Remains Returned 27 April 1989; Identified 17 April 1991
Name: Vernon Zigman Johns   
Rank/Branch: Sergeant First Class/US Army 
Unit: Company B, 4th Mechanized Battalion, 23rd Infantry,
25th Infantry Division 
Date of Birth: 23 December 1942
Home of Record: Baltimore, MD
Date of Loss: 03 February 1968 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 110259N 1062959E (XT638218) 
Click coordinates to view maps
Status in 1973: Prisoner of War 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel In Incident: Marion E. Wilson (missing) 


SYNOPSIS:  Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) were used during the Vietnam War to provide additional protection and firepower for American and Allied troops attacking established enemy positions. The APCs usually carried a crew of three - the track commander, a driver and a weapons loader.

On 3 February 1968, four Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) from Companies B and C, 4th Mechanized Battalion, 23rd Infantry, 25th Infantry Division, were participating in a search and destroy mission in the region northwest of Saigon known to American forces as the "Hobo Woods."

Then PFC Vernon Z. Johns was assigned as the track commander of APC #34, which was assigned to Company B. PFC Marion E. Wilson was the driver of APC #33, which was assigned to Company C. The 4 APC were sweeping through a hotly contested and heavily wooded area dotted with rubber plantations, rice fields and forested areas. The region was also heavily populated with hamlets and villages of all sizes.

APC #34 was in the lead when the 4 vehicles moved through the jungle and into an open clearing. As PFC Johns' APC #34 entered the clearing, Viet Cong (VC) forces of unknown size opened fire with small arms and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) on the Americans. The battle site was located approximately 19 miles north-northwest of Saigon and 24 miles southeast of Tay Ninh, Trang Bang District, Hau Nghai Province, South Vietnam.

The loader of APC #34 immediately radioed the other APCs, as well as the allied ground forces accompanying the convoy of APCs. He notified them that his track was under fire and need assistance. Within minutes, a 4-man rescue party made it's way to APC #34. They rescued the wounded loader and took him to the company medic for treatment. The area of the damaged APC was searched, but no sign of Vernon Johns or APC #34's driver was found. The driver of APC #34 was also wounded and last seen as he jumped from his track before making his way to safety. The last time PFC Johns was seen he was firing the .50 caliber machine gun from the hatch of Track #34. Several crewmen of the remaining APCs witnessed Vernon Johns carrying the fight to the enemy during the engagement. They also reported that while he had been wounded during the firefight, he jumped down from the damaged vehicle and rapidly moved away from it as the VC advanced toward it.

At the same time APC #34 was under attack, APC #33 struck an enemy anti-tank mine. At roughly the same time, multiple RPG rounds struck APC #33 causing it to catch fire. Immediately ammunition in the APC began exploding. The track commander and loader were able to escape the burning APC. As they did so, they saw PFC Wilson in the driver's hatch when it caught fire. Because of the intense fire, APC #33's ammunition began to explode. The rescue force was not able to extract Marion Wilson from the crippled and burning vehicle. At the time of loss, the US Army believed that PFC Wilson was killed and cremated in the track.

American forces pulled back a safe distance in preparation for a 3-ship airstrike to commence against concealed VC positions in the area where APC #33 and #34 were last seen. While the airstrike pounded those positions with devastating results, a headcount of US personnel revealed that PFC Johns was missing and PFC Wilson had been trapped in APC #33. After the small clearing was finally secured, a search and rescue/recovery (SAR) team entered the battle site to search for Vernon Johns and Marion Wilson as well as to recover the two APCs. When no trace of either soldier could be found, Vernon Johns was listed Missing in Action while Marion Wilson was listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

In 1969, US intelligence received a report of the sighting of an American POW whose appearance matched that of Vernon Johns. Because the information was of sufficient quality and substance supporting the position that PFC Johns had, in fact, been captured by elements of the VC force engaged in battle with his unit in the Hobo Woods, Vernon Johns' status was immediately upgraded from Missing in Action to Prisoner of War. That same year other reports were received by US intelligence pertaining to two Americans who were killed in combat and buried in the same general area of the Hobo Wood. In due course, copies of all these reports were included in each man's casualty file.

In September 1974, personnel from the Joint Casualty Recovery Center (JCRC) conducted a recovery operation in the Trang Bang District, Hau Nghai Province, South Vietnam where six sets of remains were discovered. Local villagers stated that one of the bodies buried at the site was an American, and US personnel believed it might correlate to PFC Johns and PFC Wilson. Once exhumed, the remains underwent forensic examination. The results proved all remains recovered from that site were Mongoloid, not Negro or Caucasian.

In 1988, US investigators in Vietnam interviewed witnesses who stated that PFC Johns was killed in battle and buried the next day. One witness stated his remains had been recovered in 1987 and the Vietnamese Office for Seeking Missing Americans had taken custody of those remains.

On 27 April 1989, the Vietnamese repatriated remains identified as those of Vernon Johns to US control. These remains were transported to the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) for examination. On 17 April 1991, the remains were identified as belonging to Vernon Johns and were returned to his family for burial.

Vernon Johns family and friends finally have the peace of mind of knowing where their loved one lies. And while the fate of PFC Wilson is not in question, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country of at all possible. Above all else, he has the right not to be forgotten by the nation for which he gave his life.

For other American military personnel and civilians who remain unaccounted for throughout 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.

Military personnel 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.