|Name:||Raymond Louis Echevarria|
|Rank/Branch:||Sergeant Major/US Army Special Forces|
5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
1st Special Forces
|Date of Birth:||16 September 1933 (Brooklyn, NY)|
|Home of Record:||New York, NY|
|Date of Loss:||03 October 1966|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel in Incident:||James E. Jones and Eddie L. Williams (missing); Bui Kim Tien (rescued)|
SYNOPSIS: On 3 October 1966, SFC James E. Jones, SFC Raymond L. Echevarria and then SFC Eddie L. Williams were members of a 7-man reconnaissance team comprised of the three Americans and four Vietnamese ARVN soldiers. The team was inserted by helicopter into rolling jungle covered mountains approximately 2 miles south of a primary east/west road, 3 miles west of the Lao/South Vietnamese boarder, and 13 miles north-northeast of Muang Xepon, Savannakhet Province, Laos. This location was also 11 miles south of the 17th parallel, which separated North from South Vietnam, and 24 miles northwest of Khe Sanh, South Vietnam. Their mission was to locate and report on enemy activity moving through this portion of eastern Laos on its way into the acknowledged war zone.
While the three Americans were assigned to Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 5th Special Forces Group, they were under orders of Command & Control, MACV-SOG. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG) was a joint service high command unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces Group channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (although it was not a Special Forces unit) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. The teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction that were called, depending on the time frame, "Shining Brass" or "Prairie Fire" missions.
Further, this area of eastern Laos they were operating in contained 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.
The helicopters disembarked the team and promptly departed the area as the team began to move toward their area of operation. However, they moved only 20 meters away from where they were inserted when they encountered an enemy solder and took him under fire. Unfortunately, other enemy troops were in the nearby forest and they immediately returned fire. As the firefight continued, communist forces surrounded the reconnaissance team. One of the Americans radioed the aircraft that inserted them minutes before requesting an immediate emergency extraction. The aircrews tried to maneuver close enough to recover the outnumbered team, but due to heavy enemy fire, the helicopters were driven off. Almost all of Americans and ARVN were wounded when they decided to split up in order to escape and evade the enemy. Ultimately only one of the seven-man team successfully evaded capture.
On 4 October, a search and rescue (SAR) operation utilizing four aircraft spent a total of 36 hours searching for the missing reconnaissance team. At 1500 hours, SAR personnel spotted Bui Kim Tien; one of the ARVN assigned to this mission, and successfully rescued him. On 5 and 6 October, additional aircraft joined the search, but they found no trace of the other ARVN or Americans in or around the area of loss. At the time formal SAR efforts were terminated, Ray Echevarria, Eddie Williams and James Jones were listed Missing in Action.
During his debriefing, Bui Kim Tien stated that on 4 October he and SFC Williams continued to evade communist forces when they spotted some caves. Eddie Williams directed Bui Kim Tien to investigate the caves as a possible defensive position they could occupy until help arrived. As the ARVN soldier moved forward, he was spotted by enemy troops before he could accomplish the task. He was forced to retreat under fire in a different direction from the one he approached the caves from. As Bui Kim Tien moved through the jungle, he heard gunfire emanating from the direction he believed SFC Williams was in. Even though he had no way of confirming it, he believed it was an exchange of gunfire between SFC Williams and enemy troops.
During his debriefing, Bui Kim Tien was also asked if he had any information pertaining to the condition of the others. He reported that while he and Eddie Williams were evading together, SFC Williams told him "Jones is dying and Ray is the same way." He personally knew nothing about the type or extent of the wounds sustained by the others. Later Bui Kim Tien was given a polygraph test about all the information he gave during his debriefing. The results of the polygraph indicated the information he gave to US intelligence personnel, was accurate to the best of his knowledge.
On an unknown date a communist defector was questioned about American Prisoners of War he reported seeing. The defector was shown photographs of missing Americans and at that time he positively identified Ray Echevarria a Prisoner of War. However, according to CIA analysts, based on Bui Kim Tien's debriefing report that he thought SFC Echevarria died from his wounds, this positive identification of SFC Echevarria in captivity was labeled an error.
The fact is, no one saw Raymond Echevarria, Eddie Williams and James Jones die. They were all seasoned soldiers who were well trained and very capable of enduring under adverse conditions. With enemy troops so close, and the fact that SAR personnel found no trace of any of them, there is ample reason to believe they could have survived their wounds and been captured.
For every insertion like this one that was detected and stopped, dozens of others safely slipped past NVA lines to strike a wide range of targets and collect vital information. The number of MACV-SOG missions conducted with Special Forces reconnaissance teams into Laos and Cambodia was 452 in 1969. It was the most sustained American campaign of raiding, sabotage and intelligence gathering waged on foreign soil in US military history. MACV-SOG's teams earned a global reputation as one of the most combat effective deep-penetration forces ever raised.
Raymond Echevarria, Eddie Williams and James Jones 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 James Jones, Eddie Williams and Ray Echevarria died of their wounds, they have a right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country. On the other hand, if they survived and were captured, their fate, like that of other Americans, could be quite different. Either way, the communists know what happened to them and could return them alive or dead 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.
Military men in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly and fight 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.