|Name:||Robert John Williams|
F, 79th Artillery Battalion,
3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division
|Date of Birth:||17 September 1943 (Gilroy, CA)|
|Home of Record:||Daleville, AL|
|Date of Loss:||11 May 1972|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Rodney L. Strobridge (missing)|
SYNOPSIS: The first Bell AH1G Cobra helicopter gunships arrived in Vietnam on 1 September 1967. It was a major step forward in the development of the armed helicopter since it carried both guns and rockets. The Cobra had enough speed to meet the escort mission. It also had tandem seating, better armor, and a better weapons system than any previous helicopter of its day. By 1970-1, the Cobra's armament included the 2.75-inch rocket with a 17-pound warhead, the very effective 2.75 -inch flechette rocket, and the SX-35 20MM cannon that made it a truly powerful aircraft.
On May 11, 1972, Capt. Robert J. Williams, pilot; and Capt. Rodney L. Strobridge, co-pilot comprised the crew of an AH1G Cobra gunship (tail #69-15009), in a flight of three that launched to support ARVN troops trapped in the besieged city of An Loc, Binh Long Province, South Vietnam. The provisional capitol located approximately 12 miles due south of Loc Ninh and 65 miles northwest of Saigon had been under siege off and on since early April by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces. Airborne support in the form of supply drops of food, medicine and armament, as well as close air support, were critical in keeping the city from being overrun.
Each of the three gunships was engaged in an aerial artillery attack against enemy tanks when Capt. Williams' and Capt. Strobridge's helicopter received heavy and accurate anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire that severed the tailboom causing it to go into a flat spin and crash. As the crippled Cobra descended toward the ground, Capt. Williams' transmitted, "Oh, my God!"
Upon impact, the gunship was immediately engulfed in flames. However, an Air Force Forward Air Controller (FAC), who was coordinating all air activities during the battle, reported he witnessed the shootdown and that the "two downed pilots were on the ground running away from the aircraft just before it exploded." Shortly afterward a large segment of the enemy forces broke contact and withdrew across the nearby Cambodian border. US intelligence believed that if Robert Williams and Rodney Strobridge had been captured, they certainly would have been removed from the battle site in a timsely manner.
The crash site/battle site was located roughly ¼ mile of Highway QL 13, the primary road running between Loc Ninh and Saigon, less than a mile south of the city of An Loc and 11 miles east-southeast of the South Vietnamese/Cambodian border. In addition to the city being strategically located, rubber plantations, small villages and hamlets surround the provisional capital. Under the circumstances, no aerial or ground search was conducted at the time due to intense and continued enemy activity in the area. At the time of loss, Robert Williams and Rodney Strobridge were immediately listed Missing in Action.
It was well known by the spring of 1972 that the war was drawing to a close, and that the North Vietnamese were offering huge bonuses to AAA gunners who could shoot down American aircraft and capture the aircrews alive. At this stage in the war our enemy knew that the more men they could capture, the better their chances were at the negotiating table to secure peace on their terms. Further, everyone knew American prisoners were worth much more alive than dead to both sides.
In an attachment to a 1 December 1992 letter prepared by the Office of Senator Bob Smith, Vice-Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, entitled "US POW/MIAs who May have survived in captivity," he presented a list of 324 POW/MIAs with data supporting the belief held by US intelligence analysts that there was ample evidence that these specific men survived their loss incidents and were probably captured. According to this document, "Robert J. Williams, USA," was a "POW reportedly seen in (a) Vietnamese magazine photograph, JSSA." Analysts were unable confirm to whether or not Rodney L. Strobridge was also shown in the propaganda photo.
If Robert Williams and Rodney Strobridge died in their loss incident, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way, there is little doubt that the Vietnamese could return them or their remains any time they have the desire to do so.
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 remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
American military personnel 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.
Robert Williams was a career helicopter pilot who was on his 5th tour of duty in Vietnam. By the time he was shotdown during the siege of An Loc, he had accumulated a total of 56 months in-country.