|Name:||Bruce Gardner Johnson|
|Rank/Branch:||Lieutenant Colonel/US Army|
|Unit:||Military Assistance Command, Vietnam,
Special Detachment 5891
Saigon, South Vietnam
|Date of Birth:||15 July 1937|
|Home of Record:||Harbor Beach, MI|
|Date of Loss:||10 June 1965|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
113521N 1065309E (YT056817)
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Joseph J. Compa, Jr.; Robert L. Curlee; Craig L. Hagen; Walter L. Hall; Fred M. Owens and Donald R. Saegaert (missing)|
REMARKS: ON GND - SED 6 DEAD - UNDER FIRE - J
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 25 May 1965, construction of the Dong Xoai Special Forces Camp was completed and Detachment A-342 was airlifted to their new camp, which was located approximately 4 miles south of the Thanh Loi Rubber Plantation, 49 miles north-northeast of Saigon and 50 miles east-northeast of Tay Ninh, Dong Xoai District, Phuoc Long Province, South Vietnam.
After the camp was opened, the Viet Cong intermittently fired mortar rounds into it and its inhabitants considered it just normal enemy harassment. However, over the next two weeks, sightings of increasingly larger VC contingents were observed operating near the camp and these sightings became more frequent. At 2310 hours on 9 June 1965, CIDG teams around the camp's perimeter were silenced by elements of the 762nd and 763rd VC Regiments. Due to the swiftness and viciousness of the VC's attack, few friendly forces survived and those who did had no time to warn the camp of the impending attack. Beginning at 2330 hours, the Dong Xoai Special Forces Camp was heavily mortared followed by an overwhelming ground assault. Shortly thereafter, the camp was overrun and most of the surviving Civil Irregular Defense Force (CIDG) and Luc Luong Dac Biet (LLDB) - South Vietnamese Special Forces, withdrew under fire.
On 10 June 1965, 1st Lt. Walter L. Hall, pilot; WO Donald R. Saegaert, co-pilot; SSgt. Joseph J. Compa, Jr., crew chief; and Sgt. Craig L. Hagen, door gunner; comprised the crew of a Huey helicopter (serial #38557) that departed Tan Son Nhut Airfield, Saigon, to conduct the second emergency troop insertion into the area of the Dong Xoai Special Forces Camp. The aircrew was assigned to the 118th Aviation Company, 145th Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Brigade. Also on board the Huey were passengers, SSgt. Robert L. Curlee, medic; then Capt. Bruce G. Johnson and SFC Fred M. Owens, advisors to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam's (ARVN) 5th Infantry Division. ARVN soldiers from this division boarded the transport aircraft and were airlifted to the Thanh Loi Rubber Plantation. The mission of the ARVN reinforcements was to bolster the defenders of the Special Forces camp who had been in brutal combat since shortly after midnight. The designated landing zone (LZ) was located on the plantation approximately 1 mile west of Highway LTL1A, 4 miles north of Highway LTL13 and the same distance north of the Dong Xoai Special Forces Camp. It was also located 24 miles southeast of Loc Ninh and 53 miles north-northeast of Tan Son Nhut/Saigon.
Shortly after 0900 hours, the flight of Hueys and their armed escorts flew to the plantation bringing in fresh ARVN troops. As the lead aircraft touched down and began to disembark its passengers, it came under heavy mortar and small arms fire. The VC were concealed in the tall rubber trees, the planter's mansion and adjoining buildings. The VC's plan was impaired by an unanticipated herd of cattle moving down the road. The lift commander changed the LZ slightly to avoid the cattle just enough that the ensuing crossfire of small arms and mortars was off center and not totally effective.
As soon as all passengers were out of the Huey, 1st Lt. Hall pulled off and initiated a climbing turn while Sgt. Hagen and SSgt. Compa returned fire. As the helicopter cleared some buildings located to the left of the landing zone, it went into uncontrolled flight, dropped and crashed to the ground, then skidded into some parked vehicles at the edge of the airstrip and burst into flames. The three advisors with their ARVN troops had taken shelter near the edge of the LZ. As the firefight raged around them, the VC killed SSgt. Curlee and SFC Owens shortly after they exited the Huey. Capt. Johnson established radio contact with a helicopter circling overhead and stated that all others on board were dead and his position was receiving incoming enemy mortar fire. The aircrew saw the mortars impact in the vicinity of Capt. Johnson before all radio contact ceased. In the meantime, other Hueys landed and discharged their passengers as the battle raged all around them.
