Name: Thomas William Skiles 
Rank/Branch: Warrant Officer First Class/US Army 
Unit: Air Cavalry Troop,
2nd Squadron, 
11th Armored Cavalry Regiment

Date of Birth: 31 August 1949 (El Paso, TX)
Home of Record: Buffaly, WY
Date of Loss: 19 December 1971 
Country of Loss: Cambodia
Loss Coordinates: 115901N 1055633E (XU026248) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: OH6A "Loach"
Other Personnel In Incident: Peter C. Forame (missing) 


SYNOPSIS:  The Hughes OH6A Cayuse was known by the troops by its nickname "Loach" - a derivative of "light observation helicopter." The armed OH6A was the primary scout helicopter used in Vietnam and usually carried a crew of two. The pilot controlled a mini-gun and a gunner/crew chief handled a "free 60" machine gun, among other weapons, which was attached to the aircraft by a strap. The Loach crews flew the most dangerous missions assigned to Army aviators because they flew low and usually slow enough to get a good look at the ground making them easy targets for the enemy.

On 19 December 1971, W1 Thomas W. Skiles, pilot; and 1st Lt. Peter C. Forame co-pilot, comprised the crew of an OH6A light observation helicopter (tail #67-16347), in a flight conducting a bomb damage assessment (BDA) mission southeast of Bambe, Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia.

During the mission their helicopter began receiving heavy enemy .30 and .51 caliber automatic weapons fire. In an attempt to climb away from the ground fire, the helicopter turned right then was seen to burst into flames. The aircraft passed over an open area and crashed into a tree line, exploded on impact, and was completely destroyed by fire in a very short time. The crash site was located in fairly flat jungle with an occasional clearing approximately 1 mile northeast of a primary road, 13 miles north of the Cambodian/South Vietnamese border, 17 miles east of the city of Kampong Cham and 44 miles east-southeast of Loc Ninh, South Vietnam.

Two other helicopters in the flight immediately flew near the crash site to search for any sign of survivors, but they were driven away by enemy rocket propelled grenades (RPG) and automatic weapons fire. One of the helicopters suffered extensive battle damage, but was able to return to base.

A short time later, gunships were called in to suppress the enemy ground fire. A scout helicopter crew reported that 1st Lt. Forame and W1 Skiles helicopter was destroyed by fire, and they saw two burned bodies near the aircraft. Due to the heavy enemy presence surrounding the crash site, air strikes were conducted during the rest of the day. The next day another search and recovery (SAR) attempt was made to recover the remains of Thomas Skiles and Peter Forame. One of the helicopter's participating in this operation was shot down by enemy ground fire and one of the SAR crewmen was critically wounded. Shortly afterward all members of that crew were successfully rescued. At the time this SAR mission was terminated, Peter Forame and Thomas Skiles were listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

On 22 and 23 December extensive air strikes were conducted in the general area to include B52 strikes. One of the bombs dropped by a B52 apparently landed near the crash site thereby frustrating further attempts to recover both men's remains. Under the circumstances, no additional recovery operation was conducted.

While the fate of Peter Forame and Thomas Skiles is not in doubt, they have a right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country if at all possible. However, 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.

Pilots and aircrew in Vietnam and Cambodia were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances both on and off duty, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably ever occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.