WHITE, CHARLES EDWARD "CHARLIE"

Name: Charles Edward "Charlie" White
Rank/Branch: Sergeant Major/US Army 
Unit: Company B, 
Command & Control North
MACV-SOG, 
1st Special Forces Group 
Date of Birth: 18 May 1933 (Union Town, AL)
Home of Record: Bessemer, AL
Date of Loss: 29 January 1968 
Country of Loss: Cambodia
Loss Coordinates: 143200N 1071800E (YB489072)
Click coordinates to view maps
Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground 
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing) 

REMARKS:  POSS DEAD - IMPALED

SYNOPSIS:  MACV-SOG, or Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, was a joint service high command unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. All Special Forces Groups channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (though it was not a Special Forces group) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. These teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction that were called, depending on the time frame, "Shining Brass" or "Prairie Fire" missions.

In the fall of 1967 and into early 1968, MACV-SOG formally absorbed the 5th Special Forces Group's (SFG) old Projects Omega and Sigma. These cross-border missions included those code named "Daniel Boone." The MACV-SOG teams were stationed at new bases at Ban Me Thuot for missions into Cambodia and at Kontum for missions into both northern Cambodia and Southern Laos.

On 29 January 1968, then SFC Charles E. White was the reconnaissance patrol medic assigned to Company B, MACV-SOG, Command and Control North (CCN). The mission identifier was "Daniel Boone." The reconnaissance team was inserted into the extreme northeastern corner of Cambodia from Forward Operation Base 2. The team's mission was to locate and report on NVA forces also operating clandestinely in this region. The team engaged a NVA element. They were able to fight their way free and make it to a small opening in the dense jungle where McGuire rigs, which were a type of rope sling, were dropped to the team from a waiting Huey helicopter.

The helicopter hovered approximately 100 feet off the ground as SFC White and two indigenous team members climbed into the rigs. After SFC White gave the all clear signal, the pilot increased the Huey's altitude to about 200 feet to clear the jungle canopy. As the Huey began to pull the team up through the trees, Charlie White radioed, "I'm having a problem with the rig." A passenger aboard the helicopter looked out and saw SFC White turn upside down and fall out of the McGuire rig and into the jungle below. According to the passenger, Charlie White fell from an altitude of roughly 25 feet above the ground. Because of the large number of NVA in the area, no immediate search and rescue (SAR) operation was possible.

The location of loss was in the densely forested mountains of extreme northeastern Cambodia approximately 2 miles south of the Cambodian/Lao border, 12 miles southwest of Ban Pakha, Laos; 36 miles southeast of Attopeu, Laos; and 49 miles west-northwest of Kontum, South Vietnam; Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia.

On 31 January, a MACV-SOG rescue team, including SFC Fred Zabitosky and SFC Dallas Longsteath III, was inserted into the same landing zone (LZ) the missing medic was being extracted from. As they searched the area, they found enemy tracks where the NVA got in line and swept up the hillside, then discovered a place where all the tracks came together at one spot. They found where SFC White had fallen through the jungle canopy into a clump of thick bamboo that had been crushed by his fall. Because there was no blood on the ground or any of the stalks of bamboo, they determined there was enough foliage to have safely broken his fall. By the appearance of the tracks, all the NVA left in the same direction as a single party. Because all the boot prints were so intermixed, there was no way to tell if Charles White's larger boot prints were among them.

During their inspection of the bamboo thicket and surrounding area, the search team found no sign of a freshly dug grave. Because of the lack of blood found and no grave, the team believed that Charles White had not been injured or killed either by the fall or by enemy troops. They also found no personal equipment of SFC White's in the trees or on the ground. These facts also bolstered the team's belief that Charlie White not only survived the fall, but also was captured and led away by the NVA.

By the time the rescue team was inserted, it was a full day behind the communist forces who searched the site before them. Because of the large number of communist troops known to be in the region, the search team was unable to follow the enemy's trail. With no other course of action available to them, the search team radioed for the extraction helicopter to pick them up. In spite of the overwhelming evidence that he survived the fall and was captured, Charlie White was declared Missing in Action and the country of loss was officially listed as South Vietnam at the time the formal search was terminated. No additional search efforts were attempted due to the continuous enemy activity in the area.

Shortly afterward in a letter to Charlie White's mother from his commanding officer dated 23 February 1968, Mrs. White was told that her son "became missing while under heavy hostile fire near Khe Sanh in South Vietnam." The true facts and circumstances surrounding his loss remained classified and hidden from public view until declassified in 1973.

No direct action was taken on this case with either the Vietnamese or Cambodians until his case file, along with those of other men missing in Cambodia, were passed to the Khmer representatives at the United Nations in December 1975. The Khmer representatives stated there were no American prisoners in Cambodia and the Cambodian government had no information about any missing Americans. Although missing in an area where large numbers of North Vietnamese were known to be operating, there is no record that the Vietnamese were ever queried about SFC White's fate.

Under the circumstances, there is no question that the Vietnamese know what happened to him. If Charlie White died as a result of his loss or under enemy control afterward, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, he survived, his 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.

Military men 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. Charlie White was built like a NFL lineman, standing 6' 4" and weighing 280 lbs. He had 3 days remaining on his tour of duty in Vietnam when he became the first member of MACV-SOG to become POW/MIA in Cambodia.