Name: James Edward Kennedy
Rank/Branch: SP4/US Army
Unit: 57th Aviation Company, 52nd Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group
Date of Birth: 02 January 1950 (Woodbury NJ)
Home City of Record: Pine Hill NJ
Date of Loss: 22 December 1969
Country of Loss: Laos (some records say Cambodia)
Loss Coordinates: 152029N 1072941E (YA678975)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Others In Incident:
Donald D. Burris (missing); Timothy A. Purser, John H. Hunsicker (rescued)
On December 22, 1969 SP4 James E. Kennedy, door gunner; WO Donald D. Burris Jr., pilot; WO John H. Hunsicker, aircraft commander; and SP5 Timothy A. Purser, crew chief; were the crew of a UH1C helicopter (serial #66-00587) on a combat support mission when it developed mechanical problems and crashed landed.
Official records differ as to the location of the crash. U.S. Army casualty and Joint Casualty Resolution Center records indicate that the crash was in Cambodia, yet Defense Department, State Department and other records indicate that the crash occurred near the border of Attopeu and Saravane Provinces in Laos, some 30-35 miles north of the closest point in Cambodia. Coordinates 152029N 1972941E are that location. The locality of YA678975 is undoubtedly Cambodia. It is possible that their combat support mission was in Cambodia, and the subsequent rescue flight took a circular northwesterly course around the mountains in northern Cambodia along the Laos border, circled back east towards Dak To (its destination), and that some records pinpoint the actual location of loss at the beginning of the flight, while others record it during flight.
Regardless, when the aircraft landed, Burris, Purser and Hunsicker had survived the crash, but they could not locate the door gunner, James Kennedy. WO Hunsicker and WO Burris escaped therough the left cargo door uninjured. They found the crew chief (Purser), who had also scrambled free of the wreckage. He had a broken arm. A search of the general area around the crashed helicopter revealed no trace of SP4 Kennedy, and he was not trapped in the wreckage. (As door gunner, and at a position on the side of the main cargo area of the aircraft positioned at an open door, Kennedy may have decided to bail out of the descending aircraft, or may have fallen, - although the gunners were generally strapped in to the frame of the helicopter so this seems unlikely - thus becoming separated from the others.)
Minutes after the helicopter crashed, a recovery helicopter arrived in the area and lowered ropes with McGuire rigs attached through the dense jungle to the downed men. The survivors were not trained in the proper use of this equipment, and SP5 Purser fell out of his rig a few feet off the ground. WO Burris and WO Hunsicker remained in their rigs and were lifted out, and the helicopter started toward Dak To, with the two rescued men still on the ropes. Five minutes into the flight, Burris lost his grip on the rope and fell from an altitude of from 2500 to 3000 feet. The rescue helicopter continued to the nearest landing area.
A search and rescue team was inserted into the crash site area and recovered Purser, who was injured. The team searched widely for SP4 Kennedy, but found no trace of him, and concluded their search on December 25. No search was made for Burris because of the lack of positive information to pinpoint his loss site and the hostile threat in the area.
Burris and Kennedy are two of nearly 2500 Americans who did not return from Southeast Asia at the end of American involvement there, including nearly 600 in Laos. The Pathet Lao publicly stated they held many American prisoners, but not a single American serviceman held in Laos was ever released. In Cambodia, there were substantially fewer missing than in Laos or Vietnam. Cambodia has publicly offered to return the bodies of a number of American servicemen to the U.S. (in fact, MORE bodies than are officially listed as lost there...), but the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Cambodia, and will not acknowledge the offer officially. The U.S. is unusually silent on the matter of men lost in Laos and Cambodia.
At the end of the war, military officials expressed their shock and anger that only 591 Americans were released when hundreds more were expected. Word of Americans still held captive has continually come in. At the end of 1988, a U.S. Government report stated that the U.S. has conducted "over 250,000" interviews and analyzed "millions of documents", yet still maintains no proof exists that Americans are still held.
Meanwhile the Burris and Kennedy families wonder if they will ever know what happened to their men - if they are alive - or if they are dead.