Name: Michael John "Bat" Masterson
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant Colonel/US Air Force
Unit: 602nd Special Operations Squadron 
Nakhon Phanom Airbase, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 16 May 1937
Home of Record: Ephraya, WA
Date of Loss: 13 October 1968
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 192900N 1032000E (UG342503)
Click coordinates to view maps

Staus in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A1G "Skyraider"
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)


SYNOPSIS:   With its fantastic capability to carry a wide range of ordnance (8,000 pounds of external armament), great flight range (out to 3,000 miles), and the ability to absorb punishment, the single-seat Douglas A1 Skyraider became one of the premier performers in the close air support and attack mission role (nickname: Spad) and RESCAP mission role (nickname: Sandy). The Skyraider served the Air Force, Navy and Marines faithfully throughout the war in Southeast Asia.

On 13 October 1968, then Capt. Michael J. "Bat" Masterson was the pilot of the #2 aircraft in a flight of two, call sign "Firefly 26," that departed Nakhon Phanom Airfield at 1800 hours. Their mission identifier was "Barrel Roll". The lead aircraft was piloted by Maj. Peter W. Brown, call sign Firefly 25. They were to conduct an armed reconnaissance mission along Route 7, their primary target, and Route 61, their alternate target, in an attempt to locate and interdict enemy traffic along these well known communist supply lines, Xiangkhouang Province, Laos.

Further, this area of northern Laos was considered a major Pathet Lao stronghold. Routes 7 and 61 were used by the communists to move men and material by both the North Vietnamese and the Pathet Lao throughout this region. While frequently no more than a paths cut through jungle-covered mountains, US forces used all assets available to them to stop the flow of men and supplies through this region.

After takeoff, Firefly flight climbed to 10,000 feet, then continued in a loose visual formation. 15 minutes after crossing into Lao airspace, they ran into a rising stratus layer of clouds. Capt. Masterson radioed he would climb to 10,700 feet while Maj. Brown stayed at his present altitude. They continued to fly in and out of the stratus until roughly 50 minutes into their flight and 15 minutes away from the target area. At 1855 hours, Bat Masterson stated he had lost his artificial horizon forcing him to abort the mission. Maj. Brown asked him if he was clear of the clouds and he replied: "negative," that he was "attempting to use the artificial horizon in the right cockpit, but was experiencing vertigo." The flight leader directed Firefly 26 to let him know when he was heading back to base. Shortly thereafter Capt. Masterson radioed: "I'm losing it and getting out."

Firefly 25 began an immediate left turn, and after 150 to 180 degrees of turn, he saw a bright orange fireball on the ground at his 10 o'clock position. At that time Maj. Brown's position was 193 degrees and 31 miles northwest of Channel 92 - the primary radar guiding station in that region responsible for directing aircraft to and from their missions. The weather in the crash area was scattered clouds at about 5,000 feet, layered stratus from 10,000 feet, with 5 miles visibility. Because of the clouds and darkness, Maj. Brown did not observe a parachute or the aircraft until it impacted the ground. The crash site was in extremely rugged generally unpopulated mountains. The nearest roadway was 2 miles to the northwest and the nearest significant town was Phong Savan, approximately 15 miles to the southwest.

A C130 flareship, call sign "Blindbat 02," arrived roughly 10 minutes after the crash and helped maintain contact with the crash site. By utilizing its starlight scope, Blindbat 02 further refined the crash site fix to 194 degrees and 34 miles northwest of Channel 92. Firefly 25 conducted an electronic search for the downed pilot until 2115 hours when he was forced to depart the area as he was low on fuel. During the time he remained on station, he dropped flares from an altitude of between 8,000 and 12,000 feet. Also during this time no emergency beeper was heard and no voice contact could be established with Bat Masterson.

A formal search and rescue (SAR) operation commenced at 0600 hours the next morning with 4 Skyraiders and 1 HU1 "Huey" helicopter. At 0620 hours, the smoldering and widely scattered wreckage of Firefly 26 was found by SAR aircraft. The crew of the Huey helicopter hovered about 30 feet above the wreckage. Its crew had an unobstructed view of it and reported: "That wreckage consisted of the burned wings on either side of a crater in which the fuselage seemed buried, and was located about 50 meters from the crest of a ridgeline with wreckage strewn up the hill from the crater for 20 meters and down from the crater for 100 meters."

