|Rank/Branch:||Lieutenant Colonel/US Air Force|
|Unit:||16th Special Operations Squadron Ubon Airfield, Thailand|
|Date of Birth:||21 November 1938|
|Home of Record:||Corpus Christi, TX|
|Date of Loss:||29 March 1972|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Howard D. Stephenson; Curtis D. Miller; Henry P. Brauner and Barclay B. Young, (missing); Edwin Pearce and Robert Simmons (contested remains identification); Charles J. Wanzel III; James K. Caniford; Edward D. Smith, Jr.; Richard C. Halpin; Merlyn Paulson; Irving B. Ramsower II and William A. Todd (remains returned).|
REMARKS: NO PARA - NO RAD CNTCT - SAR NEGA
SYNOPSIS: The Lockheed
AC130A Spectre gunship first made its trial appearance in Vietnam in late
1967. Because it was highly maneuverable at low speeds and could spend
hours in an operational area while delivering a precisely placed stream
of withering fire on a target, it immediately proved its worth in combat.
By early 1969, seven AC130A gunships were deployed to SEA. These originally
deployed AC130A were armed with four M61 Vulcan 20mm cannons mounted in
the first half of the fuselage. Each was capable of delivering a maximum
of 2,500 shots per minute. Further, each Spectre also had four 7.62mm miniguns
that could fire 3,000 or 6,000 shots per minute. In 1969-1970, two of the
miniguns and two of the 20mm cannons were removed to make room for the
addition of a pair of 40mm Bofors cannons that were mounted in the aft
section of the aircraft. While capable of delivering 110 shots per minute,
they were generally used to fire 3 to 4 round bursts of fire one gun at
a time. The second generation AC130E/H models arrived in 1972 armed with
two Vulcan 20mm cannons, one 40mm Bofors cannon and a 105mm Howitzer. This
modification, along with a sophisticated fire control system, made the
gunship an extremely affective tank killer as well as an equally effective
weapon for interdicting enemy traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail
On 29 March 1972, Major Irving B. Ramsower II, aircraft commander; Capt. Curtis D. Miller, pilot; 1st Lt. Charles J. Wanzel III, pilot; Major Henry P. Brauner, navigator; Capt. Richard Castillo, infrared sensor operator; Major Howard D. Stephenson, electronic warfare officer; Capt. Barclay B. Young, fire control officer; Capt. Richard C. Halpin, low light TV senior operator; then SSgt. James K. Caniford, illuminator operator; SSgt. Merlyn Paulson, flight engineer; SSgt. Edward D. Smith, Jr., aerial gunner; SSgt. Edwin Pearce, aerial gunner; AFC William A. Todd, aerial gunner and AFC Robert E. Simmons, aerial gunner; comprised the crew of an AC130A gunship named "Prometheus," tail number 55-0044, and call sign "Spectre 13." They departed Ubon Airbase, Thailand on an armed reconnaissance mission with an F4D fighter escort over Laos to interdict North Vietnamese supplies moving south into the acknowledged war zone, then return to Ubon.
This area of 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.
At 0300 hours, the F4D's aircrew saw a surface to air missile (SAM) lift off the ground. Before the gunship could take evasive action, the SAM hit Specter 13. A few seconds later the AC130A impacted the ground on the east side of a jungle covered mountain followed by secondary explosions. A north/south running power transmission line ran along a ridgeline just east of the crash site and approximately 1 mile to the east ran a long somewhat pear shaped jungle covered valley through which major arteries of the Ho Chi Minh Trail ran. The communist stronghold in and around the town of Tchepone lay across the valley. As one of the F4D escort aircraft flew low over the burning wreckage, he was unable see any sign of survivors. However, several minutes later as he was departing the area he clearly heard multiple emergency beepers. Another AC130A gunship operating nearby, call sign "Spectre 10," and his F4 escort also heard the beeper signals. In the darkness, no parachutes were seen and no voice contact could be established with any of the downed aircrew. The wreckage of Prometheus was located in the jungle-covered mountains approximately 12 miles south of Ban Namm, 21 miles west of Tchepone, 56 miles east of the city of Savannakhet and 32 miles west of the Lao/Vietnamese border, Savannakhet Province, Laos; and 45 miles due west of Khe Sanh, South Vietnam.
