SMITH, HERBERT EUGENE

Remains Returned 3 March 1988; Identified 21 August 1988
Name: Herbert E. Smith 
Rank/Branch: Chief Master Sergeant/US Air Force 
Unit: 630th Consolidated Maintenance Sq. 
Udorn Airfield, Thailand 





Date of Birth: 01 March 1936
Home of Record: Appalachicola, FL 
Date of Loss: 29 July 1966
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 204300N 10454953E (VH998943) 
Click coordinates to view (4) maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: RC47D "Skytrain"
Other Personnel in Incident: Robert J. DiTommaso, Robert E. Hoskinson, and Galileo F. Bossio, (missing); James S. Hall, Vincent A. Chiarello, John Mamiya, and Bernard Conklin (remains returned) 

REMARKS:  DEAD/FIR 317-09130 74

SYNOPSIS:  One of the most versatile and ageless aircraft of all time was the Douglas C47 Skytrain. The unarmed RC47D performed its duties as an Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center as well as reconnaissance aircraft with the same dependability as it had since it first entered service during World War II. Some of these RC47Ds carried special equipment for radio direction finding to increase its versatility.

On 29 July, Maj. Galileo F. Bossio, aircraft commander; Capt. Robert E. Hoskinson, pilot; Capt. Bernard Conklin, co-pilot; 1st Lt. Vincent A. Chiarello, intelligence officer; 1st Lt. Robert J. DiTommaso, intelligence officer; SSgt. James S. Hall, radar operator; TSgt. John M. Mamiya, crew chief; and then TSgt. Herbert E. Smith, crew chief; comprised the crew of an unarmed RC47D Airborne Command and Control aircraft on a classified operational mission under the code name Project Dogpatch. Their call sign was also "Dogpatch." Further, this was no ordinary crew. Its members were extremely well trained and experienced in their respective fields, and were brought together from different units for this mission.

In northern Laos Sam Neua and the extensive cave complex just to the east of the town are considered the birthplace of the communist Pathet Lao. The caves housed the Pathet Lao government, its military units, support elements, as well as facilities for American prisoners all of which rivaled a small city. The number of Americans held in these caves, hidden from surveillance, has been estimated by some US intelligence personnel to be in the hundreds. Further, during the "Secret War" waged in Laos; American "spotter teams" frequently photographed US POWs held in these caves.

At 1500 hours, the aircraft was orbiting over the communist stronghold approximately 10 to 20 miles south of Sam Neua City when Major Bossio radioed: "We are under attack by MiG fighters." Then he added: "We are being forced down by fighters." It was later determined by 7th Air Force that the enemy aircraft that forced the RC47D down were MiG 17's.

Aerial search and rescue (SAR) operations were immediately launched, but could find no trace of the aircraft or its crew in the populated, forested mountains of Sam Neua Province. When no trace of the aircraft or its crew could be found, formal SAR efforts were terminated on 30 July. At that time, all eight men were listed Missing in Action.

At the direction of the US Ambassador to Laos, William H. Sullivan, and because this incident was considered to be quite politically sensitive, there was no report made of the full details of this mission including all evidence that the Skytrain had been forced down by MiGs. However, a one page classified message containing the barest of details concerning Dogpatch flight and its loss was kept in a memo book classified "Secret" at 7th Air Force Headquarters in Vientiane. Shortly after the incident, that page was removed from the logbook, and personnel working in the section were ordered "to forget the information on that page as it never happened."

US intelligence later learned through several NVA sources that at least one, probably two parachutes were observed. According to one source, one American with a red parachute was captured by two local militiamen shortly after he reached the ground. A second American, who was using a red and white parachute, was also captured, but that he died a short time later. Five of the crew were killed in the incident, and all six men were buried near the crash site. There was no mention of the fate of the eighth member of the crew.

According to a second NVA source who stated that he reached the crash site by foot about 2 hours after the aircraft was forced down, said he was told that 2 parachutes were seen, 5 crewmen were captured and they were taken to a nearby village. Those 5 men were described as being 1 captain, 3 lieutenants and 1 sergeant.

