Rank/Branch: O3/US Marine
Unit: HMM 165, Marine Air
Date of Birth: 04 January
Home City of Record: Burbank
Loss Date: 03 June 1967
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 161914N
Status (in 1973): Missing
Other Personnel In Incident:
Frank E. Cius (returned POW 1973); Timothy R. Bodden; Ronald J.
Dexter; John G. Gardner; Billy Laney;
(all missing); Mr. Ky (Nung
Cdr. - wounded and rescued);
Charles F. Wilklow (rescued)
Remarks: Last seen in crashed aircraft.
SYNOPSIS: On June 3, 1967, Capt. Steven P. Hanson,
pilot; 1Lt. John G. Gardner, co-pilot; Sgt. Timothy R. Bodden, crew
chief/door gunner; LCpl. Frank E. Cius, door gunner; SFC Billy
R. Laney, SFC Ronald J. Dexter, SFC Charles F. Wilklow and an unknown
number of ARVN personnel, all passengers, were aboard a CH46A helicopter
(serial #150955) on an extraction mission in Laos.
The USMC aircraft picked up a U.S. Army Special Forces team attached
to MACV-SOG, Command and Control, and the ARVN troops they were
working with. Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies
and Observation Group (MACV-SOG) was a joint service high command
unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations
throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel
into MACV-SOG (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 which were
called, depending on the time frame, "Shining Brass" or
"Prairie Fire" missions.
The aircraft received extensive automatic small arms fire upon takeoff
from the Landing Zone, took numerous hits and crashed 350 meters
from the LZ, located about 15 miles inside Laos west of the A Shau
Valley. The helicopter did not burn on impact, and continued to
receive fire. Three ARVN troops were able to return to the LZ where
the troops remaining at the LZ were extracted the following day.
The troops waiting at the LZ could not search because
of the hostile threat in the area. Air searches located the survivors
of the crash, but they could not be evacuated. The only America
found to be in a position to be safely evacuated was SFC Wilklow.
He gave the following account of what happened to the crew and passengers
aboard the CH46:
SFC Dexter appeared uninjured and left the wreckage
with a large number of ARVN troops. Capt. Hanson was wounded and
outside the helicopter, but stated that he had to return to get
his carbine. The Marine Corps believes he died of the wounds he
received when the aircraft was overrun, although Hanson's wife later
identified her husband in a widely distributed Vietnamese propaganda
photograph of a pilot being captured. When last seen, all the other
Americans were still in the wreckage, and enemy troops (the U.S.
Army says they were Viet Cong; the U.S. Marines say they were North
Vietnamese Army - possibly a joint force of both) were tossing grenades
toward the aircraft with no attempt to capture the personnel inside.
Wilklow left the crash site, and noted that gunfire suddenly stopped.
He continued to evade the enemy and was picked up 3 days later.
When Mr. Ky, the Nung Commander was being evacuated
by the last helicopter out, he noted several men (undoubtedly Dexter
and the ARVN) in a large bomb crater firing red star clusters from
a flare gun. Frank Cius was taken prisoner and released from Hanoi
in 1973. He was one of the dozen or so captured by the Vietnamese
and taken immediately to Hanoi claimed to be the "Laos"
prisoners. In reality, none of the dozen had been held in Laos.
Ronald Dexter, according to Frank Cius, was captured, and died in
captivity on July 29, 1967. John Gardner, according to the USMC,
died on the ground after the crash of the aircraft due to intense
enemy fire. Billy Laney was last seen lying wounded on the floor
of the aircraft between a crewmember with a broken back and the
door gunner with a head wound.
NOTE: the USMC states that Bodden, crew chief/door gunner was shot
in the back and never left the aircraft, but reports received by
the National League of Families indicate that he was definitely
alive after the aircraft crashed. The U.S. did not know Cius was
captured until he was released, evidently believing he never exited
the aircraft, and Wilklow had indicated that the Vietnamese were
not trying to capture the occupants of the aircraft. Therefore,
as door gunner, he must have been the "door gunner with the
head wound", and Bodden the "crewmember with a broken
Since 1975, the U.S. Government has received thousands
of reports relating to Americans still alive in Southeast Asia.
Many of them cannot be dismissed as untrue. Officially, the U.S.
says it is operating under the assumption that men are being held,
and that the matter is of "highest national priority".
Yet, we seem unable to resolve the mystery. Nor have they ever negotiated
for the "tens of tens" of American prisoners the Lao stated
There can be no question that the communists know the fate of those
who were last seen on the ill-fated CH 46A that day. The men aboard
this craft were inserted into Laos for exceedingly dangerous and
important missions. They deserve no less than America's very best
efforts to determine their fates. If any of them are alive, they
must be brought home.
If you would like to help with this cause please
click the image below for more info.
Albert Mark Fransen
Peter Joe Wilson
Stephen Paul Hanson
David Louis Hrdlicka
All content © 2004 Debbie Ellis