BURNS, MICHAEL PAUL

Name: Michael Paul Burns 
Rank/Branch: Sergeant First Class/US Army 
Unit: Command & Control North, MACV-SOG, 
5th Special Forces Group 1st Special Forces 
Date of Birth: 25 April 1947 (Oconto Falls, WI)
Home of Record: El Paso, TX
Date of Loss: 31 July 1969 
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 162700N 1065200E (YD003191)
Click coordinates to view maps
Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel In Incident: Dennis P. Neal (missing) 

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  MACV-SOG, or Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, 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 (though it was not a Special Forces group) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. These teams performed 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 30 July 1969, Capt. Dennis Neal, team leader; and then SP4 Michael P. Burns, assistant team leader; and four indigenous personnel, including Pan and Comen, comprised a 6-man patrol conducting a reconnaissance mission to locate and report on NVA activity in Oscar Eight, west of the notorious A Shau Valley, South Vietnam; Salavan Province, Laos. After completing their mission, the team successfully moved to a pre-briefed location in the rugged jungle covered mountains near Highway 912, just west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border. They immediately set up a security perimeter and waited for the extraction helicopters to arrive.

At 0800 hours, as the team waited for pickup, one of the indigenous team members detected five enemy soldiers who were trying to crawl up to their position. He immediately opened fire on them. The NVA retaliated by opening fire on the reconnaissance team with B40 rockets and machine gun fire. In the initial attack, one of the rockets hit inside the team's security position wounding both of the Americans and killing two of the indigenous personnel. The other two team members, Pan and Comen, were both slightly wounded.

When Pan and Comen determined the team's position was untenable, they turned Dennis Neal over to take off one of his emergency UHF radios prior to evading the ambush site. When they did so, they saw the wounds Capt. Neal had sustained to his chest. They also checked Michael Burns and saw that he had sustained a head wound, which had been inflicted by the same B40 rocket blast that wounded Capt. Neal. SP4 Burns was last seen by the surviving team members lying on his back unconscious or dead.

During the intense firefight, a Forward Air Controller (FAC) pilot heard an emergency transmission from one of the two Americans imploring: "Help, help, help, for God's sake, help." Because the FAC pilot did not personally know either of the Special Forces men on the ground, he was not able to identify which one made that transmission.

The two surviving commandos were able to evade capture, establish radio contact and were ultimately extracted. In addition to the helicopters that were already inbound to extract the team, a search and rescue (SAR) team was dispatched to the area as soon as the team reported they were under attack. When SAR personnel were inserted into the ambush site, they thoroughly searched in and around the area, found ample evidence of the firefight, but found no trace of Dennis Neal or Michael Burns either alive or dead. When all details were evaluated, both from  Pan, Comen and the FAC pilot, it could not be determined if the two Americans had, in fact, died of their wounds or had been captured by those communist troops attacking their position. At the time the search was terminated, Dennis Neal and Michael Burns were listed Missing in Action.

For every insertion like this one that was detected and stopped, dozens of others safely slipped past NVA lines to strike a wide range of targets and collect vital information. The number of MACV-SOG missions conducted with Special Forces reconnaissance teams into Laos and Cambodia was 452 in 1969. It was the most sustained American campaign of raiding, sabotage and intelligence-gathering waged on foreign soil in US military history. MACV-SOGs teams earned a global reputation as one of the most combat effective deep-penetration forces ever raised.

Dennis Neal and Michael Burns are among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many are known to have been alive on the ground after their loss incidents. Although the Pathet Lao publicly stated on several occasions that they held "tens of tens" of American prisoners, not one American held in Laos has ever been released.

If Capt. Neal and SP4 Burns died of their wounds, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, they most certainly would have been 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 Laotians could return them or their remains any time they had the desire to do so.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, 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.

Military personnel in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to undertake many dangerous missions, 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 proudly served.