Name: James Arthur Harwood 
Rank/Branch: Sergeant First Class/US Army 
Unit: Company A, Detachment B-43,                       
5th Special Forces Group 
1st Special Forces 

Date of Birth: 10 March 1950 (Omaha, NE)
Home of Record: Dallas, TX
Date of Loss: 15 January 1971 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 103415N 1045652E (VS943684) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel In Incident: Gerald F. Kinsman (missing) 


SYNOPSIS:  In January 1971, Major Leary, Special Forces Detachment B-43 commander; and Capt. Harry Purdy, company commander; were the senior officers assigned to Detachment B-43. The detachment's mission was to train and advise the Khmer Reconnaissance Platoon, 2nd Company, 1st (later the 6th) Cambodian Mobile Operations Battalion. The detachment was stationed at the Chi Lang Special Forces Camp, Chau Doc Province, South Vietnam. Other members of the Detachment B-43 included 1st Lt. James F. Kinsman, Lt. James J. McCarty, then Sgt. James A. Harwood and Sgt. Stamper.

Chi Lang Special Forces Camp was situated in a dangerous, highly contested border area just south of the South Vietnamese/Cambodian border, South Vietnam. Because of the large enemy presence in this region, all training exercises in the field were subject to becoming real battles between the Cambodian trainees and hardened Viet Cong (VC) regulars at a moments notice. Although the Special Forces cadre had considerably more faith in the abilities of the Khmer troops now under their training command than they ever had in the Vietnamese CIDG unit they formerly trained, the inexperienced troops were still at a great disadvantage.

The situation worsened due to the serious friction between Detachment B-43 members and the Vietnamese CIDG troops who were also stationed at the Special Forces camp. The Americans made no secret of the fact they felt the Khmer troops were superior to the ARVN border rangers, whom the Americans considered to be no more than hoods and thieves. The Vietnamese commanding officer, Major Hoa, countered by refusing to punish any Vietnamese caught stealing from the Americans.

On 15 January 1971, 1st Lt. Kinsman, the tactics instructor, Lt. McCarty and then Sgt. Harwood escorted their Khmer company's 24-man reconnaissance platoon during the battalion-in-training field exercise on Nui Ta Bec Mountain. The mountain, also known as "Hill 282," was the shortest of several mountains clustered together in the populated and hotly contested rice bowl sector of extreme southwestern South Vietnam. It was also located approximately ¼ mile southeast of Highway TL55, 2 miles south of the South Vietnamese/Cambodian border, 5 miles northwest of Chi Lang Special Forces Camp, 15 miles southwest of Chau Duc, 34 miles northeast of Ha Tien and 115 miles west-southwest of Saigon.

After completing the field exercise, and while waiting for the 8th Khmer Infantry Battalion to arrive onsite to replace them in the field, the reconnaissance platoon began moving through the thick bamboo on the west side of the mountain. Sgt. Harwood accompanied the lead element, 1st Lt. Kinsman was located in the middle, and 1st Lt. McCarty was in the rear of the platoon's formation. As the platoon moved down-slope under the direction of the American cadre, the Khmer searched several large rock outcroppings for signs of a communist presence. As the inexperienced troops moved about their duties and without warning, the platoon came under VC automatic weapons fire.

Sgt. Harwood immediately dropped to the ground and radioed 1st Lt. McCarty stating that he "was crawling toward the pointman, could not see anything and was receiving direct fire from the front." Shortly thereafter all contact with James Harwood was lost. When radio contact could not be reestablished, James McCarty shouted to Sgt. Harwood, but received no response from him.

In the initial burst of gunfire, 1st Lt. McCarty's radioman was wounded in the leg. He frantically radioed Sgt. Stamper, who was located with another platoon at the base of the mountain, informing him of the platoon's dire situation. Major Leary, the detachment commander, monitored the training exercise while flying overhead in a Forward Air Control (FAC) aircraft. From his vantage point, he observed the firefight commence and heard the radio traffic between the troops on the ground. He immediately relayed the reconnaissance platoon's request for assistance to Major Hoa at Chi Lang. The CIDG Commander claimed all of his units were "busy" and no response was possible.

As the battle continued, 1st Lt. McCarty moved forward toward 1st Lt. Kinsman's position. Through the clumps of bamboo he momentarily saw James McCarty standing in an open area directing the Khmer soldiers into better firing positions. When he reached Gerald Kinsman's position, James McCarty found him lying on his back in the small clearing. 1st Lt. Kinsman had sustained a gunshot wound in the stomach just to the side of the navel with an exit wound in the back. Lt. McCarty also noted he was lying in a large pool of blood.

While James McCarty immediately began ministering to the severely wounded Lieutenant, enemy gunfire struck his weapon destroying it and scattering the pieces everywhere. Seconds later another enemy round struck and wounded 1st Lt. McCarty. As the firefight raged around him, James McCarty tried to drag the unconscious Lieutenant to safety. Unfortunately, enemy troops moved forward and as they approached the wounded Americans' position, James McCarty was forced to leave Gerald Kinsman where he lay and hide in a nearby thicket to escape detection.

Meanwhile, after being rebuffed by Major Hoa, Major Leary transmitted an emergency call to another battalion assigned to the 9th ARVN Division. Unfortunately by the time they reached the embattled troops, the firefight was over and the VC retreated into their sanctuary across the border.

The survivors regrouped, called in medivac aircraft for their wounded and dead, took a head-count and determined that Gerald Kinsman and James Harwood were missing. 1st Lt. McCarty reported that during the firefight he never saw Sgt. Harwood and that when last seen, 1st Lt. Kinsman was unconscious with communist troops approaching his location. The newly arrived ARVN troops initiated a ground search and rescue (SAR) operation in and around Nui Ta Bec Mountain for the two missing American advisors. At the same time, American aircraft were called in to conduct an aerial visual search of the area.

Neither the aerial or ground search discovered any trace of Sgt. Harwood, 1st Lt. Kinsman, or of freshly dug graves in and around the ambush site, or along the enemy's withdrawal path. At the time the formal search operation was terminated, James Harwood was listed Missing in Action. At the same time Gerald Kinsman was classified Killed/Body Not Recovered because of the severe wound he was known to have sustained.

In August 1974, a Vietnamese refugee reported the following information to the US government, which he received second hand from another Vietnamese: "The enemy (Viet Cong) ambushed a Government of Vietnam team, killed one American and captured one American - one officer and one NCO - in that vicinity. The live American was ordered to pull the body of the dead American into the forest. There the American was ordered to dig a hole and bury his friend. As soon as he finished his work, a VC cadre stood beside him and fired at his head with a K .54 pistol. The two bodies were rushed into the hole, and it was filled with earth." The source also assumed that the gravesite might have been in a valley, but could not provide details of its location. There is no way to determine the validity of this second hand, hearsay report, and the fate of the two Americans remains unknown. Likewise, US intelligence had no way to determine if this report actually correlated to the loss of 1st Lt. Kinsman and Sgt. Harwood, or to any other American casualties.

If James Harwood and Gerald Kincade died in combat, or were murdered by a ruthless enemy, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, there is no question they were 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 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 Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

American military men in Vietnam were called upon to 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.