LEWIS, JAMES WIMBERLEY

Name: James Wimberley Lewis
Rank/Branch: Colonel/US Air Force
Unit: 405th Fighter Wing
Bien Hoa Airbase, 
South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 24 July 1928
Home of Record: Marshall, TX
Date of Loss: 07 April 1965
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 193500N 1034700E (UG724657)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: B57B "Canberra"
Other Personnel in Incident: Arthur D. Baker (missing)

REMARKS:  LST SN DIVE THRU THIN CLOUDS

SYNOPSIS:    The B57 Canberra was a light tactical bomber that played a varied role in the Vietnam conflict. A veteran of operations Rolling Thunder and Steel Tiger, B57's from the 8th Tactical Bombing Squadron at Phan Rang, South Vietnam had also been equipped with infrared sensors for night strike operations in Tropic Moon II and III in the spring of 1967.

On 7 April 1965, then Capt. James W. Lewis, pilot, and  Capt. Arthur D. Baker, navigator, comprised the crew of a B57B (serial #53-3880T) on a multi-aircraft strike mission in extremely rugged, jungle-covered mountains approximately 18 miles west of the Lao/North Vietnamese border, 4 miles south of Ban Chuong La and 4 miles southeast of Ban Niang, Xiangkhouang Province, Laos. Their target was enemy traffic along Route 7. This area of Laos was considered a major artery into the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

At 1110 hours, Captain Lewis initiated a bomb run on an enemy target on Route 7 and was seen by his wingman as he descended through a thin cloud layer. His wingman did not see or hear from him again. Another member of the flight heard Capt. Lewis call "off target and out bound." The rest of the flight members conducted their attack passes, then returned to base as briefed. Because it was not uncommon for the aging bombers to separate during flights to and from base, no one was concerned until the Canberra failed to return to Bien Hoa Airbase at the scheduled time. A communications and ramp check of all airfields in the area was conducted and by 1400 hours it was determined the aircraft had not landed at any other base.

On 7 April aerial search efforts were initiated by search and rescue (SAR) and Air America aircraft in a 10 to 20 nautical mile radius of the target location, and continued through 12 April. These SAR operations were terminated when they failed to produce any indication of the crash site or any trace of the downed aircrew. At that time both James Lewis and Arthur Baker were listed Missing in Action.

According to US intelligence reports, both Capt. Lewis and Capt. Baker successfully bailed out of their damaged aircraft and both men were known to be alive on the ground afterward. Likewise, both the Canberra's pilot and navigator are listed in the Department of Defense's April 1991 "Last Known Alive" list. One of the Intelligence Information Cables generated by the CIA, dated 25 June 1968, documents an incident correlated to Capt. Lewis. The report states: "On 10 June 1968 two of four American pilots held in the Tham Sua cave at VH193564, south of Ban Nakay Neua, Houa Phan Province, Laos, were sent to Hanoi, North Vietnam. Prior to being sent to Hanoi, one of the American pilots, described as an older man, killed three NVA soldiers when they attempted to interrogate him. The elder pilot refused to answer the NVA officers' questions and instructed the other pilots not to cooperate as well. The killing occurred when the North Vietnamese attempted to chain the pilot to a desk-he overturned the desk on his captors and beat three of them to death with the chain before guards overpowered him. Following this incident, the elder pilot and one of the younger pilots were sent to Hanoi. The reason given for the transfer was that the two pilots were considered incorrigible cases by the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese. It is not known if the other American pilots have been transferred to North Vietnam for similar reasons."

James Lewis and Arthur Baker are among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Laotians admitted holding "tens of tens" of American Prisoners of War, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords which ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned