Name:  Donald Deane Aldern
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Navy 
Unit:  Attack Air Wing 19 USS Oriskany (CVA-34)
Date of Birth: 05 May 1930 (Sioux Falls, SD)
Home of Record: Sioux Falls, SD
Date of Loss: 29 June 1970
Country of Loss:  Laos 
Loss Coordinates:  144400N 1065200E (YB121263)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action 
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:  A7A "Corsair"
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)


SYNOPSIS:   The A7 Corsair was the US Navy's single seat, light attack jet aircraft which featured advanced radar, navigation and weapons systems, and could carry a 15,000 pound bomb load. The A7E with its more powerful TF-41 turbofan engine, was the most advanced version of the Corsair to fly combat missions in Southeast Asia. The Corsair was also flown by Air Force and Marine air wings.

On 29 June 1970, then Cmdr. Donald D. Aldern was the section leader of a two-aircraft flight, that launched from the deck of the USS Oriskany on a night bombing mission over Attopu Province, Laos. The target area was located in dense jungle on the northern edge of a mountain range approximately 10 miles southeast of the town of Attopeu and 45 miles due west of Dak Seang, South Vietnam.

It was no secret by this time that North Vietnamese Army units were openly operating in areas of Laos that were part of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. This "highway" was frequently little more than a path cut through the jungle used by the enemy to move troops and supplies from North Vietnam, through neutral Laos, into South Vietnam. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and material from moving south into the acknowledged war zone.

At 0420 hours, Cmdr. Aldern commenced his bomb run on the target while his wingman orbited the area awaiting his turn to roll in. The wingman observed several bomb explosions, and then a large explosion and fire just beyond the bomb impact point. He attempted to make radio contact with the flight leader, but received no response. The on-site Forward Air Controller (FAC) who was directing the strike mission also tried to raise Cmdr. Aldern on the radio, but without success. Neither the wingman nor the FAC pilot saw a parachute in the darkness. Likewise, neither pilot heard an emergency beeper signal from the downed flight leader.

At first light a formal search and rescue (SAR) operation commenced in spite of the poor weather conditions, but could not locate the downed aircraft or pilot in the dense jungle. On 30 June the weather cleared sufficiently to insert a ground team into the area near the crash site. Due to heavy enemy activity in the area, the team was forced to withdraw before they could reach the loss location. Further, a SAR aircraft operating in conjunction with the ground team received hostile ground fire while trying to pinpoint the crash site. At the time the formal SAR operation was terminated, Donald Aldern was listed Missing in Action.

After a thorough review of the loss incident, the Navy Department felt that Cmdr. Aldern's aircraft was probably struck by anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire as his was pulling off the target, or shortly thereafter. Because he was flying at a low altitude, he probably had little time to react and eject before impacting the ground. Further, if he successfully did eject, there was little to no chance he could have escaped capture as the area was under total enemy control.

Donald Aldern is among the 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 negotiations between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords which ended the Vietnam War since the Laotians were 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 POWs remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Fighter pilots in Vietnam and Laos 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.