Name: Howard Horton Smith
Rank/Branch: Colonel/US Air Force
Unit: 333rd Tactical Fighter Squadron
Takhli Airbase, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 25 June 1930
Home of Record: Oklahoma City, OK
Date of Loss: 30 September 1968
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 172700N 1063200E (XE631311)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F105F "Thunderchief"
Other Personnel in Incident: Clifford W. Fieszel (missing)


SYNOPSIS:   The principle Air Force tactical strike aircraft during the Vietnam War was the Republic F105 Thunderchief, nicknamed a "Thud." Mass-produced after the Korean War, it served throughout Southeast Asia, particularly during Rolling Thunder operations.

On 30 September 1968, Capt. Clifford W. Fieszel, pilot, and then Major Howard H. Smith, electronics warfare officer, comprised the crew of an F105F Thunderchief Wild Weasel, call sign "Bison 01." At 1519 hours, Bison flight departed Takhli Airbase as the lead aircraft in a flight of two on an operational "Iron Hand Troll" mission to kill a surface-to-air missile (SAM) site in Route Package 1; 5 ¼ nautical miles west of the major port city of Dong Hoi, Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam.

The weather conditions during their afternoon flight consisted of overcast cloud cover with bases from 3,000 feet, tops at 8,000 feet. Visibility was 7 miles with no obstructions for 4 to 8 miles. Terrain features included a north-south running single-track railroad line that ran parallel to and approximately 6 miles inland from the coastline. To the east of the railroad tracks was the coastal shelf with rich rice fields surrounding Dong Hoi. Just to the west of the tracks dense jungle covered mountain foothills quickly gave way to rugged mountains.

After arriving in the operational area, Capt. Fieszel contacted the on-site airborne control center for clearance into the target. Bison flight was cleared in on the identified SAM site and proceeded to execute their mission. While ingressing Route Package 1, the wingman received 37mm anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) hits forcing Bison 02 to about the mission and head out to sea with battle damage. While departing the area, the pilot of Bison 02 attempted to contact Bison Lead; but was unable to make contact. Bison 02 was then diverted by the airborne controller to DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam - some 100 miles to the south-southeast - where they were safely recovered.

Approximately 3 minutes later the pilot of an aircraft in another flight picked up an emergency radio transmission and identified the voice as that of Clifford Fieszel. Shortly thereafter a beeper signal was heard emanating from the jungle foothills approximately 1 mile west of the railroad track. Likewise, the other pilots could not tell whether it was from Capt. Fieszel or Maj. Smith. At 1805 hours, the command center at Takhli was notified that Bison Lead was missing.

Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were immediately initiated and continued into 1 October when another unidentified emergency beeper signal was heard from the target area by SAR aircraft. Later that day when no additional beeper signals were heard and no sightings of the aircraft or crew made, all organized SAR efforts were terminated. At that time both Clifford Fieszel and Howard Smith were listed Missing in Action.

On the following day, Radio Hanoi announced that two F105's had been shot down in the Quang Khe area and the pilot of the second aircraft captured. On October 7 a Hanoi newspaper repeated the story. No mention of the fate of the second crewman was made in either report. Since most Thunderchief's are a single-seat configuration, it is reasonable for the Vietnamese to think they shot down two F105s rather than one Thunderchief with a two-man aircrew.

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.

Fighter 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.