|Name:||Paul Chester King, Jr.|
|Rank/Branch:||Private First Class/US Army|
Special Operations Augmentation
Command & Control North,
5th Special Forces Group,
1st Special Forces
|Date of Birth:||17 March 1949|
|Home of Record:||Waltham, MA|
|Date of Loss:||04 May 1968|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Killed/Body Not Recovered|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||John Allen (rescued) and Ken Cryan (remains recovered)|
SYNOPSIS: MACV-SOG, or Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, was a joint service high command unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (though it was not a Special Forces group) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. These teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction which were called, depending on the time frame, "Shining Brass" or "Prairie Fire" missions.
Oscar Eight was the code name given to a sector of eastern Laos located in rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 25 miles northwest of the infamous A Shau Valley, Saravane Province, Laos. The area encompassed the junction of Highway 92, which was a primary north-south artery of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and Highway 922, which branched off and ran directly east where it crossed into South Vietnam at a strategic point near the northern edge of the A Shau Valley. Oscar Eight was also located at the southeastern end of a large and narrow jungle covered valley that had two primary roads running through it, one on each side of the valley. Highway 92 ran along the west side and Highway 919 along the east. A power line ran parallel to Highway 92 and sometimes crossed it. In addition to the roads and power line, the Hoi An River also flowed through the valley passing the road junction roughly 1 mile west of it.
More American aircraft were downed in this sector than any other place in Laos. This was because burrowed deep in the hills of Oscar Eight was North Vietnamese General Vo Bam's 559th Transportation Group's forward headquarters. It was also the Ho Chi Minh Trail's control center and contained the largest NVA storage facility outside of North Vietnam.
On 3 May 1968, SSgt. John Allen, team leader; SP5 Kenneth "Ken" Cryan, assistant team leader; PFC Paul C. King, Jr., medic/radio operator, and 6 Nung tribesmen, comprised "RT Alabama," a reconnaissance team conducting an intelligence gathering mission in the rugged, isolated and hotly contested jungle covered mountains of extreme eastern Laos believed to conceal an entire NVA division that had been pushed out of the A Shau Valley when the 1st Cavalry Division swept it.
RT Alabama was inserted by helicopter into their area of operation. As the aircraft neared the landing zone (LZ), the Americans saw bunkers, trails and hootches flash by beneath the trees. Once safely on the ground and with no sign of the NVA at the LZ, SSgt. Allen chose to radio the customary "Team OK" before moving out.
Roughly an hour into the mission, John Allen signaled the team to halt as he whispered to Ken Cryan, "This don't look right, don't smell right, just don't feel right." The team leader signaled his men to stay in place while he and one of the Nungs crept forward. They moved only about 250 yards when the foliage opened into a man made clearing with upper tree branches tied together to form a natural camouflage. In the middle of the clearing stood an elaborate bamboo and palm leaf house that was obviously a major NVA headquarters with soldiers coming and going. Beyond the headquarters building and dug into the hillside was a tunnel so wide that two men walking side by side could easily enter it. SSgt. Allen snapped several photos of the complex, and then quietly returned to his team's position.
Ken Cryan reported several NVA had passed nearby. Thinking that they were enemy trackers, SSgt. Allen determined it was wise to change locations. The Americans heard shouts from their left and brush breaking on their back trail. Minutes later the pointman led them across a freshly constructed high-speed trail they thought led directly into the headquarters area they just discovered. With enemy voices only 50 yards behind them, RT Alabama increased its pace to a trot. They heard more Vietnamese voices and crashing brush coming from their right and rear as they crossed another well developed trail.
The team picked up the pace again to a full run as SSgt. Allen directed them up a steep hill. As the team moved rapidly uphill, enemy troops opened fire wildly spraying the area with AK-47 and machine gun fire. In response, all members of RT Alabama emptied their CAR-15s in quick bursts. In the initial burst of gunfire, SP5 Cryan was wounded in the right thigh and a Nung was killed by an AK-47 round to his chest.
SSgt. Allen grabbed the wounded American while other Nungs picked up their dead friend. While PFC King frantically radioed for assistance, the team forged through the thick brush scanning the terrain for any place that looked defendable. John Allen spotted a bomb crater 50 yards up-slope. SSgt. Allen threw a grenade downhill to buy a few precious seconds for them to race to the crater and roll into it. The crater provided the team good protection while providing them with a clear field of fire in all directions. Immediately SSgt. Allen laid out an orange panel in the center of the crater to mark their position. The crater was located approximately 5 miles due south of the A Shau Valley, 57 miles due west of DaNang, South Vietnam and 3 miles south of the Lao/North Vietnamese border, Xekong Province, Laos.
