||Lieutenant Colonel/US Marine Corps|
122 (The Crusaders),
Marine Air Group 11, 1st Marine Air Wing
DaNang Airfield, South Vietnam
|Date of Birth:||29 April 1941 (Puyallup, WA)|
|Home of Record:||Puyallup, WA|
|Date of Loss:||22 December 1967|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
|Loss Coordinates:||161433N 1065607E (YC080970)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:||F4B "Phantom II"|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||(none missing)|
SYNOPSIS: The McDonnell F4 Phantom used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings served a multitude of functions including fighter/bomber, interceptor, photo/electronic surveillance, and reconnaissance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2) and had a long range, 900 - 2300 miles depending on stores and mission type. The F4 was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes. It was selected for a number of state-of-the-art electronics conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.
The first Marine F4 Phantoms manufactured by McDonnell arrived at DaNang Airfield, South Vietnam on 11 April 1965 from Atsugi, Japan. From then on to the end of the war, the Marines used the Phantom almost exclusively in the close-support role. It took skilled pilots to bring this "fast mover" in on a bombing run to deliver its ordinance with precision in support of friendly troops on the ground.
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 22 December 1967, then Capt. Gary Fors, pilot; and 1st Lt. Gary K. Lashlee, weapons systems officer; comprised the crew of the lead aircraft in a flight of two, call sign "Whale 1," that was conducting an afternoon strike mission against a known anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) emplacement located in the heavily populated and rugged mountains of Oscar Eight. When the flight arrived in the target area, Capt. Fors established radio contact with the airborne battlefield command and control center (ABCCC) that was directing all air operations in the region. After receiving current mission information, the ABCCC handed Whale flight off to the onsite Forward Air Controller (FAC) who would control the strike mission.
At approximately 1515 hours, the FAC directed Whale flight to attack a 37mm AAA battery. At 1520 hours, Capt. Fors and 1st Lt. Lashlee had just released their bombs during their second pass on the target and were in the process of pulling up and away when their aircraft was struck by 37mm AAA fire and caught fire. As the aircraft began to roll and yaw, both the FAC and the wingman called for the crew to eject.
Shortly thereafter, Capt. Fors safely completed the ejection sequence for 1st Lt. Lashlee and himself. The other aircrews observed both parachutes deploy at approximately 500 feet, and then visually followed them to the ground. Gary Fors landed roughly 50 meters from the Phantom's burning wreckage while Gary Lashlee landed 400 meters away. The crash site was located on a hillside roughly 400 meters above an intermittent dry stream bed just east of Route 922, approximately 4 miles southwest of the closest point on the Lao/South Vietnamese border and 30 miles north of Attopeu, Ta-oy District, Saravane Province, Laos. It was also 10 miles due west of the A Shau Valley, South Vietnam.
A search and rescue (SAR) mission was immediately initiated and within an hour, 1st Lt. Lashlee has been successfully recovered. During his rescue, the SAR helicopter came under heavy enemy ground fire. In his debriefing statement, 1st Lt. Lashlee reported he heard enemy soldiers operating in the vicinity of where Capt. Fors landed, but could provide no additional information. The SAR operation for Gary Fors continued until dark. At the time it was terminated, Gary Fors was reported as Missing in Action.
Based on the debriefing statements of 1st Lt. Lashlee, the crewmen of Whale 2 and SAR personnel, the Marine Corps believed that Capt. Fors was "possibly captured on the ground after ejecting from his downed aircraft." This belief was further bolstered in 1972 when a Pathet Lao defector reported he saw Gary Fors being held prisoner in a cave in Laos not far from the loss location. In 1973, CIA analysts correlated a photograph of an unidentified POW in captivity to Gary Fors. Both of these reports were included in Capt. Fors casualty file.
In December 1993, a joint team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to Ta-oy District, Salavan Province, Laos to investigate Capt. Fors case. Team members interviewed numerous villagers who reside in the general area of loss. In spite of the fact there were a total of 11 aircraft losses within a 10 kilometer radius of the official loss coordinates for this case, all of the local residents claimed to have no knowledge of any aircraft wreckage, burial sites or any other matters pertaining to unaccounted for Americans. The team conducted a 200 X 400 meter surface search around the recorded coordinates, with negative results. The site contained numerous bomb craters and was covered in tall, thick elephant grass making a thorough and complete examination of the area impossible without completely clearing it first.
In August 1995, June 1998 and October 1999, other JTFFA teams traveled to Salavan Province, Laos to continue investigating American losses in this region, including that of Gary Fors. During the June 1998 Joint Field Activity (JFA), the team found scattered wreckage, crew related items and a data plate that identified the aircraft as an F4B. However, test pits dug at the site produced no trace of the missing pilot including no personal affects or remains.
During each of the JFA's, team members conducted additional individual interviews in Ta-oy District in conjunction with their oral history program as well as reviewing communist records, reports and other documents. According to General Vo Bam's 559th Transportation Group's records, the 10th AAA (anti-aircraft artillery) Battalion was credited with downing Capt. Fors aircraft. These records provided no indication of the fate of the Phantom's pilot.
Gary Fors is among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were also 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 that ended the war in Vietnam because Laos was not a party to that agreement.
If Gary Fors died as a result of the loss of his Phantom, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he survived, he most certainly would have been captured and his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is no doubt the Laotians and/or Vietnamese have the answers and could return him or his 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.
Fighter pilots 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.