Remains returned 27 April 1989; Identified 1 August 1989
Name: Michael Banard Varnado V014p
Rank/Branch: Chief Warrant Officer Two/US Army
Unit: Company B,
229th Aviation Battalion,
1st Cavalry Division

Date of Birth: 10 September 1948 (Natchez, MS)
Home of Record: Ferriday, LA
Date of Loss: 02 May 1970
Country of Loss: Cambodia
Loss Coordinates: 114512N 1060827E (XU243013)
Click coordinates to view maps
Status in 1973: Prisoner of War
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1H "Iroquois"
Other Personnel in Incident: Bunyan D. Price, Jr.; Robert M. Young; Rodney L. Griffin; Dale W. Richardson (all missing); Frederick H. Crowson; Daniel F. Maslowski (returned POWs); - PFC Kurecky (rescued)


SYNOPSIS: By early 1967, the Bell UH1 Iroquois was already the standard Army assault helicopter, and was used in nearly every "in-country" mission. Better known by its nickname "Huey," the troop carriers were referred to as "Slicks" and the gunships were called "Hogs." It proved itself to be a sturdy, versatile aircraft which was called on to carry out a wide variety of missions including search and rescue, close air support, insertion and extraction, fire support, and resupply to name a few. It usually carried a crew of four.

On 2 May 1970, then WO1 Michael B. Varnado, pilot; WO1 Daniel F. Maslowski, co-pilot; SP4 Frederick H. Crowson, crewchief; and Pvt. Tony Karreci, door gunner comprised the crew of a UH1H helicopter assigned to Company B, 229th Aviation Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division.

Also aboard the Huey were passengers Capt. Robert M. Young, Infantry Officer; Capt. Dale W. Richardson, Armor Officer; and SP4 Rodney Griffin, Armor Reconnaissance Specialist with other duties as a Mail Delivery Clerk; and SP4 Bunyan D. Price, Jr. All the passengers were assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor, 25th Infantry Division.

The helicopter departed Tay Ninh, South Vietnam on a logistics mission to Fire Support Base Bruiser, Kontum Province, South Vietnam which was located just south of the Vietnamese/Cambodian border. During the flight, it encountered a heavy rainstorm, and while trying to locate the fire support base in the zero visibility caused by the weather conditions, the Huey crossed the border into Cambodia. It was struck by enemy radar guided .60 caliber anti-aircraft (AAA) machine gun fire which ignited flammable material in the rear of the aircraft. That fire pushed everyone up into the cockpit. WO1 Varnado was injured in the attack forcing WO1 Maslowski to find a flat area to land the damaged aircraft it. He found a clearing in a rice paddy near the city of Memot, Cambodia - approximately 2 miles north of the Vietnamese/Cambodian border and 30 miles due north of Tay Ninh - to land in.

The crew and passengers exited the aircraft unharmed with four men departing through the pilot's door and the other four through the co-pilot's. The group decided it was best for them to head for Firebase Bruiser to the west, but within 30 to 40 seconds of hitting the ground WO1 Varnado warned the group that the enemy was approaching. They disbursed in different directions in order to find cover in the elephant grass that grew from the edge of the rice paddy to the tree line. As they scattered, the enemy opened fire from all sides.

Pvt. Tony Karreci ran, jumped into a ditch, and hid under a bush. From that vantage point he watched as Michael Varnado disappeared from sight into the elephant grass. Dan Maslowski found shelter in a ditch/depression in the rice paddy near Frederick Crowson and Dale Richardson where they were pinned down by the enemy. As he fired his .38 caliber pistol at one VC soldier, another one put the muzzle of his gun to WO1 Maslowski's head and said: "Surrender or die."

The trio surrendered, were searched then led away to an enemy camp located in the treeline about 25 yards from where the aircraft landed in the rice paddy. WO1 Maslowski saw the body of a dead VC soldier in the treeline and believed it was the one he fired at. They were tied and blindfolded, then led through a small village to a larger one where they were held until dark. From there the captured Americans were marched for about 2 hours to their first detention camp.

