Remains Returned 3/17/93; Identified 10/23/95

Name:  Carlos Rafael Cruz
Rank/Branch: Major/US Air Force
Unit:  606th Air Commando Squadron 
Nakhon Phanom Airfield, 

Date of Birth: 29 November 1941
Home of Record: Arroyo, Puerto Rico
Date of Loss: 29 December 1967
Country of Loss:  Laos
Loss Coordinates:  164900N 1060300E (XD125595)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:  A26A "Invader"
Other Personnel in Incident: Paul L. Foster and William J. Potter, Jr. (both missing)


SYNOPSIS:   The twin engine A26 Douglas Invader is the attack version of the venerable B26, which was one of the first aircraft to arrive in Vietnam with the 1st Air Commando Squadron in October 1961 as part of the "Farm Gate" detachment. Powered by two Pratt and Whitney radial engines with three-bladed reversible propellers, the A26 first began life during World War II with that original designation at times resurrected during Vietnam. It could carry eight forward-firing 12.7mm machine guns plus various combinations of bombs and rockets exceeding 10,000 pounds. While assigned to the South Vietnamese Air Force, the Invaders were flown by American aircrews. They repeatedly proved themselves as a valuable air asset against the Viet Cong throughout South Vietnam and Laos.

On 29 December 1967, then Capt. Carlos Cruz, pilot; Capt. William Potter, navigator; and SSgt. Paul Foster, aerial gunner; comprised the crew of an A26A Invader that departed Nakhon Phanom Airfield on an operational mission to interdict NVA activity in an area of Laos adjacent to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Vietnam. At 1358 hours, as the Invader made an attack pass on its target, it was struck by enemy ground fire and seen to crash on the east side of a mountain with a jungle covered valley continuing on to the east. This location also placed the crash site approximately 3 miles southeast of Ban Namm, 23 miles northwest of Muang Xepon, Savannakhet Province, Laos; as well as 25 miles west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border and 14 miles south of the DMZ.

Within days before this flight, Premier Souvanna Phouma of Laos reported the incursion of North Vietnamese troops into his country. Further, he stated that the communists launched a general offensive against his Royal Lao forces in southern Laos. While the North Vietnamese denied fielding troops against the Lao, there was ample intelligence to refute their claims.

Likewise, this area of eastern Laos was considered a major artery of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. 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.

Carlos Cruz, William Potter and Paul Foster were 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.

In early 1993, a joint American/Lao field team excavated the Invader's crash site. In addition to aircraft wreckage and personal affects, the team recovered bone fragments later identified as the mortal remains of Carlos Cruz, William Potter and Paul Foster.

While the remains of these men were returned to their families, friends and the country they gave their lives for, the fate of many other Americans who are unaccounted for remains in doubt.

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.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam and Laos 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.