AYRES, JAMES HENRY

Name: James Henry Ayres   
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant Colonel/US Air Force 
Unit: 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron
Korat Airbase, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 30 June 1937
Home of Record: Pampa, TX
Date of Loss: 03 January 1971 
Country of Loss: Laos 
Loss Coordinates: 165400N 1055300E (WD940685)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4E "Phantom II"
Other Personnel In Incident: Charles W. Stratton (missing) 

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  The McDonnell F4 Phantom used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings served a multitude of functions including fighter/bomber, interceptor, photo/electronic surveillance, and reconnaissance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2) and had a long range, 900 - 2300 miles depending on stores and mission type. The F4 was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes. It was selected for a number of state-of-the-art electronics conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.

On 3 January 1971, then Major James H. Ayres, pilot; and Captain Charles W. Stratton, weapons systems officer; comprised the crew of an F4E, call sign "Rancho 01." They departed Korat Airbase as the lead aircraft in a flight of two on a Steel Tiger night strike mission to interdict an enemy truck convoy traveling through the dense jungle covered mountains and passes of the region with trees ranging from 100 feet to 200 feet in height.

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.

When Rancho flight arrived in the target area, they began orbiting while receiving a standard target briefing from the on-site Forward Air Controller (FAC). At 2235 hours, Rancho 01 broke from orbit to begin their first pass; however, they did not drop their ordnance. 30 seconds later Major Ayres radioed a status report from south of target stating they were not set up correctly for an attack on the first pass. Roughly 1 minute later he made his last radio contact when he called in from north of target. Approximately 30 seconds later the aircrew's of both the FAC and Rancho 02 saw a large explosion on the ground which they believed was caused by the lead aircraft impacting the ground. Prior to the explosion, no one saw enemy ground fire aimed at the lead aircraft. All attempts to contact James Ayres and Charles Stratton on UHF, Discrete and Guard channels were to no avail. Likewise, no ejection or parachutes were seen and no emergency beepers heard in the darkness.

No normal search and rescue (SAR) operation was initiated due to the intense hostile presence in the area. However, Rancho 02 stayed in the area for 30 minutes monitoring for any sign of Major Ayres and Capt. Stratton and the FAC stayed for 2 ½ hours searching for any sign of the downed aircrew. Additional electronic searches were ordered along with photo reconnaissance of the crash site and surrounding area. All searches met with negative results. The incident occurred approximately 8 miles southeast of Ban Muong Sen, 28 miles northwest of Tchepone and 2 kilometers southwest of Ban Namalou, Laos. At the time all search efforts were terminated, James Ayres and Charles Stratton were declared Missing in Action.

James H. Ayres and Charles Stratton are 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.

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 throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Fighter pilots in Vietnam and Laos were call 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.