|Name:||Richard John “Dick” Reardon|
|Rank/Branch:||Lieutenant JG/US Naval Reserve|
|Unit:||Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3, Detachment 3 Moc Hoa Special Forces Camp, South Vietnam|
|Date of Birth:||24 February 1944 (Brooklyn, NY)|
|Home of Record:||Huntington, NY|
|Date of Loss:||28 April 1969|
|Country of Loss:||Cambodia|
|Loss Coordinates:||104747N 1060442E
(XS179936) Official; (XS15231 98789) Actual
(XS15231 98957) Burial SIte
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Hal C. Castle, Jr. and Michael E. Schafernocker (remains recovered); James B. Page, Jr. (rescued)|
REMARKS:700200 CREW REMAINS RECOVERED
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 28 April 1969, Lt. JG Richard J. “Dick” Reardon, aircraft commander; Lt. JG Hal C. Castle, Jr., co-pilot; AO2 Michael C. “Mike” Schafernocker, crewchief; and AN James B. "Jim" Page, Jr., door gunner; comprised the crew of the #2 aircraft (serial #63-08603, tail #320), call sign “Seawolf 37,” in a flight of 2 conducting a series of morning missions near the South Vietnamese/Cambodian border. The crew of the lead aircraft (tail #305), call sign “Seawolf 38,” consisted of Lt. JG Joseph Hart, aircraft commander; Lt. Cmdr. James Keyes, co-pilot; ADJ1 Lloyd Williams, crewchief; AN Charles Larson, door gunner; and AN Dennis Miley, door gunner trainee.
At 0900 hours, the flight returned to Moc Hoa Special Forces Camp to refuel. An Army Forward Air Controller (FAC), call sign “Swamp Fox,” reported numerous abandoned sampans at a major communist infiltration route on the border and called for air support to destroy the targets. At 1000 hours, Seawolf 37 and 38 arrived in the target area that was located 8 to 10 miles northwest of Moc Hoa and covered a large area that included several large tree lines and the canal where the abandoned sampans were located. The target was also approximately 39 miles due west to Saigon. Further, in this region the canal formed part of the border dividing the two countries. On the Cambodian side of the canal/border were two Cambodian National Police outposts that were supposed to be manned by neutral personnel.
Lt. JG Reardon’s aircraft flew in trail behind Seawolf 38 so they could provide cover fire for Lt. JG Hart’s gunship as both crews put in airstrike after airstrike on the sampans. As the aircraft commanders of both helicopters made multiple rocket passes on the waterborne targets, both co-pilots zeroed in with their 4 external mounted M-60 Flex guns and the crewchiefs and door gunners fired away with their handheld “free” M-60 caliber machine guns.
After the fourth rocket attack, and as Lt JG Hart pulled off target, his gunship was struck in the cabin and cockpit by several rounds from crewserved and automatic weapons fire from concealed enemy positions hidden in two tree lines. He immediately broke hard right and away from the ground fire as he reported the coordinates of the enemy’s firing positions to Lt. JG Reardon. At the same time, the trail aircraft was also struck by heavy and accurate gunfire. Lt. JG Reardon transmitted, “I’m hit, going down.[>” >[>As the lead aircrew watched in horror while fighting for their own survival, Mike Schafernocker and Jim Page dumped rocket pods and ammo boxes through the open side doors to lighten the aircraft before impact. Lead’s crew continued to watch as Mike Schafernocker stood on the skid firing into the enemy when he was stuck by automatic weapons fire and fell under the Huey as its main rotor blade began slowing and fire was seen coming from the fuselage just before impact. The tail boom struck the ground first as the aircraft was engulfed in flames. While the two gunships were operating from the South Vietnamese side of the canal, the momentum of the disabled gunship carried it across the border where it crashed in an open rice field in an area known as the Plain of Reeds, Chantrea District, Svay Rieng Province, Cambodia.
Joseph Hart immediately transmitted a Mayday call as his crew began to lay down protective fire for the downed aircrew. During the intense exchange of gunfire, the lead helicopter was also disabled. Lt. JG Hart made a second Mayday call as his helicopter auto-rotated to the ground landing in the rice field 40 to 50 meters away from his wingman’s burning wreckage.
The crew excited and set up a defensive perimeter around their aircraft with AN Miley to the rear with an M-60 machinegun, AN Larson on the right side with an M-16 rifle, Lt. Cmdr. Keyes with an M-16 at the nose, Lt. JG Hart at the 10 o’clock position with an M-79 grenade launcher and Petty Officer Williams with an M-60 to the left at the 8 o’clock position. An intense battle raged between opposing forces on the ground and when one of the Americans tried to shift positions, the enemy fire only increased.
The crew was returning fire when James Keyes and Lloyd Williams spotted Jim Page moving around the burning wreckage of his aircraft engulfed in flames from the waste down. The transmission had fallen on top of AN Page after being thrown from his Huey. Lloyd Williams called for covering fire as he ran with his M-60 to aid the door gunner. He grabbed Jim Page , pulled him to the ground away from the burning and exploding wreckage, and cut off his gun belt and burning clothing.
While the Americans remained under heavy enemy gun fire at both crash sites, and not realizing how badly his own hands were burned, Petty Officer Williams grabbed his weapon and made his way around to the opposite side of the blazing hulk. As he searched for other survivors, the fire caused more of the rockets and machinegun ammunition on board to cook off and the intense heat drove him back. Returning to Jim Page , he left his M-60, picked up the wounded door gunner and carried him about half the distance to his own aircraft when they were forced to take cover from incoming fire.
