Name: Stanley Kutz Smiley 
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant/US Navy 
Unit: Attack Squadron 23 
USS Oriskany (CVA-34) 
Date of Birth: 31 January 1939 (Fayetteville, NC)
Home of Record: Sidney, NE
Date of Loss: 20 July 1969 
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 161100N 1064059E (XC799898) 
Click coordinates to view maps
Status in 1973: Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A4F "Skyhawk"
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing) 


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 which 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.

On 20 July 1969, Lt. Stanley Smiley was the pilot of a A4E Skyhawk (serial # 154993) the lead aircraft in a flight of 2 that launched from the deck of the USS Oriskany on a road reconnaissance, bomb/strafe mission. Their target area was in extremely rugged, jungle covered mountains approximately 8 miles north of Ban Ralao and 8 miles south of Tavauac, Salavan Province, Laos.

This area of eastern Laos was considered a major gateway into the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. 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.

After completing their initial mission in the afternoon, enroute to their carrier, Lt. Smiley sighted a truck and told his wingman that he was going to confirm whether or not it was rolling stock or a hulk. As the wingman prepared to follow his flight leader in on an attack, he saw Lt. Smiley's aircraft in a shallow dive about 60 degrees off the planned attack heading. The Skyhawk crashed into the dense jungle, however, the aircraft did not burn or explode upon landing. Lt. Smiley never radioed any malfunction. Because of this, and the fact that this area was known for its high concentration of enemy anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) batteries, the Navy believed Stanley Smiley was shot down by AAA fire rather than an aircraft malfunction.

An aerial search was conducted, but because of hostile forces in the area, no ground search was possible. In spite of the circumstances of loss, Stanley Smiley was immediately listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

In 1988 a former Royal Lao Army Officer, Somdee Phommachanh, reported to the US government, then later to the American public on national television, that prior to his escape from captivity, he was held captive by the Communist Pathet Lao along with two Americans at a prison camp in northern Laos. He reported the identity of those two men as being Army Capt. David Nelson and Navy Lt. Stanley Smiley. That identification was later confirmed to US officials through the positive identification of both men's pre-capture photos.

According to Somdee, he nursed the very ill Capt. Nelson as best he could until the day he died. Somdee was allowed by his guards to bury his friend with all the care he would a cherished loved one, given his limited ability as a prisoner of war. The last time he saw Lt. Stanley Smiley was shortly after David Nelson's death. The Lt. was sitting with his back up against a tree a short distance from their hut with a stick in his hand randomly writing, then erasing, his name in the dirt before him. Somdee was unable to talk with Lt. Smiley because of the nearby guards.

Somdee Phommachanh escaped from the Lao prison camp and eventually made his way to the United States. He settled in Nebraska and found employment as a janitor with the town's school system. In the mid-1980s he told his friend, the school's principal, of his experiences as a prisoner in the communist's reeducation system, including his knowledge of David Nelson and Stanley Smiley. With his friend's assistance, Somdee provided his first-hand live sighting information to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the US Government agency responsible for the POW/MIA issue at that time. He also provided his information to several Congressmen, including Bill Hendon of North Carolina and Bob Smith of New Hampshire. He also offered in writing and in person to testify under oath to the House Sub-Committee on Pacific and Asian Affairs, chaired by Congressman Steven Solarz of New York. Steven Solarz declined Somdee's offer to testify.

Stanley Smiley 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.

In the mid-1980's Stanley Smiley was alive and still held as a Prisoner of War according to Somdee. There is no question that the communists could return him to his family, friends and country alive or dead any time they had the desire to do so. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be the same as Lt. Smiley's.

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 America 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 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.

                                    Stanley K. Smiley graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1963.