Paul King rapidly turned his attention to the casualties. He confirmed that the Nung tribesman was dead before tearing open SP5 Cryan's bloodied pants. He noted the AK-47 round shattered Ken Cryan's femur. Being careful not to give the wounded man too large of a dose, PFC King injected him with morphine to deaden the pain, but not render him unconscious. Meanwhile, the team leader and Nungs stripped grenades from their web gear and stacked them in the soft earth. Next SSgt. Allen collected two dozen 40mm grenade rounds the Nungs carried for his pistol-sized sawed-off M-79 grenade launcher.
RT Alabama had been in the crater only two minutes when a line of NVA charged their position from the woodline below. Three grenades and heavy CAR-15 fire was sprayed over the lip of the crater forced them back. A second enemy probe from up-slope was also turned back. Periodically for over an hour the team heard NVA soldiers moving toward them and responded with grenades thrown in a high arc so it would explode in an airburst above the enemy. Finally Paul King looked up from the radio he had been manning and shouted, "I've got Covey," the Forward Air Controller (FAC) who was circling nearby. SSgt. Allen slid down the side of the crater and grabbed the radio's handset and told PFC King to "handle things topside." The team leader began talking to the FAC when the young medic peeked over the edge. As Paul King opened his mouth to shout directions, a bullet struck him in the head killing him instantly and flipping him backward. John Allen laid the body of his medic next to the dead Nung at the bottom for the crater.
The FAC notified the survivors of RT Alabama that tactical air support was inbound. Within minutes TACAIR began to arrive on station. First a pair of F-4 Phantoms dropped 500-pound bombs on enemy positions. Other F-4s, followed by F-100 Super Sabres and A-1 Skyraiders, made pass after pass riddling the NVA with cannon fire, cluster bombs and napalm.
Extraction Huey helicopters arrived onsite. The pilot of the lead helicopter radioed the embattled ground team asking, "Is it secure down there?" SSgt. Allen laughed, then responded, "Secure? Hell no, it's not secure. And the longer you wait the worse it's gonna get, but I think their heads are down." Two Skyraiders were cleared in on the napalm run. Afterward, John Allen peeked over the edge and the only NVA he saw were either dead or running away. Finally the lead Huey dropped low above trees 100 yards away as John Allen waved the orange panel to direct the aircraft to their exact position. The Huey took a few hits from ground fire and accelerated in a climb away from the crater. By now the helicopters were low on fuel and darkness was settling in. Covey continued to direct air strikes until it was too dark to continue. He promised John Allen he would be back at first light the next morning.
The survivors put out and wired 4 claymore mines along the most likely approaches to their position so the mines could be detonated on command from the crater. SSgt. Allen instructed the Nungs not to fire their weapons, but to use the remaining grenades as the muzzle flashes would give away their positions. He checked Ken Cryan and loosened the tourniquet and gave him another dose of morphine. Beginning roughly a half hour after dark and continuing throughout the night, the NVA probed the crater's perimeter. Using the claymores, hand grenades and the modified M-79 grenade launcher, RT Alabama successfully kept the enemy at bay.
Just before dawn, John Allen once again checked Ken Cryan. While adjusting the tourniquet, he told his friend who was weakening and in a great deal of pain not to worry. During the pre-dawn half-light, John Allen spoke individually to each of the 5 surviving Nung applauding the fine job they had done. Of the five, only one had been slightly wounded. At dawn the NVA initiated an all-out assault with intersecting machinegun fire and whole salvos of RPG rounds as NVA troops fired small arms and automatic weapon as they advance toward the crater. At least 4 Chicom grenades were tossed into the crater, but all 4 were thrown back out before they exploded.
With the NVA assault troops almost to the edge of the crater, SSgt. Allen shouted, "Now!" The team leader and all five of the Nung rose up as they fired directly into and cutting down a line of NVA seconds before they would have overrun RT Alabama's position. Unfortunately in the savage exchange of gunfire, 4 of the 5 Nungs were killed.
