Name:  James Ervin Booth
Rank/Branch: Major/US Air Force
Unit:  497th Tactical Fighter Squadron
8th Tactical Fighter Wing
Ubon Airfield, Thailand
Date of Birth: 29 December 1939 (Bethany, MO)
Home of Record: Roseville, CA
Date of Loss: 23 June 1968
Country of Loss:  North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates:  175200N 1055500E (WE971755)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D “Phantom II”

Other Personnel in Incident: Donald F. Casey (missing)


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 23 June 1968, Lt. Col. Donald F. Casey, pilot; and then 1st Lt. James E. Booth, weapons systems officer; comprised the crew of the lead aircraft (serial #66-8724), call sign Machete 01,” in a flight of two conducting a night armed reconnaissance mission along Route 110, which was also known as IR 922A/Black Route, in western Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam.

The mission identifier was Steel Tiger, Cricket Area 4,” a region that included the portion of North Vietnam bordering Laos that included the Mu Gia Pass, one of the two primary gateways into the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail via Route 15. Between 17 April 1965 and 31 December 1971, 43 American airmen were lost and listed as POW/MIAs in a 33.3-mile square window of the world known as the Mu Gia Pass.

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.

Machete flight arrived in the target area at approximately 2000 hours and immediately established radio contact with the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC), call sign “Alleycat,” controlling all air operations in the region. After receiving current weather and mission data, the ABCCC handed the flight over to the Forward Air Controller (FAC) who would direct the mission itself. Shortly thereafter he cleared the flight into the target area to search for lucrative targets of opportunity.

At 2008 hours, Lt. Col Casey spotted some truck lights traveling along Route 110. He notified the rest of the flight of his find before reporting, “Rolling in” for their bomb run. Machete 02 lost sight of Lead in the night’s darkness before observing a large fireball on the side of a hill. Cadillac Flight, a second flight of F4s operating in the area, notified Alleycat that it had seen burning wreckage and tried to establish radio contact with the downed aircrew, but could not make contact with anyone.

The crash site was located in a very rugged, populated and forested region near the village of Xuan Hoa approximately 3 miles due west of Route 110 and 3 miles due east of Route 101, 17 miles northeast of the Mu Gia Pass, 38 miles southwest of Mui Ron Ma and 53 miles northwest of Dong Hoi, Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam.

The ABCCC called for a visual and electronic search and rescue (SAR) operation to immediately begin for Lt. Col. Casey and 1st Lt. Booth. However, it the darkness no parachutes were seen and no emergency radio beepers heard. At the time the formal search was terminated, Donald Casey and James Booth were declared Missing in Action.

In their post-mission debriefing, the other pilots reported seeing no enemy ground fire prior to seeing the fireball on the ground. Because of that, they thought it was possible that Machete Lead was unaware of the elevation of the karst ridges in the target area and flew into the terrain.

>p>On 27 June 1968, the Vietnam Courier carried an article reporting “the 3000th shootdown of an American aircraft over North Vietnam” and the location of the downing was “in western Quang Binh.” The article said, “… two pilots were found dead in the wreckage” and attributed the information to a communiqué from the Vietnam Peoples Army high command.

During the 1990s joint US/Vietnamese teams under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting travel to western Quang Binh Province to investigate this and other losses. Teams also traveled to Hanoi to research data maintained in various war museums. In regard to Machete Lead, in the Central Armed Forces Museum they found photographs with captions identifying them as being of this aircraft’s wreckage. They found other photos of identification plates that can be correlated to this loss as well as yet others of local residents examining the wreckage.

In the museum accession record notes additional information is found correlating to Lt. Col. Casey and 1st Lt. Booth’s loss including the fact that the aircraft was downed by the “367th (Anti-Aircraft Artillery - AAA) Company located at (the village of) Trung Hoa and the crash located at (the village of) Xuan Hoa.” Other documents found in the MR4 (Military Region 4) Shootdown Record states this aircraft “was downed on the spot in Tuyen Hoa by C367 ((AAA)) and E230.” Ironically, with all the information available about the loss itself, none of the investigative teams found any record of the Vietnamese recovering and burying remains or of capturing the pilots alive.

If Donald Casey and James Booth died in the loss of their aircraft, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they were able to eject prior to the crash, they most certainly could have been captured by enemy forces operation throughout the region.

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.

American military men were called upon to fly and fight 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.