SWANSON, JON EDWARD

Remains Recovered 21 September 1995; Identified 7 February 2002
Name: Jon Edward Swanson 
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Army 
Unit: Troop B, 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division 
Date of Birth: 01 May 1942 (San Antonio, TX)
Home of Record: Denver, CO
Date of Loss: 26 February 1971 
Country of Loss: Cambodia
Loss Coordinates: 115938N 1055053E (WU923259)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: OH6A "Cayuse"
Other Personnel In Incident: Larry G. Harrison (remains recovered) 

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  The Hughes OH6A Cayuse was known by the troops by its nickname "Loach" - a derivative of "light observation helicopter." The armed OH6A was the primary scout helicopter used in Vietnam and usually carried a crew of two. The pilot controlled a mini-gun and a gunner/crew chief/observer handled a "free 60" machine gun, among other weapons, which were attached to the aircraft by a strap. The Loach crews flew the most dangerous missions assigned to Army aviators because they flew low and usually slow enough to get a good look at the ground making them easy targets for the enemy.

On 8 February 1971, South Vietnamese President Thieu announced Lam Son 719, a large-scale offensive against enemy communications and supply lines in that part of Laos adjacent to the two northern provinces of South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The mission was to interdict the flow of supplies from North Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) would provide and command ground forces, while US forces would provide airlift and supporting fire. Phase I, renamed Operation Dewey Canyon II, involved an armored attack by the US from Vandegrift Base Camp toward Khe Sanh, while the ARVN moved into position for the attack across the Laotian border. Phase II began with an ARVN helicopter assault and armored brigade thrust along Route 9 into Laos. ARVN ground troops were transported by American helicopters, as the US Air Force provided cover strikes around the landing zones.

On 26 February 1971, as part of Lam Son 719, ARVN Task Force 333 moved into Cambodia by convoy to locate and destroy two well-equipped NVA regiments known to be in the area. As the convoy rolled down Highway 75 near the city of Phum Chey Chetha, Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia, it came under heavy automatic weapons fire from enemy bunkers 100 meters to their front. In the ensuing battle, American air support was called in to identify and attack concealed enemy bunkers, machine gun positions and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) batteries.

Capt. Jon E. Swanson, pilot; and SSgt. Larry G. Harrison, observer; comprised the crew of an OH6A in a flight of aircraft conducting a visual reconnaissance/close air support mission for the embattled ARVN convoy. Capt. Swanson was tasked with the responsibility of pinpointing and marking the precise location of NVA positions for the rest of the flight. He flew at treetop level at a slow airspeed over the flat terrain making his aircraft an even more vulnerable target as he identified and marked enemy positions.

Exposing his aircraft to AAA fire, Capt. Swanson and SSgt. Harrison immediately engaged the NVA bunkers with rockets, concussion grenades and machine gun fire. After destroying 5 bunkers while evading intense ground fire, Capt. Swanson observed a .51 caliber machine gun position firing at the American helicopters. With all their heavy ordnance expended on the bunkers, the Loach did not have sufficient explosives onboard to destroy the position. Jon Swanson marked the position with a smoke grenade and directed a nearby Cobra gunship to attack it. Afterward, Capt. Swanson examined the machine gun emplacement and discovered it was still in tact and an enemy soldier was crawling over a man to it. Capt. Swanson immediately engaged the individual and killed him with machine gun fire.

During this time, the Loach sustained several hits from another .51 caliber machine gun. Capt. Swanson and SSgt. Harrison engaged the second gun emplacement with their aircraft's weapons, marked the target and directed a second Cobra gunship to attack it. As the fierce battle raged below them, Jon Swanson volunteered to continue the mission despite the fact that his aircraft was now critically low on ammunition and it had been crippled by enemy fire.

Capt. Swanson changed direction and flew toward another .51 caliber machine gun position when his aircraft was struck again by intense enemy fire. The gunship immediately caught fire, exploded in midair and crashed to the ground. Another helicopter landed near the burning wreckage, but was forced to take off when it also came under heavy and accurate enemy ground fire. During the remainder of the day repeated attempts by both ARVN ground troops and US helicopters to reach the downed helicopter were driven away by NVA forces.

The next day, 27 February, American search and rescue/recovery (SAR) helicopters supported by gunships returned to the battle site in an effort to find and recover Jon Swanson and Larry Harrison. The aircrews' saw what they believed to be the bodies of both Americans near the Loach's crash site. However, because of the continuing NVA presence in and around the area, no recovery was possible. As late as 7 March, SAR aircraft flew over the crash site and observed the remains near the helicopter's wreckage where they had been left by the NVA as bait to lure other Americans into their field of fire. At the time the formal search effort was terminated, Jon Swanson and Larry Harrison were reported as Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

The crash site was located in a generally open grassy area bordered by the city of Phum Chey Chetha to the east and jungle to the west. It was also approximately 12 miles northeast of Suong, Cambodia; 20 miles northwest of the closed point on the Cambodian/South Vietnamese border and 51 miles west-northwest of Loc Ninh, South Vietnam.

In June 1992 a US/Cambodian team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia to investigate the loss of Jon Swanson and Larry Harrison. After conducting the site survey that identified it as an American helicopter crash site, the team was able to begin a field excavation. In addition to wreckage, the team recovered some personal affects and possible human bone fragments. Due to the limited amount of time the team was able to remain in Cambodia, they were not able to complete the site excavation.

It was not until March 1999 that a second Joint Field Activity (JFA) was scheduled to return to the Loach's crash site. The second recovery team found additional remains, crew related items and aircraft wreckage. They also conducted interviews with local residents regarding the helicopter's loss and the fate of its crew.

In January 2000, a third recovery team reentered the crash site for the final time. While conducting interviews with local residents, team members learned that the field was used for slash and burn farming, but had not been cultivated since the Loach's crash. They also learned that the rice field had recently been harvested and burned leaving it devoid of vegetation. The team recovered more wreckage, pieces of equipment and crew related items, but found no additional remains. At the time the excavation site was closed, the team members believed they were able to recover everything of significance that was left at the crash site. These items, which were recovered during the various JFA's, included a metal Staff Sergeant's collar rank insignia, pieces of flight suit material, zippers, snaps, hooks, buckles, keys, small pieces of equipment and helicopter wreckage.

The remains recovered included 29 bone fragments and one tooth. These remains were transported to the Central identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) for forensic examination by the laboratory's staff. After a thorough examination and testing, CIL-HI forensic personnel concluded that only the single tooth could be individually identified through dental comparison and it matched SSgt. Harrison's dental records. In addition to the dental match, three attempts were made to extract a DNA sample from the tooth, but all three attempts failed.

The bone fragments were from throughout the men's bodies and were all badly fractured and burned. The largest bone fragments were from longbone segments from the men's arms/legs, and were approximately 3 centimeters in length. The smallest fragment was roughly the size of a dime. Because of the extremely poor condition of all the bones, no mt-DNA testing was possible. Larry Harrison's individual identification is based on the dental match of the single tooth to his dental records. The 29 bone fragments constitute a group identification for both crewmen. On 3 May 2002, the remains of Jon Swanson and Larry Harrison were buried together with full military honors in a single grave in Arlington National Cemetery under a headstone baring both men's names.

The families and friends of Capt. Swanson and SSgt. Harrison have the peace of mind of knowing where their loved ones are buried. However, for other American servicemen and civilians who remain unaccounted for throughout Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different.

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.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and each was 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.

On 1 May 2002, Capt. Jon E. Swanson was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism during the mission in which he and SSgt. Larry G. Harrison were shot down.