|Name:||Richardo Martinez Garcia|
|Rank/Branch:||Sergeant First Class/US Army|
11th Aviation Group
223rd Aviation Battalion,
1st Aviation Brigade
|Date of Birth:||15 September 1951|
|Home of Record:||Driscoll, TX|
|Date of Loss:||19 March 1971|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
Click coordinates to view(4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Paul Lagenour (rescued); Frederick Cristman and Jon Sparks (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.
Lam Son 719 was a large-scale offensive against enemy communications lines that was conducted in that part of Laos adjacent to the two northern provinces of South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese would provide and command ground forces, while U.S. forces would furnish airlift and supporting fire. Phase I, renamed Operation Dewey Canyon II, involved an armored attack by the U.S. from Vandegrift base camp toward Khe Sanh, while the ARVN moved into position for the attack across the Laotian border. Phase II began with an ARVN helicopter assault and armored brigade thrust along Route 9 into Laos. American helicopters transported ARVN ground troops, while the US Air Force provided cover air strikes around the landing zones.
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.
On 19 March 1971, WO1 Frederick L. "Fred" Cristman, pilot; WO1 Jon M. Sparks, co-pilot; then SP5 Ricardo M. Garcia, crew chief; and SP4 Paul Lagenour, door gunner; comprised the crew of a UH1C helicopter that was part of a flight of aircraft conducting an armed escort and rescue mission in support of Lam Son 719 into Oscar Eight. WO1 Cristman's aircraft was providing fire support during the pick up of South Vietnamese (ARVN) airborne troops at Fire Support Base Alpha in the jungle covered mountains of Savannakhet Province, Laos.
Fire Support Base Alpha was located in the populated, heavily defended and hotly contested rugged mountains of eastern Laos approximately 4 miles north of Highway 9, 6 miles west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border, the same distance east of Route 92 and 16 miles west-southwest of Tchepone. It was also 21 miles west-northwest of Khe Sanh, South Vietnam.
As an American helicopter was lifting out several ARVN soldiers, it was struck by intense and accurate enemy ground fire forcing it to crash land. During the rescue of that aircraft's pilot by another helicopter, WO1 Cristman worked the area with his minigun while SP4 Lagenour and SP5 Garcia did the same with their machineguns. As WO1 Cristman's aircraft made a second pass over the pickup zone, he radioed the flight leader that his aircraft had been hit by NVA automatic weapons fire and his oil pressure caution light was on and that he was making an emergency landing on the pickup zone.
After he safely landed, SP5 Garcia pushed SP4 Lagenour out of the helicopter before departing it himself. As the rest of the crew exited the Huey, an enemy mortar round hit the roof of the aircraft and exploded. Fred Cristman, Jon Sparks and Ricardo Garcia were knocked to the ground by the concussion while Lagenour maintained his footing and was able to join a nearby ARVN unit located on the edge of the pickup zone. When Paul Lagenour reached the ARVN unit, he was told by one of the soldiers that the other crewmen had exited the aircraft and headed away from the front of it into the path of advancing North Vietnamese forces.
Because of being knocked to the ground, the WO1 Cristman, WO1 Sparks and SP5 Garcia initially stayed near their damaged aircraft. Lead's aircrew verified this fact when they made several firing passes over the pickup zone. Lead was forced to depart the area due to sustaining serious battle damage. Although another helicopter arrived to assist with the rescue efforts, only two ARVN troops were eventually rescued due to the heavy NVA ground fire. SP4 Lagenour later walked out of Laos with the South Vietnamese unit he joined and into a US military controlled area.
In September 1973, a People's Army of Vietnam defector reported his battalion engaged South Vietnamese forces in Laos who were conducting Operation Lam Son 719. The defector stated they captured an injured helicopter pilot who was taken to nearby field hospital B-7. He added that he was told the pilot later died from his injuries. When asked if he had any information pertaining to the other crewmen from the downed helicopter, he said he was also told they were found dead and buried nearby. The defector identified a photograph of WO1 Cristman as resembling the individual captured alive by his battalion.
According to a US government report released during the Senate Select Committee Hearings in 1992, "in March 1987, a private American POW hunter reported a live American in Laos. The background of the purported American correlates to a crewman from this incident." While the government report referenced the survival of one of this loss' crewmen, it did not identify the individual mentioned in the report.
Fred Cristman, Jon Sparks and Ricardo Garcia are among the 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 that ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.
If Fred Cristman, Ricardo Garcia and Jon Sparks 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, they most certainly would have been captured 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 know what happened and could returned 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 Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
US military personnel in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly and fight 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.