Name: James Hardy Hestand   
Rank/Branch: Warrant Officer 1/US Army 
Unit: 128th Assault Helicopter Company,
11th Aviation Battalion,
12 Aviation Group,
1st Aviation Brigade 

Date of Birth: 20 July 1949 (CA)
Home of Record: Oklahoma City, OK
Date of Loss: 17 March 1971 
Country of Loss: Cambodia 
Loss Coordinates: 121005N 1062140E (XU480455) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Released POW 

Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1 "Iroquois"
Other Personnel In Incident: Richard L. Bauman; Bobby G. Harris and Craig M. Dix(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.

When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos and Cambodia for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

On 8 February 1971, South Vietnamese President Thieu announced Lam Son 719, a large-scale offensive against enemy communications and supply lines in that part of Laos adjacent to the two northern provinces of South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The mission was to interdict the flow of supplies from North Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) would provide and command ground forces, while US forces would provide airlift and supporting fire. ARVN ground troops were transported by American helicopters, as the US Air Force provided cover strikes around the landing zones (LZ).

After Lam Son 719, the ARVN all but abandoned western I Corps and the demilitarized zone (DMZ), thereby yielding immense areas to the communists. Meanwhile, as NVA forces poured into northern and central South Vietnam, well organized Viet Cong (VC) Divisions moved to control areas of significance in Cambodia. Five weeks after Lam Son 719 began, US aircraft were again employed to transport ARVN troops to a newly established LZ located in the northern section of an oval shaped mountain that was situated on a northwest to southeast axis and shaped much like the number "8." The mountain was 11 miles long, the upper portion 6 miles wide and the lower portion only 3 miles wide. The city of Snuol was located in the lower section, on the far eastern edge of it. The city was also located at the junction of major roads that communist forces used as the southern-most part of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. The mountain was surrounded by dense double and triple canopy jungle dotted with small clearings and laced with rivers of all sizes running through it. Rubber plantations flourished in the region, particularly to the south of the mountain.

On 17 March 1971, WO1 James H. Hestand, aircraft commander; then CW2 Richard L. Bauman, pilot; SP4 Craig M. Dix and SP4 Bobby G. Harris, both manifested as crewchief; comprised the crew of a Huey helicopter in a flight of aircraft conducting an ARVN troop insertion mission into an LZ that had been established at grid coordinates XU488458 near Seang Village - roughly in the center of the upper portion of the mountain located in Snuol District, Kratie Province, Cambodia. Meanwhile, communist forces were making every effort to dislodge them. US intelligence knew that elements of the Viet Cong's (VC) 6th Company, 2nd Battalion, F21B Infantry Regiment, 5th Viet Cong Division were operating in and around the northwestern half of this mountain.

Also involved in the combat operation were Capt. David P. Schweitzer, pilot; and 1st Lt. Lawrence E. Lilly, co-pilot; who comprised the crew of an AH1G Cobra gunship (serial #69-17935) that was conducting a visual reconnaissance mission to locate and attack enemy positions entrenched in the dense jungle surrounding the LZ. Capt. Schweitzer and 1st Lt. Lilly were assigned to Troop A, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).

After depositing their cargo of troops, WO1 Hestand and his aircrew pulled away from the LZ and were struck by VC ground fire, then crashed into the jungle just north of the LZ.  James Hestand, Richard Bauman and Craig Dix safely exited the Huey’s wreckage.  Bobby Harris died when he was thrown from the aircraft.

Shortly after the Huey was downed, the Cobra gunship was struck by ground fire and crashed into the jungle less than a mile west of the Huey's crash site. Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were successful in extracting Capt. Schweitzer, but due to heavy enemy ground fire, the SAR aircraft was forced to leave the area before Lilly could be extracted. An ARVN ground unit entered the battle area to try to rescue 1st Lt. Lilly, but found him dead. The unit came under heavy fire, and in the course of the battle, the body was lost to the enemy. 1st Lt. Lilly was last seen by US personnel lying on his back with his shirt partially open and blood on his chest and neck. As the helicopter pulled away from the downed Cobra, the aircrew observed VC forces firing their weapons as they moved toward it. Lawrence Lilly's remains were never recovered.

The Huey's wreckage was located 6 miles northwest of Snuol, 13 miles northwest of the Cambodian/South Vietnamese border and 25 miles northwest of Loc Ninh, South Vietnam. The Cobra's wreckage was located 7 miles northwest of Snuol, 13 miles northwest of the Cambodian/South Vietnamese border and 26 miles northwest of Loc Ninh, South Vietnam.

A nearby medivac helicopter maneuvered over the Huey's wreckage and lowered a jungle penetrator through an opening in the triple canopy jungle to men seen on the ground, but was forced away by enemy fire, and being low on fuel, before they could be recovered. Five ARVN soldiers were captured and were told by VC guards that "three chopper crew members had just been captured. One was killed in the crash and one was shot in the leg (ankle) trying to escape. The wounded crewmember and two others were finally captured."

James Hestand was captured later that day. He was released to US control on 12 February 1973 during Operation Homecoming. In his debriefing, he reported that Craig Dix was the crewman who was shot in the right ankle as he evaded approaching VC troops. He added that SP4 Dix was ambulatory and still evading at the time of his own capture. WO1 Hestand also reported that when last seen CW2 Bauman was alive, in good condition, and was hiding with SP4 Dix. James Hestand also reported that he saw the body of Bobby Harris outside the aircraft after the crash. He believed the crewchief was dead because his throat had sustained multiple lacerations and his body was already showing discoloration.

WO Hestand was separated from the others when he was captured, and had no further contact with or information about Craig Dix or Richard Bauman. In spite of a Defense Department analyst's "remarks" indicating that Richard Bauman, Craig Dix and Bobby Harris were "all dead," other intelligence reports document Craig Dix being treated for his wound in a Cambodian hospital after capture.

Some of the prison camps in which James Hestand and other POWs were confined in Cambodia were actually way stations used by the VC for various reasons; others were regular POW camps. Regardless of size and function, conditions in them frequently included the prisoners' being tied at night to their bamboo bunks anchored by rope to a post in their small bamboo shelters. In others they were held in bamboo cages, commonly known as "tiger cages." In other camps the dense jungle itself provided the bars to their cage. There was rarely enough food and water to sustain them, and as a result, the Americans suffered a wide variety of illnesses in addition to their injuries and wounds. Throughout his captivity James Hestand and the other prisoners were chained to their cages by a 6-foot length of chain that was never removed.

In mid-April 1971, another report received by US intelligence described two US personnel onboard a helicopter shot down in this region getting out of the helicopter and climbing a tree, and firing upon enemy forces. According to this report, "one of the crewmen was shot to death, and the other was captured by Viet Cong soldiers of the 6th Company, 2nd Battalion, F21B Infantry Regiment." The report continued that both crewmen were caucasian and had light complexions. The source described the POWs and said that he was later told that "the dead airman had been cremated by Cambodian villagers" who had come to salvage parts from the aircraft. Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) personnel evaluated the report and concluded that it could correlate to either one of these two helicopter losses and copies of this report were placed in the casualty files of both aircrews.

In 1992, a National Security Agency (NSA) correlation study of all communist radio intercepts pertaining to missing Americans, which was presented to the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in a classified format, was finally declassified and made public. According to this document, 1 Viet Cong radio message was intercepted and correlated to this set of loss incidents.

While the fate of Bobby Harris and Lawrence Lilly is not in doubt, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. For Richard Bauman and Craig Dix who were known to be alive and evading capture, their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite 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 American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Military men in Vietnam and Cambodia 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.