In February 1971, a third NVA source, which was later determined not to be credible, said a guard had told him that the captain had committed suicide that night to keep from revealing classified information. He was also told that the bodies of 2 crewmen were found and buried near the crash site, and another body was found and buried at an unknown location. Additionally, a 1971 intelligence report states that as many as 5 of the crew were captured. 1st Lt. Chiarello and 1st Lt. DiTommaso were identified by Capt. Adair of Project Dogpatch as having "parachuted out" of the aircraft and "were captured."

At the direction of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, the basic mission information was declassified in April 1972. Then in January 1976, the loss location of the aircraft was changed from Laos to North Vietnam based on a reanalysis of the aircraft's flight path and all available intelligence information. According to this reevaluation, the Skytrain's loss location was placed right on the Son La/Hoa Binh Province boundaries in North Vietnam. The location was further defined as being 35 kilometers west-southwest of Hoa Binh town and 6 kilometers west of Ban Son, Hoa Binh Province, North Vietnam. Additionally, this location is 1 miles south of a primary road, 23 miles east-northeast of the North Vietnamese/Lao border, 56 miles west-southwest of Hanoi and 65 miles northeast of Sam Neua City. Much of the extremely rugged terrain between the original location of loss and the current one is uncharted.

John Mamiya dealt with an additional burden as an American military man in this war. "Living with the face of the enemy" is a fact of life Asian Americans faced in World War II and Korea, as well as in Vietnam. Above all else, these men and women were proud to be Americans. They served their country with the same honor and courage as Americans of other nationalities, but they did so under more difficult circumstances because of their appearance.

On 2 March 1988, Vietnamese authorities turned over the identity cards of Galileo Bossio, Robert Hoskinson, Bernard Conklin, Robert DiTommaso and Vincent Chiarello. The next day, the Vietnamese turned over five sets of remains implying that the remains and ID cards were for the same men. Those remains were transported to the US Central Identification Laboratory - Hawaii (CIL-HI) for examination and identification. When CIL-HI's work was completed, of the five whose ID cards were turned over, only Bernard Conklin and Vincent Chiarello's remains were positively identified. The other three sets of remains were positively identified as James Hall, John Mamiya and Herbert Smith.

The DiTommaso family was also notified that Robert's remains were being returned. However, when his mother, Mafalda DiTommaso, arrived in Hawaii to accompany her son home, she was shocked and angered to learn that no body had been returned, only information that added nothing to the mystery surrounding her son's loss. Likewise, no remains were returned for Robert Hoskinson and Galileo Bossio.

In November 1988, a joint US/Vietnamese team from Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) visited the area of the crash site near Route 6 in Thanh Hoa Province. Witnesses testified about bodies found in the area after the incident. They also reported that there was one survivor who suffered second degree burns. He was captured and taken to Mai Chau district hospital where he reportedly died the next day. No evidence of the crash site itself could be located. Another witness, who was interviewed at the same time, stated that five bodies had been recovered from their grave(s) by personnel from the Ministry of Defense some five years earlier, but he had no knowledge of where those remains had been taken.

Even though today the RC47D Skytrain is considered by the US government to have been forced down in North Vietnam, questions remain. Where was the aircraft really downed and who actually captured the survivors - the North Vietnamese, the Pathet Lao, or their communist allies who were reported to patrol this border region in MiG aircraft, too? In which country were they held? The border area between these two countries is ill defined at best, and the inhabitants of the region cross it at will. In reality the crew of Dogpatch flight could be among the nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Laotians admitted holding "tens of tens" of American Prisoners of War, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords which ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

While the fates of Bernard Conklin, James Hall, John Mamiya, Herbert Smith and Vincent Chiarello are finally resolved and their families, friends and country have the peace of mind of knowing where they now lie, there are no answers to the question of when and how each man died. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for, including Robert DiTommaso, Robert Hoskinson and Galileo Bossio, their fate 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 Laos were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and each was prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country so proudly served