Summary. USAF Captain Victor Apodaca and 1LT Jon Busch were lost when their F-4 was shot down over North Vietnam, June 8, 1967. An eyewitness report of the crashed aircraft is the subject of flawed analysis by a retinue of amateur analysts and junior G-men.
Facts of the Loss
Captain Victor Apodaca and 1LT Jon Busch were lost on June 8, 1967, when their F-4C was shot down while on an armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. They were reconning a route that included areas of logistic activity. That is, they were checking out roads, bridges, and installations that fed men and material onto the Ho Chin Minh Trail for movement south.
The Apodaca-Busch aircraft was one of two F-4Cs, callsigns Hambone 1 and Hambone 2 (the Apodaca-Busch bird). Hambone 1 took the lead, followed about a mile behind by Hambone 2. The two aircraft were flying at an altitude of about 4500 feet over a river valley with rolling to mountainous terrain about 22 miles northeast of Dong Hoi, North Vietnam.
Hambone 1 radioed Hambone 2 that he was encountering heavy and accurate ground fire. Fifteen seconds later, Apodaca acknowledged the warning and reported that his aircraft had been hit. Hambone 1 advised Apodaca to exit the area and head for the coast (where an at-sea rescue may be possible). Moments later, Hambone 2 reported he was experiencing control and hydraulic problems. The last message from Hambone 2 gave the direction and altitude (16,000 feet).
Seconds later, emergency signals were received for about 25 seconds, but it was not possible to determine whether one or two radio signals were broadcasting, nor could the point of origin be determined. Hambone 1, critically low on fuel, was forced to return to base.
An electronic search was conducted, but suspended due to darkness, bad weather and heavy anti-aircraft fire. During the search, no electronic or visual contact was made and no evidence of the aircraft was found.
(Note: At time of loss, Apodaca was a Captain, Busch a First Lieutenant. Later, each was promoted one grade in absentia.)
A Report of This Loss; Busch's Remains Returned
Over the years, one report was received by US intell that correlated to the Apodaca-Busch loss. In this report, the source stated that he had been a member of an anti-aircraft unit operating in the area where the Apodaca-Busch loss occurred. He reported that, one day in June 1967, he observed the wreckage of a US aircraft that had been shot down while bombing a bridge the previous day. He reported observing the body of one of the "pilots." He described the body as being Caucasian, having fair complexion, short blonde hair, and a slight beard.
This report was correlated to the Apodaca-Bush loss because of the location and the date. In his interrogation, the source was firm on the date and location. There were no other US aircraft lost in this area for several weeks before or after the date of the report, thus, the aircraft loss that he was describing could correlate only to the Apodaca-Busch loss. Also, because Apodaca was dark-complexioned with black hair, and Busch was fair-complexioned with light hair, we believe that the body the source observed was Busch.
Because of this report, which indicated that the Apodaca-Busch aircraft loss was well-known to the Vietnamese, this incident was raised by General Vessey with the Vietnamese as one that they should be able to help resolve. In 1988, remains were returned that were later identified as Busch. At the same time, the Vietnamese returned a twisted dog tag imprinted with Apodaca's name and identifying data and a map enclosed in a plastic map case. They claimed that these two artifacts had been recovered from the crash site.
Later, US personnel excavated the crash site and recovered a small quantity of bone fragments that could be the remains of Apodaca.
The report that was correlated to the Apodaca-Busch loss has been attacked by the
MIA "activists." They find several "serious discrepancies" with
the report. They have also attacked the identification, claiming that it was based
on the source report. The following is a listing of the attacks launched on this
report and my response to those attacks. The portion in italics is claims
made on at least one MIA "activist" web site.
The activist attack on the report of the Apodaca-Busch loss is another example of amateur analysts and junior G-men at work.
Update as of March 2001
This article has drawn a lot of attention. And, I made a real mistake in responding to another web site about the Busch-Apodaca loss. Let me explain. Visit this article: http://www.ojc.org/powforum/schlatter -- I believe that's the URL; it's an article on the Operation Just Cause web site. In that article you will find a parody of this article and you will find claims that I have lied and that I destroyed evidence. Here are the facts.
Artifacts turned over
In July 1988 the Vietnamese repatriated fragmentary human remains that they said came from the Busch-Apodaca crash site. Along with the remains were returned a dog tag with Victor Apodaca's name and a USAF map (a navigational chart, to be exact) encased in a plastic map case. All these artifacts, according to the Vietnamese, came from the crash site.
The dog tag
The dog tag was darkened and had a piece missing from it (this link is a photo of the dog tag).
