|Name:||Randolph Jefferson "Randy" Ard|
|Rank/Branch:||Chief Warrant Officer/US Army|
and Headquarters Company
1st Brigade, 5th Infantry (Mechanized)
|Date of Birth:||16 June 1951|
|Home of Record:||West Pensacola, FL|
|Date of Loss:||07 March 1971|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
|Loss Coordinates:||163700N 1063250E (XD653388)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing In Action|
|Other Personnel in Incident:||Phil Bodenhorn and Jerry Castillo (rescued); Sheldon J. Burnett (missing)|
SYNOPSIS: The Bell OH58A Kiowa observation helicopter arrived in Vietnam to replace the aging OH13 Sioux and OH23 Raven helicopters, and to supplement the very popular OH6 Cayuse, better known by its nickname "Loach," which arrived in-country shortly before the Kiowa. It was an unpopular replacement for the OH6 with most its pilots complaining about its lack of power and poor directional control in comparison with the Loach.
On 07 March 1971, then W1 Randy Ard, who had been in Vietnam only a few weeks, was assigned as the pilot of an OH58A helicopter on a transport mission. He picked up Lt. Col. Sheldon J. Burnett, Squadron Commander, Capt. Phil Bodenhorn, Company Commander of A Company, and SP4 Mike Castillo, the radio/telephone operator for 3rd Platoon at the command position for A Company. Their destination was A Company's 3rd Platoon that was located approximately 2 miles from the Vietnamese/Lao border, 15 miles southeast of Muong Xepon, Savannakhet, Laos.
As the helicopter approached the position of the 3rd Platoon, W1 Ard radioed for the platoon to signal with smoke when the Kiowa came over the landing zone. Yellow smoke was sighted and the pilot nosed the aircraft down toward the smoke. When they were between 250 and 300 feet above the ground, it was struck in the lower front of the helicopter by a long burst of machine gun fire causing them to crash inverted. Capt. Phil Bodenhorn and SP4 Jerry Castillo were not injured in the crash. They pulled Randy Ard from the aircraft. He had both legs broken, his hip was believed to be crushed and he suffered several bullet wounds. Sheldon Burnett was pinned in the wreckage and could not be moved
During the next 20 to 25 minutes Capt. Bodenhorn and SP4 Castillo continuously radioed for help and signaled with smoke while they remained under direct and indirect enemy gunfire. As the enemy was about to assault their position, the two uninjured survivors were forced to leave W1 Ard and Lt. Col. Burnett as they took evasive action. When they left the wreckage, Randy Ard was alive and armed with a .45 caliber pistol. Sheldon Burnett was bleeding badly from wounds to his head, neck and arms, and was speaking incoherently. They evaded the enemy and were able to link up with an ARVN unit about an hour later. Because of continued enemy activity in and around the crash site, no ground search was possible. Both Randy Ard and Sheldon Bodenhorn were immediately listed Missing in Action.
The story of this loss incident was released to reporters at Khe Sanh three days later. The army spokesman accurately described the ambush and downing of the helicopter, however, he told the press that "Lt. Col. Burnett had been in radio contact with the ambushed platoon, and that he and Ard had appeared dead to the two escaping officers" whose names were withheld. Further, in a blatant attempt to mislead the press, General Sutherland stated, "… the decision was not made to employ the Air Cavalry and the Hoc Bao to attempt to retrieve either Lt. Col. Burnett alive or his body.....Burnett had no mission nor units in Laos. He had no reason or authority to take his helicopter over the Laotian border."
Sheldon Burnett and Randy Ard 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.
While Lt. Col. Burnett and W1 Ard were both seriously wounded, there is no evidence to prove they died of those wounds. If both men died of those wounds, they have a right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country. However, if they survived, 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 servicemen in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to operate 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.