A US Army helicopter, piloted by WO Dennis Iannazio, entered the battle site under fire to rescue Jim Page , James Keyes, Lloyd Williams Joseph Hart, Dennis Miley and Charles Larson. As the helicopter lifted off the ground, Lt. JG Hart was shot through the side immediately killing him. At the time the rescue mission was terminated, Dick Reardon, Hal Castle and Mike Schafernocker were declared Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
The wounded were transported to a hospital in Vietnam before being transferred to the United States. Jim Page was reunited with his mother and sisters in California. His mother wrote that “when he learned the rest of his crew was dead, he turned his face to the wall and said he didn’t want to live.” Six weeks after being rescued, Jim Page died from his injuries.
In February 1970, a communist soldier surrendered to US forces. During his interrogation, he reported he knew where the remains of the Seawolf’s crew were buried in Cambodia. Shortly thereafter he led a US team from Graves Registration to the crash site’s location where they recovered bone fragments and teeth. The remains were then transported to the US Mortuary at Tan Son Nhut where portions were positively identified as belonging to Lt JG Castle and AO2 Schafernocker.
In June and December 1970 additional remains were recovered from the gravesite and taken to the mortuary where they were determined to be additional remains of Hal Castle and Mike Schafernocker. However, because of the special circumstances surrounding this case and the multiple recoveries of remains, the decision was made to designate them as “CIL Portions #50” and “CIL Portions #79” in accordance with Army regulations. Further, the government retained both portions and when the mortuary at Tan Son Nhut was closed, they were transferred first to Central Identification Laboratory-Thailand (CIL-TH) and then when the lab was moved, to Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii (CIL-HI).
Charles Mouzakis, an American intelligence specialist, was also assigned to the recovery team in order to verify the information provided by the communist rallier. Some 20 years later he contact Mike Schafernocker’s mother. He provided her with detailed information, including the fact that they recovered 3 sets of teeth along with the bone fragments. He also gave her two pictures of the crash site with one being an aerial view. Later Dennis Iannazio, the helicopter pilot who rescued the survivors, contact Dorothy Schafernocker and provided her with additional information.
In 1996, 1998 and again in 1999, joint trilateral US/Cambodian/Vietnamese teams under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) returned the area of loss. They conducted surface searches as well as interviewed local residents to glean any information they possessed.
During the second of two trips into the site in 1996, one witness turned over two bones she claimed were recovered from the crash site. However, after testing the fragments, CIL-HI staff confirmed they did not belong to any of the Americans.
The 1998 JTFFA team continued excavating the reported burial site. In addition to more bits and pieces of wreckage and personal items, they recovered more possible human remains.
In January 2000, yet another JTFFA team returned to the region to interview and/or re-interview local villagers. Three men provided enough information to tentatively connect this site to the 1969 loss, and one of the men pointed out a general location of a crash site that later proved to be the wreckage of Lt JG Hart’s helicopter.
Also in early 2000, CIL-HI staff reexamined all information available to them and realized they might have portions of remains from the 1970 recovery operations still stored in their facility. After locating the material, they decided to sample them for mitochondrial DNA (mt-DNA) testing. On 26 June 2000 two bone samples were taken from the originally designated CIL Portions 50 and two bone samples from CIL Portions 79.
In December 2000, a Navy Casualty Officer contacted Mrs. Schafernocker. During their conversation, she learned that Dick Reardon’s remains had not been recovered with her son’s and Hal Castle’s. She learned, too, that in recent years the US Government had sent in several teams to try to locate the crash site in order to search it again for signs of Lt. JG Reardon, but had failed to find it. She shared all of the information, reports and photographs obtained from Charles Mouzakis and Dennis Iannazio with him. The Navy representative said that his section had never seen the photos and asked if she was willing share copies of them, which she did. A few days later she received a call from CIL-HI requesting copies of the pictures, too. The photos clearly showed that the grave site was located just north of the debris field.
In January/February 2003, another JTFFA team returned to the grave site/crash site. Based on the new photographic evidence, this time they were confident they were at the correct burial site. The team cleared the area of all vegetation, and established a search grid over it. Over the next month, they recovered small pieces of aircraft wreckage and personnel affects, but found no additional remains. Shortly after the excavation site was closed, the possible human remains were transported to CIL-HI for examination.
All of the mt-DNA samples were compared with DNA provided by Dick Reardon’s mother and brother along with the DNA sequencing for Hal Castle and Mike Schafernocker. The results confirmed the two samples taken from CIL Portions 50 and one from CIL Portions 79 matched the family reference samples of the Reardon’s.
Seven of the eight teeth recovered were imbedded in part of the right maxilla. The comparison with all three men’s dental records confirmed that the teeth matched Mike Schafernocker’s records. The three skeletal fragments that can be attributed to Lt JG Dick Reardon consist of a cranial fragment, a tibia fragment and an ulna fragment.
The remains positively identified as Dick Reardon and Mike Schafernocker were returned to each man’s family for burial with full military honors.
The loose tooth fragment had been ground to powder in preparation for DNA testing. Unfortunately, the test results were inconclusive and could not be associated with Lt. JG Reardon, Lt. JG Castle or AO2 Schafernocker. The remaining small bone fragments; which were identified as three vertebra fragments, a cranial fragment and one small postcranial fragment; also could not be associated with any of the three men based on a comparison of the available records. These unidentifiable remains were disposed of in accordance with US Army Regulations.
The family and friends of Dick Reardon finally have the peace of mind of knowing where their loved one lies. And for the family and friends of Mike Schafernocker, they have added peace in knowing that more of him rests in his native Texas soil. However, for other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different.
For 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 and Cambodia were called upon to fly 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.