Pvt. Karreci also recounted that after Dale Richardson, Dan Maslowski and Frederick Crowson surrendered to the VC, he saw some enemy soldiers go over to a clump of bamboo and begin firing into it. Then they dragged the wounded aircraft pilot out and dragged him in the direction of the rest of the captives. The door gunner also stated that an hour after WO1 Varnado was captured, he saw the communists pull the body of an unconscious or dead "blond, heavyset man" from out of the bamboo and left him out in the open. He was not able to identify that man, but based on intelligence analysis, government personnel believe it was possibly Rodney Griffin.

WO1 Varnado joined Capt. Richardson, WO1 Maslowski and SP4 Crowson at the first detention camp. Because of the wounds to his side and leg, Michael Varnado was brought to this camp on a stretcher. The three uninjured POWs were subsequently moved out of this camp while the injured pilot was left behind. Dan Maslowski also stated that while in that first compound, Capt. Richardson was interrogated by their Viet Cong captors about a top secret document they produced. This document was last known to be in Capt. Richardson's possession.

Frederick Crowson and Tony Karreci both reported seeing Robert Young running toward a wood line away from the crash site firing his .45 caliber pistol at the enemy as he ran. Later Capt. Young was brought into the same camp with the rest of the Americans from the downed Huey. Further, SP4 Crowson recounted seeing Rodney Griffin and Bunyan Price firing M16 rifles at the enemy troops before he himself was captured. Although he was never seen in captivity, Dan Maslowski and Frederick Crowson always believed that Bunyan Price had also been captured.

Only Tony Karreci, the 18 year old door gunner, successfully evaded capture and made his way back to friendly control on 4 May 1970. The other seven passengers and crew were initially listed Missing in Action. Once their true status became known to US authorities, Dan Maslowski's, Frederick Crowson's, Michael Varnado's, Bunyan Price's and Robert Young's status was immediately changed to Prisoner of War. Even though Dale Richardson was known to have been captured, his status, and that of Rodney Griffin, remained Missing in Action.

In October 1971, a former National Liberation Front (VC) soldier identified a photo of Bunyan Price as resembling the American prisoner whom he had seen in June 1970. Further, in June 1971, three ARVN soldiers escaped from the B-7 Detention Camp. They identified a photo of SP4 Price as the American held for a year in the same camp with them. One report from escaped ARVN POWs stated that SP4 Price had been captured by the Khmer Rouge (Communist Cambodians) and the prison camp he was being held in was under their control, not the Viet Cong's. This was in large part because the various communist ethnic groups normally did not cooperate with one another, and it was reasonable to expect the Khmer chose to keep him under their control rather than turn him over to the Vietnamese who had captured the other five Americans.

Both Frederick Crowson and Dan Maslowski were released by the VC at Loc Ninh, South Vietnam with 25 other American POWs on 12 February 1973. In their debriefings, they recounted how they survived under extremely primitive conditions filled with malnutrition, dysentery and no medical attention at the hands of the Viet Cong who moved them between jungle camps in both South Vietnam and Cambodia.

WO1 Maslowski recounted seeing WO1 Varnado two months after capture. The wound in the pilot's side had healed, however, the wounds to his leg and knee were badly infected and he was being transported in a hammock by the communists because he could not walk any distance on his own. Shortly thereafter, the Viet Cong took Michael Varnado to their hospital for medical treatment where he died on 21 September 1970. According to both Dan Maslowski and Frederick Crowson, and substantiated by the VC's list of prisoners who Died in Captivity, Robert Young died of illness in the presence of the other prisoners, and in Dan Maslowski's arms, on 17 November 1972.

On 27 April 1989, the communists returned Michael Varnado's remains to US control. They were positively identified on 1 August 1989, and he was buried with full military honors the following month in his home state of Louisiana. To date the communists have made no attempt to return the remains of Robert Young whom they acknowledge died while under their control. For Bunyan Price, Rodney Griffin and Dale Richardson only unanswered questions remain.

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.

Military men in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia 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.