Other SAR aircraft orbited the wreckage crater, but could find no trace of the ejection seat or the pilot. The aerial search was suspended at 0845 hours. At the time the formal SAR was terminated, Michael J. "Bat" Masterson was immediately listed Missing in Action. A ground team was scheduled to be inserted into the area on 19 to 20 October, but was cancelled due to weather. On 24 October, a ground team did enter the area, but was forced to withdraw before reaching the crash site due to the presence of hostile forces

On 10 April 1972, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) changed Capt. Masterson's status from Missing in Action to Prisoner of War based on an analytical interpretation of a message from a sensitive source. DIA analysts determined later that it subsequently became apparent that there was no evidence to support such an analytical conclusion, and his status was changed back to MIA.

In May 1999, a DIA memo entitled "Movement of American PW's to North Vietnam" dated 14 January 1972 was found in the Library of Congress by a private sector POW/MIA researcher. This document was personally handed to Bat Masterson's wife on 18 June 1999. The memo, which is signed by Capt. John S. Harris, USN, Chairman, Interagency Prisoner of War Intelligence Ad Hoc Committee, states: "The Defense Intelligence Agency is presently listing the names of 21 American personnel that have been moved from their original areas of capture in Laos and South Vietnam to North Vietnam." Of the 21 men listed by name and loss date, only Bat Masterson did not return to US control during Operation Homecoming.

When queried about this document, US Government officials told Mrs. Masterson that "US intelligence was confused" in 1972, that the document did not pertain to her husband, but rather to returned POW Ronald L. Mastin who was shot down 16 January 1967 approximately 26 miles southwest of the North Vietnamese/Chinese border and 59 miles north-northwest of Hanoi. However, they have no explanation for the fact that Ronald Mastin was lost 1 year 9 months before Bat Masterson and the date listed for his loss in this memo. Likewise, the fact that 1st Lt. Mastin did not have to be moved to North Vietnam from Laos or South Vietnam since he was already in that country.

Since the end of the war, several additional reports have been received by our government about Bat Masterson. One report from a former member of a US-allied indigenous unit reported that in 1967 or 68 he saw a pilot parachute into Vietnamese-held territory in Xiangkhouang Province. His unit tried to enter the area of the crash, but was unable to do so because of the presence of enemy troops. While he believed the aircraft to be an F4, US intelligence determined the general description of the incident correlated to Capt. Masterson and his aircraft since it was the only one downed in this region during the 1967-68 timeframe. The discrepancy in type of aircraft was probably due to darkness, cloud cover and distance obscuring his observation of the incident.

Another report was generated during a US government field investigation by a joint US/Lao team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTF-FA). Team members interviewed a witness in Ban Muang Phan village who provided information about what he believed to be a T28 crash that occurred in 1969. He stated he witnessed the crash which he said he thought was approximately 10 to 12 kilometers east of Ban Muang Phan in the vicinity of Phou Phaka. Further, he said that at about 1100 hours, ten Lao and Vietnamese soldiers arrived at Ban Muang Phan carrying a captured pilot who was being carried on a litter.

Yet other reports indicating Bat Masterson was captured and/or killed and buried - along with several "dogtag" reports - have been received by our government. These reports were accepted by US intelligence with varying degrees of reliability. Additionally, through special reporting channels, information which indicated although Capt. Masterson's aircraft was not downed by enemy action, reports from a reliable source indicate that PAVN/PL forces found the downed aircraft, verified the fate of the pilot, and took credit for the shootdown. Analysis of these reports suggest that the Ban Son militia found the aircraft near Tha Lin Noi and reported the incident to the PAVN on 16 October 1968. According to this report, the aircraft was identified as an A1 and the pilot killed.

On 9 August 1993, a joint JTF-FA team investigated Firefly 26's crash site. During their survey of the site, the team found enough material evidence to identify the wreckage as that of a Skyraider. They found no indication that the pilot was in the aircraft at the time of the incident.

Bat Masterson is 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.

There is no question that both the Vietnamese and US governments know much more about the fate of Bat Masterson than they are willing to share with his family and the American people.

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. There is a very good possibility that Capt. Bat Masterson is one of them.

Pilots 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 by the country they so proudly served.