|Name:||Charles Richard "Dick" Brownlee|
|Rank/Branch:||Colonel/US Air Force|
355th Tactical Fighter Wing
Takhli Airbase, Thailand
|Date of Birth:||03 August 1931|
|Home of Record:||Alamosa, CO|
|Date of Loss:||24 December 1968|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Charles D. King (missing)|
SYNOPSIS: The principle Air Force tactical strike aircraft during the Vietnam War was the Republic F105 Thunderchief, nicknamed a "Thud." Mass-produced after the Korean War, it served throughout Southeast Asia, particularly during Rolling Thunder operations.
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.
On 24 December 1968, then Major Charles R. "Dick" Brownlee was the pilot of the lead aircraft (serial #62-4234), call sign "Panda 01," in a flight of four. Panda flight was conducting an afternoon strike mission against Route 911, which was the major artery of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail between the Ban Karai Pass and the city of Ban Phaphilang, Khammouane Province, Laos.
At 1547 hours, Panda lead initiated an attack pass on a truck moving along Route 911. As he did so, his aircraft was struck by hostile ground fire and caught fire. Major Brownlee reported, "fire and smoke in cockpit …. bad …." followed by a garbled transmission. Search and rescue aircraft (SAR), call sign "Jolly Green," were orbiting nearby in case their services were required. As soon as the SAR force heard Charles Brownlee's report of fire and smoke in the cockpit, they flew toward the crippled Thunderchief.
One of the SAR pilots reported seeing "junk in the air" when Major Brownlee's aircraft exploded at roughly the same time he ejected from his aircraft. Other pilots in the flight observed a parachute fully deploy. They also visually followed it to the ground and saw it enter, then catch, in the dense double canopy jungle within 200 meters of his aircraft's burning wreckage. All attempts to establish voice contact with Major Brownlee were unsuccessful. Further, no emergency beeper was heard. SAR aircraft came under enemy ground fire when they attempted to enter the area in which Dick Brownlee was downed. Because of darkness, subsequent rescue attempts were suspended until the next morning.
The location where Dick Brownlee landed was on the northern edge of a large valley and just east of Route 911, approximately 10 miles southwest of Ban Thapachon, 20 miles southwest of the Lao/North Vietnamese border and 39 miles south-southeast of the Mu Gia Pass.
The next morning A1C Doug King, pararescueman (PJ), volunteered to be the paramedic/PJ assigned to the HH3E SAR helicopter with the mission of recovering Major Brownlee. At 0835 hours, the SAR helicopters arrived in the area of loss. The aircrews had no difficulty in locating Charles Brownlee's parachute with him still hanging in it in the trees. The pilot maneuvered into position, but before Charles King could be lowered to the downed pilot, rotor wash from the SAR helicopter caused Major Brownlee's parachute to dislodge from the trees and fall 70 feet to the ground.
A1C King was then lowered by penetrator 100 feet to the ground through a small opening in the jungle. He moved the hoist and cable with him to Major Brownlee's position. After examining Dick Brownlee, the PJ radioed that the pilot "was inert," but did not elaborate further. After freeing Major Brownlee from his parachute harness, Charles King secured him to the hoist, which was intended to drag him through the brush and under a fallen tree for a distance of over 20 feet to reach the open area from which both men could be lifted out of the jungle.
With the pilot ready to be hoisted from the ground, A1C King reported he had not yet secured himself to it when the two Americans began receiving enemy small arms fire. The PJ then radioed he'd been hit and directed the SAR helicopter to pull up because enemy forces had moved within 30 feet of their position. Unfortunately as the helicopter pulled away, the hoist line snagged in the trees and broke dropping both Charles King and Dick Brownlee roughly 10 feet to the ground. At the same time, the helicopter came under heavy ground fire itself forcing it to abandon any additional rescue attempt. At the time the SAR operation was terminated, Dick Brownlee and Charles King were listed Missing in Action. This status determination was made in spite of the overwhelming knowledge that both men were in eminent danger of being captured.
No additional information surfaced regarding the status of A1CKing or Major Brownlee until February 1986 when a Lao refugee immigrated to the United States. He reported to US intelligence officials that he had witnessed Charles King's capture, and watched as the young man was taken away in a truck. The refugee's information matched most details of Charles King's loss incident. Less clear were the details pertaining to the fate of Dick Brownlee. The refugee's first hand live sighting report was deemed credible by US intelligence personnel and subsequently copies of it were placed in both A1C King's and Major Brownlee's casualty files. In 1992, a National Security Agency (NSA) correlation study of all communist radio intercepts pertaining to missing Americans, which was presented to the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in a classified format, was finally declassified and made public. According to this document, at least 2 North Vietnamese radio messages were intercepted and correlated to this incident. While it documents absolute enemy knowledge about the fate of the men lost in this extended incident, it does not elaborate about their fate. Dick Brownlee and Charles King are 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 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 Dick Brownlee and Charles King died as a result of their loss, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, there is no question they were captured, and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is no doubt the Vietnamese or Lao 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 our government has received American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for. Many of these reports document LIVE American POWs remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
American military personnel in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fight under 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.