Name: Francis Edward Visconti v005p
Rank/Branch: Major/US Marine Corps
Unit: Helicopter Heavy-lift Marine 362,
Marine Air Group 36, 1st Marine Air Wing
Ky Ha Airfield, South Vietnam
Date of Birth: 16 November 1934 (Syracuse, NY)
Home of Record: Syracuse, NY
Date of Loss: 22 November 1965
Country of Loss: South Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 151605N 1085022E (BT720060)
Click coordinates to view maps
Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH34D “Seahorse”
Other Personnel in Incident: Thomas E. Douglas; Richard A. Miller and Victor J. Pirker (missing)


SYNOPSIS: One of the earliest helicopters employed in Southeast Asia, and the primary Marine Corps helicopter used during the early years of the war, was the Sikorsky UH34D Seahorse. This aircraft was already quite old when they arrived in the battle zone. However, both the US and South Vietnamese military found them to be extremely effective throughout the war.

On 22 November 1965, then Capt. Francis E. “Frank” Visconti, pilot; Capt. Richard A. “Dick” Miller, co-pilot; Cpl. Victor J. “Vic” Pirker, crew chief; and Cpl. Thomas E. “Tom” Douglas, door gunner; comprised the crew of a UH34D that was participating in a multi-aircraft afternoon trooplift mission. The flight was transporting US Marines to a South Vietnamese outpost located south of Quang Ngai City, Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam.

On the return flight to Ky Ha Airfield, the weather deteriorated dramatically to include a solid overcast of clouds with bases at roughly 1,000 feet and rainstorms. The visibility became increasingly more limited in part because of the rapidly approaching darkness. Due to the poor flying conditions causing the aircraft to fly much closer to the ground then normal and the hazardous ground fire they encountered, the helicopters flew out to sea before turning north along the coastline. Further, the flight controller directed the pilots to fly in two-aircraft sections with separation between the sections for safety as well as advising the pilots to divert to Chu Lai Airfield instead of returning to Ky Ha.

At 1915 hours, the flight was roughly 10 miles southeast of Chu Lai when Capt. Visconti’s Seahorse disappeared from sight. Weather conditions precluded an immediate search for the missing helicopter and its crew; however, when it cleared sufficiently, a full search and rescue (SAR) mission was initiated employing all available sea, air and land assets. When no trace of the aircraft or its crew was found, the search was terminated and Frank Visconti, Dick Miller, Tom Douglas and Vic Pirker were declared Missing in Action.

The official loss location is given at a point approximately 3 miles east of the coastline and the village of Tuyet, and 10 miles due east of Chu Lai Airfield.

Five months later, on 13 April 1966, a patrol operating in the heavily populated and hotly contested area between Chu Lai and Quang Ngai City found a small bag containing enemy material in the vicinity of Route 522, a well established east/west road that connected Highway 1 and Highway 523. Among other things, the bag contained the undamaged ID card of Cpl. Douglas. When interrogated, the Vietnamese who was in possession of the bag claimed no knowledge of how the ID card got into it.

The area in which the small bag was found was moderately hilly, covered in rice fields with patches of forest and scattered villages of all sizes. In addition to the primary roads and highways, the entire region was laced with trails and footpaths running in all directions. It was also 2 miles east of Highway 1, the primary highway running the full length of Vietnam; 7 miles north-northeast of Quang Ngai City and 14 miles southeast of Chu Lai Airfield. This location was also only 13 miles south-southwest of where the Seahorse was believed to have vanished.

Some time after the discovery of Cpl. Douglas’ ID card, a Viet Cong (VC) rallier reported he saw an American in a POW camp in Dong Nai Province. When shown photos of missing Americans, he identified Tom Douglas as being that Prisoner of War. US military intelligence personnel discounted this first-hand live sighting report because at the time they did not believe the VC would move American POWs from one province to another.

Beginning in 1992, several joint US/Vietnamese teams under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to Quang Ngai Province to investigate the loss of the Seahorse. They interviewed several witnesses who possessed firsthand and hearsay information thought to possibly correlate to this case.

The first witness said that in “May 1965 or 1967” he captured a lone American. After searching the POW, he through several items including the man’s ID card into the bushes because they were all wet. The VC ordered his companions to escort the American to an area he referred to as “safe zone.” The Vietnamese added that he later learned that his companions killed the American and hid his body in a bush on the beach. To conclude his story, he said he later heard that villagers buried the body, but he did not know where.

A second witness stated that he heard that an American had been captured and killed on a beach at some point in time during the war, but had no information about when it happened. He said that in 1981, he visited the site and located several pieces of bone including a skull and 2 shin bones. He turned them into the Binh Son District Public Security Office. Those remains along with other sets of remains, were turned over to US control on 10 April 1986.

The third witness reported that in “September 1965” he observed the body of a dead American partially submerged in shallow water beneath a bridge south of the official loss location. He added that he heard that VC guerrillas tied the body under the bridge presumably as a graphic lesson to local residents not to have anything to do with Americans, then removed it and buried it on the nearby beach.

The remains that were turned over in April 1986, were transported to the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) for examination. Forensic experts determined that some of the remains were Mongoloid and others unidentifiable based on the current level of scientific capability.

If Frank Visconti, Dick Miller, Tom Douglas and Vic Pirker died as a result of the loss of their helicopter or subsequently as a Prisoner of War, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country if at all humanly possible. However, if they survived, they could have been captured by enemy troops operating throughout the region and 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, 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.

Military men in Vietnam were called upon to fight in many dangerous circumstances, and were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they proudly served.