Name: James Montgomery Johnstone 
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Army 
Unit: 131st Aviation Company 
Date of Birth: 04 May 1938 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Home of Record: Ft. Mill, SC
Date of Loss: 19 November 1966 
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 145338N 1070349E (YB384532)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: OV1A "Mohawk"
Other Personnel In Incident: James L. Whited (missing) 


SYNOPSIS:  The OV1A Mohawk was outfitted with photo equipment for aerial photo reconnaissance. The planes obtained aerial views of small targets - hill masses, road junctions or hamlets - in the kind of detail needed by ground commanders. The planes were generally unarmed. The OV1's were especially useful in reconnoitering the 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 men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

On November 19, 1966, Capt. James M. Johnstone, pilot; and Maj. James L. Whitehead, co-pilot; comprised the crew of an OV1A (serial #13115), call sign "Project 6," that was conducting a reconnaissance mission over southeastern Laos. They were to search for NVA troops and supplies known to be infiltrating through this portion of southern Laos that contained several known infiltration routes. When the Mohawk arrived onsite, Capt. Johnstone immediately established radio contact with the Forward Air Controller (FAC) responsible for directing all air operations in this sector. The FAC provided them with updated information, and then cleared Project 6 into their area of operation.

James Whited and James Johnstone completed an aerial search and were beginning a routine reconnaissance of an area of high jagged ridges and valleys covered in dense jungle east of Route 96. The Mohawk climbed steeply over the top of a ridge while flying just above the trees tops. As the FAC watched Project 6 prosecute it's mission, he observed the Mohawk's left wing dip into the trees causing the plane to flip over, crash and burn upon impact. The FAC did not see the overhead hatch jettisoned; the crewmen eject or deployed parachutes. Likewise, he heard no emergency beeper signals emanating from the jungle below.

The Mohawk wreckage was located approximately 2 miles east of Route 96, 3 miles south-southeast of the closest point on the Xe Kaman River, 10 miles east-northeast of Muong May and 25 miles northeast of the city Attopeu, Attopeu Province, Laos. It was also 19 miles west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border, 30 miles northwest of the tri-border location where Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam meet and 45 miles northwest of Dak To, South Vietnam. Immediately the FAC initiated a visual examination of the wreckage and the surrounding area for signs of survivors, but found nothing. Due to the dense vegetation, difficult terrain features and heavy enemy presence throughout the region no ground search was possible. At the time the FAC completed his aerial search, James Whited and James Johnstone were reported as Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

Major Whited and Capt. Johnstone are among the nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. While it appears both men died when their aircraft craft crashed into thick jungle, many others were known to be alive on the ground. The Laotians admitted holding "tens of tens" of American Prisoners of War, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords that ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

If James Johnstone and James Whited died in the loss of their aircraft, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they were thrown free and survived, they most certainly could have been captured by enemy forces known to be inhabiting that region and 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.

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.