|Name:||John Cline Towle|
|Rank/Branch:||Captain/US Air Force|
Ubon Airbase, Thailand
|Date of Birth:||09 January 1943|
|Home of Record:||Harrisburg, IL|
|Date of Loss:||22 April 1970|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
Clich corrdinates to view (4) map
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Ronnie L. Hensley; Robert N. Ireland; Stephen Harris; Donald Lint; Thomas Y. Adachi; Charlie B. Davis; Donald G. Fisher; William L. Brooks; Charles S. Rowley (all missing); Eugene Fields (rescued).|
SYNOPSIS: The Lockheed AC130A Spectre gunship first made its trial appearance in Vietnam in late 1967. Because it was highly maneuverable at low speeds and could spend hours in an operational area while delivering a precisely placed stream of withering fire on a target, it immediately proved its worth in combat. Within one year, all but 3 AC130A gunships were deployed to SEA. Those 3 aircraft remained in the US to train additional aircrews. The AC130A was armed with 2 M61 Vulcan cannons mounted in the first half of the fuselage and could deliver a stream of accurate fire from each gun at a rate of 100 shells per second. It was usually used at half that rate to conserve ammunition. A pair of 40mm Bofors cannons were mounted in the aft section that could deliver a steady stream of 300 rounds of ammunition per minute. Some AC130s were armed with 105mm Howitzers mounted in place of the rear Bofors cannons. This modification made the gunship an extremely affective tank killer.
On 22 April 1970, an AC130A Spectre gunship, call sign "Adlib," with its name "War Lord" boldly scrawled across its side below and slightly behind the cockpit windows (tail number FT54-1625), departed Ubon Airbase on a "Commando Hunt" mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Saravane Province, Laos. The aircrew was comprised of veteran pilot Major William Brooks, aircraft commander; then 1st Lt. John C. Towle, pilot; Lt. Col. Charles S. Rowley, navigator; Lt. Col. Charlie B. Davis, navigator; Maj. Donald G. Fisher, navigator; Master Sgt. Robert N. Ireland, flight engineer; SSgt. Thomas Y. Adachi, aerial gunner; SSgt. Stephen W. Harris; aerial gunner; A1C Donald M. Lint, aerial gunner; SSgt. Eugene L. Fields, aerial gunner and SSgt. Ronnie L. Hensley, illuminator operator. They were conducting an armed reconnaissance mission over the extremely rugged jungle covered mountains near Ban Tang Lou, Laos. Adlib was joined near its destination by two escort fighters, call signs "Killer 1" and "Killer 2". The weather was nearly perfect with visibility of two to five miles with some haze and a full moon.
At approximately 0150 hours, a number of enemy 37mm anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) shells burst around the aircraft. The gunship immediately initiated an attack against the AAA position. At 0159 hours, while in its fourth pass over the target and at an altitude of nearly 7,500 feet, the gunship was struck in the left lower rear section of the fuselage near the tail. Major Brooks radioed, "I've been hit, babe." No further transmissions were heard from the crew while the aircraft was still airborne.
During pull off from its own attack pass against the AAA emplacement, one of the fighter crew's observed the AC130A on fire, but under control. Moments later, Sgt. Fields reported this fact over the intercom and heard Lt. Col. Fisher report that he and his position were OK. SSgt. Fields and SSgt. Hensley attempted to extinguish the fire that was being fed by flammable flare markers. However, both men forced to retreat because of the intense heat and thick smoke. They collided in the thick black smoke, before Eugene Fields continued to feel his way forward to the right scanner window, Thomas Adachi's position. Finding the position empty, Eugene Fields snapped on an auxiliary parachute and exited through the open scanner window. Unfortunately while fighting the fire, SSgt. Fields became disconnected from the aircraft's intercom and does not know if Major Brooks issued a bail out command to the crew.
