Name: Reginald David Cleve 
Rank/Branch: Warrant Officer First Class/US Army 
Unit: 176th Aviation Company,
14th Aviation Battalion, 
16th Aviation Group, 
23rd Infantry Division (Americal) 

Date of Birth: 02 August 1947
Home of Record: Farmington, MO
Date of Loss: 22 March 1971 
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 163623N 1063343E (XD666365) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1H "Iroquois"
Other Personnel In Incident: Donald P. Knutsen; Walter R. Hall and John G. Traver III (missing) 


SYNOPSIS:   By early 1967 the UH1, nicknamed "Huey", was already the standard Army assault helicopter, and was used in nearly every "in-country" mission. Huey troop carriers were referred to as "slicks" and gunships were called "hogs". It proved to be a sturdy, versatile aircraft which was called on to carry out a wide variety of missions including search and rescue, close air support, insertion and extraction, fire support, and supply to name a few. It usually carried a crew of four.

In Laos Highway 19 was considered a major artery in the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. Once that road crossed the Laos/South Vietnamese border, it became Highway 9. 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.

On 8 February 1971, South Vietnamese President Thieu announced Lam Son 719, a large-scale offensive against enemy communications and supply lines in that part of Laos adjacent to the two northern provinces of South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The mission was to interdict the flow of supplies from North Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) would provide and command ground forces, while US forces would provide airlift and supporting fire. Phase I, renamed Operation Dewey Canyon II, involved an armored attack by the US from Vandegrift Base Camp toward Khe Sanh, while the ARVN moved into position for the attack across the Laotian border. Phase II began with an ARVN helicopter assault and armored brigade thrust along Route 9 into Laos. ARVN ground troops were transported by American helicopters, as the US Air Force provided cover strikes around the landing zones.

On March 22, 1971, W1 Reginald Cleve, aircraft commander; W1 John G. Traver, pilot; SP4 Donald P. Knutsen, crew chief; and SP Walter R. Hall, door gunner; comprised the crew of a UH1H helicopter in a flight of five conducting an emergency resupply mission for ARVN troops participating in Lam Son 719. The allied troops were located in the heavily forested mountains approximately 7 miles west of the Lao border. When the flight was roughly a mile from its destination, it came under intense enemy ground fire. W1 Cleve radioed the flight leader that they sustained battle damage and needed to land.

Shortly after the loss, family members of the crew aboard this aircraft were provided the following account of the incident by the Army: "The aircraft was flying at an altitude of about 5,000 feet above sea level when it was fired upon by a hostile ground force and an explosion occurred in the cargo compartment. The helicopter impacted the ground essentially in one piece, again exploded and continued to burn. No one was observed to exit the aircraft, and it was the opinion of the investigating committee that no one could have survived. No rescue attempts were made due to the heavy concentration of enemy troops in the area and the aircraft fire."

After receiving the official report, the families were left with the belief their loved ones were most certainly dead and the chance of recovering them was slim at best. However, after locating other men who were crewmen aboard other helicopters participating in this emergency resupply mission, the families learned the circumstances surrounding the loss were much different than the official version.

According to the Cleve family, "One reason for our feeling that he may still be alive is that his aircraft was hit, and he radioed the leader of the mission that they would be forced to land. The remainder of the flight went on to deliver their cargo, and as they returned to their base, they passed over the crash site. They saw the downed helicopter on the ground, but there was NO indication of a fire, nor did they see any of the crewmen in or around it."

The location of the downed Huey was approximately 6 miles southwest of the Lao/South Vietnamese border where the Ho Chi Minh Trail's Highway 9 crossed into South Vietnam due west of Khe Sanh, Savannakhet Province, Laos. It was also 16 miles southwest of Khe Sanh. Well established and fortified NVA positions were known to exist throughout this region of eastern Laos. Because of the report provided by other flight members, it is reasonable to believe the crippled Huey landed rather than crashed into the Lao countryside.

Reginald Cleve, Donald Knutsen, Walter Hall and John Traver 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.

If Walter Hall, John Traver, Reginald Cleve and Donald Knutsen died in the loss of their aircraft, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, they most certainly would have been captured and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way the communists 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 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.