quickly. I asked him
why he didn’t call me. He said something about how his radios were shot out.
He had no communications. I said well, let’s go back and get them or something
to that effect.
From that point I do not remember if
Steve and his crew got in my helicopter or flew their damaged gunship back to PZ
Kilo. We did go back to Kilo however, to talk over our plan. Minutes later, and
I mean a very few minutes later, we were back in the air. We did not ask for
permission to go back, we just took off. I figured since I was flight lead of
this mission, I was flight lead and the mission wasn’t over yet. I do not
remember if another slick followed us back into Laos, but I am almost sure we
went alone. Steve insisted he go along, and I needed him to spot the downed
aircraft’s position. I remember Steve sat in the right rear well seat. I think
I asked him to sit there, as he would have a better view of the area.
When we arrived in the general area,
not far from the re-supply LZ, I was flying about 1500-2000 feet. This early in
the Laotian operation that was more or less standard. It was only a very short
time later when aircraft began taking flak did we fly higher (3,000-7,000 feet
or thereabouts). I wanted to keep this altitude until we spotted the downed
aircraft, then my plan was to do a high overhead approach into the crash site.
Many of us loved to use the high overhead type of approach. It was a corkscrew
type of approach initiated high over a hot LZ with a very rapid descent all the
while keeping within the general boundary of the LZ. It worked almost all the
We circled and looked, and circled and
looked. There was no sign of any downed gunship anywhere. Since we all knew how
easily a small helicopter could get gobbled up by a big jungle or tall grass, we
decided to go lower and have a very close look. At one point we thought we
spotted the aircraft. I then flew low, possibly as low as twenty feet hovering
over the area, but there was nothing. As we climbed up several hundred feet we
took small arms fire but no hits. I had to get back to altitude. We continued to
circle and look, move to another possible location, circle and look again, go
lower, get shot at again and return to altitude again. This went on and on until
we were low on fuel.
We refueled at Khe Sanh then, for some
reason, returned to PZ Kilo and shut down. I don’t remember why we shut down.
It was either to organize more search aircraft, or it was because it was getting
late in the day, or because Major Klose (our Battalion Operations Officer)
ordered me to.
By that time I believe Major Klose was
at the PZ. If he was not at PZ Kilo at that time, then he arrived a very short
time later. I remember trying to tell him the story, but he said he already knew
what happened. Probably the other crews told him about it before we got back.
Steve and I told him we needed to get back in there again, and now. He told us
that we couldn’t do that. I don’t remember his exact words, but I accepted
his word that he had everything under control. This was the first time I ever
heard the words Hoc Bau. I have said those words many times during my life but
never learned how to spell them. He told me and others that this unit (the Hoc
Bau), which specialized in rescuing downed aircrews, was either being deployed
at that time or would be deployed very shortly. I accepted his word from what I
can remember. I think we all did. If I only knew then what I know now, I would
have gone back in there again with Steve for another look, orders or no orders.
This so called Hoc Bau unit apparently was so secretive and illusive that no one
that I know of, to this very day, has ever seen the unit. Not on the day of
Reid’s crash or any other day that followed. In fact, I just wondered if this
Hoc Bau unit was some figment of someone’s imagination.
Nobody ever bothered to ask me where
Reid’s helicopter crashed. Whether they asked Steve or not, I don’t know but
it is logical that they did ask. I did not know the location of the crash site
anyway, just the LZ that we re-supplied. I only knew that it was in the vicinity
of that LZ. Gee, you would have thought that someone (Major Klose) would have
asked us right then, then had us and others to go back to look before the site
was swamped with North Vietnamese. Major Klose said that we should not worry; he
would take care of everything. We trusted him. We were just young guys then. Boy
how we fell for that line. This was the first time we were betrayed by Major
Klose, but we didn’t know it at the time. And who would have thought the exact
same thing would happen a second time a month later when Cristman & Crew
were shot down?
In the days that followed, despite our
continuing push to locate and go back to the crash site, no one was ever allowed
to return there. If anyone did return, I never found out about it. I just
couldn’t understand it. And what ever happened with the Hoc Bau? Major Klose
never told us. I truly believe that no such unit ever went back there and
probably never was ordered to go back.
