Name: Harold "Pappy" Kahler 
Rank/Branch: Colonel/US Air Force 
Unit: 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron 
Takhli Airbase, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 27 January 1923
Home of Record: Lincoln, NE
Date of Loss: 14 June 1969 
Country of Loss: Laos 
Loss Coordinates: 201051N 1035449E (UH865317) 
Click coordinates to view map

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F105D "Thunderchief" 
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing) 


SYNOPSIS: The principle Air Force tactical strike aircraft during the Vietnam War was the Republic F105 Thunderchief, nicknamed a “Thud.”  It was the first supersonic tactical fighter-bomber designed from scratch and the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history.  Easily recognized by its large bomb bay and unique swept-forward engine inlets located in the wing roots, it was mass-produced after the Korean War.  The first Thud to exceed the speed of sound did so on 22 October 1955 in spite of its underpowered Pratt & Whitney J57 stop-gap engine.  Production of the F-105 finished in 1965 with the tandem-seat F model, which was designed as a Wild-Weasel Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) attack aircraft.  The F-105 served throughout Southeast Asia, particularly during Rolling Thunder operations.

The Sam Neua area of Northern Laos was the birthplace of the Communist Pathet Lao government. This well established and long standing enemy stronghold, with its extensive cave complex, was a well documented prison camp for American and Allied POWs captured by then Pathet Lao during the Vietnam War. During the "Secret War" waged in Laos, American spotter teams frequently photographed US POWs held in these caves.

On 14 June 1969, then Major Harold Kahler was the pilot of the number two aircraft, call sign "Mantis 02," in a flight of two F105D fighter/bombers that was conducting a mid-day strike mission over Laos. Their original target was a "ford" crossing a river and the "road segment" on both sides of the ford. Rainstorms in the target area caused the flight to divert to an alternate target. Weather conditions in the region included broken clouds with bases at 2,000 feet above ground level, visibility of 7 miles and numerous rainstorms throughout the area.

As the flight searched for targets of opportunity, the pilot of Mantis 01 found a bridge/ford. He requested permission to attack the bridge and it was granted. Mantis lead directed Major Kahler to arm his bombs. Lead then advised his wingman that he was rolling in on the bridge. Harold Kahler acknowledged the call, which turned out to be the last radio contact with Mantis 02.

At 1312 hours, Mantis lead started his run, and as he did so, he told Major Kahler to expend all his bombs on one pass. As Mantis lead pulled off target, he did not climb steep, but eased off the "G's" in order to maintain airspeed while doing reconnaissance of the area. He saw an explosion flash in his mirror and thought he had obtained a secondary explosion from his delivery. He continued to see a billow of black smoke from an orange fireball and thought it could be from Mantis 02. Mantis 01 immediately made a radio call to his wingman, but got no answer. He made several more attempts on Guard, the emergency radio channel, but heard nothing.

Because Mantis lead's view was limited to the scope of his mirror as he pulled off target, he saw no ejection or parachute. Mantis 01 immediately notified the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control (ABCCC) aircraft of the situation requesting a search and rescue (SAR) operation to be initiated. At the same time, he began a visual and electronic search for Harold Kahler. Shortly thereafter Mantis lead was forced to depart the area as he was low on fuel. Other aircraft arrived onsite to continue the search effort. During the aerial search, no parachute was found and no emergency beeper signal heard.

Shortly after the loss, Major Kahler's family was told that a ground search team had reached the crash site and that while they found the aircraft wreckage, they found no trace of the pilot. The family was also told that they, the military, believed Major Kahler had ejected his damaged aircraft and was probably working his way to a safer area where he could be rescued. At the time the formal search effort was terminated, Harold Kahler was immediately listed Missing in Action.

The bridge/ford and location of loss was in the densely wooded mountains of northern Laos, which was laced with multiple primary and secondary roads and trails that comprised the major transportation network in this part of Laos. Small villages and hamlets were occasionally found scattered throughout the region.

The location was just south of a secondary road that ran between two primary roads, approximately 3 miles southeast of one of the primary roads and the same distance west of a second primary road. Both of these primary roads ran from Sam Neua toward the south-southwest and generally paralleled each other. A large hill rose up from the jungle floor to the south of the loss location, which was also 18 miles south-southwest of the city of Sam Neua, Xiangkhouang Province, Laos.

Harold Kahler is among the nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men 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 which ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

If Harold Kahler died in the loss, he has right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he survived, there is good chance he could have been captured by enemy forces known to operating throughout this region and his 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 America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Fighter pilots 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.

Harold Kahler was a member of the Nebraska Air National Guard who was called to active duty during the Korean War and remained on active duty afterward.