Name: James Lee Shanks
Rank/Branch: Major/US Air Force 
Unit: 12th Air Commando Squadron                              
 Bien Hoa Airbase, South Vietnam                            

Date of Birth: 13 April 1930
Home of Record: Oyster Point, NY
Date of Loss: 24 May 1968 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam/Over water
Loss Coordinates: 083404N 1045855E (VQ982487)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UC123B "Provider"
Other Personnel In Incident: Emmett Rucker, Jr. (missing) and Herbert E. Schmidt (remains recovered) 


SYNOPSIS:  In 1962 "Operation Ranch Hand" arrived in South Vietnam. The operation employed the Fairchild UC123B Provider transports that had been fitted with special equipment to spray defoliant. During the war the reliable, but not glamorous, C123Bs were to be among the hardest working aircraft in South Vietnam. They were fitted with an internal 1,000-gallon chemical tank and removable spray bars attached under the wings that could spray a 200-meter wide swathe of jungle with chemical defoliant. Their mission was designed to remove the ground cover used by communist forces throughout the war in Southeast Asia.

On 24 May 1968, Lt. Col. Emmett Rucker, Jr., pilot; Maj. James L. Shanks, co-pilot; and Sgt. Herbert E. Schmidt, flight engineer comprised the crew of a UC123B Provider, that departed Bien Hao Airbase as the #2 aircraft in a flight of 6. The flight was conducting an Operation Ranch Hand herbicide mission over the extreme southern province of South Vietnam. As the flight made a spraying pass, the Provider was struck by hostile fire near the coastline and was observed to crash into the South China Sea.

Shortly after the loss, a search and recovery (SAR) team of military divers examined the wreckage. During their search, they were able to recover the remains of Sgt. Schmidt. They were not able to reach the remains of Lt. Col. Rucker or Maj. Shanks because when the aircraft crashed into the relatively shallow water half of it, including the Provider's cockpit, was buried in the mud. Later because the aircraft's fuselage was a hazard to navigation, a demolition team destroyed the remaining wreckage with explosive charges.

The location of the crash site was off the extreme southern tip of South Vietnam approximately 2 miles south of the shoreline, 10 miles southeast of Duong Kec, 13 miles south of Nan Can and 15 miles east-southeast of Xom Rach Tau, Minh Hai Provinces, South Vietnam.

There is no doubt that Emmett Rucker and James Shanks died in the loss of their aircraft. In spite of the hard reality that the only way their remains might be recovered involves a massive underwater salvage/recovery effort, each man has the right to have his remains recovered if at all humanly possible. Above all else, he has the right not to be forgotten by the nation for which he gave his life.

For other Americans who remain unaccounted 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.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam 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.