On 15 June 1965, a search and rescue/recovery (SAR) team was inserted into the Thanh Loi Rubber Plantation to search for survivors and recover the dead. The team found no trace of the missing Americans or signs of fresh dug graves in or around the area. Villagers residing in the area were interviewed and they reported that the VC captured one American and carried off the bodies of the dead on the day of loss. At the time the formal search operation was terminated, Bruce Johnson, was reported as Missing in Action while Joseph Compa, Robert Curlee, Craig Hagen, Walter Hall, Fred Owens and Donald Saegaert were declared Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
In late 1965, US forces captured a VC produced propaganda film entitled "Dong Xoai in Flames." Portions of it depicted the battle of Dong Xoai and showed the dead bodies of 5 or 6 Americans including SFC Owens and 1st Lt. Hall. Information was later received from other sources that "7 Americans were killed in this incident, 4 found in the helicopter and 3 others at the airstrip." According one villager, the VC removed the bodies for burial to an unknown location. Military intelligence personnel evaluated the wartime footage in-depth and were able to conclusively identify the helicopter by its tail number. Other than Fred Owens and Walter Hall, who were recognized only by the visible nametags on their uniforms, none of the other Americans could be identified.
Shortly thereafter US Intelligence reports of unidentified US POWs sightings were analyzed and placed in the file of these servicemen. One of these reports, which documented the capture of an American at the battle of Binh Gia, was placed in Capt. Johnson's file, but may have actually correlated to the capture of another Captain several months earlier.
Prior to the formation of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA), a refugee reported to US personnel that in 1980 he was on a work detail to bring coffin boxes for remains he saw exhumed. He reported that he saw eight skeletal remains removed from graves in the area of the Thanh Loi Rubber Plantation. When questioned, a cadre told him the remains were of communist soldiers. However, he discounted this statement as false believing that such an effort would be made only to retrieve American remains and not those of NVA or VC dead. US intelligence personnel believed this report might well correlate to Bruce Johnson, Joseph Compa, Fred Owens, Robert Curlee, Craig Hagen, Walter Hall and Donald Saegaert. The eighth body reportedly recovered is thought to belong to Major Lawrence T. Holland, a US Air Force pilot who ejected from his crippled F100D on 12 June 1965, and landed in the 100-foot tall trees just east of LTL1A and the rubber plantation. VC soldiers were observed dragging Major Holland's limp body into a nearby ditch and he was not seen again.
In April 1991 the US government released a list of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action who were known to be alive in enemy hands and for whom there is no evidence that he or she died in captivity. This list, commonly referred to today as the USG's "Last Known Alive" list, included Bruce G. Johnson.
In October/November 1992 and again in June 1993, joint teams under the auspices of the JTFFA traveled to Phuoc Long Province to investigate the losses in and around the Thanh Loi Rubber Plantation. They interviewed local residents and former/current government officials regarding these missing men. The results of those interviews indicated the bodies of the Americans were removed from the immediate area and buried either together or side by side. Further, at a later date, the American remains were exhumed and removed to another undisclosed location.
The 1992 JTFFA Investigative Element acquired the ID card of Fred Owens through intelligence channels from an archive in Hanoi and a photocopy of the ID card was also found in the MR4 Museum. A year later a complete copy of the film "Dong Xaoi in Flames"
was obtained from the Vietnamese film archives.
In October/November 1993, another JTFFA team used ground penetrating radar (GPR) to attempt to located a mass grave, or multiple mass graves, where the Americans and/or ARVN dead where buried. The team members identified only one area where an anomaly was detected that showed the ground had been disturbed and might be a gravesite. That area was extensively excavated, but found absolutely no trace of remains, clothing or other artifacts that are commonly associated with graves. Because nothing at all was uncovered, experts believe it was not, and never had been, a burial site.
If the aircrew and passengers were in fact killed in the Huey's loss, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if any survived their loss, they most certainly would have been 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 know what happened and could return the men 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 America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Pilots, aircrews and ground personnel 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.