"Full Accounting, or,
On the Guestbook Archive page of this site is the
following entry from the family member of an individual who was lost in a shootdown over
Laos. I am not familiar with this loss and, thus, am not able to comment on
details. I have inserted my own comments in the body of her message and have added
some comments at the end.
Comments from MIA Facts Site Guestbook Archive
Her message is in this typeface, my inserted comments are in this typeface and color.
Begin quoted message from MIA Facts Site Guestbook Archive.
I'd like to present you with the following "MIA Facts" to
add to your collection. Additionally, I'm interested in hearing your input regarding how
you would rate them in your general classification of "Fiction and Fairy Tales."
This input will be welcomed, as I am not only the author, but a relative of one of the men
in question. Please read on.
Amanda Y. Kidd Freelance Journalist
FULL ACCOUNTING~ OR~ FORCED ACCEPTANCE?
The Truth Behind The POW/MIA Accounting Effort Of America's Missing
Servicemen In Southeast Asia By:
Amanda Y. Kidd
Slowly since the war's end in 1973, and now more rapidly in recent
years, America's missing servicemen of the Vietnam War are finally coming home. Or so it
would appear to those who have not yet learned the sad truth behind the POW/MIA accounting
The long-awaited dream of "closure" that the families of
many of our nation's missing servicemen cling to with unyielding hope is being
increasingly dashed by tragic inconclusiveness that leaves more questions than answers and
proves to be severely counter-productive to the originally intended purpose of the U.S.
Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO)~ (the sub-branch of the U.S. Department of
Defense responsible for missing service personnel).
"I think it's possible" states Kathie Preston Johnson,
daughter of U.S. Air Force CMSgt. James Arthur Preston when asked if her father may still
Preston, a relative of this author as well, was declared Missing In
Action along with a crew of seven other members of U.S. Air Force personnel when their
AC-47D gunship, "Spooky 10" was lost to enemy fire over Laos on May 15, 1966.
Others aboard the aircraft were" Col. George W. Jensen; pilot,
Capt. Marshall L. Tapp; co-pilot, Col. Lavern Ge. Reilly, observer, SMSgt. George W.
Thompson, navigator, CMSgt. James E. Williams; flight engineer, and CMSgt. William L.
Madison and SMSgt. Kenneth D. McKenney; door gunners.
Despite extensive search and rescue efforts immediately following
the aircraft's loss, no trace of wreckage or any of the crew was ever located.
I do not know how "extensive" the SAR was, but, because
this loss was in Laos, I suspect there was extensive SAR. I recommend that folks
read the article on losses in Laos. The fact that SAR did not
turn up any trace of the crew is telling.
Thirty-three agonizing years of waiting proved fruitless, not only
for the Prestons, but for other families of the crew as well.
Joanne Reilly, wife of Col. Lavern Reilly, observer, has traveled to
Laos in previous years with other MIA wives in search of the truth that the U.S.
government has blatantly refused to provide.
I take issue with the statement that there is "truth that
the U.S. government has blatantly refused to provide." There are loss incidents
in which aircraft and individuals were lost and wreckage was never located and no further
information was ever developed. In those cases, there simply is nothing to tell the
family. The fact that information is not provided means only that there is nothing
to provide, not that anyone is refusing to provide information.
Preston's son Terry is very matter-of-fact in his expression of
disappointment toward the handling of his father's case. "I either want to see him
walk through the door alive...Or I want someone to show me a body that will prove to me
that he isn't."
Neither the Preston family nor the families of the seven others who
were lost with him have been given either such means of closure."
In May 1999, the U.S. government presented each family with a highly
inconclusive report signed by Dr. Thomas D. Holland, Scientific Director of the Central
Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, which claims that 23 small, non-mt-DNA-tested bone
fragments "may" be those of one or all of the crew members.
The remains were highly-fragmented, rendering individual assessment
Ironically, closer evaluation of the written excavation report
provided by Joint Task Force~ Full Accounting reveals repeated statements that no mass
graves of the crew were ever located although three were claimed to have been dug by
former members of the North Vietnamese ground troops who were directly responsible for the
shootdown of the aircraft. Only once were soil disturbances noted which are reported to be
associated with a single grave of one individual.
I am not familiar with the case but, if there are
"claims" that the PAVN buried some or all of the crew, these claims : (a)
are not necessarily accurate; and, (b) do not mean that such graves are still recoverable,
given conditions of climate and terrain and the passage of time. I recommend this article on identification. Another concern is the alleged
statements by members of the "North Vietnamese ground troops" who shot down the
aircraft. Who talked to these troops? What is the provenance of such a report?
