STROHLEIN, MADISON ALEXANDER

Name: Madison Alexander Strohlein
Rank/Branch: Staff Sergeant/US Army
Unit: Tactical Assistance Group,
Task Force 1 Advisory Element DaNang, South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 17 May 1948 (Abington, PA)
Home of Record: Philadelphia, PA
Date of Loss: 22 June 1971
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 154910N 1071919E (YC487502)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)

REMARKS:  INDICATONS OF SHOOTOUT W/NVA

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.

HALO - High Altitude, Low Opening - was one method of inserting reconnaissance teams by parachute deep into enemy held territory that MACV-SOG experimented with in early 1971. The "baseman" on a free-fall jump is the first man to exit the aircraft and the one that all others form up on during the jump. The team members were experienced Special Forces personnel who had previously been trained in HALO free falls. The men chosen for these teams were put through refresher training on Okinawa; they practiced for an additional month at Long Thanh, South Vietnam. This in-country training included 10 jumps from Huey helicopters and C-130s, 4 night HALO jumps and a final exercise in War Zone D, north east of Saigon.

The target selected for this particular team's mission was far beyond any ARVN outpost in the extremely rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 40 miles northwest of Kham Duc, 60 miles west-southwest of DaNang and 5 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Lao border, Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam. US Air Force infrared photos of this area disclosed numerous NVA cooking fires while daytime photos showed fresh row crops. Recently two Command and Control North (CCN) teams were inserted into this same area by helicopter, and both missions failed. The first team lasted only 45 minutes on the ground before enemy forces ambushed them and they were forced to retreat under fire. The second team had its insertion helicopter shot up on the landing zone (LZ) as they tried to disembark.

On 22 June 1971, Sgt. Major Billy Waugh, team leader; SSgt. James "J. D." Bath, assistant team leader and the team's baseman; Sgt. Jesse Campbell and SSgt. Madison A. Strohlein, both riflemen; comprised a four-man HALO team on a reconnaissance mission to locate and report on NVA activity. The team was to have been inserted earlier, but the first insertion attempt was cancelled due to weather and on their second attempt the team was 10 seconds away from exciting the aircraft when the mission was scrubbed. At 0100 hours on this - their third - attempt, the team boarded the Blackbird, a C-130 specifically set up for this mission, for the 2 hour flight to their mission destination. In addition to a CAR-15, each man carried a sawed-off shotgun or sawed-off grenade launcher, a suppressed pistol, 20 minigrenades, and miniclaymore mines fashioned from soap dishes. As a joke, Jesse Campbell wore captain's bars and Billy Waugh pinned on a general's star. If the NVA captured them, Sgt. Major Waugh told the others, "they'll think they've really got something!"

From a drop altitude of 19,000 feet, the team planned to free-fall to 14,000 feet (over 2 miles) then open their parachutes at 5,000 feet, just above the area's highest mountain peak and glide the final mile. Learning from the previous HALO missions, a dull green light was installed on J. D. Bath's parachute container so the others could follow him during the free-fall. A light was also installed atop his parachute canopy for the last phase of the insertion. As the Blackbird neared the release point, the tailgate of the C-130 opened and the jumpmaster, Larry Manes, and J. D. Bath lay side by side on the rear ramp trying to make out ground landmarks. That night there was supposed to be 8% illumination, however, it was solid black. So solid, in fact, everything lacked definition accept for a passing cloud. Because it was not too stormy, the decision was made to use Doppler radar to locate the DZ. Moments later the reconnaissance team stood on the edge of the ramp, looked back once at Larry Manes, and on his signal, leaped into the night. SSgt. Bath, the baseman, saw two men following him out the back of the aircraft before he turned and flipped the toggle switch that controlled his backpack light. He could see the drop zone in the distance and realized the radar had proven inaccurate yet again.

As J. D. Bath reached 5,000 feet, he flipped the light on and off to signal the others he was at opening altitude. At 4,500 feet he shut it off and deployed his parachute, but it responded sluggishly. He looked up and saw that the opening shock had blown out the canopy center tearing away the beacon light. Further, he was descending dangerously fast with almost no canopy control. Unable to see SSgt. Bath's light, the other team members drifted away in the heavy rain, and though unable to see the others, Billy Waugh was able to make out an NVA truck convoy on a road about 5 miles north boldly driving with lights on.

