|Name:||Willis Calvin Crear|
C, 159th Aviation Battalion,
101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)
Phu Bai Airbase, South Vietnam
|Date of Birth:||08 January 1950|
|Home of Record:||Birmingham, AL|
|Date of Loss:||15 February 1971|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Killed/Body Not Recovered|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Donald E. Crone; Barry F. Fivelson; John L. Powers (remains recovered); Marvin M. Leonard and James H. Taylor (missing)|
REMARKS: EXPLODE - NO SURV OBS AIR - J
SYNOPSIS: The Boeing Vertol CH47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter arrived in Southeast Asia in September 1965 and could carry almost anything. Airlifting troops, supplies, artillery pieces and field equipment were routine tasks for "The Hook." More important, with its two Lycoming T-55-L-7 turboshaft engines offering 4,400shp, it could salvage downed aircraft and return them for repair. Few helicopters were as powerful or as versatile as the Chinook.
Oscar Eight was the code name given to a sector of eastern Laos located in rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 25 miles northwest of the infamous A Shau Valley, Saravane Province, Laos. The area encompassed the junction of Highway 92, which was a primary north-south artery of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and Highway 922, which branched off and ran directly east where it crossed into South Vietnam at a strategic point near the northern edge of the A Shau Valley. Oscar Eight was also located at the southeastern end of a large and narrow jungle covered valley that had two primary roads running through it, one on each side of the valley. Highway 92 ran along the west side and Highway 919 along the east. A power line ran parallel to Highway 92 and sometimes crossed it. In addition to the roads and power line, the Hoi An River also flowed through the valley passing the road junction roughly 1 mile west of it.
More American aircraft were downed in this sector than any other place in Laos. This was because burrowed deep in the hills of Oscar Eight was North Vietnamese General Vo Bam's 559th Transportation Group's forward headquarters. It was also the Ho Chi Minh Trail's control center and contained the largest NVA storage facility outside of North Vietnam. Oscar Eight was defended by consecutive belts of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) guns of all sizes that were not only stationed on the ground, but also mounted on platforms in the trees and were expertly camouflaged. Oscar Eight also favored the enemy because the only suitable landing zones were located in a wide bowl surrounded by jungle covered high ground containing AAA guns and bunkered infantry.
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 15 February 1971, as part of Lam Son 719, 2nd Lt. James H. Taylor, aircraft commander, WO2 Marvin M. Leonard, pilot, SP4 John L. Powers, flight engineer, and SPC Donald E. Crone, crewchief, and SPC Willis C. Crear, door gunner, comprised the crew of a CH47C on a combat support resupply mission into Laos. Also aboard the Chinook was WO Barry F. Fivelson, another CH47 pilot from the same company. The helicopter was carrying a sling with a fully loaded fuel bladder for combat troops. Witnesses on the ground reported seeing the helicopter pass over the landing zone and begin to descend over enemy-held territory. The Forward Air Controller (FAC) directing all air operations in the region reported he thought the pilots might have been disoriented because of the manner in which the Chinook overshot the LZ.
With the aircraft at an altitude of 2500 feet, air and ground personnel watched in horror as heavy and accurate NVA anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire struck the fuel cell causing it to explode in a huge fireball. The helicopter also exploded in mid-air, then broke into two pieces and crashed to the ground. The helicopter broke in half behind the pilots' compartment. Within minutes an aerial search was conducted from an altitude of approximately 100 feet, but no signs of survivors could be seen. Due to the area being heavily populated with well-armed and experienced enemy troops, no ground search of the aircraft wreckage was possible.
The Chinook crashed in rugged, jungle-covered mountains approximately 12 miles west of the Lao/Vietnamese border and 2 miles south of the major NVA controlled town of Tchepone, Savannakhet Province, Laos. Because of the circumstances of loss, Donald E. Crone; Barry F. Fivelson; John L. Powers; Willis C. Crear; James H. Taylor and Marvin M. Leonard were all immediately reported as Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
In October 1998, members of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to Savannakhet Province to investigate this loss incident. When the team conducted the field survey, they found there were two separate and distinct sections of the Chinook laying approximately 600 meters apart. They also noted that both areas had been heavily scavenged over many years. In addition to surveying the two wreckage fields, the team members interviewed local witnesses and began preparations for the excavation.
During January 2000, another JTFFA team returned to the Chinook's crash site to complete the excavation. The front section of the aircraft where 2nd Lt. Taylor and WO2 Leonard were located covered 145 square meters of ground. The aft section where SP4 Powers, SPC Crone, SPC Crear and WO Fivelson were working covered 525 square meters. Both wreckage site locations were excavated to sterile soil. Personal affects and human remains were found only in the aft section. Items that could be connected to a specific person included a watch case with "J. L. Powers" engraved on it, 1 dogtag bearing the name and related data for Donald Crone and 1 Warrant Officer rank insignia belonging to Barry Fivelson were found. Other crew related items including small pieces of uniform buttons, boot soles, keys and helmet fragments were also recovered, but none that could be associated with a specific individual.
In addition to small pieces of wreckage and crew related items, 3 teeth/tooth fragments and the porcelain front fused to metal were recovered. A "handful of small bone fragments" were also recovered from the aft section. No crew related material and only a few small bone fragments were recovered from the front section excavation site. Shortly after the excavation site was closed, Vietnamese authorities examined all possible remains before handing them over to US control during a repatriation ceremony in Hanoi. The remains were transported to the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) for examination.
The bone fragments recovered from the front section of the aircraft were determined to be non-human and removed from further consideration and analysis. The 3 teeth and the porcelain front of an artificial tooth that was fused to metal matched John Powers dental records and constituted the only individual identification of a crewman from this loss incident. The largest piece of bone fragment recovered was roughly the size of a quarter. Because all of the fragments were too small for mt-DNA testing, none could be associated with a specific person and therefore a group identification was made for John Powers, Donald Crone, Willis Crear and Barry Fivelson - the four men known to be in the aft section of the Chinook. Because no human remains and crew related items were found in the front portion of the aircraft's wreckage, the status of Marvin Leonard and James Taylor remains unchanged.
The aircrew and passengers aboard the Chinook are among the 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 negotiations between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords that ended the Vietnam War since the Laotians were not a party to that agreement.
For the families of SP4 Powers, SPC Crone, SPC Crear and WO Fivelson, they have the piece of mind of knowing where their loved ones are buried. For 2nd Lt. Taylor and WO2 Leonard, only questions remain. If the aircraft commander and pilot died in this loss incident, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family if at all humanly possible. However, if they survived, there is no chance they could have avoided capture and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for, could be quite different. Either way, the Vietnamese know the truth since they were in total control of this region of Laos and 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 American 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.
On 1 March 2002, Donald E.
Crone, Barry F. Fivelson, John L. Powers and Willis C. Crear were buried
with full military honors in a single grave in Arlington National Cemetery
with their families and friends, as well as the families of James H. Taylor
and Marvin M. Leonard, in attendance. At the families' request even though
2nd Lt. Taylor and WO2 Leonard remain missing and unaccounted for, their names
will also be engraved on the granite headstone marking the aircrew's grave.