|Name:||Richard John Schell|
& Headquarters Company,
4th Infantry Division
Pleiku Airfield, South Vietnam
|Date of Birth:||26 July 1944 (Wabasha, MN)|
|Home of Record:||Minneiska, MN|
|Date of Loss:||24 August 1967|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
|Loss Coordinates:||141813N 1075140E (ZA087831)
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing In Action|
|Other Personnel in Incident:||Richard M. Allard; Kenneth B. Goff; Ronald L. Holtzman (missing); Dayton Witherall; Richard N. Morrison; John R. Ulp; Cynthia Colburn (rescued); Sterling A. Wall (body recovered)|
SYNOPSIS: By early 1967, the Bell UH1 Iroquois was already the standard Army assault helicopter, and was used in nearly every "in-country" mission. Better known by its nickname "Huey," the troop carriers were referred to as "Slicks" and the gunships were called "Hogs." It proved itself to be a sturdy, versatile aircraft which was called on to carry out a wide variety of missions including search and rescue, close air support, insertion and extraction, fire support, and resupply to name a few. It usually carried a crew of four.
On August 24, 1967, WO Richard N. Morrison, aircraft commander; WO Dayton Witherall, pilot; SP4 Richard M. Allard, crewchief; SP4 Richard L. Holtzman, door gunner; 1st Lt. Kenneth B. Goff, then Capt. Richard J. Schell, Sgt. Major John R. Ulp, 1st Lt. Sterling A. Wall, and Miss Cynthia Colburn, passengers; were aboard a UH1C helicopter (serial #66-12526). The Huey departed Polei Kleng, near Pleiku Airfield, on a combat support liaison mission to Plei Krong, Pleiku Province, South Vietnam. The 4th Infantry, with the assistance of the 25th Infantry Division and 1st Cavalry (Airmobile), were conducting an operation called Paul Revere IV, an ongoing effort to halt enemy activity near the Cambodian border.
While the U.S. Army describes the flight mission as combat-related, it also acknowledges that Ms. Colburn was on the aircraft, a situation that on the surface would have been "illegal," as women serving in Vietnam were not supposed to be placed in combat situations. It is not clear from the information in public record why she was on the aircraft, although Phyllis Allard, Richard Allard's mother, said that the aircraft was carrying passengers en-route from a hospital and Miss Colburn was a Red Cross worker.
During the flight, the pilot elected to fly low-level along the Dak Bla River. While attempting a 180-degree turn, the aircraft failed to recover and was caught in a severe downdraft. According to the official record, it crashed into the Krong Bo Lah River in about 10 feet of water at a point where the current was swift and the water was deep. However, the loss coordinates place the crash site unquestionably on the Se San River; approximately 15 miles southwest of the city of Kontum and about 28 miles due south of the city of Dak To. Just south of Dak To is the juncture of the Se San and another river. Whether the two rivers have other names at this juncture is unknown. According to casualty related data, the aircraft landed in the "bottomless and rapid flowing Boc River, also known as Dak Bla."
Search and rescue (SAR) helicopters arrived on site at intervals between 10 to 45 minutes after the crash. The first ones to arrive found WO Morrison, WO Witherall, Ms Colburn and Sgt. Major Ulp on the riverbank several hundred feet downstream and safely recovered them. When questioned about the fate of the others on board the Huey, the survivors had no knowledge of 1st Lt. Goff, SP4 Allard and Capt. Schell. However, WO Morrison reported he saw SP4 Holtzman in the water. The door gunner was wearing a flight jacket lined with armor plate and a flak jacket. He called out to Richard Morrison that he could not swim and needed help. WO Morrison said that Ronald Holtzman drifted away from him in the swift current before the aircraft commander could reach him. Later searches of the area revealed several pieces of debris, but the aircraft itself was not found. In September, Lt. Wall's body was retrieved from the river. Searches were conducted through 26 December, but neither the aircraft nor the four missing men aboard it were located. Kenneth B. Goff; Ronald L. Holtzman; Richard Schell and Richard M. Allard were immediately listed Missing in Action.
In April 1969, a CIA intelligence report, which was generated by DaNang Regional Intelligence, compiled a very detailed description of the Viet Cong's Huong Thuy District (South Vietnam) committee headquarters, along with details of a communist prison camp. This camp was located approximately 20 miles south of Hue/Phu Bai and 40 miles northwest of DaNang. The document included maps of the facility as well as information on many of the communist staff, including names, backgrounds and jobs performed.
Also included in this document was a list of 22 American POWs by name who were positively identified from pre-capture photographs. An additional list of 32 Americans tentatively identified was also attached. The source stated that following the 1968 Tet offensive, prisoners were transferred from this camp to either North Vietnam or to an agricultural camp at an unknown location near the South Vietnam/Lao border. Richard Schell was named as one of the 22 positively identified POWs. There was no indication if Kenneth Goff, Richard Allard or Ronald Holtzman were also incarcerated in this camp. None of the families of those listed as positively or possibly identified Prisoners of War were ever told of this report until it was declassified in 1985 - some 17 years later.
A few days after the crash Richard Allard's mother received a collect call from Cambodia from someone she believed was Richard. She subsequently had the call checked by Illinois Bell and the results of the inquiry stated that they "produced evidence that they [the crew] were in the hands of the enemy." In 1970 she saw a prisoner on television in a Viet Cong propaganda film that she believed was Richard. The Army was elusive in its conclusions on both events, so Mrs. Allard borrowed money from friends to go to Cambodia in January of 1972.
Through a series of events that belong in a spy novel, Mrs. Allard said that she found herself in a cave where she was blindfolded and led into a bare room. A man who looked like he was an official of some kind and a soldier came into the room with her son. In the moments he was allowed to stay, he said, "Shame on you for coming." He apparently was afraid for his mother's safety. The Army later said they would not believe Mrs. Allard's account unless the communists corroborated it in writing.
Clearly, all the evidence is not in on the events of 24 August 1967. Whether or not Mrs. Allard's story is true is unknown. However, 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 POWs remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam were called upon to fly and 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.