|Name:||Donald Lee Wright|
|Rank/Branch:||Senior Master Sergeant/US Air Force|
Tactical Airlift Sq.
374th Tactical Airlift Wing
Ubon Airfield, Thailand
|Date of Birth:||02 July 1938|
|Home of Record:||Mt. Savage, MD|
|Date of Loss:||24 November 1969|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
|Loss Coordinates:||154900N 1064600E (YC902495)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel in Incident:||Earl C. Brown, Richard O. Ganley, Larry I. Grewell, Michael D. Balamoti, Donald L. Wright, Peter R. Matthes, Rexford J. DeWispelaere (all missing)|
SYNOPSIS: The Lockheed C130 Hercules, or "Herc" for short, was multi-purpose propeller driven aircraft used as a transport, tanker, gunship, drone controller, airborne battlefield command and control center, weather reconnaissance and electronic reconnaissance platform; as well as search, rescue and recovery aircraft.
In the hands of the "Trash Haulers," as the crew of the Tactical Air Command transports styled themselves, the C130 proved to be the most valuable airlift instrument in the Southeast Asia conflict. They were so valuable, in fact, that Gen. William Momyer, 7th Air Force Commander, refused for a time to let them land at Khe Sanh when the airstrip was under fire from NVA troops surrounding the base. The C130 was critical in resupplying American and allied troops in this area, and when the Hercules could not land, it delivered its payload by means of a parachute drop.
On 24 November 1969, Capt. Earl C. Brown, pilot; 1st Lt. Peter R. Matthes, co-pilot; Capt. Richard O. Ganley, navigator; Maj. Michael D. Balamoti, navigator; then SSgt. Donald L. Wright, flight engineer; Sgt. Rexford J. DeWispelaere, loadmaster; SSgt. Larry I. Grewell, Loadmaster; and SSgt. Charles R. Fellenz, non crew member comprised the crew of a C130A that departed Ubon Airfield, Thailand on an operational mission over Laos.
At 1907 hours, while operating over the rugged, jungle covered mountains near the city of Ban Bac, Savannakhet Province, Laos; the C130A was observed as several rounds of 37mm anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire hit it. Other pilots saw the aircraft burst into flames, crash to the ground and explode on impact in an area laced with primary and secondary roads, along with rivers of various sizes. The crash site was also located approximately 29 miles west of the Lao/Vietnamese border, 67 miles west-northwest of Kham Duc and 90 miles west-southwest of DaNang, South Vietnam
Those aircraft already on site conducted an immediate electronic and visual search, but none of the other aircrews heard any emergency beeper signals, saw any parachutes or located the aircraft wreckage. Because of the heavy enemy presence in the area, no ground search for the crew was possible. According to the Air Force, due to the circumstances surrounding this incident, it could not be determined whether the crew died or survived the crash of the aircraft. All crewmen were immediately listed Missing in Action.
In 1992, after a great deal of pressure was applied to the United States Government to establish the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs to officially investigate all aspects of the LIVE POW issue, the committee was instituted. During a hearing held specifically to receive sworn testimony from independent imagery experts hired as consultants for the US Government to examine these photographs generated by US intelligence, one noted consultant testified that the June 1992 satellite photographs of the Dong Mang (Dong Vai) prison camp near Hanoi indicated large numbers and letters appearing in nearby fields that matched the distress codes and surnames of known POW/MIAs. Further, that independent imagery consultant told the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in his sworn testimony that he had detected, with "100% confidence," a faint "GX2527" in a satellite photograph of that prison camp in Vietnam.
These letters and numbers correlate to the secret primary and backup distress symbols and authenticator number for Peter Matthes. Other satellite photographs revealed more names and authenticator numbers that are confirmed to belong to other POW/MIAs, but none are fellow crewmen of 1st Lt. Matthes'. The Senate Select Committee recommended in 1993 that the Executive Branch investigate these cases by name with Vietnam. To date that has not happened.
In January 1993, a joint US/Lao team from the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting visited the C130 crash site for the first time. During that survey/excavation operation, no bone fragments or teeth were found. A full-scale crash site field excavation was conducted nearly 11 months later, from 21 October to 8 November 1993, during which time only 649 unidentifiable bone fragments and 5 teeth were recovered.
Interestingly, during the time in between these two trips to this crash site, the Deputy Director of Defense Intelligence Agency's (DIA) POW/MIA Special Office answered a Minnesota Congressman's questions about Peter Matthes by writing: "In January 1993, a joint US/Lao investigation team visited the crash site of this aircraft and found personal items of the crew in the wreckage. This site has been recommended as a high priority excavation site for one of the joint recovery teams operating throughout Southeast Asia under the authority of Joint Task Force-Full Accounting. This excavation should conclusively resolve the fate of the missing Air Force Officer."
On 23 October 1995, nearly two years later, that handful of remains recovered in October/November 1993 were accepted by the United States Government as "positively identified group remains" of all 8 American POW/MIAs from this loss incident, including Peter Matthes.
In preparation for anticipated questions from both the public and the media, DIA prepared the following message, dated 9 November 1995: "Group remains represent human biological evidence which can be associated with a specific incident, but which cannot be individualized by any currently available, scientifically accepted technique." In other words, none of the teeth or bone fragments was - nor could they be - identified as belonging to any member of that missing aircrew, or to Peter Matthes.
Did the crew of this C130 Hercules have their remains recovered and identified or are they still among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos and remain unaccounted for? 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.
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 aircrews were asked 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.