|Name:||Ernest Frank Briggs, Jr.|
|Rank/Branch:||Sergeant First Class/US Army|
14th Aviation Battalion
23rd Infantry Division (Americal)
|Date of Birth:||12 December 1944 (Heflin, AL)|
|Home of Record:||Devine/San Antonio, TX|
|Date of Loss:||05 January 1968|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||James Williamson; John T. Gallagher; Dennis C. Hamilton and Sheldon D. Schultz (missing)|
REMARKS: .NO SIGN OF CREW
SYNOPSIS: By early 1967, the Bell UH1 Iroquois was already the standard Army assault helicopter, and was used in nearly every "in-country" mission. Better known by its nickname "Huey," the troop carriers were referred to as "slicks" and the gunships were called "Hogs." It proved itself to be a sturdy, versatile aircraft which was called on to carry out a wide variety of missions including search and rescue, close air support, insertion and extraction, fire support, and resupply to name a few. It usually carried a crew of four.
MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command Vietnam - Studies and Observation Group). MACV-SOG was a joint service high command unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (not a Special Forces group) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. These teams performed highly classified, deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction that were called, depending on the time frame, "Shining Brass" or "Prairie Fire" missions.
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, Saravane Province, Laos. 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. Highway 92 ran along the west side and Highway 919 along the east. 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.
On 5 January 1968, WO1 Dennis C. Hamilton, aircraft commander; WO1 Sheldon D. Schultz, pilot; then SP5 Ernest F. Briggs, Jr., crewchief; and SP4 James P. Williamson, door gunner; comprised the crew of Iroquois helicopter (tail # 66-1172) on a troop insertion mission. They departed Khe Sanh as the #2 aircraft in a flight of two and was under the operational control of an airborne command and control aircraft, flown by WO1 Pedro E. Rodriquez, that orbited the region while directing several 2-ship flights of helicopters. The lead Huey in this flight was flown by WO Jimmie L. Brown. Weather conditions throughout the region were nearly perfect.
SSgt. John T. Gallagher, team leader, was the only American assigned to this Prairie Fire reconnaissance patrol aboard the #2 Huey. Their mission was to locate and report on NVA activity moving through the area along Highway 922 on their way to infiltrate into South Vietnam. SSgt. Gallagher and his patrol were operating under orders from Command & Control North, MACV-SOG.
At approximately 1300 hours, the Huey dropped from an altitude of 4,000 feet to an approach altitude of 300 feet. As they approached the designated landing zone (LZ), it came under heavy 37mm anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire. The helicopter was struck by the enemy fire and immediately entered a nose-low vertical dive before crashing into 20-foot high trees on the south side of Highway 922. No flame or smoke was seen coming from the Huey, however, the aircraft burst into flames upon impacting the ground. The flames were estimated to be 10 to 20 feet high. No radio transmissions were heard during the helicopter's descent, nor were radio or beeper signals heard after impact.
Four attempts were made by the Lead aircraft to enter the area of the downed helicopter, but all failed due to intense enemy ground fire. The crash site was located in the jungle covered mountains less than 2 miles east of the junction of Highways 92, 919 and 922, 11 miles southwest of the Lao/South Vietnamese border and 11 miles due west of Tavouac, Savannakhet Province, Laos. The location was also 25 miles south west of Khe Sanh, South Vietnam.
During the next two days additional attempts to get to the crash site failed. The pilot of one search helicopter maneuvered to within 75 feet of the wreckage before being forced out by enemy ground fire. He reported that the crashed helicopter was a mass of burned metal and that there was no part of the aircraft that could be recognized. Likewise, the helicopter crew saw no human remains inside the downed Huey and no signs of life in the surrounding area. Weather delayed further search attempts for two days.
After the weather improved, and to avoid enemy detection, a MACV-SOG ground team was successfully inserted by helicopter east of the crash site. It conducted a thorough search of the aircraft wreckage and the surrounding area. The search team was extracted on the second day when no remains, personnel affects or trace of the aircrew and passengers were found in and near the wreckage. Because of this, US intelligence believed that anyone who was able to escape the crash would have had no chance of escaping capture. At the time the formal search was terminated, Dennis Hamilton, Shelton Schultz, Earnest Briggs, James Williamson and John Gallagher were listed Missing in Action.
In December 1971, the CIA forwarded a report to DIA about the sighting of American Prisoners of War in Laos. One report described four Americans said to have been captured in South Vietnam as passing through Binh Tram Commo-Liaison Station 12, an NVA way station situated along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, located approximately 25 kilometers southwest of Tchepone, Savannahket Province, Laos. The source identified a photograph of James Williamson as resembling one of the four Americans. Another report described two captured pilots at Commo-Liaison Station 12 early in 1969 approximately 15 kilometers northwest of Muong Phine. Both of these reports were placed in the files of each of the men lost in this incident.
Dennis Hamilton, Shelton Schultz, Earnest Briggs, James Williamson and John Gallagher 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.
If John Gallagher, Dennis Hamilton, Shelton Schultz, Earnest Briggs and James Williamson died in the crash their Huey, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, their fate like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way, there is no question the communists know what happened to these men and could return them or their remains any time they had the desire to do so.
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 in Vietnam and Laos 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.