|Name:||Robert Smith Griffith|
|Rank/Branch:||Staff Sergeant /US Army|
|Unit:||57th Assault Aviation Company
52nd Aviation Battalion
17th Aviation Group,
1st Aviation Brigade
|Date of Birth:||26 December 1942|
|Home of Record:||Hapeville, GA|
|Date of Loss:||19 February 1968|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
145430N 1072800E (YB665498)
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel in Incident:||Melvin C. Dye and Robert S. Griffith (missing)
SYNOPSIS: By early 1967, the Bell UH1 Iroquois was already the standard Army assault helicopter, and was used in nearly every "in-country" mission. Better known by its nickname "Huey," troop carriers were referred to as "Slicks" and gunships were called "Hogs." It proved itself to be a sturdy, versatile aircraft which was called on to carry out a wide variety of missions including search and rescue, close air support, insertion and extraction, fire support, and resupply to name a few. It usually carried a crew of four.
On 19 February 1968, Sgt. Melvin Dye, crew chief; and then Sgt. Robert Griffith, door gunner, comprised part of the crew of 4 of a UH1H helicopter performing an emergency extraction mission to rescue a reconnaissance patrol consisting of 2 Special Forces soldiers, including SSgt. Douglas Glover, and 4 indigenous personnel assigned to MACV-SOG.
MACV-SOG, or Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, was a joint service high command unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (though it was not a Special Forces group) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. These teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction that were called, depending on the time frame, "Shining Brass" or "Prairie Fire" missions.
As the helicopter picked up the team in rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 4 miles southwest of the Lao/South Vietnamese border and 40 miles east-northeast of Attopeu City, Attopu Province, Laos; it received a heavy volume of small arms fire. As the aircraft lifted off the ground, it is not known whether the aircraft was hit by hostile fire or if a skid struck a tree, but the aircraft nosed over, impacted the ground and exploded bursting into flames. This location was also 25 miles northwest of Dak Seang and 30 miles northwest of Dak To, South Vietnam.
One of the American reconnaissance team members was thrown from the Huey prior to impact and he helped the co-pilot to exit wreckage. The pilot was also able to escape; however, the intensity of the fire and the exploding small arms ammunition precluded rescue attempts for the other personnel.
When a search team reached the site later in the day they could see 5 badly burned bodies, but none of them could be recovered because of intense heat from the smoldering wreckage. Because of the size of the bodies the recovery team was sure that 2 of them were American and three were indigenous team members. Further, they could find no trace of the other American aboard the aircraft when it crashed either in the wreckage or the surrounding area. Because of the heavy enemy presence in the area no further recovery attempt could be made. Douglas Glover, Melvin Dye and Robert Griffith were all immediately listed Missing in Action.
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.
From 1981 to 1984, the Special Forces Detachment, Korea was charged by President Reagan with the responsibility of collecting live POW information throughout Southeast Asia. "SFDK" was commanded by Major Mark Smith, himself a returned POW from the Vietnam War. Through his efforts, and those of team Intelligence Sergeant Mel McIntire, an agent net of 50 agents was established, specifically in Laos. This intelligence net resulted in Major Smith compiling a list of some 26 American POWs by name and captivity location including one man with the last name of "Glover" being one of them. There are two men who are POW/MIAs with that last name and both were lost in Laos.
In April 1984, Major Smith received a message from one of his agents specifying that on 11 May three US Prisoners of War would be brought to a given location on the Lao/Thai border. The only prerequisite was that an American be on the Thailand side of the border to receive the men.
When this information was reported up his chain of command, Major Smith's team was ordered not to leave Korea, to destroy all documents pertaining to LIVE POWs and they were sent back to the United States 6 months early. This documented information was provided to the United States Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in sworn testimony on 28 January 1986.
Douglas Glover, Robert Griffith and Melvin Dye are among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many are known to have been alive on the ground after their loss incidents. Although the Pathet Lao publicly stated on several occasions that they held "tens of tens" of American prisoners, not one American held in Laos has ever been released.
If Robert Griffith, Melvin Dye and Douglas Glover died in the crash of their aircraft, they have a right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country if at all possible. On the other hand, if one or more of them was able to escape the Huey's crash and fire, they certainly would have been captured, and 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, 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.
U S military personnel in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to undertake many dangerous missions, 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 proudly served.