CUNNINGHAM, KENNETH LEROY

Name: Kenneth Leroy Cunningham 
Rank/Branch: Staff Sergeant/US Army 
Unit: 225th Aviation Company, 223rd Aviation Battalion
17th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade 





Date of Birth: 21 January 1948
Home of Record: Ellery, IL
Date of Loss: 03 October 1969 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 145719N 1075326E (ZB109553)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 4
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: OV1C "Mohawk"
Other Personnel In Incident: Paul L. Graffe (missing) 

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  The Grumman OV1C Mohawk was outfitted with photo equipment to conduct aerial photo reconnaissance missions. These aircraft obtained aerial views of small targets - hill masses, road junctions or hamlets - in the kind of detail needed by ground commanders. The generally unarmed Mohawks were especially useful in reconnoitering the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail.

On 3 October 1969, 1st Lt. Paul L. Graffe, pilot; and then Pvt. Kenneth L. Cunningham, observer; departed Phu Hiep Airfield, South Vietnam, in an OV1C in the early evening for an infrared surveillance mission. Their assignment was to search out enemy targets located in the tri-border area of northwestern Military Region 2 where Cambodia, Laos and South Vietnam meet. The Mohawk (serial #61-02679) was employing infrared detection equipment with a forward-aimed camera that destroyed the communists' ability to utilize the darkness to conceal their activities.

The last radio contact with 1st Lt. Graffe and Pvt. Cunningham was at 1800 hours when Paul Graffe radioed the pilot of another Mohawk telling him they were going to continue their mission for about 30 more minutes before beginning their return trip to Phu Hiep Airfield. When the aircraft failed to return to base, attempts to contact the aircrew by radio proved unsuccessful, and an electronic and visual search and rescue (SAR) operation was immediately initiated.

On the morning of 5 October, SAR helicopters located the wreckage of an aircraft atop a 7,000-foot peak in a mountain range located in jungle covered mountains approximately 27 miles northeast of the tri-border junction. It was also 20 miles north-northeast of Dak To, 32 miles south of Kham Duc and 41 miles north-northwest of Kontum, Kontum Province, South Vietnam. This wreckage was positively identified by the aircraft serial number, which was displayed on it's tail, as being that of the missing Mohawk. Efforts were made to insert a search and rescue team at the site later in the day, and again on 6 October. Because of inclement weather, both attempts had to be cancelled.

On the morning of 7 October, another attempt was made to insert a search team by air. However, the pilot noticed a change in position in the aircraft wreckage and a continuous emergency beeper signal from the area of the wreckage was transmitting. Since this beeper signal pattern was not compatible with established emergency radio procedures, the flight leader determined the crash site was probably a trap and withdrew from the area. At that time the SAR effort was terminated, both Paul Graffe and Kenneth Cunningham were listed Missing In Action.

If Kenneth Cunningham and Paul Graffe died in their loss incident, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, there is no question they could 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 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 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 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.