Name: William Edward Swanson
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant JG/US Naval Reserve
Unit: Attack Squadron 95 USS Ranger (CVA-61) 
Date of Birth: 01 November 1937 (Zimmerman, MN) 
Home of Record: Minneapolis, MN
Date of Loss: 11 April 1965
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 172758N 1054358E (WE778311)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A1H "Skyraider
Other Personnel in Incident: (none)


SYNOPSIS:   With its fantastic capability to carry a wide range of ordnance (8,000 pounds of external armament), great flight range (out to 3,000 miles), and the ability to absorb punishment, the single-seat Douglas A1 Skyraider became one of the premier performers in the close air support and attack mission role (nickname: Spad) and RESCAP mission role (nickname: Sandy). The Skyraider served the Air Force, Navy and Marines faithfully throughout the war in Southeast Asia.

On 11 April 1965, Lt. JG William E. Swanson, pilot; launched from the deck of the USS Ranger as the #2 aircraft in a flight of two on a late morning armed reconnaissance mission against the Ho Chi Minh Trail approximately 3 miles south of Ban Senphon and 15 miles southwest of the Lao/North Vietnamese border, Khammouan Province, Laos. The flight leader during this mission was the squadron's operations officer, Lt. Cmdr. Shea.

This area of eastern Laos 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.

20 minutes into their mission, the Skyraiders encountered heavy anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire coming from the dense jungle to the south of mountain foothills. The mountain range itself ran east-west, then turned to the southeast paralleling the Lao/Vietnamese border. Lt. JG Swanson's aircraft was struck by the ground fire and began trailing smoke. He successfully kept the aircraft flying straight and level for 5 to 10 seconds. Lt. Cmdr. Shea then observed his wingman begin a slow descending turn to the right before crashing into the dense jungle below. During this time, Lt. Cmdr. Shea radioed Lt. JG Swanson several times advising him that he had been hit, was trailing smoke and needed to immediately eject. At no time did the flight leader observe the canopy being jettisoned or William Swanson eject his badly damaged aircraft.

Aerial search and rescue (SAR) operations were immediately initiated, but found no trace of the downed pilot. Because the area was under total enemy control, no ground search was possible. At the time SAR efforts were terminated, William Swanson was listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

Lt. JG Swanson 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.

While the Navy believed William Swanson died in the crash of his Skyhawk, he has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friend and country. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in 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.

American military men in Vietnam and Laos were call upon to fly and 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.