GATES, JAMES WAYNE

Name:  James Wayne Gates
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant Colonel/US Army
Unit:  20th Aerial Surveillance Target Acquisition Detachment 
Date of Birth: 30 December 1933 (Bonita, LA)
Home of Record: Mer Rouge, LA
Date of Loss: 06 April 1966 
Country of Loss:  Laos
Loss Coordinates:  161819N 1064116E (XD803033)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:  OV1A "Mohawk"
Other Personnel in Incident: John W. Lafayette (missing)

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:   The Grumman OV1 Mohawk arrived in Vietnam in 1962 with various models serving continuously throughout the war. It became an increasingly familiar sight from one end of Vietnam and Laos to the other. This twin engine aircraft was handy when only short, rough runways were available and ground units needed almost instantaneous photo coverage. Gradually increasingly effective sensors and radar were produced including side-looking aerial radar (SLAR). Further, surveillance techniques using infrared detection equipment and a forward-aimed camera proved especially useful since the communists relied heavily on darkness to conceal their activities. The Mohawk also had the ability to carry both defensive armament and offensive weapons. This made the sturdy OV1 not only an excellent FAC and intelligence gathering aircraft, but one which could give close air support to ground troops in need of assistance.

At 1540 hours on 6 April 1966, then Capt. James W. Gates, pilot, and  Capt. John W. Lafayette, observer, comprised the crew of an OV1A Mohawk (serial #63-1377), that departed Hue/Phu Bai Airfield as the #2 aircraft in a flight of two. They were to conduct a visual reconnaissance mission over Saravane Province, Laos. The crew of the Lead aircraft in the flight was comprised of Capt. Harry Duensing, pilot, and SP5 Larry Johnson, observer. Once they arrived in the designated area, the flight made contact with Hillsboro, the airborne command and control aircraft, and the two on-site Forward Air Controllers (FAC) who would direct them on their reconnaissance mission. At 1648 hours, Hillsborough received "mayday" calls from both Mohawk aircrews. The Lead aircraft was struck first by enemy ground fire forcing its crew to safely eject. As Capt. Gates began flying air cover for the downed aircrew, his aircraft was also struck and heavily damaged by ground fire.

An immediate air search was initiated for the two downed crews. At 1730 hours, a FAC spotted both aircraft and aircrews approximately 1 kilometer apart in the vicinity of "502-Charlie;" on the south slope of a jungle covered mountain approximately 9 miles south of the Lao/Vietnamese border, 8 miles northwest of Tavauac and 13 miles east of Xoukoutoua, Laos and 65 miles west-southwest of Hue/Phu Bai Airfield. Both Mohawks had sustained extensive damage. The FAC was able to establish radio contact with both aircrews who reported each man was okay. While waiting for the search and rescue (SAR) helicopters to arrive, the FAC circling overhead began directing friendly artillery fire into the area to suppress enemy gunfire from being directed against both downed aircrews as well as at himself.

At 1815 hours, Capt. Lafayette radioed that the Viet Cong were closing in on them and they were in imminent danger of being captured. Shortly thereafter all radio contact with James Gates and John Lafayette was lost. In spite of the fact that both men were alive, uninjured and surrounded by enemy troops, the Army only listed James Gates and John Lafayette as Missing in Action. Later Harry Duensing and Larry Johnson were safely rescued.

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 James Gates, but for some unknown reason, did not include John Lafayette.

James Gates and John Lafayette 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.

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.

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.