Name: James Edward Kennedy 
Rank/Branch: Staff Sergeant/US Army 
Unit: 57th Aviation Company, 
52nd Aviation Battalion, 
17th Aviation Group 

Date of Birth: 02 January 1950 (Woodbury, NJ) 
Home of Record: Pine Hill, NJ
Date of Loss: 22 December 1969 
Country of Loss: Cambodia
Loss Coordinates: 152029N 1072941E (YA678975) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1C "Iroquois"
Other Personnel In Incident: Donald D. Burris (missing); Timothy Purser and John Hunsicker (rescued) 


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 22 December 1969, WO John H. Hunsicker, aircraft commander; WO Donald D. Burris Jr., pilot; SP5 Timothy A. Purser, crew chief; and then SP4 James E. Kennedy, door gunner; comprised the crew of a UH1C helicopter (tail #66-00587). The Huey was conducting a combat support mission in Cambodia when it developed mechanical problems. WO Hunsicker and WO Burris first attempted to nurse their crippled aircraft eastward toward the South Vietnamese border. When it became apparent it was no long flyable, the air crew made an emergency Mayday call giving their location, then crash landed in the Huey in the heavily forested mountains of extreme eastern Cambodia. The location of loss was 1 ½ miles east of the Cambodian/South Vietnamese border, 5 miles south-southeast of the closest point on the Cambodian/Lao border and 18 miles south-southwest of the tri-border area where South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos meet. This location was also 25 miles southwest of Dak To and 36 miles west-northwest of Kontum.

John Hunsicker and Donald Burris escaped through the left cargo door uninjured. They found Timothy Purser outside the aircraft with a broken arm. They looked for James Kennedy in the downed helicopter and the area immediately surrounding the aircraft wreckage, but could found no trace of him. Because the door gunner's position is located to one side of the main cargo compartment by an open door, they thought it possible he might have decided to jump from the descending aircraft as it gyrated to the ground, or he may have fallen out of it.

Minutes after the helicopter landed, a search and rescue (SAR) helicopter arrived on site and lowered ropes with McGuire rigs through the dense jungle to the three survivors. Unfortunately, the downed aircrew had not been trained in the proper use of this equipment. After lift off, and only a few feet off the ground, SP5 Purser fell out of his rig. WO Burris and WO Hunsicker remained in their rigs as the rescue helicopter started toward Dak To. Five minutes into the flight, Donald Burris lost his grip on the rope and fell to the jungle floor below from an altitude of from 2,500 to 3,000 feet. The rescue helicopter continued on to the nearest landing zone (LZ) unaware of this latest accident.

Another SAR team was inserted into the crash site a short time later to rescue SP5 Purser. The team also searched a 200-meter radius around the downed Huey for SP4 Kennedy, but again found no sign of him. The full SAR operation was initiated for the missing pilot and door gunner, but was discontinued on 25 December with negative results. At the time the formal search was terminated, James Kennedy was declared Missing in Action. No ground search was possible to look for WO Burris because of the hostile threat in the area and the lack of information to pinpoint his exact loss location. Because of the circumstances of loss, Donald Burris was listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

There is little doubt that Donald Burris died as a result his loss. He has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country if at all possible. However, for James Kennedy who might easily have survived his loss only to have been captured by enemy forces known to be operating in this region, 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.

Pilots and aircrews 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.