|Name:||Laurent Lee Gourley|
|Rank/Branch:||Major/US Air Force|
Tuy Hoa Airbase, South Vietnam
|Date of Birth:||05 September 1944|
|Home of Record:||Villisca, IA|
|Date of Loss:||09 August 1969|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:||F100F "Super Sabre"|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Jefferson S. Dotson (missing)|
SYNOPSIS: The North American F100 Super Sabre, nicknamed "Hun," was a single seat jet fighter that first came into service during the Korean War. During the Gulf of Tonkin Crisis, which catapulted the United States head long into the Vietnam War, the first Air Force F100 squadrons were sent to DaNang, South Vietnam in August 1964. Interestingly, during both wars, the Hun's most valuable uses were in close air support for ground troops, and as principle strike aircraft because it could deliver its ordnance on target at treetop level at full speed.
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 this sector than any other place in Laos. This was because burrowed deep in the hills of Oscar Eight was North Vietnamese General Vo Bam's 559th Transportation Group's forward headquarters. It was also the Ho Chi Minh Trail's control center and contained 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 and were expertly camouflaged. Oscar Eight also favored the enemy because the only suitable landing zones were located in a wide bowl surrounded by jungle covered high ground containing AAA guns and bunkered infantry.
On 9 August 1969, then Capt. Laurent L. "Lee" Gourley, pilot; and 1st Lt. Jefferson S. "Scotty" Dotson, co-pilot; comprised the crew of an F100F aircraft (tail #45-3734), call sign "Misty 31," on a single aircraft flight. They were conducting a Forward Air Control (FAC) and visual reconnaissance mission on the Southern Steel Tiger Area of Laos to search for enemy activity in the sector. Weather conditions in the target area consisted of overcast clouds at 4,000 feet and visibility of over 6 miles.
Operation Steel Tiger was a limited interdiction effort against North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao troop/supply movements within the panhandle of southern Laos. This route, known as the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail, consisted of numerous winding roads and pathways through jungle covered mountains and valleys that served for many years as an infiltration route from North Vietnam, through neutral Laos, then into selected areas of South Vietnam under Communist control.
During the flight, Capt. Gourley made regular radio transmissions. In his last message, he reported the aircraft's position as "it was passing a well known location along an infiltration route." He stated they were "progressing to another location" in accordance with pre-flight briefing. The last reported location placed Misty 31 on the south side of Route 92, a primary east/west road that was a major artery of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Route 92 ran along the southern side of a rugged jungle covered mountain range. The location was approximately 5 miles east of the road junction of routes 919 and 92, the same distance west of the road junction between routes 922 and 92, 8 miles west-northwest of Travouac, 10 miles southwest of the Lao/North Vietnamese border and 33 miles southeast of Tchepone, Savannakhet Province, Laos. This was also 29 miles due west of the northern half of the infamous A Shau Valley, South Vietnam.
At 1040 hours, Capt. Gourley and 1st Lt. Dotson were scheduled to rendezvous with an airborne tanker for refueling, but failed to do so. When no further radio contact could be established with Misty 31, another aircraft was dispatched to the area of operation. It arrived on site about an hour later and immediately began a visual and electronic search for the missing aircraft and crew, which continued until sundown. Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were initiated the next morning at first light, but again failed to find any trace of the Super Sabre or its crew. At the time the formal search effort was terminated, Lee Gourley and Jefferson Dotson were listed Missing in Action.
All during the war the Gourley and Dotson families wrote letters and sent packages to their men in care of the Prime Minister of Laos, and they never heard anything in response. In 1974, the Gourley's sent a letter again in care of the Prime Minister of Laos, but this time they received a response from the Prime Minister saying that the letter would be conveyed later to their son.
During the war the United States government requested that any family who received information from or about their loved one to immediately share with the US Government through their casualty officer. In accordance with that request, the Gourley family provided a copy of the Prime Minister's letter only to have a State Department representative tell them that the Prime Minister did not know English and did not know what he was saying in his letter, which was written in English.
In 1976, the Gourley's sent another letter to Capt. Gourley, this time in care of Prince Souvanna Phouma in Vientiane, Laos. The Prince wrote back to them saying that he would give their letter to the "central committee" to be sent to the "one for whom intended." Upon learning about this latest correspondence, the US State Department representative ordered the Gourley's to stop writing their son and brother in care of any Lao officials.
1st Lt. Dotson and Capt. Gourley were 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 Lee Gourley and Scotty Dotson died in the loss of their aircraft, each man has a right to have his remains returned to their families, friends and country. However, because the area of loss was in a region under total enemy control, it was believed that if they successfully ejected, they would undoubtedly have been captured. Therefore, their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for, could be quite different.
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.
Fighter pilots 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.
Laurent Lee Gourley graduated from the United States Air Force Academy on 1966.