How did these PAVN know that this was the aircraft they shot down -- after all,
these guys were likely exchanging fire with US aircraft day in and day out.
Nonetheless, on December 13, 1999, despite the inconclusiveness of
the "group identification" and the lack of mass graves, the Pentagon released
its official, public announcement that all members of this crew of U.S. military service
personnel are now "accounted for".
The writer does not state the results of the excavation(s) of the
site. Often, excavations will turn up crew-related equipment and artifacts that
provide evidence as to the fate of the crew. Could it be that the metal clips of
parachutes, personal items such as rings, watches, and the like; sidearms issued to
crewmembers and identified by serial number; still-buckled seat belts; and other material
were recovered? If so -- and I suspect such is the case -- those items are just as
valuable as human remains in determining the fate of the crew. The human body is
torn to shreds in aircraft crashes and these shreds deteriorate quickly in the tropical
climate of SEAsia. However, metal artifacts that are normally found in crash sites
tend not to deteriorate as rapidly or completely and thus provide valuable evidence.
Evidence of possible survival of several crew members have been met
with apathetic disinterest from those within DPMO. Live sighting reports, captivity
photographs, and accounts of the name "Preston" having been heard by several
returned POWs while still in captivity have not deterred the agencies from their adament
There are no unknown photographs of men in captivity, thus it is
not possible that there are "captivity photographs" of any of these men.
Every photograph of an American in captivity has been identified. Yes, I know that
there are family members who look at a photograph and claim that it is a photo of their
missing man. For example, one photo was identified by over twenty families as being
of their missing family member. When the man in the photo returned, he was not any
of the twenty who identified him and his own family had not identified him in the
photo. As for a name having been reported by returnees, refer to the article at this link. Live sighting reports are simply not
reliable; read this article.
A full-military memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery is
scheduled for May 15, 2000~ The 34th anniversary of the crew's loss date. Sadly, the
coffins will be virtually empty of human remains while questions persist regarding the
true fate of the eight men aboard the ill-fated gunship, "Spooky 10".
Despite the years of agonized waiting, closure has evaded the
families of those who have yet to return to American soil. The despair in the voice of
Melinda Preston Wood, the youngest of Preston's three now-adult children, reflects the
equally helpless sentiments of numerous other families who have suffered similar tragedies
of the government's "empty coffin, group burials" in the past. "But what
can we do about it?" she wonders. Sadly, it appears that very little can be done
unless massive policy changes occur in Washington, D.C.
The blatant refusal to consider the feelings of MIA families has
become the primary fatal flaw among those within the United States' national POW/MIA
"They're going to have the ceremony whether we go or not"
states James Preston's daughter, Kathie Johnson.
Tragically, Johnson's words well-summarize the practice of
"forced acceptance" that has already buried numerous empty coffins in Arlington
National Cemetery. Now, yet another such burial will attempt to silence her father.
Without a complete overhaul of accounting policies at a national
level by political leaders who remain sympathetic to the POW/MIA issue, it leaves one with
no choice but to shudder at the thought of whose voices will be wrongfully silenced next.
NOTE: Amanda Y. Kidd is a Georgie freelance journalist and a
relative of CMSgt. James Arthur Preston~ Missing In Action~ Laos. Comments regarding the
above article are welcomed and the author can be reached through the following contact
Telephone: (770) 258-9585 E-mail: AKidd13036@aol.com
Relative of CMSgt. James A. Preston~ USAF~ MIA~ Laos
End quoted message from MIA Facts Site Guestbook Archive
Now, let's look at some facts that the author chose to omit. The eight men in
question were the crew of an AC-47D gunship, callsign Spooky 10.
Gunships over the Ho Chi Minh Trail
Think about this. The AC-47D gunship was an old, WW II vintage, fixed wing,
two-engine, prop-driven aircraft that was loaded to its maximum weight with fuel,
ammunition, flares, and weapons. The onboard weapons varied a bit but generally were
rapid firing Gatling guns that put out several thousand rounds per minute.
These aircraft operated over Laos by flying, usually at night, over the "Ho
Chi Minh Trail" -- a road and trail network that crossed the North Vietnam - Lao
border in the southern part of North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese moved just about
all the men, material, equipment, ammunition, and other supplies that they used in the
south over this trail. Movement was by foot; by trucks; by specially built bicycles
that carried supplies while a person walked along, pushing the bicycle; and, by pack
The US goal was to interdict -- break up, stop, or interfere with -- this flow of
supplies. This is where the AC47D -- and later the AC130A -- gunships came in.
These prop-driven aircraft were excellent for attacking ground traffic along the Ho
Chi Minh Trail because