SAMPSON, LESLIE VERNE

Remains Recovered 11 July 1991; Identified 7 December 1991
Name: Leslie Verne Sampson 
Rank/Branch: Staff Sergeant/US Air Force 
Unit: 314th Air Division Osan Airbase, Korea 
Date of Birth: 09 April 1936
Home of Record: Richey, MT
Date of Loss: 23 March 1961 
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 192855N 1031014E (UG081550)
Click coordinates to view  (4) maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: C47 "Skytrain"
Other Personnel In Incident: Lawrence Bailey (released 1962); Alfons A. Bankowski, Ralph W. Magee, Frederick Garside, Glenn Matteson, Edgar Weitkamp and Oscar Weston (all missing) 

REMARKS:  KIA - RES SHTDN/CRSH

SYNOPSIS:  During the French Indochina War, the US Government loaned France a number of Air Force C47 transports to bolster French Air Force airlift operations against Viet Minh forces. Likewise, in the summer of 1950, US Air Force personnel including military advisors, maintenance and supply experts, combat aircrews, etc. were ordered into Indochina and later to its successor states of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in support of national policy. In these early years, some US personnel were stationed in Vietnam and Laos, others were there on temporary duty (TDY). By January 1961, American advisors and aircrews were suffering losses due to enemy attack with some of these men known to be captured by Pathet Lao or Viet Cong forces.

On 23 March 1961, 1st Lt. Ralph W. Magee, pilot; 1st Lt. Oscar B. Weston, pilot; 2nd Lt. Glenn Matteson, navigator; SSgt. Alfons A. Bankowski, flight engineer; SSgt. Frederick T. Garside, aircraft engineer; and SSgt. Leslie V. Sampson, radio operator; comprised the crew of a C47 that departed Vientiane, Laos with a final destination of Saigon. Also on board the Skytrain were passengers Maj. Lawrence R. Bailey and WO1 Edgar W. Weitkamp.

Major Bailey and WO1 Weitkamp were assigned to the Army Attaché Office at Vientiane, Laos. The Air Force aircrew was assigned to 315th Air Division, Osan Airbase, Korea and on TDY status in Southeast Asia. Interestingly, the Air Force personnel's responsibilities apparently included CIA-sponsored Air America missions - a covert project that provided military aid and intelligence information on communist rebels to pro-Western governments which were locked in a bitter civil war in Indochina. They were officially assigned to the Air Attaché for the US embassies in Saigon and Vientiane.

This C47 was a specially modified intelligence-gathering "SC-47." After departing Vientiane, the pilots turned north toward Xieng Khouangville, a communist Pathet Lao stronghold on the eastern edge of the Plain of Jars. Flying at an altitude of 6,000 feet, they were to use their radio-direction equipment to determine the frequencies using by Soviet pilots to locate the Xieng Khoang Airfield through the dense fog that frequently blanketed this region. Enemy anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire struck the Skytrain in the right wing shearing it off and causing the aircraft to plunge toward the jungle floor approximately 4 kilometers north of Xieng Khoang Airfield, Xiengkhoang Province, Laos.

Maj. Bailey, who always wore a parachute when he flew, bailed out of the damaged aircraft and was captured by Pathet Lao forces. He remained a Prisoner of War in the massive cave complex, which also served as the Pathet Lao headquarters, at Sam Neua. On 15 August 1962, after the Geneva Agreements on Laos were signed, Lawrence Bailey was released to American control. This same cave complex at Sam Neua where Maj. Bailey was held is the same extensive complex where scores of American prisoners were known or believed to be held both during and after the Vietnam War.

As for the remaining 7 Americans aboard the C47, shortly after the aircraft was lost, four Lao sources reported to friendly allied forces that all the men died in the crash and were buried nearby. Upon receiving these reports, Alfons Bankowski, Frederick Garside, Ralph Magee, Glenn Matteson, Leslie Sampson, Edgar Weitkamp and Oscar Weston were immediately listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

In 1976, the US Senate's Church Committee held hearings into the earliest involvement of US personnel in Southeast Asia. The committee's final report outlined our government's involvement in Indochina dating as far back as the mid-1950s. Further, these hearings also confirmed the existence of the Air America program dating from the very beginning of that involvement. Since the families of these men had been told for years that their men "died in Korea" rather than in Laos, the Church Committee Report came as quite a surprise to them. The report also answered a few of the many questions the families' had about the true fate of these men, as well as providing them with some of the details of the aircraft's last flight.

More information unexpectedly surface in February 1977 when several Pathet Lao films were obtained by a friendly foreign government, and in turn, made available to our government. These films showed an identification card with photo of Frederick Garside along with an open passport bearing Ralph Magee's ID number. However, the films provided no answers to questions about the crewmembers' fate.

In July 1991, a joint US/Lao recovery team excavated 7 previously exhumed graves at the C47 crash site and recovered partial remains believed to belong to the missing crewmen. On 11 July these remains were transported to the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CIL-HI) for examination. On 7 December 1991, these remains were identified as being the co-mingled remains of Frederick Garside, Ralph Magee, Leslie Sampson and Glenn Matteson. In the case of Ralph Magee, the remains consisted of 2 bone fragments and 1 crowned tooth. As for the first grave site excavation, there is no record of who conducted it, when or why it was done. Further, there is no record of what happened to those previously recovered remains.

The crew of the Skytrain is among 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 fate of Frederick Garside, Ralph Magee, Leslie Sampson and Glenn Matteson is considered resolved, and their families have the some comfort in knowing where their loved ones rest; for Alfons Bankowski, Edgar Weitkamp and Oscar Weston only unanswered questions remain.

For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, 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.

American military men in Vietnam and Laos were call 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.