At 0350 hours, a Forward Air Controller (FAC), call sign "Nail," arrived on station to cover the crash site area and control the search and rescue (SAR) efforts that were immediately initiated. Unfortunately, by the time he arrived on site, he was unable to hear the emergency beepers. Likewise, in the darkness he was unable to locate any signs of survivors. Formal electronic surveillance efforts continued both day and night. In addition, all aircraft flying near the loss area listened for possible signals or mayday's from the downed crew members. All SAR efforts were terminated at 1830 hours on 30 March 1972 when no trace of the downed crew was found. Because of the heavy enemy activity in the area including numerous anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and surface-to-air missile SAM sites, as well as a large concentration of NVA forces, it was believed any surviving crewmen would have undoubtedly been captured by then. All 14 crewmen were listed Missing in Action.
During the 1970s and early 1980s various reports pertaining to crew members of Spectre 13 were received by the US government. These reports ranged from crash site/grave site data to multiple live siting reports. One of these reports was provided by a communist rallier who stated his unit was at an outpost near "38th MIL station Savannakhet" when a NVA convoy of some 130 trucks moved through his area between 35th to 38th MIL stations. The convoy was attacked by one C130 aircraft and two F4 fighters. According to the source, he observed the aircraft making several passes on the convoy destroying parts of it on each pass. When the Americans made their fifth pass, the C130 was hit and crashed approximately 10 kilometers south of his location. Most of the personnel from the 38th station rushed to the crash site. When they returned, they told the source who stayed at the station, that nine of the American crewmen had been rescued by Laotian civilians living near the crash site.
In 1984, remains reportedly belonging to William Todd were provided by a Lao refugee to US officials. Those remains consisted of 5 small bone fragments that were forwarded to the Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii (CIL-HI) on 20 November 1984. Subsequently, they were determined to be portions from the distal portions of a radius or a fibula. These remains were insufficient in quantity to determine race, sex or identity. Along with the bone fragments, identification media data in the form of a dog tag bearing AFC Todd's name and information was also forwarded with the remains to the laboratory.
Also in 1984, Curtis Miller was the subject of a first-hand live sighting refugee report wherein "the prisoner with a ring on his finger" was still alive and held captive. That wedding ring became another piece of material evidence supporting the fact that some of the crew successfully bailed out of their crippled gunship. This ring, inscribed on the inside "Forever Sue," was returned to Capt. Miller's family by the reporter who recovered it while visiting Laos. Interestingly, the ring was not burned or damaged in any way. That fact strongly supports the belief he was one of the men who bailed out before it impacted the ground.
A May 1985 article appearing in a Thai newspaper stated that the bodies of Robert Simmons and Charles Wanzel were among 5 bodies brought to the base camp of Lao Liberation forces. No names were associated with the other 3 sets of partial remains, and while the article named 2 names, it did not provide any information of when or how the men died. The same article reported a group of 21 Americans still alive and being held in a prison camp in Khammouane Province, Laos.
A joint US/Lao team excavated Spectre 13's crash site in February 1986. They recovered a very limited number of human bone fragments, personal effects and large pieces of aircraft wreckage that were turned over to the appropriate agency for evaluation on 1 March 1986. That portion of recovered remains associated with Robert Simmons consisted of only the #14 tooth - the upper left first molar. According to his dental records, that tooth is the only one he had extracted before going to Vietnam! His family categorically rejects that tooth as Robert Simmons mortal remains. Likewise, only one tooth, along with a dog tag that was recovered in Thailand a year earlier, was identified as the total mortal remains of Edwin Pearce. His family also rejects the US government considering him to be remains returned based on one tooth.
Likewise, based on claims made by CIL-HI's forensic personnel, Richard Halpin, Richard Castillo, Irving Ramsower, Charles Wanzel, Merlyn Paulson, and Edward Smith were identified and remains accepted by their families. CIL-HI personnel added the 5 bone fragments and dog tag that were previously turned over to US representatives to those recovered from the crash site excavation to account for William Todd as being remains returned/recovered. His family also accepted the government's identification.
Henry Brauner, Barclay Young, Curtis Miller, Howard Stephenson, James Caniford, Edwin Pearce and Robert Simmons are 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.
While the fates of some members of this aircrew are finally resolved and their families have the peace of mind of knowing where their loved ones now lie, there are no answers to the questions of when and how each man died. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for, including other crewmen from Spectre 13, there remain only unanswered questions. 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.