FOSTER, ROBERT EUGENE

Name: Robert Eugene Foster
Rank/Branch: Staff Sergeant/US Air Force
Unit: 4th Air Commando Squadron 
DaNang Airfield, South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 28 Mar 1928
Home of Record: Lockport, NY
Date of Loss: 09 March 1966
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 160758N 1071956E (YC494849) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: AC47 "Puff the Magic Dragon"
Other Personnel in Incident: Willard M. Collins and Delbert R. Peterson (missing); Jerry Meek, John G. Brown and James Turner, Jr. (rescued)

REMARKS:  KIA AT CRASH S SED 3 RECOV-J

SYNOPSIS:   The Douglas C47, nicknamed "Puff the Magic Dragon" or "Spooky," was a nocturnal savior to American, South Vietnamese and Royal Lao troops at besieged outposts deep in Viet Cong and Pathet Lao-held territory. The C47 had a row of 7.62mm miniguns mounted along the left side of its fuselage and could fly overhead in a pylon turn bringing torrents of extremely accurate and precise gunfire raining down on the enemy.

On 9 March 1966, Capt. Willard M. Collins, pilot; Lt. Delbert R. Peterson, co-pilot; Capt. Jerry L. Meek, navigator; SSgt. John G. Brown, flight engineer; SSgt. James Turner, Jr., aerial gunner and SSgt. Robert E. Foster, aerial gunner; comprised the crew of a C47 gunship, call sign "Spooky 70," that departed DaNang Airfield on a close air support mission for the A Shau Special Forces Camp, Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam.

At 1300 hours, when the gunship was approximately 2 miles south of the Special Forces camp, Capt. Collins initiated a left hand turn to position the aircraft for a firing pass. At the same time the enemy opened up with anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire and hit the C47 several times in the right engine. Capt. Collins feathered the #1 engine and notified the crew they "were going in." After they crash landed, the crew got out, surveyed the damage and collected their survival equipment and weapons.

SSgt. Foster was injured in the crash and Lt. Peterson began first aid on him. At the same time Capt. Collins began working the survival radio. Capt. Meek loaded all the M16s and set up a perimeter defense outside the aircraft. About 10 minutes later, Capt. Meek was shot and wounded by a Viet Cong (VC) guerrilla who was closing on the downed aircraft.

The pilot of an L19 Bird Dog Forward Air Controller (FAC) aircraft spotted the aircraft and crew through the dense jungle and called in A1 Skyraiders to provide air cover for the downed aircrew.

Capt. Meek told Lt. Peterson they needed a sentry at the rear of the airplane because it was a blind spot. Delbert Peterson put on his survival vest and crawled around past the tail into the undergrowth with his M16.

Before the Skyraiders could make a pass, the right side of the C47 was raked with enemy machine gun fire killing SSgt. Foster outright and mortally wounding Capt. Collins. Capt. Meek called out to Lt. Peterson and SSgt. Brown. John Brown acknowledged he was all right, but there was no response from Delbert Peterson.

At approximately 1520 hours, search and rescue helicopters arrived on site and made a circular pass over the crash site. While one descended to a ground hover approximately 25 feet away from the nose of the C47, the other remained overhead. Capt. Meek ordered SSgt. Brown to make a run for the helicopter. SSgt. Turner, who had been on the inside of the aircraft, kicked the remnants of the emergency exit door out of the right side. John Brown, James Turner and Jerry Meek all made it to the rescue helicopter at the same time. As it lifted off the ground, the crew and passengers searched the area around the C47 for Delbert Peterson, but none saw any trace of him.

About 20 minutes after the three crewmen were rescued, a Special Forces ground team arrived at the crash site. They found the bodies of Capt. Collins and SSgt. Foster where they had fallen near their aircraft. However, during their search, which included the area in and around where the co-pilot was last seen, they could find no sign of Lt. Peterson. Further, they found blood spots or blood trails leading away from the crash site.

Because of the heavy enemy presence in the area, the Special Forces team was unable to bring the bodies of Willard Collins and Robert Foster out with them. Willard Collins and Robert Foster were immediately listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered. Because there was a strong probability Delbert Peterson was captured, he was listed Missing in Action.

The location of loss placed the gunship 10 kilometers north of the A Shau Valley and 2 miles south of the Special Forces Camp they were to provide air support for.

While there is no doubt Robert Foster and Willard Collins died of their wounds, there is also no doubt the Communists know where their remains were buried and could return them to their families, friends and country. For Delbert Peterson, and many other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, his fate could be quite different.

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 were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and each was prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country so proudly served.