I often think back to that day. Maybe
if, when Steve first called me that he was checking something out, I had said
no, don’t do that, we should all go back together. Maybe, just maybe Reid’s
crash wouldn’t have happened. While I do not blame myself for what happened, I
do occasionally get hard on myself about it. However, as the years go by I have
loosened up a bit. I realize that sometimes things just happen, especially
For the above reasons I do not hate or
blame Major Klose for the loss of the Reid crew. He wasn’t even around when it
happened. But I do hold him personally responsible for not taking any immediate
actions regarding a rescue, and for him refusing to let us go back for another
look that day or the next day. I do know that some people despise him for that.
I have accepted the fact, especially after he betrayed us a month later during
the Cristman downing, that this man would say anything to anyone in order to
defuse a situation. He, a Major, Battalion Commander, told us he would take care
of it, and we believed him. And when he didn’t take care of it, he betrayed
us. Now, in all fairness, no one in the 48th knows whether Major
Klose tried or didn’t try to set up a rescue either that day or thereafter.
Maybe he was told by his higher ups that the Hoc Bau was on the way, who knows?
I think that someday it would be good to know his side of the story.
Over the years I have heard and read
several reports of what happened at the crash site. Who told these stories, I
don’t know. And how would they know unless Steve or one of his crew told them,
which seems probable. One report said that the aircraft settled in the brush and
the pilot’s and co-pilot’s doors were seen jettisoned but nobody was
sighted. Another report said that the aircraft burned after crash landing. And
one other report said that people were spotted running from the downed aircraft
after it crashed.
interesting report I downloaded from the Internet said this: “On February 20,
1971 May and Reid were flying their UH-1C Huey helicopter on an emergency
re-supply mission over Laos when they were hit by enemy ground fire and crashed.
A search and rescue mission was repulsed by hostile fire.” Now, what’s this
about a search and rescue mission? If you call me and Steve returning to Laos a
rescue mission, OK, call it that. But that’s not what I consider to be a
rescue mission. A rescue mission to me is several flights dispatched over
several days in order to locate and initiate a rescue of the crew. This type of
rescue was never performed from what I know.
The final report that came from the
Internet said “In 1994, 1996 and 1998, U.S. and Lao investigators interviewed
villagers in the area of the crash, then initiated an excavation which recovered
human remains as well as portions of an identification tag with the name May,
David M. Analysis of the remains and other evidence by the U.S. Army Central
Identification Laboratory Hawaii confirmed the identification of each of these
four servicemen.” Did anyone just read four servicemen? They must be
These theories are all unverified, and
the only story I would believe is from Steve and his crew. Maybe someday I will
find out, but this story I am limiting to the pre and post crash events only, no
And what of the aftermath of the Joker
06 gunship crew? Jake Reid’s and David May’s bodies were recovered in
October 1999 and were buried in Arlington National Cemetery on January 14, 2000.
I wish I could have been there, but I only joined the BlueStar web group some
months later and never knew of the funeral. From what I understand, the Reid and
May families were there in addition to many BlueStar personnel, including the
well-liked former 48th Company Commander, now Mayor Bunting.
BlueStars who knew and BlueStars who never knew Jake Reid or David May came from
all over the USA to pay their respects. They all came to honor their fallen
The case of the Reid & Crew gunship loss, to me,
will never be closed until the remains of the other two crewmembers, Randy
Johnson and Louis Acalotto are found and recovered. Until that time...
This Case Remains Open!
. . .
gave their lives for their country when their country needed them most. They did
their duty without shying away. While others back home were burning draft cards,
they performed the same feats that other American heroes performed in the past.
Freedom is costly and is born when brave men are called upon to fight
aggression. Though the Vietnam War was and still is very controversial, those
who did not come back paid the ultimate sacrifice without whining, bitching and
without thinking of self. They performed their duty to the very end. Now THAT, I
think, is worth passing on to future generations. We are all so very proud of
God bless them all.
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