Other Personnel In Incident: (None missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1990 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews.
SYNOPSIS: On November 15, 1968, 1st Lt. Bircham was the patrol leader of an 8 man LRRP (long-range reconnaisaince patrol) of the FOB2, 5th Special Forces Group on a search mission in Laos. During the mission, the patrol was ambushed, and in evading the enemy, Bircham suffered a broken ankle and fragmentaion wounds. He radioed and requested that the patrol be extracted that evening.
Because of the difficult terrain, which prevented the helicopters from landing to exfiltrate the patrol, the men were to be picked up by McGuire extraction rigs. These devices were dropped through the trees near the ground, where the men situated themselves on them, were pulled up through the trees, and carried in suspension until they could safely be brought aboard the helicopter or placed on ground.
After 4 members of the patrol were sucessfully extracted in the first helicopter, the second aircraft hovered to pick up the other four men, with only 3 rigs. Lt. Birchim ensured that the other 3 men were situated and then hung on the back of one of his men. Their rig was dragged through the trees, nearly dislodging them, but Birchim hung on for what was estimated to be about 30-45 minutes before falling from a height of about 2500 feet. The exact location can only be approximated by time from the known pickup point.
All elements of 5th Special Forces Group in the area were notified, but Birchim's body was never found. It is estimated that Birchim's last location was in Kontum Province, South Vietnam, about half-way between the towns of Dak Sut and Dak To.
Barbara Birchim was 21 when she was notified of the loss of her husband. He had been declared Killed/Body Not Recovered. When she received documents related to the loss, however, doubts remained. There just was not enough solid information for her to let go of the hope that somehow he survived.
In 1988, Mrs. Birchim traveled to Vietnam hoping to find some clue to the fate of her husband or others who remained prisoner, missing or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. She has devoted half her life to resolving the mystery of the loss of these men.
Since American involvement in Vietnam ended in 1975, nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing, prisoner, or otherwise unaccounted for in Indochina have been received by the U.S. Government. Many officials, having examined this largely classified information, have reluctantly concluded that many Americans are still alive today, held captive by our long-ago enemy.
Whether James Birchim survived the the fall from the McGuire rig to be captured is certainly not known. It is not known if he might be among those thought to be still alive today. What is certain, however, is that as long as even one American remains alive, held against his will, we owe him our very best efforts to bring him to freedom.
James Douglas Birchim was promoted to the rank of Captain during the period he was maintained missing. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to keep pushing this issue inside the Beltway... The need to get specific answers is more important now than ever before. If still alive, some MIAs are now in their 70s...They don't have much time left. We have to demand the answers from the bureaucrats and keep standing on their necks (figuratively speaking) until they get the message that THEY work for US and that we are serious about getting these long overdue responses. Diplomatic considerations aside... We can no longer allow questionable protocols established by pseudo-aristocratic armchair strategists, to determine or influence the fate of the men who were in the trenches while the diplomats were sharing sherry and canapes and talking about "Their Plans" for the future of SE Asia. If you'd like to see what some others are doing in addition to writing their congressmen, senators and the Whitehouse, check out some of these sites: