Name: William Patrick "Billy" Milliner
Rank/Branch: Chief Warrant Officer 3/US Army
Unit: Troop B, 7th Squadron, 
1st Cavalry, 164th Aviation Group
Khe Sanh Airbase, South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 12 June 1950
Home of Record: Louisville, KY
Date of Loss: 06 March 1971
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 164204N 1063359E (XD670470) 
click coordintaes to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: AH1G ""Cobra"
Other Personnel in Incident: John F. Hummel (missing)


SYNOPSIS:   The first Bell AH1G Cobra helicopter gunships arrived in Vietnam on 1 September 1967 and since it carried both guns and rockets, it was a major step forward in the development of the armed helicopter. The Cobra had enough speed to meet the escort mission perimeters, tandem seating, better armor, and a better weapons system than any previous helicopter of its day. By 1970-1, the Cobra's armament included the 2.75-inch rocket with a 17-pound warhead, the very effective 2.75-inch flachette rocket, and the SX-35 20mm cannon which made it a truly powerful aircraft.

On 6 March 1971, WO John F. Hummel, pilot, and then WO William P. Milliner, co-pilot, comprised the crew of an AH1G Cobra gunship (serial #67-15464), call sign "Writer 25," that was the number 2 aircraft in an original flight of five - 4 Cobra gunships and 1 Huey chase helicopter. Their flight was flying a combat support mission to provide air cover for a late afternoon search and rescue (SAR) mission to pick up a seven-man American aircrew downed during a combat mission against the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Hoc Bao tribesmen who were sent into find and secure them.

The area of loss was on the north side of a very long, narrow jungle covered valley that generally ran in a northwest to southeast direction through Laos and ended to the east at the Lao/South Vietnamese border. The target area of the SAR operation was approximately 3 miles south of Muang Xepon, Laos; 12 miles west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border and 29 miles west of Khe Sanh. Highway 9 ran along the northern edge of the valley with rugged mountains rising just to the north and continued on through Laos into South Vietnam where the highway passed approximately 1 mile north of Khe Sanh.

This area of eastern Laos was considered a major artery of 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.

Approximately 5 minutes after takeoff, one of the Cobra gunships experienced a DC generator failure and returned to the flight's staging area at Lang Vei - approximately 7 miles west-southwest of Khe Sanh and 1 ½ miles east of the border. The rest of the flight continued on with their mission. The on site FAC, call sign Serpent 20, held the SAR and support aircraft in holding patterns as he established the exact location of the downed aircrew and the Hoc Bao with their position was confirmed as darkness approached. Writer lead released one Cobra gunship and the chase ship to return to base ahead of the rest of the flight because they were not equipped for night flight. Shortly thereafter the remaining two gunships were cleared in to lay down suppressive fire while the SAR aircraft extracted the downed aircrew and Hoc Bao tribesmen. Once the mission was completed, Serpent 20 released Writer 25 and 28 to return to base.

At about 2000 hours, while enroute back to Khe Sanh, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam, the weather turned hazy. Approximately 9 miles west of the base the fight encountered a cloudbank that reached to 4,000 feet. WO George Downing, the pilot of the lead aircraft, notified Khe Sanh ground control that both gunships were planning to use a ground control approach (GCA) because it was now dark and low level flying through the mountains around the base was too risky.

Approximately two minutes later WO James Davis, the co-pilot of the lead aircraft, again contacted Khe Sanh GCA and was told to climb to 5,000 feet and make a left turn to a heading of 020 degrees. WO Hummel was still flying in a normal wingman formation with the lead aircraft at this time and roughly 1½ miles apart; but no radio contact could be established between the two aircraft. GCA then vectored the flight to descend to 4,000 feet and come to a heading of 070 degrees. After a descending turn was initiated WO2 Downing saw WO Hummel's aircraft pass over the top of their aircraft from right to left and continued in a northwesterly direction. This heading took Writer 25 back toward Laos. Further, this separation occurred in the clear, just before the flight leader entered the cloud layer at a distance of about 6 miles northwest of Khe Sanh and roughly 1 kilometer from the village of Dong Ha Pec. This was the last visual sighting of Writer 25. After landing George Downing and James Davis reported to the ground control center to monitor the situation.

When Writer 25 did not land in a timely manner, ground control contacted all airfields, GCAs and outposts in the area where the gunship might have diverted to. In preparation for initiating SAR efforts at first light, the last known course of Writer 25 was plotted along with anticipating when the aircraft's fuel supply would be exhausted. Based on these calculations, the Army believed WO Hummel and WO Milliner aircraft could have gone down in the rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 2 miles east of the border, and 14 miles west-northwest of Khe Sanh.

Beginning at first light several extensive ground and aerial searches were conducted along Writer 25's flight path in and over the countryside between their base and the South Vietnamese/Lao border. During the two-day search operation no emergency beepers were heard and no trace of the missing aircraft or its crew was found. At the time formal search efforts were terminated, both John Hummel and William Milliner were listed Missing in Action.

Since 1989, Billy Milliner has been the subject of a "dogtag report" that included his correct social security number and several live sighting reports. All of these reports indicated he was a prisoner of war in Laos rather then in South Vietnam. Some of them referred to him as being held in a group of 13 American POWs while other reports only mentioned him. Likewise, these reports have been provided to the US Government as well as to WO Milliner's family. The most recent of these reports was received in 1999. If these reports are true, then there is no question that the communists can return Billy Milliner any time they wish to. Further, if they know the fate of the Cobra's co-pilot, then they most certainly also know the fate of its pilot, John Hummel.

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 by the country they so proudly served.