Air Force First Lt. John L. Ryder was the pilot of an O1F spotter
aircraft on which Special Forces Operations Officer Capt. Barry W. Hilbrich
was serving as observer. The two departed Pleiku Airbase on a visual
reconnaissance mission on June 9, 1970 south of Ben Het in South Vietnam
with an ultimate destination of Camp Dak Saeng.
The aircraft was located just north of Pleiku and was in radio contact with
the tactical air control center. Their next scheduled radio contact was at
1327 hours, but no further communication was established. Ryder and Hilbrich
were reported missing.
No immediate visual search could be initiated because of incliment weather,
and an electronic search conducted produced no trace of the aircraft of the
crew. During the period of June 10-19 an extensive search was carried out
extending from Pleiku north to the I Corps boundary and west of the
Cambodian border, with no sightings of either aircraft or its two officers.
The two were officially classified Missing In Action. It cannot be
determined whether the enemy knew their fates.
It was thought by the families of most of the men missing that even though
they got no word of their loved one, there every chance they had been
captured. When the war ended in 1973, and 591 Americans were released in
Operation Homecoming, military experts expressed their dismay that "some
hundreds" of POWs did not come home with them. Many families were
John Ryder's mother went to see the Vietnamese in England in 1976. While
they were very cordial to her, she says, "they repeated over and over again,
they will give out no information on the missing men until the U.S.A. has
Reconstruction aid promised by Nixon and Kissinger to Vietnam in 1973 has
not been appropriated by Congress, and no aid has been given. Since 1973,
the Vietnamese continue to link the issue of aid to that of the American
POWs, although the U.S. continues to insist it is a separate, humanitarian
Tragically, thousands of reports continue to flow in regarding the Americans
still prisoner, missing or unaccounted for. Some of them specifically refer
to an American by name and location, yet no solution for bringing these men
home has been found.
Those of us who remember that talks between nations can be tied up
indefinitely over the shape of the negotiating table wonder how long our
captive servicemen will be able to endure.
First Lt. John L. Ryder graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in