Name: Steven Ray Armitstead 
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Marine Corps 
Unit: Marine Attack Squadron 533,
Marine Air Group 12, 
1st Marine Air Wing 

Date of Birth: 15 June 1944 (Big Spring, TX)
Home of Record: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Loss: 17 March 1969 
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: .161900N 1063300E (XD530190)
Click coordinates to view (4)  maps

Staus in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A6A "Intruder"
Other Personnel In Incident: Charles E. Finney (missing) 


SYNOPSIS:   With the addition of the A6A to its inventory, the 1st Marine Air Wing (MAW) had the finest all-weather attack/bombing aircraft in the world. It displayed great versatility and lived up to the expectations of those who pushed its development after the Korean War. At the time it was the only operational aircraft that has a self-contained all-weather bombing capacity including a moving target indicator mode. In this role it was used rather extensively in the monsoon season not only in South Vietnam, but also in Laos and over the heavily defended areas of North Vietnam. The usual bomb load was 14,000 pounds.

On 17 March 1969, then 1st Lt. Steven R. Armitstead, pilot, and Capt. Charles E. Finney, bombardier/navigator, comprised the crew of an A6A Intruder on a night armed reconnaissance mission that was flying in support of air activity being conducted by the 7th Air Force against 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.

Oscar Eight was the code name given to a sector of eastern Laos located in rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 25 miles northwest of the infamous A Shau Valley. The area encompassed the junction of Highway 92, which was a primary north-south artery of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and Highway 922, which branched off and ran directly east where it crossed into South Vietnam at a strategic point near the northern edge of the A Shau Valley. Oscar Eight was also located at the southeastern end of a large and narrow jungle covered valley that had two primary roads running through it, one on each side of the valley with Highway 92 being the road on the west side. A power line ran parallel to Highway 92 and sometimes crossed it. In addition to the roads and power line, the Hoi An River also flowed through the valley passing the road junction roughly 1 mile west of it.

More American aircraft were downed in the vicinity of the junction of Highways 92 and 922 than any other place in Laos. This was because burrowed deep in the hills of Oscar Eight and located just to the east of the road junction was North Vietnamese General Vo Bam's 559th Transportation Group's forward headquarters. It was also the Ho Chi Minh Trail's control center as well as containing the largest NVA storage facility outside of North Vietnam. Oscar Eight was defended by consecutive belts of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) guns of all sizes that were not only stationed on the ground, but also mounted on platforms in the trees. All of these AAA batteries were expertly camouflaged.

At 2130 hours, the crew of the Intruder completed an airstrike on their target. The Intruder was immediately struck by enemy ground fire and crashed into the dense jungle on the east side of the road. Crewmen from another aircraft in the area observed an explosion in the vicinity of the target, and then a second explosion nearby which was believed to the Intruder. The crash site was also less than 1 kilometer west of the power line and approximately 28 miles southwest of Khe Sanh, South Vietnam; 16 miles west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border, 9 miles southwest of Ban Faling and 20 miles south-southwest of Muang Xepon, Savannakhet Province, Laos.

Aerial search and rescue (SAR) operations were immediately initiated and continued for several days, but were terminated when no trace of the aircraft or its crew were found in the dense jungle. Because of the intense enemy presence, no ground search was possible. At the time the formal search was terminated, both Steven Armitstead and Charles Finney were listed Missing In Action.

In 1995 and 1999, joint US/Lao teams from Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) interviewed local villagers in the area of the crash, then conducted a crash site excavation. A local worker turned over a military dogtag bearing Steven Armistead's name and data, but provided no information about the fate of the Intruder's pilot.

During the excavation, the team recovered numerous pieces of aircraft wreckage, personal effects and possible human remains. All remains were eventually sent to the Central Identification Laboratory - Hawaii (CIL-HI) for anthropological analysis. According to USG personnel, the personal effects and other evidence recovered from the crash site aided in the final identification of Charles Finney. To date remains have been identified for Steven Armitstead.

1st Lt. Armitstead and Capt. Finney were among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Lao 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 the Paris Peace Accords since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

While the fate of Charles Finney finally resolved and his family has the peace of mind of knowing where their loved one now lies, for Steven Armitstead and other Americans who remain unaccounted for, their fate could be quite different.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, 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.

Fighter pilots in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and 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.