WATKINS, ROBERT JAMES JR.

Name: Robert James Watkins, Jr.
Rank/Branch: Chief Warrant Officer 2/US Army
Unit: Company D, 158th Aviation Battalion, 
160th Aviation Group,
101st Airborne Division 
Camp Evans, South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 10 June 1942
Home of Record: Ft. Mehoe, MD
Date of Loss: 08 October 1969
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 161003N 1070758E (YC280885)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: AH1G "Cobra"
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:   The first Bell AH1G Cobra helicopter gunships arrived in Vietnam on 1 September 1967 and since it carried both guns and rockets, it was a major step forward in the development of the armed helicopter. The Cobra had enough speed to meet the escort mission perimeters, tandem seating, better armor, and a better weapons system than any previous helicopter of its day. By 1970-1, the Cobra's armament included the 2.75-inch rocket with a 17 pound warhead, the very effective 2.75-inch flachette rocket, and the SX-35 20mm cannon which made it a truly powerful aircraft.

On 8 October 1969, Capt. Robert T. Andrews, pilot; and CW2 Robert J. Watkins, co-pilot; comprised the crew of an AH1G in a flight of two providing protective air cover for a downed UH1H helicopter that was shot down in the extreme western corner of the infamous A Shau Valley, South Vietnam. By late afternoon the Huey's aircrew was safely aboard a rescue helicopter and the flight of gunships was cleared to begin their return flight to Camp Evans.

Capt. Andrews determined that because of approaching darkness, bad weather and the fact they were low fuel, he would attempt to land in the A Shau rather than risk the return trip under these hazardous conditions. As the aircraft was descending through a cloud layer, the pilot could find no suitable landing area. As the gunship's fuel supply ran out, the aircrew attempted to set it down in the trees. The gunship landed hard, falling through the thick forest and knocking the pilot out cold. He did not regain consciousness until the following morning. Capt. Andrews examined Robert Watkins and found his body was ice cold with no heart beat or pulse.

The Cobra's radio was rendered useless during the crash landing. Unable to call for help, Robert Andrews concluded his only option was to attempt to walk out to a recognized area since no one had any idea where to start searching for them. Likewise, he believed his best chance for recovery was to head in a general westerly direction. Five days later, Capt. Andrews was picked up by search and rescue (SAR) personnel who were searching for the downed aircrew. Based on information provided by the pilot, all search efforts intensified in the border region where the Laotian province of Salavan and South Vietnamese province of Thua Thien meet. However, all attempts to locate the aircraft in the rugged, dense jungle proved fruitless. Robert Watkins was immediately listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

While attempts to find the crash site by air proved unsuccessful, a unique attempt was made by intelligence specialists to locate the possible crash site by tracking all known data of the mission and aircraft loss to a map. They isolated the probable crash site, but because of heavy and continuous communist activity in the area, that site was never investigated.

Robert Watkins is one of 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 fate of Robert Watkins is not in doubt, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends 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 America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews 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.