Name:  Norman Payne
Rank/Branch: Master Sergeant/US Army
Unit:  Military Assistance Command  Vietnam        
Studies and Observation Group 
Command & Control North,
Forward Operating Base 1 
5th Special Forces Group, 
1st Special Forces 
Date of Birth: 14 July 1939 (Greenville, AL)
Home of Record: Cleveland, OH
Date of Loss: 19 December 1968 
Country of Loss:  Laos
Loss Coordinates:  162130N 1065030E (XD978095)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:  Ground
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)


SYNOPSIS:   MACV-SOG, or Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, was a joint service high command unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (though it was not a Special Forces group) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. These teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction which were called, depending on the time frame, "Shining Brass" or "Prairie Fire" missions.

On 18 December 1968, then SSgt. Norman Payne was a member of a reconnaissance patrol that had been inserted into the rugged, jungle-covered mountains approximately 4 miles southwest of the Lao/Vietnamese border just west of the A Shau Valley, South Vietnam in Salavan Province, Laos. The team was to locate and report on enemy activity operating in this area of eastern Laos that 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.

SSgt. Payne's team was split into two elements and was preparing to set up a night defensive position when they were attacked by 15 enemy soldiers. SSgt. Payne was last seen by the team leader, SP4 Donald C. Sheppard, moving away from his element's position in an attempt to join the other team's element which had slid down an embankment. SP4 Sheppard later followed this same route down the embankment and along a creek bed in an attempt to locate Norman Payne, but was driven off by the communists. The rest of the element evaded capture that night and were extracted the next day. As the team was being extracted, a garbled radio transmission was heard by SP4 Sheppard. The last word of that transmission sounded like "Bison" - Norman Payne's call sign.

A search team was inserted into the ambush site on 19 December. During their search, which continued into 20 December, they found evidence that SSgt. Payne had in fact been captured. The rescue team was forced to depart the area under fire without locating him. At the time formal search efforts were terminated, Norman Payne was listed Missing in Action.

For every insertion like this one that was detected and stopped, dozens of others safely slipped past NVA lines to strike a wide range of targets and collect vital information. The number of MACV-SOG missions conducted with Special Forces reconnaissance teams into Laos and Cambodia was 452 in 1969. It was the most sustained American campaign of raiding, sabotage and intelligence-gathering waged on foreign soil in US military history. MACV-SOG's teams earned a global reputation as one of the most combat effective deep-penetration forces ever raised.

Norman Payne 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.

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 American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

American servicemen in Vietnam were called upon to operate in many dangerous circumstances both on and off duty, 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.