THORNTON LARRY C
 
 
Name: Larry C. Thornton 
Rank/Branch: Chief Master Sergeant/US Air Force 
Unit: 4th Air Commando Squadron 
DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 03 March 1932
Home of Record: Idaho Falls, ID
Date of Loss: 24 December 1965 
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 154800N 1064400E (XC856474)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 4
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: AC47D "Puff the Magic Dragon" or "Spooky"
Other Personnel In Incident: Arden K. Hassenger; W. Kevin Colwell; Joseph Christiano; Dennis L. Eilers and 

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SYNOPSIS:  The Douglas AC47D, nicknamed Puff the Magic Dragon or Spooky, was a nocturnal savior to American and South Vietnamese troops at besieged outposts deep in Viet Cong and Pathet Lao-held territory. The AC47D had a row of 7.62mm miniguns mounted along the left side of its fuselage and could fly overhead in a pylon turn, bringing torrents of gunfire raining down on the enemy.

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.

On 24 December 1965, President Lyndon Johnson announced a weeklong bombing halt over North Vietnam in honor of the Christmas holiday. At 0728 hours the same day, an AC47D gunship, call sign "Spooky 21," departed DaNang Airfield, South Vietnam on an armed reconnaissance/strike mission over the panhandle of Laos. They were to monitor enemy activity moving through this region known to contain several arteries of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. The crew was comprised of Lt. Col. Derrell B. Jeffords, pilot; Capt. Dennis L. Eilers, co-pilot; Maj. Joseph Christiano, navigator;  TSgt. W. Kevin Colwell, flight engineer; then MSgt. Larry C. Thornton and SSgt. Arden "A. K." Hassenger both aerial gunners. The planned flight path was from DaNang to the target and back to DaNang. Further, the gunship was due to return to base at roughly 1330 hours.

Weather conditions in the target area included scattered clouds at 500 feet with variable heights to the top of the clouds; 10,000-foot high-scattered patches of ground fog, and stratus clouds that descended into the jungle covered valleys. To the west of the target area, the ceiling of cloud cover was only 1,500 feet high.

Spooky 21 was directed by the airborne command and control aircraft to its primary target that was located approximately 32 miles northeast of Saravane City. As the gunship made its way westward, it was diverted to a second location 18 miles east-northeast of Saravane. Shortly before contact was lost with the gunship at 1050 hours, one of the crew broadcast, "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, Spooky 21" over the UHF emergency frequency. The aircrews of two separate aircraft who were also operating in this sector heard the gunship's final radio transmission.

At 1448 hours, an extensive search and rescue (SAR) operation was initiated. During the entire search effort, SAR aircraft were subjected to intense enemy ground fire emanating from the jungle below. The search was terminated at 1500 hours on 26 December when no trace of the aircraft or crew was found. At the conclusion of the search, military personnel determined the aircraft was downed by enemy action and weather conditions played no part in its loss. At 1530 hours on Christmas Eve 1965, Kevin Colwell, Joseph Christiano, A. K. Hassenger, Dennis Eilers, Larry Thornton and Derrell Jeffords were declared Missing in Action.

The last known location of Spooky 21 was over the rugged and densely forested mountains that were laced with a well-established network of roads and trails of various sizes running in all directions. It was also located approximately 6 miles west-southwest of Ban Solou, 7 miles south of Un Tai, 18 miles east-northeast of Saravane and 36 miles west of the Lao/South Vietnam border, Saravane Province, Laos.

Very late in the 1990's, members of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) received information pertaining to a retired NVA Colonel who claimed to have visited the crash site of Spooky 21. In their on-going effort to investigate this loss incident, members of JTFFA continue to press the Vietnamese government for its assistance in locating the retired communist Colonel and setting up an interview with him.

The crewmen of Spooky 21 are 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.

If the crew of the gunship died in the loss of their aircraft, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if any of them were able to bail out of the crippled gunship, their fate like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, 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 America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews were called 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.