Name: Russell Dale Galbraith g002p
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant Colonel/US Air Force
Unit: 11th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron
Udorn Airfield, South Vietnam

Date of Birth: 25 July 1940
Home of Record: Tippecanoe, OH
Date of Loss: 11 December 1968
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 161800N 1063900E (XD762026)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: RF4C "Phantom II"
Other Personnel In Incident: Harlan Drewry (rescued)


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 RF4 version of the Phantom II is a reconnaissance aircraft outfitted for photographic and electronic reconnaissance missions. Other RF4s were equipped with infrared and side-looking radar that helped advance the technology of reconnaissance during the war. They were also used to fly target detection and bomb damage assessment missions throughout Southeast Asia.

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.

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 the vicinity of the junction of Highways 92 and 922 than any other place in Laos. This was because burrowed deep in the hills of Oscar Eight and located just to the east of the road junction was North Vietnamese General Vo Bam's 559th Transportation Group's forward headquarters. It was also the Ho Chi Minh Trail's control center as well as containing 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. All of these AAA batteries were expertly camouflaged.

On 11 December 1968, Capt. Harlan Drewry, pilot; and then Capt. Russell D. Galbraith, navigator; comprised the crew of an RF4C aircraft, call sign "Ridge," that was conducting a single aircraft night photo reconnaissance mission along a section of Route 9G. Weather conditions during this mission included a clear sky with visibility of 10 miles.

At 2038 hours, as the Phantom was inbound to the target area, the crew felt a thump in the rear of the aircraft. Harlan Drewry immediately established contact with the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC) who was controlling this mission informing them of the situation. Shortly thereafter Capt. Drewry lost flight control. Before both crewmen safely ejected their crippled aircraft, Capt. Drewry made a "Mayday" call giving their location and requesting assistance.

Harlan Drewry and Russell Galbraith ejected over an area that was moderately wooded and hilly, approximately 1 mile north of Hwy 922, 6 miles due east of the road junction of Highways 919 and 922, 7 miles due east of the road junction of Highways 92 and 922, 9 miles southwest of the Lao/South Vietnamese border and 32 miles southwest of Tchepone, Savannakhet Province, Laos. This location was also 23 miles south-southwest of Khe Sanh, South Vietnam.

As soon as Harlan Drewry reached the ground he was able to establish voice contact with a friendly aircraft. He was told search and rescue (SAR) operations were immediately being initiated and at first light the next morning Capt. Drewry was rescued by helicopter.

Extensive visual and electronic aerial SAR operations continued for 3 days and a photo reconnaissance aircraft photographed the area in and around the loss location. Ground teams were also inserted to search a 5-mile radius of the loss coordinates, but none of search personnel were able to locate any sign of Russell Galbraith. At the time the formal search was terminated, Russell Galbraith was listed Missing in Action.

In April 1991 the US government released a list of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action who were known to be alive in enemy hands and for whom there is no evidence that he or she died in captivity. This list, commonly referred to today as the USG's "Last Known Alive" list, included Russell Galbraith. An additional notation on this list states, "JTFFA (Joint Task Force for Full Account) Survival Code 1."

Capt. Galbraith was among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Lao 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 the Paris Peace Accords since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

If Russell Galbraith died as a result of the loss of his aircraft, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he survived, he most certainly could 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 little doubt that either the Vietnamese or Lao know what happened to him and could return him or his remains any time they had the desire to do so.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, 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 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.