BELCHER, ROBERT ARTHUR

Name: Robert Arthur Belcher 
Rank/Branch: Major/US Air Force 
Unit: 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron,
366th Tactical Fighter Wing
DaNang Airbase, SouthVietnam  

Date of Birth: 11 August 1935
Home of Record: Baton Rouge, LA
Date of Loss: 28 March 1969 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 165223N 1064635E (XD892663)            
Click coordinates to view(4) maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D "Phantom II"
Other Personnel In Incident: Michael A. Miller (missing) 

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  The F4 Phantom II, which was flown by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings, served a multitude of functions including fighter/bomber, interceptor, photo/electronic surveillance and reconnaissance. This two-man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2) and had a long range, 900 to 2300 miles depending on stores and type of mission. The F4 was also extremely maneuverable, and handled well at all 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 28 March 1969, Major Robert A. Belcher, pilot, and 1st Lt. Michael A. Miller, co-pilot, comprised the crew of an F4D (serial #66-8764) that departed DaNang Airbase at 1615 hours in a flight of two. The Phantoms were conducting a strike mission against an NVA mortar site and associated bunkers located in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) buffer zone approximately 5 miles south of the city of Bo Ho Su, Gio Linh District, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.

When the flight arrived in the target area, Major Belcher established radio contact with the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC). After providing both aircrews with current mission information, the ABCCC handed the flight off to the onsite Forward Air Controller (FAC) who was directing the strike mission. Shortly thereafter, the FAC cleared the strike aircraft in to begin their mission against the enemy's mortar site and bunkers.

As Major Belcher and 1st Lt. Miller initiated a low-level ordnance delivery pass on their target, the Phantom was struck by intense small arms and automatic weapons fire. The aircraft was observed to pass directly below the FAC in a 25 to 30 degree dive before it crashed and exploded on impact on a heavily forested ridge in rugged mountains roughly 300 feet south of the Khe Pava River and 2 miles southwest of Lang Cam village. The village was located on the northern edge of a small grass covered valley just east of the ridge. The crash site was also located 14 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Lao border, 15 miles west-northwest of Cam Lo, 16 miles north of Khe Sanh and 21 miles west of Dong Ha.

Other flight members reported they believed the aircrew made no apparent effort to pull up from the dive before impact. Likewise, they saw no parachutes and heard no emergency beeper signals emanating from the jungle below. An aerial visual and electronic search operation was immediately initiated and successfully located the wreckage, but found no sign of Robert Belcher or Michael Miller in our around the site. Ground search teams attempted to reach the crash site, but were unable to do so because of the heavy enemy present in the area. At 1815 hours, the aerial search operation was terminated and both men were declared Missing in Action.

Nearly a year later, on 19 March 1970, evidence of death was received by the US government indicating that Major Belcher and 1st Lt. Miller died in the loss of their Phantom. Shortly thereafter, the US Air Force changed their status from Missing in Action to Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

Beginning in November 1986, joint US/Vietnamese teams under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) investigating losses in Quang Tri Province began receiving a series of dogtag reports, some with possible remains associated with them, regarding Major Belcher. In one of the earlier reports, the source stated that he "represented a group that was caring for a live American somewhere in central Vietnam and held the remains of 107 American servicemen." When US personnel examined the biographic data provided by the Vietnamese, they found there was a possible match to Robert Belcher.

Subsequently the source was re-interviewed. At that time, team members learned the Vietnamese group did not have 107 sets of remains as first stated. They had only 3 sets of remains that might or might not be American, but the group was unwilling to turn them over to the JTFFA team for examination. When questioned about the claim that the group "was caring for a live American somewhere in central Vietnam," no additional information at all was forthcoming.

In November 1987, another dogtag report was received by members of another JTFFA team that correlated by name, blood type and religious preference to Major Belcher. Over the years other similar reports continued to surface regarding the Phantom's pilot; however, none of them have contained information attributable to 1st Lt. Miller.

In October 1994, a JTFFA Archival Research Team (ART) interviewed the two principle sources of information regarding Robert Belcher's dogtag and reported remains. This time the team was able to convince the two brothers to turn over the material. They received "four identification tags and two portions of remains (the Vietnamese) associated with the tags. One of the dogtags was that of Major Robert A. Belcher. The remains and tags were turned over in a wooden box that was separated into two compartments. The left side of the box contained approximately 103 bones and three dogtags that he collected from a crash site in Dong Nai Province. The right side contained 450 small bone fragments, none of which was bigger than one half inch in length. All appeared to be charred. There was also a single dogtag that bore the name of Belcher, Robert A., four teeth, one of which had a piece of plastic material attached to it, one USMC staff Sergeant chevron, one possible Naval officer's cap emblem, a second brass cap emblem, and two aircraft data plates."

During the forensic review in Hanoi on 25-27 November 1994, the remains located in the right side of the box were selected for repatriation to the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) because of their association with Major Belcher's dogtag. The remains and dogtags from the left side of the box were associated with a C-130 crash site in Dong Nai Province.

In November 1994 all bone fragments from the right side of the box were tested against DNA reference samples provided by the families of Robert Belcher and Michael Miller. These tests proved there was no DNA match to either man. In addition, the portions of five teeth and the acrylic dental appliance were compared to the dental records of Major Belcher and 1st Lt. Miller. The results of those tests also failed to provide any matches to the men's records.

In September 2000, a Joint Field Activity's (JFA) Investigative Element (IE) traveled to the suspected crash site to conduct a survey in preparation for a possible site excavation. While there, they found wreckage and unexploded BLU-26 type bomblets; the type or ordnance carried onboard Major Belcher and 1st Lt. Miller's aircraft. When questioned, the team received reports from local residents that three people died when similar armament exploded while they were scavenging the site. The team marked the unexploded ordnance before terminating the site survey.

While the fate of Robert Belcher and Michael Miller is not in doubt, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. Further, in this type of case where the US government received evidence of death sufficient to change the men's status to Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered, there is also every reason to expect the Vietnamese could provide substantial information and/or return their remains any time they had the desire to do so. Above all else, these men have the right not to be forgotten by the nation for which they gave their lives.

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.

Fighter pilots were called upon to fly 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.