Covey was again overhead with a force of aircraft bent on rescuing the survivors. As the first pair of fighter initiated their attack on NVA positions, they abruptly learned the enemy had established a ring of six 12.7mm machineguns located some 500 yards from the crater's rim. During the night, the enemy brought in 37mm anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) pieces. These artilllery pieces substantially increased the leathal AAA fire in the area.
Fighters flew low over the devastated mountainside concentrating on attacking enemy positions. One F-4 was struck by 37mm fire and exploded in mid-air. The Phantom's aircrew successfully ejected and both men were later rescued. Covey directed more air strikes as close to the crater as he dared. Finally he and the helicopters were forced to return to South Vietnam to rearm and refuel. While they were gone, a Skyraider pilot continued to direct more air strikes.
When Covey returned, he resumed directing the intense aerial bombardment until a flight of US Air Force helicopters were prepared to attempt to snatch the survivors. The lead helicopter pilot informed John Allen of their plan stating that they could not land on the steep hillside and would lower a three-seat penetrator to them. However, he quickly added that because it had a very limited lift capacity in high altitude and high air temperature density, he could only lift two men. SSgt. Allen shouted into his headset, "But the penetrator is built for three men. We have three men down here!" The pilot insisted and John Allen told him to send it down.
A pair of Skyraiders roared overhead with miniguns and cannons groaning as the penetrator landed. John Allen lashed Ken Cryan into one seat while the Nung slid into an adjacent folding seat. He leaned his face close to Ken Cryan's and shouted over the roar of the aircraft's engines, "See ya at Phu Bai!" As the helicopter lifted up and way, enemy bullets struck first the Nung, then Ken Cryan. SSgt. Allen watched in horror as enemy tracer rounds continued to follow his men as the rescue heleicopter slipped away. With visions of his men hanging helplessly in the penetrator, he radioed Covey informing him he intended to make a break for it. Covey called in devastating air strikes in and around the crater while the lone survivor wedged himself between the bodies of his teammates. When it lifted, he ran full speed downhill killing several enemy soldiers along the way before jumping into a chest-high washout. Roughly 100 yards down the washout, John Allen passed a machinegun pit on his right. As he pulled along side of it, he leveled his CAR-15 at its 5-man crew killing all of them. From the sounds of the shouts coming from behind him, the team leader knew the NVA realized an American had escaped and were after him.
Nearly exhausted, he found a cave-like washout large enough to crawl into. After establishing radio contact with Covey, he requested fighters to blanket the entire hillside with 20mm fire, machineguns, rockets and cluster bombs. A South Vietnamese Kingbee H34 helicopter assigned to the VNAF 219th Special Operations Squadron raced in to rescue SSgt. Allen as soon as the air strike was lifted. As it approached the American's hiding place, a 12.7mm machinegun fired on it until it tipped into the jungle and exploded upon impact. John Allen again ran downhill directing air strikes in front of him. A Huey was also struck by ground fire, but its crew survived and was rescued.
John Allen changed direction and over the next two hours managed to evade his pursuers with the aid of several additional air strikes. Finally he came upon a large open field. Covey arranged for a nearby Kingbee helicopter to spiral down to the makeshift LZ where upon John Allen ran for his life and jumped aboard. Within an hour, the South Vietnamese aircraft landed at Phu Bai Airfield. Once on the ground, John Allen learned that Ken Cryan and his Nung tribesman lifted out by the Jolly Green had died. Each man's body had had been riddled by more then 30 bullets apiece.
During his debriefing, SSgt. Allen reported that the last time he saw Paul King's body, it was lying very close to the body of the first Nung to be killed. The bodies of the other 3 Nungs were also in the crater, but closer to the other side of it. Because the area was under total enemy control, no additional SAR operation was possible to recover the remains of Paul King and the Nungs. At the time John Allen was debriefed, Paul King was reported as Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
For every insertion like this one that was detected and stopped, dozens of others safely slipped past NVA lines to strike a wide range of targets and collect vital information. The number of MACV-SOG missions conducted with Special Forces reconnaissance teams into Laos and Cambodia was 452 in 1969. It was the most sustained American campaign of raiding, sabotage and intelligence-gathering waged on foreign soil in US military history. MACV-SOG's teams earned a global reputation as one of the most combat effective deep-penetration forces ever raised.
Paul King is among 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.
While the fate of PFC Paul King is not in doubt, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country if at all possible. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate 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.
American servicemen in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to operate 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.