SMITH, HARDING EUGENE, JR.

Remains returned 20 Jun 95 ; Identified 28 Apr 03
Name: Harding Eugene Smith, Jr. 
Rank/Branch: Colonel/US Air Force 
Unit: 4th Air Commando Squadron
 Ubon Airbase, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 11 March 1918
Home of Record: Los Gatos, CA 
Date of Loss: 03 June 1966 
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 170400N 1055900E (XD054858) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: AC47 "Puff the Magic Dragon"
Other Personnel In Incident: Russell D. Martin; Harold E. Mullins; Luther L. Rose; Ervin Warren and Theodore E. Kryszak (missing) 

REMARKS:  WRECKAGE SITED - NO TRACE OF CREW

SYNOPSIS:  The Douglas AC47 aircraft, nicknamed "Puff the Magic Dragon", introduced a new principle to air attack in Vietnam. Troubled by difficulties in conducting nighttime defense, Captain Ronald Terry of the US Air Force Aeronautical Systems Division remembered reading about flying missionaries in Latin America who lowered baskets of supplies on a rope from a tightly circling airplane. Throughout the series of pylon turns, the basket remained suspended over a selected point on the ground. Could this principle be applied to fire from automatic weapons? Tests proved it could, and could be extremely successful.

Puff's "flare kicker" illuminated the target, then the pilot used a mark on the window to his left as a gun sight and circled slowly as three multi-barrel 7-62mm machine guns fired 18,000 rounds per minute from the door and two windows in the port (left) side of the passenger compartment. The aircraft was called "Puff" after a popular song of the day, and because it resembled a dragon overhead with flames billowing from its guns. American and allied troops on the ground welcomed the nocturnal presence of Puff, and the later Spooky version that was essentially the same as Puff, because of its ability to concentrate a heavy dose of defensive fire in a surgically determined area.

When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos 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 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 3 June 1966,  Capt. Theodore E. Kryszak, pilot; 1st Lt. Russell D. Martin, co-pilot;Then  Lt. Col. Harding E. Smith, navigator; TSgt. Harold E. Mullins, flight engineer; TSgt. Luther L. Rose, aerial gunner; and SSgt. Ervin Warren, loadmaster; comprised the crew of a AC47 gunship that was conducting an armed reconnaissance mission to locate and interdict communist activity moving along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Khammouane Province, Laos. The Puff was under the operational control of the onsite Forward Air Controller (FAC).

At 2125 hours, the FAC and gunship were operating along Route 912, less then 20 miles southwest of the Ban Karai Pass, one of two major ports of entry into the Ho Chi Minh Trail used by the North Vietnamese when they infiltrated into Laos. At a point about 10 miles east of the town of Ban Pha Philang, the gunship was firing on an enemy target when it was struck by hostile enemy ground fire. Capt. Kryszak transmitted that his aircraft was on fire and flames could be seen in the right wing root. Fire soon engulfed the entire right side of the aircraft and burning pieces began to fall away from it. Capt. Kryszak issued a bailout order to his crew, which was heard over the radio by the FAC.

After the bailout order was given, the FAC watched as the gunship continued in straight and level flight for approximately 5 to 10 seconds before turning nose over and crashing in a high angle dive before impacting the ground 30 miles northeast of Tchepone. The FAC reported he did not observe hostile ground fire directed at the AC47. Further, in the darkness, he saw no parachutes and heard no emergency radio beepers emanating from the dense jungle below.

The location of loss was on the south edge of a large valley covered in dense jungle approximately 1 mile south of Route 912, 2 miles southeast of the junction between Route 911 and Route 912, 20 miles southwest of the Ban Karai Pass and 30 miles northwest of Tchepone. The entire area was heavily populated with villages of all sizes and NVA military Binh Trams, established way stations the communists used for a variety of purposes including vehicle maintenance, storage and supply, etc.

The FAC immediately requested a search and rescue (SAR) mission be initiated. The airborne force located the gunship's tail assembly, but no evidence of the crew was found in or around the wreckage. At the time the search operation was terminated, Theodore Kryszak, Russell Martin, Harding Smith, Harold Mullins, Ervin Warren and Luther Rose were reported as Missing in Action.

According to the Air Force, subsequent searches for the aircraft revealed the wreckage of the aircraft, but that the crew could not be located. All personnel onboard were declared Missing in Action.

On 13 September 1966, the communist Pathet Lao news service reported that Harding Eugene Smith was shot down on 3 June 1966 when his aircraft was bombing a Pathet Lao controlled area. While the news report provides personal information about the gunship’s navigator, it does not indicate whether he is alive or did. Further, provides no information about the fate of the other crewmen.

If Theodore Kryszak, Russell Martin, Harding Smith, Harold Mullins, Ervin Warren and Luther Rose died in their loss of their gunship, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived their loss, they most certainly could have been captured; and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is little doubt that the Vietnamese and/or Laotians have the answers and could return them or their 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.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam and Laos 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.