|Name:||Robert Francis Scherdin|
|Rank/Branch:||Sergeant First Class/US Army|
Studies and Observation Group,
Command and Control North 5th Special Forces Group,
1st Special Forces DaNang, South Vietnam
|Date of Birth:||14 February 1947 (Somerville, NJ)|
|Home of Record:||Somerville, NJ|
|Date of Loss:||24 April 1969|
|Country of Loss:||Cambodia|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||(none missing)|
SYNOPSIS: MACV-SOG, or Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, 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 (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 location and time frame, "Shining Brass," "Daniel Boone," "Salem House" or "Prairie Fire" missions.
When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos and Cambodia for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and to an untrained eye was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.
On 29 December 1968, then PFC Robert F. Scherdin, assistant team leader, was assigned to a 10-man reconnaissance patrol that had been inserted into Cambodia in the tri-border region where South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia meet. The team was comprised of two Americans and eight Montagnards. The rugged mountains in this region were covered in forested areas dotted with clearings and groves of bamboo. This sector was heavily populated with NVA, as well as being heavily defended and hotly contested because of its strategic location that contained the southern-most portions of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
As the team prosecuted its mission, the team leader suspected enemy forces were located nearby and took 4 Montagnards with him to investigate the area ahead of them. At 1450 hours, as the rear element with PFC Scherdin in command, moved forward toward the team leader's position, it came under heavy automatic weapons fire from a concealed enemy position. Nguang, one of the Montagnards with Robert Scherdin, saw him fall to the ground on his right side. Nguang tried to help PFC Scherdin stand up, but the assistant team leader only groaned and would not get up. As the firefight raged around them, Nguang was wounded. At that time, he realized the other three members of the rear element were moving away from the ambush site and he quickly joined them.
The five members of the lead element continued a running gun battle with the NVA. They finally broke contact and the team leader established radio contact with the Forward Air Controller (FAC), call sign "Covey," who had been circling overhead, to request an immediate emergency extraction. The lead element was extracted a short time later followed by the four Montagnard members of the rear element. After the extraction was completed, the team leader was informed that PFC Scherdin had been wounded and because of the tactical situation, had to be left behind. Later US intelligence confirmed that the team had been hit by a large NVA pursuit force.
The location of the firefight was less then 1 mile east of the Cambodian/Lao border, approximately 3 miles west of the Cambodian/South Vietnamese border and 17 miles west of Dak To, South Vietnam.
On 30 December 1968, a search and rescue (SAR) Bright Light platoon-size team was inserted into the area to search for Robert Scherdin. 1st Lt. James R. Jerson, Hatchet Force team leader; SFC Robert "Bob" Howard, assistant team leader; and 38 indigenous team members were inserted into the area of loss to search for the missing American. As the team moved up the mountain toward the location where Robert Scherdin fell, 1st Lt. Jerson and SFC Howard discussed the probability that they would be attacked. Within minutes a communist Chinese manufactured claymore mine was detonated seriously wounding several team members including both of the Americans and initiating a fierce battle between the Hatchet Force and an estimated 2-company NVA force.
Over the next 3½ hours, the small SAR force, with the assistance of multiple air strikes, repulsed repeated enemy attacks on their position. Finally the Hatchet Force was able to sufficiently secure the original landing zone (LZ) long enough to extract the surviving team members, which numbered less then half of the men who had been inserted. Of the two Americans assigned to the Bright Light Hatchet Force, 1st Lt. James Jerson died of his wounds while SFC Bob Howard survived and was awarded this nation's highest award for valor, The Congressional Medal of Honor, for his actions during this mission.
In January 1969, the rear element of the original team was reinserted into the battle site to search for Robert Scherdin. That team, which was comprised entirely of Montagnards, remained on the ground for four days. There was no information about the fate of PFC Scherdin because the team died in a helicopter crash shortly after their own emergency extraction. At the time the formal search and rescue/recovery effort was terminated, Robert Scherdin was reported as Missing in Action.
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.
If Robert Scherdin died of the wounds he sustained during this firefight, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he survived, he most certainly was captured and his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is absolutely no question the Vietnamese have the answers and could return him or his 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 American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Military men in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia 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.