|Name:||Ralph Lewis Harper|
|Rank/Branch:||Lance Corporal /US Marine Corps|
4th Marines, 3rd Marine Division
|Date of Birth:||14 January 1948 (Indianapolis, IN)|
|Home of Record:||Indianapolis, IN|
|Date of Loss:||06 June 1968|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered|
|Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:||CH46A "Sea Knight"|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Kurt E. LaPlant; Luis F. Palacios; and Jose R. Sanchez (missing); Paul E. Burgard; William R. Ebright; Felix F. Flores; William E. Hannings; Catarino Morelos, Jr.; Lawrence E. Porter; Donald S. Satter; Jonathan L. Stoops and Eugene Wilson (remains recovered)|
SYNOPSIS: The Boeing-Vertol CH46 Sea Knight arrived in Southeast Asia on 8 March 1966 and served the Marine Corps throughout the rest of the war. With a crew of three or four depending on mission requirements, the tandem-rotor transport helicopter could carry 24 fully equipped troops or 4600 pounds of cargo and was instrumental in moving Marines throughout South Vietnam, then supplying them accordingly.
On 6 June 1968, PFC Paul E. Burgard, Cpl. William R. Elbert, LCpl. Felix F. Flores, LCpl. William E. Hannings, LCpl. Ralph L. Harper, LCpl. Hurt E. LaPlant, PFC Catarino Morelos, Jr., LCpl. Luis F. Palacios, LCpl. Lawrence E. Porter, PFC Jose R. Sanchez, PFC Donald S. Satter, Jonathan L. Stoops and PFC Eugene Wilson comprised a Marine Corps patrol operating in the rugged jungle covered mountains southwest of Khe Sanh, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. Their mission was to block NVA troops and supplies from infiltrating toward Khe Sanh. The Marines engaged a communist force of unknown size in heavy combat. As the fierce firefight raged around them, the Marines, who were out numbered and rapidly running low on ammunition, requested an emergency extraction.
The battle site was located in a sector of South Vietnam that included extremely rugged jungle covered mountains between the South Vietnamese/Lao border and Khe Sanh. It was also considered to contain a primary gateway into South Vietnam from the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos 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 communist men and supplies into the acknowledged war zone.
The onsite Forward Air Controller (FAC), call sign "Fingerprint 22," directing all air operations in the region including air support for ground troops, made a radio call requesting any helicopter in the Khe Sanh area to come up on guard channel, the emergency radio frequency. The aircrew that responded to the FAC's transmission was a Marine Corps CH46A Sea Knight (serial #151940), call sign "Chicken Man 22." Its aircrew was assigned to HMM-165, a Marine helicopter squadron that was part of a flight that had been providing air support for other ground troops.
In the short conversation between the FAC and the Sea Knight's pilot, Chicken Man 22 reported that he was 5 minutes away and had a UH-1H gunship with him. The helicopter pilot asked the FAC if there was any air cover on station. The FAC replied, no, then added he would try to gather as much support as possible before the helicopters reached the extraction point. Minutes later, Chicken Man 22 arrived onsite. After providing the helicopter's crew with a quick up-date, Fingerprint 22 cleared the helicopter in to conduct the emergency extraction.
Chicken Man 22 descended under fire to the Marine's position near Landing Zone (LZ) Loon. Rapidly some 13 Marines scrambled on board and the Sea Knight lifted off. As it gained altitude, the helicopter was immediately struck by intense and accurate enemy ground fire causing it to enter into a nose-low attitude and crash onto an east/west mountain ridgeline, roll down to the bottom of the hill and burst into flames.
The area in which the helicopter came to rest had been sprayed with defoliant sometime earlier and all the trees that were still standing were leafless. The rest of the area had grass and weeds growing, but not enough to provide cover for enemy troops to hide. Bomb craters were everywhere and most were newly made. The wreckage was located approximately 4 miles south of Route 9, 5 miles south-southwest of Khe Sanh, 7 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Lao border and 29 miles south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separated North and South Vietnam.
Within an hour and a half, a search and recovery (SAR) team was inserted into the crash site. The team members pulled the charred bodies of the aircrew and passengers from what was left of the burned out helicopter and placed them in body bags. In addition to recovering the remains of the aircrew, the SAR team was able to find and extract the bodies of Cpl. William Ebright, LCpl. Felix Flores, LCpl. William Hannings, PFC Catarino Morelos, LCpl. Lawrence Porter, PFC Donald Satter, PFC Jonathan Stoops and PFC Eugene Wilson. After recovery, the bodies of the Marines were sent to an in-country military mortuary for processing and identification before being returned to their families for burial.
Without specialized equipment, the recovery team was unable to extract the bodies of five of the passengers before they withdrew from the site. At the time of the recovery operation was terminated, PFC Jose Sanchez, LCpl. Ralph Harper, LCpl. Kurt LaPlant and LCpl. Luis Palacios were reported Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
On an unspecified date later in June 1968, another Graves Registration recovery team was inserted into the Sea Knight's crash site to locate and recover the bodies of the five Marine passengers the first team had been unable to extract. During this mission, the team was able to find and recover only the remains of Paul Burgard. Due to the tactical situation and an increasingly large enemy presence in the area, no further recovery operation was possible.
For the family and friends of Paul Burgard, they have the peace of mind of knowing where their loved one lies. And while the fate of Kurt LaPlant, Ralph Harper, Luis Papacios and Jose Sanchez is not in doubt, each man has the right to have his remains recovered and returned to his family, friends and country if at all humanly possible. Above all else, each man has the right not to be forgotten by nation for which he gave his life.
For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate 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 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.