PFISTER, JAMES F. JR.

Name: James F. Pfister, Jr. 
Rank/Branch: Private First Class/US Army 
Unit: 71st Aviation Company, 145th Aviation Battalion, 
12th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade 

Date of Birth: 19 June 1948 
Home of Record: Indianapolis, IN
Date of Loss: 05 January 1968 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 153557N 1081012E (AT967265)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Returned Prisoner of War 
Category:

Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1C "Iroquois"
Other Personnel In Incident: Robert Lewis III and Francis G. Anton (released POWs); Frank Carson (evaded capture) 

REMARKS:  730305 RELEASED BY PRG

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.

In preparation for the massive Tet Offensive, which included the siege of Khe Sanh in northwestern South Vietnam, the NVA and VC moved thousand of troops into staging areas and stockpiled large quantities of supplies in strategic locations. They also attempted to take over specific locations that could be used by American and South Vietnamese forces to transport troops and supplies to the primary target areas. One of those strategic areas was Happy Valley with Highway 548, the primary east/west road, running from major centers to Khe Sanh.

In early January 1968, elements of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 196th Light Infantry Brigade (Americal) were engaged in a prolonged battle with VC forces in Que Son Valley, also known as "Happy Valley," Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. The sector in which the battle was taking place was densely populated and hotly contested; covered in rice fields, small hamlets and villages, scattered forested areas and elephant grass. It was located approximately 21 miles west-northwest of Tam Ky, 24 miles northeast of Kham Duc, 29 miles south-southwest of the southern end of the DaNang airfield runways and 36 miles northwest of Chu Lai.

During the night of 5 January 1968, aircraft from the 71st Aviation Company were called in to provide close air support for ground troops.  WO1 Francis G. "Bones" Anton, pilot; WO Frank Carson, co-pilot; SP4 Robert Lewis III, door gunner; and PFC James F. Pfister, Jr., crewchief; comprised the crew of a Huey gunship (serial #504) participating in this operation. As the gunship made an attack pass on an enemy position it was struck by hostile ground fire and crashed into a rice field on the south side of Highway 548. All four crewmen safely evacuated the Huey and began to escape and evade. Frank Carson successfully reached friendly forces. However, the other three were not so lucky. After 12 hours on the ground, Frank Anton, Robert Lewis and James Pfister were captured in a rice field near their downed aircraft.

After capture, the American POWs were taken to a VC run camp known as ST18. This camp was located in heavy jungle just south of the town of Tam Ky and roughly 15 miles west-northwest of the major US base at Chu Lai, Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam.

For Americans captured in South Vietnam, daily life could be brutally difficult. Some of the camps were actually way stations the VC used for a variety of reasons. Others were regular POW camps. Regardless of size and primary function, conditions in the VC run camps frequently included the prisoners' being tied at night to their bamboo bunks anchored by rope to a post in their small bamboo shelters. In others, they were held in bamboo cages, commonly referred to as tiger cages, and in yet other camps the dense jungle itself provided the bars to their cage. There was rarely enough food and water to sustain them, and as a result, the Americans suffered from a wide variety of illnesses in addition to their injuries and wounds.

Likewise, the primitive lifestyle imposed on these men by their guards was particularly barbaric. Prisoners were reduced to animals, relying on the basic instinct of survival as their guide. After months in this psychological conditioning, many prisoners lucky enough to survive the early adjustment period of captivity, discovered that they were considerably better treated if they became docile prisoners who did not resist their captors.

Unlike those Americans held in the North Vietnam prison system, the POWs held in the south did not naturally assume a command structure among themselves primarily because the vast majority of them were lower ranking enlisted men whereas those held in the north were primarily officers who were pilots and aircrews. Had such a structure emerged, it would have brought comfort, order and structure to their chaotic existence. It would have also encouraged them to resist the communists instead of allowing the communists to successfully use divide and conquer tactics against their captives.

In 1992, a National Security Agency (NSA) correlation study of all communist radio intercepts pertaining to missing Americans, which was presented to the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in a classified format, was finally declassified and made public. According to this document, 1 North Vietnamese radio message was intercepted and correlated to this incident. The NSA synopsis states: "Liberation News Agency broadcast of letter purportedly written by four captured US servicemen; "…G. Aton (sic), Warrant Officer 1, 71st Assault Helicopter Company A…"

Frank Anton, James Pfister and Robert Lewis eventually were moved from captivity in South Vietnam to the prison system in North Vietnam. All three men returned to US control in March 1973 during Operation Homecoming.

For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate turned out to 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 military men 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.