Even though the team could not see the ground, they felt the air temperature rising indicating they were close to landing. SSgt. Bath's parachute collapsed on a tree branch plunging him the last dozen yards to the ground. He hit hard wrenching his knee and back, and knocking him unconscious. Across the ridge Madison Strohlein crashed through the trees and was jerked to a halt. Billy Waugh also landed in a tree and used his descender to lower himself to the ground in the maddening rain. Jesse Campbell also landed in the trees, however, unlike the other team members, he landed uninjured. When SSgt. Bath awoke, it was still dark. He tried to radio the others, but only received a response from SSgt. Strohlein. He reported to the assistant team leader that he broke his right arm, was unable to use his descender and, therefore, was stuck in his harness high above the jungle floor. With a ridgeline between them, communication between the two was difficult.

Shortly after dawn and approximately 5 hours after the HALO team reached the ground, a Forward Air Control (FAC) aircraft, call sign "Covey," arrived on station. He established voice contact immediately with Sgt. Campbell who reported that he was in the process of evading NVA soldiers who were in hot pursuit. SSgt. Strohlein also established voice communication with the FAC. He reported his situation and requested an immediate medical evacuation due to injuries. Meanwhile, Sgt. Major Waugh crept up to the edge of a cliff and peeked over the rim only to see 5 NVA below him chatting as they hunted monkeys.

Soon search and rescue (SAR) helicopters with a Bright Light team on board in rappelling gear crisscrossed above the treetops searching for the recon team. They located J. D. Bath and offered to immediately come in for him. SSgt. Bath told them to get Madison Strohlein first since his injuries were more severe than his were. About that time, the assistant team leader saw a couple men walking toward him. Thinking that they were Billy Waugh and Jesse Campbell he almost waved to them. Thankfully he realized in time they were NVA, not his teammates! He laid low and they passed him by. Meanwhile, SSgt. Strohlein tried to vector the SAR helicopters toward him by radio using the sound to their rotors. Unfortunately there were several helicopters participating in this operation and he would hear one, but be talking to another. Before long everyone became confused and this approach of locating Madison Strohlein was abandoned. Heavy clouds began to build above and in the mountains, and desperate to attract the attention of any one of the helicopters, Madison Strohlein threw a smoke grenade. None of the aircrews could see the smoke, but enemy soldiers did. The last radio transmission for SSgt. Strohlein reported that enemy troops were moving toward his location from all directions.

In the late morning with bad weather closing in and fuel nearly exhausted, the SAR helicopters extracted Sgt. Campbell and Sgt. Major Waugh. They returned early that afternoon, but were unable to raise Madison Strohlein on his emergency radio. Further, they were unable to locate the ridge he was trapped on because it was now covered by ground fog. They were able to make contact with SSgt. Bath, and after pinpointing his position, two men rappelled down and helped him onto a STABO extraction rig. The three men were lifted out of the jungle by the helicopter as they came under light enemy ground fire.

On the morning of 23 June, a Hatchet Force platoon was inserted onto the ridge where Madison Strohlein landed. The team had no trouble locating the tree where he had been. They found that both SSgt. Strohlein and his parachute were gone, and there were piles of expended AK-47 and CAR-15 shell casings near by on the ground. According to Billy Waugh, "Strohlein did not go without kicking some NVA ass." The Hatchet team also found the missing sergeant's map and CAR-15 at the base of the tree. An AK slug that ricocheted off of it marred the CAR-15's stock. The team searched the immediate area. They found no blood, no bandages and no sign of a freshly dug grave. They also found that the NVA removed the parachute from the tree by using AK-47 rounds to cut the tree branch to free the canopy. The team also believed they heard movement as they neared the tree, which they took to be the NVA pulling away.

To the recon men, the evidence left one inescapable conclusion: The NVA captured Madison Strohlein since no SOG man would ever abandon a functional CAR-15. Most of the others felt that the bullet that hit his rifle had knocked it from his good hand thereby disarming him. The other team members are absolutely convinced that the NVA captured him even though the communists claim no knowledge of him. At the time search efforts were terminated, and even though it was determined there was no way Madison Strohlein could have avoided being captured, he was listed Missing in Action.

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.

Military men in Vietnam were called upon to fight 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.

At age 23, Madison Strohlein was the youngest member of the team. He was also the team leader