As the aircraft descended in a shallow straight line, the intensity of the fire increased and burning pieces of the AC130A were seen falling away from the gunship by their fighter escort. About five to ten seconds prior to the aircraft contacting the ground, a large unidentified object, suspected to be the left wing, was seen to separate from it. The aircraft exploded upon impact just east of a primary road and 2 miles northwest of a "Y" shaped road junction in densely forested mountains under total enemy control approximately 31 miles northwest of Chavane, 25 miles due west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border and 59 miles west-northwest of Kham Duc, South Vietnam. From the time of initial emergency call to impact, the aircraft remained airborne for roughly 90 seconds and covered almost 3 1/2 miles.
After the gunship was hit, Killer 1 reported seeing no crewmen exiting the crippled aircraft and no parachutes deploying while Killer 2 reported the crew was bailing out. Just before Killer 1 departed the area to refuel from an airborne tanker, its crew heard one emergency beeper signal from the ground. Killer 2 established voice contact with a crewman who identified himself as "Adlib 12," Donald Fisher's identifier. He reported that he had burns on his face and hands, but was otherwise okay. Killer 2 also left to refuel shortly thereafter and turned command control over to Covey 246, the Forward Air Controller (FAC), who continued to monitor the situation.
The following morning search and rescue (SAR) operations commence shortly after daybreak. Adlib 11, Eugene Fields, was rescued shortly thereafter and was treated for minor injuries. SAR efforts continued throughout the day for the rest of the aircrew. Because of heavy enemy activity in the area, no ground search was possible. At the time formal search efforts were terminated, William Brooks, Ronnie Hensley, Robert Ireland, Stephen Harris, Donald Lint, Thomas Adachi, Charlie Davis, Donald Fisher, John Towle and Charles Rowley were declared Missing in Action.
From here on the story becomes more confused based on information provided to different families by the US Government (USG) during the years before the war ended. For example:
1. One family was told that a ground team had been inserted into the crash site (date unknown) and had recovered the partial remains of one of the crew, but no identity was ever provided to them. Likewise, those reported remains were not identified nor returned to any of the families of men on this aircraft.
2. Another family was advised that photographs of the crash site existed, but none were provided to them or to any of the other families.
3. The Fisher family was shown a photograph of a captive airman with burn bandages on his hands. Each family member identified that photo as Donald Fisher. The Air Force assumed at the time of the incident that Eugene Fields had incorrectly identified himself to Killer 2 and dismissed the report of Adlib 12 being the one in contact. Major Fisher's son located SSgt. Fields 18 years later and questioned him about that communication. Eugene Fields told him that he, Fields, had not been in radio contact with anyone before being rescued, therefore, it was not him proving that at least one other man safely reached the ground.
4. Charles Rowley's family was informed of a classified intelligence report indicating that 8 of the 10 crew members had been captured, and tortured to death for their "crimes", yet no such report has been provided to them, or any of the other families.
In 1987 Life Magazine published a recently taken photograph of an American POW that had been smuggled out of Laos with the caption: "The mysterious Mr. Roly". Lt. Col. Rowley's family had that photo analyzed and compared to pre-capture family photos by noted forensic experts. The results prove the man in the 1987 photo is Charles Rowley.
In 1993 the USG conducted a joint US-Lao crash site excavation of the AC130A. To no one's surprise they found a few teeth and bone chips, and heralded this achievement as the successful recovery of all 10 crewmen. They also claim to have found a dogtag belonging to Lt. Col. Rowley. Since his dogtags were returned to his family with the rest of his personal possessions shortly after being shot down, the USG's discovery of his dogtag at the crash site is both miraculous and suspicious. The families of all the men aboard this aircraft requested that an independent examination be made, including DNA testing. The Pentagon's reply is very revealing, specific and sinister: "they cannot release remains to family members unless the remains can be positively identified". Each family requested the remains that were attributed to their man be turned over to them. Each request was DENIED.
The crew of Adlib flight 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 POWs, 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.
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 POWs captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Air crews 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. On 8 November 1995, a group burial of the unidentifiable co-mingled remains of the AC130A Spectre gunship crew was held at Arlington National Cemetery. While the USG considers these men to be "remains returned", the families do not. They ask that Americans continue to wear their men's POW/MIA bracelet and help them fight for an honorable accounting of them.