Name: Donald Carroll Grella g397p
Rank/Branch: Specialist 5/US Army
Unit: Aviation Company, 7th Special Forces Group,
1st Special Forces with duty to Company A,
299th Attack Helicopter Battalion,
1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)
An Khe, South Vietnam

Date of Birth: 01 December 1940
Home of Record: Laurel, NE
Date of Loss: 28 December 1965
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 135702N 1084955E (BR570450)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 4
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1 "Iroquois"
Other Personnel in Incident: Jesse D. Phelps, Thomas Rice, Jr. and Kenneth L. Stancil (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 28 December 1965, CWO2 Kenneth L. Stancil, pilot; CWO2 Jesse D. Phelps, co-pilot; Donald C. Grella, crew chief; and Spec. Thomas Rice, Jr., door gunner; comprised the crew of a UH1B helicopter (serial #808) conducting a combat support mission that should have taken only 30 minutes. According to witnesses to the entire mission and the Huey's disappearance, the following facts are known:

According to the witness statement of CWO3 Vincent J. LeDuc, the assistant operations officer for Company B, CWO3 LeDuc was informed by his clerk that all food and supplies for delivery to their support area had been loaded aboard aircraft #808. At 0555 hours CWO2 Stancil and his crew took off from the Golf Course Helipad heading north for a short distance before turning east enroute to their destination in the field. The support area being supplied was located approximately 20 klicks west of An Khe, Binh Dinh Province, South Vietnam. This area was considered to be over a relatively secure flight path, although occasional sniper fire had been observed at times.

Approximately 8-10 minutes later CWO3 LeDuc monitored a radio communication between #808 and Company A's forward support element concerning the present weather conditions at their destination. CWO2 Stancil received the reply that it was misting and that the ceiling was unknown. He then replied to the radio operator at Company A: "The pass does not look bad from here, however, I am having trouble seeing the ground." There was no other radio contact with #808.

From the statement of Major Harvey C. Detwiler: The aircraft was declared missing at 0715 hours, a search and rescue (SAR) efforts were initiated at 0730 hours. The major area of the search centered on the An Khe Pass, along with the western and eastern slopes of the ridge running north of the An Khe Pass. Later the search area was expanded to a distance of 6 klicks east and west of An Khe Pass and 18 klicks north and 12 klicks south. The area was expanded yet again to include Mong Yang Pass. During the entire SAR operation, search and other aircraft received sporadic sniper fire on numerous occasions and in a variety of different locations throughout the search area.

From the statement of SSgt. Charles R. Smith who was in the vicinity of the forward support area in Company A's operations tent: At 0605 hours aircraft #808 radioed that they were off Golf Course Helipad and inbound to his location. CWO2 Stancil asked how the weather was in his location and his response was that visibility was good and he could see some stars. They then asked if the pass was clear? SSgt. Smith responded that he didn't know, then asked CWO2 Stancil about the weather in An Khe. CWO2 Stancil replied that it was good. SSgt. Smith then advised #808 that there would be a guide available for parking before signing off the air.

A short time later, when it was determined that #808 was overdue, SSgt. Smith radioed #808, but received no response from CWO2 Stancil or any other member of the Huey's crew. SSgt. Smith then went out side to search the sky for any sign of them under the premise their radio could have failed. By this time he could see the pass as dawn was breaking, but saw nothing.

Aircraft #808 was declared missing at 0715 hours, and by 0730 hours a full scale SAR operation was initiated using H13s, UH1Ds and O1Es. Over the next four days, search aircraft flew at varying altitudes ranging from tree top level to 2,000 feet absolute. No trace of an accident, aircraft wreckage, bodies or material of any type was found in the exceptionally dense jungle below. At the time the formal search was suspended, and because the military felt the men's chances of survival were poor if not found and rescued by friendly forces; Kenneth Stancil, Jesse Phelps, Donald Grella and Thomas Rice were listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

If the crew of aircraft #808 did die in the crash of their Huey, they have the right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country. However, if they survived their loss incident only to be captured by enemy forces known to be operating in this region, their fate could be much different.

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.