|Name:||Thomas Edward Knebel|
|Rank/Branch:||Chief Master Sergeant/US Air Force|
Ubon Airbase, Thailand
|Date of Birth:||11 June 1947|
|Home of Record:||Steubenville, OH|
|Date of Loss:||22 May 1968|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Jerry L. Chambers; Calvin C. Glover; John Q. Adam; William H. Mason; William T. McPhail; Thomas B. Mitchell; Gary Pate; Melvin D. Rash (all missing)|
REMARKS: CONTACT LOST - NFI
SYNOPSIS: The Lockheed C130 Hercules aircraft was a multi-purpose propeller driven aircraft, and was used as transport, tanker, gunship, drone controller, airborne battlefield command and control center, weather reconnaissance craft, electronic reconnaissance platform; search, rescue and recovery craft.
In the hands of the "trash haulers", as the crews of Tactical Air Command transports styled themselves, the C130 proved the most valuable airlift instrument in the Southeast Asia conflict, so valuable that Gen. William Momyer, 7th Air Force commander, refused for a time to let them land at Khe Sanh where the airstrip was under fire from NVA troops surrounding that base. The C130 was critical in resupplying this area, and when the C130 couldn't land, it dropped its payload by means of parachute drop.
On 22 May 1968, Lt. Col. William H. Mason, pilot; Capt. Thomas B. Mitchell, co-pilot; Capt. William T. McPhail, navigator; Major Jerry L. Chambers, observer; SSgt. Calvin C. Glover, flight engineer; then AM1 Thomas E. Knebel, crewchief; Sgt. Gary Pate, loadmaster; AM1 Melvin D. Rash, loadmaster; and AM1 John Q. Adam, loadmaster; comprised the crew of an A130C aircraft, call sign "Blind Bat 01." They were on a normally scheduled night flair drop mission on a frag operation that was to orbit the target area. The region of eastern Laos adjacent to the northernmost provinces of South Vietnam was known as Foxtrot and contained major arteries of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. The target was in the vicinity of the communist airfield located at Tchepone, Savannakhet Province, Laos.
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.
Weather conditions in the area were scattered clouds with visibility of 6 miles. The terrain was mountainous with heavy foliage and an occasional clearing.
At 2055 hours Blind Bat 01 made its last radio contact with the airborne mission command and control center as it was orbiting the target area. At that time the aircraft was positioned near the city of Muong Nong and there was no indication of trouble.
By 2125 hours, the airborne command and control center was unable to raise Blind Bat 01 on the radio, another C130A, call sign Blind Bat 02, was called in to investigate non-contact with Blind Bat 01 and it arrived onsite 15 minutes later. Blind Bat 02 found a large fire on the ground, but when they attempted to investigate the fire, they were driven off by enemy anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire. Another aircraft was called in to participate in the aerial search that was equipped with night photography equipment. The photographs it took could not confirm whether or not the fire was associated with an aircraft crash site, but the photo interpreters were of the opinion that the circular fire resembled that of a crashed aircraft. The photography showed no evidence of any parachutes on the ground, and none of the aircrews heard mayday calls or emergency beeper signals emanating from the jungle below.
Because of a lack of any positive evidence of survivors, aircraft wreckage or beepers, no formal search and rescue (SAR) effort was initiated. However, aerial photographs were taken the following day. Again, there was no indication of aircraft wreckage, and the fire burning on the ground the night before had been extinguished. Likewise, there were no signs of survivors in or around the area. At the time the aerial search effort was terminated, Jerry Chambers, William Mason, Thomas Knebel, John Adam, William McPhail, Gary Pate, Melvin Rash and Calvin Glover were listed Missing In Action.
The location of loss was deep within enemy held territory approximately 8 miles southwest of Tavouac, 29 miles west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border, 33 miles west of the A Shau Valley, South Vietnam; and 43 miles south-southeast of the town of Tchepone, Saravane Province, Laos. It was located on the west edge of mountain foothills within 1 mile of a primary north/south road running along the east side of a long, narrow jungle covered valley. Along the west side of the valley ran a power line that paralleled the road. The distance between the road and the power line was often only 1 mile or less and never more than 3 miles as they both continued through the mountains to the south of the valley.
From 1981 to 1984, the Special Forces Detachment, Korea was charged by President Reagan with the responsibility of collecting live POW information throughout Southeast Asia. "SFDK" was commanded by Major Mark Smith, himself a returned POW from the Vietnam War. Through his efforts, and those of team Intelligence Sergeant Mel McIntire, an agent net of 50 agents was established, specifically in Laos. This intelligence net resulted in Major Smith compiling a list of some 26 American POWs by name and captivity location including one man with the last name of "Glover" being one of them. There are two men who are POW/MIAs with that last name and both were lost in Laos.
In April 1984, Major Smith received a message from one of his agents specifying that on 11 May three US Prisoners of War would be brought to a given location on the Lao/Thai border. The only prerequisite was that an American be on the Thailand side of the border to receive the men.
When this information was reported up his chain of command, Major Smith's team was ordered not to leave Korea, to destroy all documents pertaining to LIVE POWs and they were sent back to the United States 6 months early. This documented information was provided to the United States Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in sworn testimony on 28 January 1986.
In June 1989, a source turned in the drawing of an identity card and restricted area access card with the name of Gary Pate on them. In August 1989, a Vietnamese source provided dog tag information from a member of an ethnic minority residing in South Laos together with a photograph reportedly showing human remains at an unknown location. In May 1991, a source in Thailand reported dogtag information associated with Pate. The source stated he had received the information from a "central Vietnamese" who located the dogtag while looking for incense wood near Hue City, South Vietnam, and had instructed the source to provide the information to the US government upon his arrival in Bangkok. In October 1991, US investigators from the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting who were working in Vietnam at the time were again provided dogtag information pertaining to Sgt. Pate along with a bone fragment. The US personnel were told by the source that he was an intermediary acting for others.
The crew of Blind Bat 01 are among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Lao 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 the Paris Peace Accords since Laos was not a party to that agreement.
If the crew of Blind Bat 01 died in the loss of their aircraft, they have a right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country. However, if they were able to bail out and reach the ground safely, there is no doubt they would have been captured. If that is the case, their fate, like that of many other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different.
Since the end of the Vietnam War, 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.
Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and 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.