The map and the plastic
The map and plastic were partial. It is common practice in military operations to put your map in a plastic case -- a map case is similar to a big zip-loc bag. The plastic case protects the map and provides a surface on which you can write with grease pencils, all the while protecting the map. The plastic case and map turned over by the Vietnamese had been burned and were dirty. There was some writing on the map and a couple of lines drawn on it. Both the map and the plastic were dirty; the map was inside the plastic but the plastic case was pretty well destroyed -- either from the effects of the fire that burned its edges, or from exposure to the elements, or passage of time -- or all three -- the plastic was hard and brittle and some of the burned and broken edges were sharp.
While handling the plastic map case, one of the technicians on the DIA office cut her finger on the sharp plastic edge so I told the techs to trim the sharp, burned edge off the plastic to prevent this from happening again. (NOTE: I refer to the plastic as a plastic map case -- actually, what we had was two (later turned out to be three) pieces of plastic, approx 8 to 10 inches square, folded, with the map inside the plastic. We did not have an intact map case, just some pieces.)
The FBI examination
I was chief of the DIA POW-MIA Office at the time these items were turned over. I had them sent to the FBI lab for analysis. I wanted to ensure that the dog tag was legitimate. I had samples of handwriting from both the Busch and Apodaca files sent over for comparison to the writing (printing, actually) on the map. And, I asked the FBI to determine if there was human blood or fingerprints on the map or the plastic.
The FBI came back with a metallurgical report on the dog tag. They were not able to make a handwriting comparison. In testing the plastic for blood, they had to cut off and destroy pieces of the plastic -- the nature of testing for blood samples is such that the chemicals used in testing destroy the sample.
When the testing was complete, the FBI asked what I wanted done with the dog tag, map, and plastic. I asked that the dog tag and map be returned to DIA and told them they could destroy the few remaining remnants of plastic. It is this action that forms the basis of the accusation that I ordered evidence to be destroyed.
The dog tag was eventually turned over to the Apodaca family -- I believe it went to his oldest son, though I may be wrong in this regard. The map was photographed and the photos were given to the family. The map itself was turned over to the USAF Historical Office.
What the FBI found
Some may be interested in what the FBI found. They found nothing of value on the plastic -- no fingerprints, no blood, nothing. Ditto for the map -- the map was not tested for fingerprints because the FBI said such testing would be very destructive. The dog tag was determined to be a genuine US military dog tag; it had been subjected to heat and possibly had been mutilated by hand or with a tool of some kind.
Schlatter lies and destroys evidence
A couple of years ago -- may have been longer than that -- I was browsing through some of the MIA sites on the WWW and I found a quote from testimony provided by Ms. Delores Alfond to a Congressional committee in which she stated that I had ordered that evidence pertaining to her brother be destroyed. I did not recall done such a thing so I posted an article on the MIA Facts Site stating that Ms. Alfond did not know what she was talking about and that I had never ordered the destruction of evidence. I was wrong. A few weeks later, I realized that I should have checked my facts first so I submitted a FOIA request for documents from the Busch-Apodaca loss. When I received the documents, I found my serious error -- I had, in fact, told the FBI to destroy the remnants of the plastic map overlay.
Meanwhile, the author of the Schlatter article on the OJC site published the article to which I referred above, accusing me of lying and destroying evidence. According to the author, I lied when I said that I did not order evidence to be destroyed and I destroyed evidence when I told the FBI to trash the remnants of the plastic. In retrospect, I should have checked the documents before responding to Ms. Alfond's statements.
And that, folks, is the story. Read this article, read the OJC article and make up your own mind.
On June 20, 2001, the Department of Defense announced that the remains of CAPT Victor Apodaca had been identified. Excavation of the Apodaca-Bush crash site had, years ago, turned up fragmentary remains that could only have been Apodaca's remains -- because Bush was apparently thrown out of the aircraft and his remains were returned years ago. These fragmentary remains were identified using mtDNA testing. The DoD annoucement means that the family -- specifically CAPT Apdoaca's primary next of kin -- his oldest son -- has accepted the identification. There is a bit more to this story.
Active duty military personnel are required to designate one person to serve as their Primay Next of Kin - PNOK. The PNOK decides where the service member will be buried, what will be done with his/her personal effects, etc., etc. PNOK status is deterined by law, unless the service member designates differently. In CAPT Apodaca's case, his wife was his PNOK for several years. Later, she designated the oldest son as PNOK. CAPT Apodaca had two sons. He also had four sisters and a brother. One of those sisters, Delores Alfond, has been one of the more vocal MIA "activists." She has never been happy that the son is the PNOK and had authority to accept CAPT Apodaca's identification. While Delores was off being an activist, the sons were quietly following the identification process.
The important point here is the Captain Victor J. Apodaca will now receive a funeral with full miltary honors befitting the hero that he is. His sister Delroes can -- and likely will -- rave on for years but the right thing has now been done by a courageous son. Go to this link to read documents concerning this case.