BUCHER, BERNARD LUDWIG

Name: Bernard Ludwig Bucher
Rank/Branch: Major/US Air Force
Unit: 774 Tactical Airlift Squadron
Mactan Airbase, Phillippines 

Date of Birth: 28 February 1922
Home of Record: Eureka, IL
Date of Loss: 12 May 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 152601N 1074801E (ZC031110) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: C130B "Hercules"
Other Personnel in Incident: Stephen C. Moreland; John L. McElroy; George W. Long; Frank M. Hepler, Warren R. Orr, Jr. (missing)

REMARKS:  EXPLODE-NRESC-HOSTIL AR-J

SYNOPSIS:   Kham Duc Special Forces camp (A-105), was located on the western fringes of Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. In the spring of 1968, it was the only remaining border camp in Military Region I, and was located 46 miles southwest of DaNang, on a narrow grassy plain surrounded by rugged, virtually uninhabited jungle. The camp and airstrip were bordered by the Ngok Peng Bum ridge to the west and Ngok Pe Xar Mountain, looming over Kham Duc to the east. Steep banked streams full of rapids and waterfalls cut through this tropical wilderness.

In late March 1968, US intelligence picked up information that the 2nd NVA Regiment, well over 10,000 men strong, was moving from North Vietnam, through Laos, and intended to enter South Vietnam somewhere south of Kham Duc, on it way to the DaNang area. An intelligence team, comprised of 3 Australian advisors and their Chinese Nung Mike Force, was charged with the responsibility of locating, tracking and reporting on the enemy movement. They established a base of operations five miles south of Kham Duc in the old abandoned French fort of Ngok Tavak located between the Vietnamese/Lao boarder and Route 14.

The commander of the 2nd NVA regiment determined that neither Ngok Tavak nor Kham Duc could be bypassed because of the threat each posed to his flank once the regiment moved past them. Kgok Tavak was assaulted in the early morning hours of 10 May 1968. At the same time, the NVA began blasting Kham Duc at 0245 hours with heavy mortar and recoilless rifle fire in an attempt to "soften up" the entrenched US and allied troops.

During the next two days, the battle for Kham Duc continued unabated. In that fierce fighting 19 Americans were captured, became Missing in Action or Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered as the Americans and allied troops tried desperately to hold on. In the end, those survivors who could not be evacuated were given orders to escape and evade from Kham Duc.

On 12 May 1968, shortly after 1200 hours, the decision was made to immediately extract all personnel from the beleaguered camp. This evacuation was disorderly and, at times, on the verge of complete panic.

To aid in the evacuation of US military personnel, along with South Vietnamese troops and their families, the Air Force assigned a C130B (serial #60-0297) from Mactan Airbase, Phillippines to Kham Duc. The aircrew was comprised of Maj. Bernard Bucher, pilot; 1st Lt. Stephen Moreland, co-pilot; Maj. John McElroy, navigator; SSgt. Frank Hepler, flight engineer; and Airman George Long, loadmaster. Also aboard the aircraft was Capt. Warren Orr, Jr., a Special Forces civil affairs officer whose job it was to assist in getting as many of the civilians out of Kham Duc as possible. The C130B landed at the Special Forces Camp amidst the chaos of battle and immediately began taking on as many passengers as it could hold.

Maj. Bucher took off while under an intense enemy mortar and small arms attack. A Forward Air Controller (FAC) in the area watched the Hercules as it lumbered into the air, then reported seeing the aircraft explode in a fireball in mid-air approximately 1 mile from the end of the airstrip and crash into the jungle below. It was believed that all crew and passengers aboard perished as the aircraft was quickly consumed by fire destroying everything but the tail boom. Because of the intense enemy presence in the area, no ground search of the area was possible. All Air Force members of the flight crew were listed Killed in Action/ Body Not Recovered.

The question was raised later if Capt. Warren Orr actually boarded the aircraft prior to its departure. A Vietnamese soldier reported he saw Capt. Orr board the aircraft after everyone else was aboard and before the tailgate closed. However, because no American could actually place Capt. Orr on the C130B, he was listed Missing in Action.

On 18-21 July 1970 and again from 17-20 August 1970, search and recovery teams returned to Kham Duc to search for the remains of those Americans who were missing and unaccounted for. During these trips, personnel from Graves Registration were unable to locate the wreckage of the C130B to search for remains. This was in part due to the fact that the surrounding area is covered with double and triple canopy growth and finding the crash site after this period of time without the aid of modern technology was extremely difficult. Another factor was the Vietnam War was still in full swing and much of the territory around Kham Duc was controlled by the Communists.

For the aircrew of the Hercules, there is no doubt of their fate. However, they have the right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country. For Warren Orr and many other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Indochina, 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.

Military men in Vietnam 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.