Name: Ralph Joseph Reno 
Rank/Branch: Master Sergeant/US Army 
Unit: Headquarters Company,
5th Special Forces Group, 
1st Special Forces 

Date of Birth: 03 November 1929
Home of Record: Fayettville, NC
Date of Loss: 03 July 1966 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 152607N 1074758E (ZB188874)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH34 "Seahorse"
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing) 


SYNOPSIS:   One of the earliest helicopters employed in Southeast Asia, and the primary Marine Corps helicopter used during the early years of the war, was the Sikorsky UH34 Seahorse. This aircraft was already quite old when they arrived in the battle zone. However, both the US and South Vietnamese military found them to be extremely effective throughout the war.

MACV-SOG, or Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, was a joint service high command unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (though it was not a Special Forces group) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. These teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction that were called, depending on the time frame, "Shining Brass" or "Prairie Fire" missions.

On 3 July 1966, MSgt. Ralph J. Reno and SSgt. Donald Fawcett were assigned to Reconnaissance Team (RT) Nevada, MACV-SOG. The two Americans and their 10 Nung strikers were being transported from Kham Duc Forward Operating Base (FOB) located near the South Vietnamese/Lao border to Kontum on board a South Vietnamese UH34 Seahorse, call sign "Kingbee." Also onboard the helicopter was operations officer Capt. Edwin MacNamara.

The South Vietnamese aircrew, nicknamed "Cowboy" and "Mustachio." Mustachio's real name was Nguyen Van Hoang. His finely trimmed mustache gave him his nickname. Cowboy's actual name is forgotten, but his nickname arose from his preference for hand-tailored flight suits, usually in some odd camouflage pattern. Neither impossible enemy ground fire nor unflyable weather stopped them. Dozens of MACV-SOG personnel survived purely because "can't" was not in these pilots' vocabulary. Both were considered to be "absolutely fearless" by the Americans who placed their lives, and those of their men, in the hands of Cowboy and Mustachio.

When the Seahorse was flying over the extremely rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 16 miles southeast of Kham Duc and 57 miles north-northwest of Kontum, the aircraft hit severe air turbulence. The UH34's tail, which was designed to pivot for storage on aircraft carriers, had come loose, swung around and chewed the helicopter to pieces in midair. It fell over 1,500 feet in a tight spiral ejecting its passengers, crew and debris over a large area.

Over the next five days, an extensive ground and aerial search and rescue (SAR) operation was conducted. Search personnel were able to locate and recover the remains of Capt. MacNamara, SSgt. Fawcett and five Asians. The bodies of the Americans were transported to a military mortuary where they were positively identified, then returned to the men's families. The search personnel found no sign of MSgt. Reno or the remaining seven Asians. At the time the formal SAR was terminated, Ralph Reno was immediately listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

While the fate of SSgt. Fawcett was immediately resolved and his family, friends and country has the piece of mind of knowing where he now lies; for MSgt. Reno whose fate is not in doubt, but whose remains have not been turned over to the United States, questions still exist. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different then that of the Seahorse's crew and passengers.

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 servicemen in Vietnam were called upon to operate 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.