|Name:||Wade Lawrence Groth|
|Rank/Branch:||Sergeant First Class/US Army|
|Unit:||50th Medical Detachment, 43rd Medical Group,
44th Medical Brigade Tuy Hoa,
|Date of Birth:||14 May 1947 (Cleveland, OH)|
|Home of Record:||Greenville, MI|
|Date of Loss:||12 February 1968|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
121721N 1074713E (ZU030600)
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Harry W. Brown, Alan W. Gunn, and Jerry L. Roe (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," the troop carriers were referred to as "slicks" and the 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 12 February 1968, 1st Lt. Jerry Roe, aircraft commander; W2 Alan Gunn, pilot;then SP4 Wade Groth, crewchief, and SP5 Harry Brown, medic; comprised the crew of a UH1H (tail #66-17027), call sign "Dustoff 90," that was conducting an emergency medical evacuation mission to the Gia Nghai Special Forces Camp, Darlac Province, South Vietnam. The medivac aircrew had been on standby at Ban Me Thuot in support of Special Forces operations in the area.
Base operations at Ban Me Thuot received an urgent request for a medical evacuation from Gia Nghai Special Forces Camp. In response to that request, Dustoff 90 departed Ban Me Thuot at 1959 hours. The aircraft's progress was monitored by the US Air Force Tactical Control Radar Center that was also located at Ban Me Thuot. At 2019 hours, 20 minutes into the flight, the radar technician noted the Huey's signal disappeared from the radar screen. At the time the aircraft disappeared, no Mayday calls were heard, there was no indication Dustoff 90 was experiencing any mechanical problems or under enemy fire from known anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) positions and/or small arms fire that was frequently directed at passing American and South Vietnamese aircraft.
The area in which the Huey vanished was on the northeast side of a mountain covered in triple-canopy jungle that had been nicknamed "VC Mountain" by US forces due to the continuous communist activity emitting from there. The location of loss was also approximately 15 miles east-southeast of Dak Sang, 19 miles due east of the South Vietnamese/Cambodian border, 32 miles southwest of Ban Me Thuot's runway and 115 miles southwest of Tuy Hoa, Quang Duc Province, South Vietnam.
Since Base Operations at Ban Me Thuot was confident in knowing the basic location where the Huey disappeared, search and rescue (SAR) operations commenced immediately. According to other members of the 50th Medical Detachment who participated in the search mission, US Army helicopters from the 155th Attack Helicopter Company and a US Air Force A1E Skyraider conducted the initial operation. Upon their return, the aircrews reported seeing "fire and lights" on the mountain, which meant that enemy forces were actively moving around in substantial numbers and seeing by means of candles.
The following morning a Huey from the 50th Medical Detachment, which was piloted by the unit's commanding officer, Major Ronald C. Jones, and the unit's executive officer, Capt. Ronnie Porta, joined the search operation. Another member of their aircrew was a Special Forces soldier equipped with a "sniffer" devise that detected the presence of ammonia in human urine. According to the SAR participants, "Flying low and slow over a mountain that you normally could not fly close to made the search seem almost surrealistic. We could have reached out and picked the leaves off the trees. It was unbelievable."
Standard operating procedure for SAR operations during this timeframe was that if no trace of a missing aircraft of aircrew was found after nine days, the search was suspended and the crew declared missing. Per standard practice the formal search effort was terminated on 22 February 1968. At that time, Jerry Roe, Alan Gunn, Wade Groth and Harry Brown were reported as Missing in Action. However, while the formal operation had been cancelled, many pilots from their unit continued to keep a watchful eye for Dustoff 90 and its crew during other missions in the area.
In July 1971, a Vietnam People's Army soldier defected. In his post-rally debriefing, he reported he had seen a number of American POWs in a POW camp near Vinh City, North Vietnam in August 1970. The rallier was shown pre-capture photos of POW/MIAs and the rallier selected photos of both Harry Brown and Jerry Roe as two men he believed he saw as Prisoners of War. The CIA was asked to analyze information provided by the former communist soldier along with the photo identification of the missing Americans. According to the agency's evaluation, the CIA could not determine why the source selected the photos of 1st Lt. Roe and SP5 Brown. The agency analyst went on to state that the identification of two men from the same aircrew, one black and one white, one whose photo appeared at the front (Brown) of the photo album and the other near the rear of it (Roe) was by "coincidence."
In July 1974, a Vietnamese woodsman found the wreckage of the Huey. He reported its location to authorities. By the description provided by the woodsman, the helicopter was intact and upright minus its main rotor blades.
In 1979, Sean O'Toolis, an Irish-American was reportedly in Vietnam on a trip to purchase guns for the Irish Republican Army (IRA). According to statements attributed to him after departing Southeast Asia, the North Vietnamese gave him a tour of the Bong Song Prison Camp, 40 miles south of Hanoi. Mr. O'Toolis reported he met and spoke with American POWs Wade Groth and Brendan Foley. He also said he spoke with other POWs whose last names were MacDonald, Jenning and O'Hare or O'Hara. He brought a message to Brendan Foley's brother along with two sets of fingerprints reportedly belonging to POWs' Foley and O'Hara. The contents of that message had not been made public.
US personal from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) showed Mr. O'Toolis pre-capture photographs of American POW/MIAs in an attempt to confirm his story as being either truthful or a fabrication. During the extensive review of the DIA's pre-capture photo album, Sean O'Toolis was able to identify old photos of Wade Groth. Further, he provided the DIA analysts with believable descriptions of both Brendan Foley and Wade Groth. Further, as part of his debriefing, Sean O'Toolis worked with a CIA sketch artist to draft pictures of the prisoners he saw and talked with. His description of Wade Groth was so detailed and accurate; including his dark red hair, that it was easy to tell it was Dustoff 90's crewchief. However, the US government chose to discount Sean O'Toolis' and his information because he was a gunrunner working for the IRA.
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 Harry Brown, Jerry Roe, Wade Groth and Alan Gunn.
In October 1992, a joint American/Vietnamese team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to Darlac Province to investigate the loss of Dustoff 90. After interviewing local residence of the region, the team conducted a site survey of the wreckage of the Huey before starting the actual excavation.
In addition to finding the Huey minus its rotor blades, the JTFFA team excavated and recovered an Ambu Bag, gold rimmed glasses, part of a flak jacket, spent M-79, M-16 and .30 caliber ammunition shell casings along with other aircraft and crew related items. They also found and recovered properly stored flight helmets and gloves inside the helicopter indicating the aircraft was downed by mechanical failure, not enemy action. The team found no human remains or any indication that any of the men aboard Dustoff 90 died in its loss. The items found and recovered during the site excavation supported the long-held belief that the crew did in fact survive, that they expected to be evacuated and their aircraft salvaged within a reasonably short length of time.
If Jerry Roe, Alan Gunn, Wade Groth and Harry Brown died as a result of their loss incident, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, there is every reality they were captured by enemy forces known to be operating in and around VC Mountain and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is no doubt the Vietnamese have the answers and could return them or their 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 POWs remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
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.
Dustoff 90's aircrew is the only one from the 50th Medical Detachment to become POW/MIA during the Vietnam War.