STEVENS, LARRY JAMES

Name: Larry James Stevens 
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant Commander/US Naval Reserve 
Unit: Attack Squadron 216
USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) 

Date of Birth: 17 December 1942 (Hawthorne, CA)
Home of Record: Canoga Park, CA
Date of Loss: 14 February 1969 
Country of Loss: Laos 
Loss Coordinates: 163900N 1061900E (XD398402)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A4C "Skyhawk"
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing) 

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  The Douglas A4 Skyhawk was a single-seat light attack jet flown by both land-based and carrier squadrons, and was the US Navy's standard light attack aircraft at the outset of the war. It was the only carrier-based aircraft that did not have folding wings as well as the only one that required a ladder for the pilot to enter/exit the cockpit. The Skyhawk was used to fly a wide range of missions throughout Southeast Asia including close air support to American troops on the ground in South Vietnam. Flying from a carrier was dangerous and as many aircraft were lost in "operational incidents" as in combat.

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.

Oscar Eight was the code name given to a sector of eastern Laos located in rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 25 miles northwest of the infamous A Shau Valley, Saravane Province, Laos. The area encompassed the junction of Highway 92, which was a primary north-south artery of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and Highway 922, which branched off and ran directly east where it crossed into South Vietnam at a strategic point near the northern edge of the A Shau Valley. Oscar Eight was also located at the southeastern end of a large and narrow jungle covered valley that had two primary roads running through it, one on each side of the valley. Highway 92 ran along the west side and Highway 919 along the east. A power line ran parallel to Highway 92 and sometimes crossed it. In addition to the roads and power line, the Hoi An River also flowed through the valley passing the road junction roughly 1 mile west of it.

More American aircraft were downed in the vicinity of the junction of Highways 92 and 922 than any other place in Laos. This was because burrowed deep in the hills of Oscar Eight and located just to the east of the road junction was North Vietnamese General Vo Bam's 559th Transportation Group's forward headquarters. It was also the Ho Chi Minh Trail's control center as well as containing the largest NVA storage facility outside of North Vietnam. Oscar Eight was defended by consecutive belts of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) guns of all sizes that were not only positioned on the ground, but also mounted on platforms in the trees. All of these AAA batteries were expertly camouflaged.

On 14 February 1969, then Lt. JG Larry J. Stevens was the pilot of the #2 aircraft in a flight of two that launched from the USS Coral Sea on a night strike mission against Highway 92, which was a primary artery of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As the pilots surveyed their target area, they spotted a convoy of enemy trucks moving along the road. They reported their location to the on-site Forward Air Controller (FAC), who was coordinating the strike mission, requesting permission to initiate a bomb run on the targets.

At 2156 hours, that permission was granted and both Skyhawks rolled in on the convoy with the lead aircraft in front and Lt. JG Stevens right behind him. Almost immediately NVA anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) gunners opened fire on the Skyhawks in defense of their supply line. At an altitude of roughly 10,000 feet, both aircraft were struck by the intense and accurate ground fire from those batteries. The flight leader was able to regain control of his damaged aircraft, broke off his attack pass and commenced a climbing turn to 14,000 feet, then headed eastward.

The lead pilot was able to keep his own crippled aircraft under control long enough to cross the North Vietnamese coastline and reach the safety of the Gulf of Tonkin. He finally was forced to eject over open water and was recovered a short time later by a search and rescue (SAR) helicopter.

Approximately 40 seconds after rolling out, the lead aircraft's pilot felt a tremendous double explosion and saw an accompanying white flash. He observed his wingman's aircraft crash and explode on a barren hillside whose jungle cover had long since been stripped away by years of attacks. The on-site FAC and other pilots witnessed the ground explosions. No parachute was seen in the night's darkness and no radio transmissions were heard. However, a few minutes later, a five to ten second emergency beeper signal was heard by the other pilots emanating from the rugged mountains below.

The area of loss was heavily populated by enemy troops approximately 6 miles south of Highway 19, 6 miles south and slightly east of the town of Tchepone and 22 miles west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border, Savannakhet Province, Laos. It was also 35 miles due west of Khe Sanh, South Vietnam.

Visual and electronic SAR efforts were immediately initiated by the those aircraft already on site. They had no trouble locating the burning wreckage on the ground, but were unable to detect any sign of the downed pilot. In his official report drafted the next day, Attack Squadron 216's commander stated, "I consider the probability of his safe escape from the aircraft to be very good." At the time the formal search was terminated, Larry Stevens was listed Missing in Action.

In June 1990, the Pentagon received a photograph of three men reported to be American POWs holding a sign between them bearing the date 25 May 1990. Larry Stevens was identified by his family as one of the men. The other two were identified as Albro Lundy and John "Robbie" Robertson. Immediately government analysts dubbed the photograph "The Three Amigos." On 12 July 1990, the families of the three men confronted Pentagon officials about taking action to obtain the release of their loved ones.

Three days later the US State Department submitted the picture to the Vietnamese government with a demand for an explanation. This action would not have been taken if our government did not believe it was genuine. On 17 July the same picture appeared for the first time in newspapers and on TV all over the world. The next day unidentified Pentagon officials told reporters "the photo was probably a hoax." Officially at the time no one in the Pentagon would comment on the validity of the picture or the identification of the three American Prisoners of War. However, unofficially they discredited the photograph from the day it was made public.

In April 1991 the US government released a list of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action who were known to be alive in enemy hands and for whom there is no evidence that he or she died in captivity. This list, commonly referred to today as the USG's "Last Known Alive" list, included Larry J. Stevens.

Larry Stevens was among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Lao 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 the Paris Peace Accords since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

If Larry Stevens died in the loss of his aircraft, he has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he survived as the weight to the evidence suggests, there is no doubt he would have been captured by enemy personnel who were actively operating throughout the region and like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for, his and their fate could be quite different. Either way there is no doubt the Vietnamese and Lao could return him or his remains any time they had the desire to do so.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, 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.

Fighter pilots in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and 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.