|Name:||Clarence Albert Latimer|
|Rank/Branch:||Sergeant First Class/US Army|
4th Infantry Division
|Date of Birth:||27 August 1947 (Charlotte, NC)|
|Home of Record:||Due West, SC|
|Date of Loss:||27 March 1969|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Staus in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Raymond G. Czerwiec (Missing); Gail M. Kerns (released POW)|
SYNOPSIS: On 27 March 1969, then SP4 Clarence Latimer, Sgt. Raymond Czerwiec and Sgt. Gail Kerns were riflemen assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry. Their platoon was on a reconnaissance mission to locate and report on enemy activity in the hotly contested mountains between the Cambodian border and the very important central highlands of South Vietnam.
The patrol came under concentrated hostile weapons fire from well entrenched, and equally well concealed, enemy positions. In the intense firefight, the platoon sustained heavy casualties and the Americans were forced to withdraw under fire. According to surviving platoon members, SP4 Latimer was severely wounded in the initial burst of gunfire. There was no information on the condition of Sgt. Czerwiec, Sgt. Kerns or five other Americans who were missing afterward. All eight men were tentatively listed missing. The location of this ground action was in an extremely rugged, mountainous region approximately 13 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Cambodian border, 27 miles west-southwest of the US military base at Kontum and the same distance south-southwest of Dak To, Kontum Province, South Vietnam.
An attempt to reenter the battle site that afternoon was repelled by well-armed dug in communist forces. Another attempt was made the next day, but it was also thwarted. Since the Americans were unable to dislodge enemy troops using ground troops, the decision was made to call in air strikes and artillery fire. These fire missions and air strikes continued for two days.
On 30 March, Company A once
again attacked the entrenched enemy fortifications, and was again forced to
withdraw under fire. The area was once more subjected to heavy air bombardment
and artillery fire for one week. After it was lifted, two long range reconnaissance
patrols (LRRP) were sent into the area to recover the bodies of their fellow
soldiers. Sweeps were conducted of the area for two days. During this time,
they were able to recover five bodies of the eight missing men. Those remains
were first sent to a US mortuary, then when positively identified, returned
to the men's families for burial. The recovery team found no trace of SP4
Clarence Latimer, Sgt. Raymond Czerwiec or Sgt. Gail Kerns in or around the
battle site. At the time the formal search effort was terminated, all three
men were listed Missing In Action.
The VC/NVA imprisoned Gail Kerns in a camp located in the jungle covered mountains close to the Cambodian border. While there were other Americans in the camp, he was kept in isolation. For two months he was fed only salted rice gruel. The other prisoners repeatedly requested their own rations be cut and more given to the crippled sergeant, but the guards refused. The other POWs also repeatedly asked the camp commander to allow Gail Kerns to be moved in with them so they could help give him physical therapy needed to restore the use of his right arm. That privilege was also denied. Because of that, Gail Kerns lost the use of his right arm and roughly 50% of the use of his left leg. Eventually all the prisoners in this camp were moved to North Vietnam prior to Operation Homecoming. Gail Kerns was returned to US Control on 5 March 1973.
If Raymond Czerwiec and Clarence Latimer died in combat in that enemy ambush, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they were captured as was Gail Kerns, their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way, the communists could return them any time they had the desire to do so.
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.
Military personnel in Vietnam were called upon to fight 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.