Name: Joseph Paul Nolan, Jr.
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Army 
Unit: Company A, 101st Aviation Battalion, 
101st Airborne Division 

Date of Birth: 20 May 1950 
Home of Record: Oak Park, IL 
Date of Loss: 16 May 1971 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 161527N 1072019E (YC499987) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1H "Huey"
Other Personnel In Incident: Craig L. Farlow; Timothy J. Jacobsen and Elliott Crook; (missing) 


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 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. On 16 May 1971, one of the few attempts using South Vietnamese troops against the rapidly growing NVA presence in this region was made. On that date then 1st Lt. Joseph P. Nolan, pilot; W1 Craig L. Farlow, aircraft commander;  SP4 Elliott Crook, crew chief; and SP4 Timothy J. Jacobsen, door gunner; comprised the crew of a UH1H helicopter in a flight of seven conducting a combat assault insertion of ARVN Marines into a landing zone (LZ) east of the infamous A Shau Valley.

On departing the LZ, pilots of the fifth and sixth helicopters stated that they were taking fire from enemy positions hidden in the tree line. 1st Lt. Nolan's helicopter was the last aircraft to land in the small clearing on the jungle covered mountain slope. After touchdown, and as the ARVN Marines were rapidly unloading, the pilot radioed they were taking heavy ground fire and his crew chief had been wounded. Unfortunately, he did not report the extent of those wounds. As soon as all the troops were offloaded, 1st Lt. Nolan immediately took off. When the Huey was at an altitude of 250 feet, witnesses saw his aircraft rapidly lose rotor RPM and crash into the treetops, then burst into flames as it settled to the ground. In the smoke from the fire and the chaos of the battle surrounding the LZ, no survivors were seen to exit the aircraft.

The location of the crash site was approximately 1 mile north of a primary road that ran from the A Shau Valley northeast of the city of Hue and branching off to the Hue/Phu Bai Airfield, 4 miles northeast of the A Shau Valley floor and 11 miles west of the South Vietnamese/Lao border, Thua Thin Province, South Vietnam.

Eight days later, on 24 May, a search and recovery (SAR) team was inserted into the crash site to make a ground search for the missing aircrew in and around the wreckage. They found and recovered two partial skulls and one partial right foot, all badly burned. Members of the team noted that there were "four more possible remains" trapped beneath the wreckage. Because of hostile fire, the SAR team was forced to depart before recovering the other remains. Later mortuary personnel determined the two partial skulls were Vietnamese, not American.

Because of the large number of communist troops surrounding the LZ and the possibility the remains trapped under the aircraft belonged to enemy personnel killed by the Huey and not those of the aircrew, Craig Farlow, Elliott Crook, Joseph Nolan and Timothy Jacobsen were listed Missing in Action at the time the formal SAR effort was terminated.

If 1st Lt. Nolan, W1 Farlow, SP4 Crook and SP4 Jacobsen died in the fire that gutted their aircraft, they have a right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country. However, if they managed to escape the Huey before it burst into flames, they most certainly would have been captured; and their 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 American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam were called upon to fly and 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.