|Name:||James Martin Luttrell|
|Rank/Branch:||Master Sergeant/US Army|
|Unit:||Support Headquarters, 5th Special Forces Group with orders to Task Force 1, Advisory Element Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observation Group|
|Date of Birth:||14 December 1935 (Milwaukee, WI)|
|Home of Record:||Fayetteville, NC|
|Date of Loss:||10 May 1971|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Lewis C. Walton and Klaus J. Bingham (missing)|
SYNOPSIS: On 8 February 1971, South Vietnamese President Thieu announced Lam Son 719, a large-scale offensive against enemy communications and supply lines in that part of Laos adjacent to the two northern provinces of South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The mission was to interdict the flow of supplies from North Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) would provide and command ground forces, while US forces would provide airlift and supporting fire. Phase I, renamed Operation Dewey Canyon II, involved an armored attack by the US from Vandegrift Base Camp toward Khe Sanh, while the ARVN moved into position for the attack across the Laotian border. Phase II began with an ARVN helicopter assault and armored brigade thrust along Route 9 into Laos. ARVN ground troops were transported by American helicopters, as the US Air Force provided cover strikes around the landing zones.
After Lam Son, the ARVN all but abandoned western I Corps and the demilitarized zone (DMZ), thereby yielding immense areas to the communists. It became MACV-SOG's job to find new redoubts and document what the enemy was doing in them. Ominously, in April Command and Control North (CCN) teams discovered a new road coming out of Laos just north of the A Shau Valley, pointed dangerously toward the populated coastal plain north of Hue. They uncovered the NVA making massive improvements to an existing road pointed directly at the DaNang area. Heavy NVA forces made penetrations all but impossible, and it was as if a curtain were being lowered to conceal their activities.
While Klaus J. Bingham, James M. Luttrell and Lewis C. Walton were assigned to Support Headquarters Company, 5th Special Forces Group, they were under orders to Military Assistance Command Vietnam - Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG) was a joint service unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel into MACV-SOG through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA) that provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. These teams performed highly classified, deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction that were called, depending on the location and time frame, "Shining Brass," “Salem House,” “Daniel Boone” or "Prairie Fire" missions
On 3 May 1971, SSgt. James M. Luttrell, SSgt. Lewis C. Walton and then SSgt. Klaus J. Bingham, along with three Montagnards, comprised the 6-man reconnaissance team "Asp." The team was inserted by helicopter into rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 1½ miles south of the primary east/west road and 9 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Lao border, 14 miles south of the southern edge of the A Shau Valley and 43 miles west-southwest of DaNang, Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam. Their mission was to penetrate that enemy veil of secrecy and report on their activities. Ten minutes after landing, the team radioed a "Team okay," then moved out through the jungle.
On 4 May the area was searched by the onsite Forward Air Controller (FAC) who attempted to make a scheduled radio check with the team, but he was unable to raise Team Asp on the radio or make a visual sighting of the team.
On 5 May two pilots operating in this area reported seeing both mirror and panel signals 50 meters west of the landing zone (LZ). These signals were monitored for about 15 minutes, then stopped. Both pilots continued to search the area for 3 hours, but could not establish additional contact with the team. Meanwhile, the FAC attempted to raise the team on the radio.
At 1404 hours on 5 May the FAC saw two people wearing dark green fatigues laying down panel signals indicating the need for assistance and an immediate extraction. Recovery helicopters were launched at 1500 hours that day with rescue teams aboard, but they could not be inserted into the area because of bad weather. The FAC stayed on station until 1700 hours, but no voice contact was ever established with any of the team members of Asp.
On 6 May weather again prohibited search and rescue (SAR) attempts, and on 7 May hostile ground fire prevented another rescue team from landing. Poor weather conditions continued until 14 May, which prevented any further rescue attempts until the weather cleared sufficiently. The SAR team was finally inserted on 14 May, and was extracted the same day without finding any trace of the missing patrol. At the time formal search efforts were terminated, Klaus Bingham, Lewis Walton and James Luttrell were listed Missing in Action as of 10 May 1971.
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.
Lewis Walton, Klaus Bingham and James Luttrell were all seasoned soldiers who were well trained and very capable of surviving under adverse conditions. They attempted to communicate through mirror and panel signals when they were unable to make contact by radio, and they were alive and free when last sighted. If they died as a result of a firefight with enemy forces, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, they most certainly could have been captured by those enemy forces known to be pursuing them and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is no doubt the communists have the answers and could return them or their remains 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 men 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.