The VietNam Veterans' Memorial Wall Page
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MORE THAN 2,000 AMERICANS ARE STILL UNACCOUNTED FOR IN VIETNAM
In a common tactic used by the North Vietnamese, the first aircraft had been allowed to land, drop its troops and depart the LZ. As soon as the second bird neared the ground, the NVA fired at it from all sides and it crashed on the landing zone. The second aircraft, UH1H (serial #68-16203) was flown by WO1 Roger A. Miller (only two weeks in-country), and aircraft commander WO Albert L. Barthelme Jr.. Also onboard the aircraft were SP4 Vincent S. Davis, SP5 Donald C. Summers and 6 ARVN soldiers. Two of the ARVN died in the crash of the aircraft. Miller was unhurt, as were Davis and Summers, the gunner and crew chief. Barthelme crawled through the chin bubble to exit the aircraft, but was then hit in the back and fell or was dragged into a bomb crater. They were surrounded by NVA at a range of twenty meters in fortified positions
When the second aircraft hit the LZ, Cpl. Bivens was near the landing zone. One by one, other helicopters tried to get the survivors off the hill, but were shot down. Three unsuccessful extraction attempts were made to rescue the survivors of the second aircraft and the passengers of the first. The Air Force had called on SAR helicopters, Jolly 27 and Jolly 29 accompanied by four A1E Skyraiders (Sandys), to try and rescue the survivors of the two helicopters. After some F4 fighters strafed the surrounding area, Jolly 27 started his approach, immediately receiving enemy fire. The aircraft was shot down and crashed in the trees. Jolly 29 didn't get that close, but received crippling enemy fire and returned to Pleiku. Several hours passed before Lake and McDonald arrived in their helicopters to do what they could to retrieve their friends. Monitoring the Air Force efforts, they returned to Dak To and requested the assistance of what SOG called the "Bright Light Team." This was an emergency response team consisting of select Special Forces people who would respond in an extreme situation. They were very tough, courageous, and they were often killed. The request was granted, and with the Bright Light team on McDonald's aircraft, Lake and McDonald returned to Dak Seang. McDonald and Barthelme were high school friends that had grown up together in St. Mary's County, Maryland. It was decided that McDonald would make the first approach and Lake would cover him
Like Jolly 27, McDonald started to receive heavy ground fire a quarter mile from the LZ. Undaunted, he pressed on and landed next to the downed crew under heavy close-range fire from 360 degrees. The door gunner and crew chief were firing back into the charging NVA soldiers, who were running within a few feet of the aircraft. Tom Benne, McDonald's pilot, was shot through both legs by a round that came through the armored seat. The door gunner and the crew chief from Barthelm's aircraft, SP4 Davis and SP5 Summers, leaped on and were both shot multiple times in the process. Miller also jumped on and then jumped off again, saying he was going back for Barthelme. When McDonald touched down on the LZ, he had 1,100 pounds of fuel. After 30 seconds on the ground, he reported that he had only 400 pounds left, that everyone was hit and he was coming out. Soon after liftoff he lost pedal control. Fuel was pouring out of a huge hole in the fuel cells. He made a slow turn to the south and made an approach to the wire at Dak Seang, landing just inside the wire. There were hundreds of NVA just outside the wire, less than a hundred meters away
Lake's aircraft began to take ground fire on his approach to the wire at Dak Seang, but he also landed safely a few seconds after McDonald. As he landed facing McDonald's aircraft, bodies were falling out of the doors. Lake's gunner and crew chief left their seats and ran to assist. John Kemper, an ex-Special Forces E6 on his third tour of Vietnam, was Lake's pilot. He jumped out to help. Ground fire was continuous, and bullets were smashing through the windscreen and the instrument panel as they carried the wounded from McDonald's to Lake's aircraft. Everyone except McDonald had been shot, most of them several times, and blood was everywhere. Lake lifted off, believing he also had Barthelme aboard, but he was wrong
Summers and Davis reported that WO Barthelme was badly wounded, and that one of the pathfinders was dead. Two ARVN survivors from the first helicopter were able to evade capture. Before they left the LZ that night, they asked CPL Bivens and WO Miller to go with them, but the Americans chose to stay on the LZ and await rescue. WO Miller was captured by the Viet Cong and eventually moved to Hanoi and was released in Operation Homecoming in March 1973. When he was released, he reported that he and Bivens had spent the night on the LZ, and on the morning of April 16 attempted to return to friendly lines. At an unknown location they were ambushed by two enemy squads. WO Miller saw that Bivens had been wounded in the chest 5 or 6 times by small arms fire. After their capture they were separated and given medical attention. The last Miller saw of Bivens was when he was taken from the site of the ambush on a stretcher. At that time, Bivens was still undergoing medical treatment. About four days later, the camp commander where Miller was being held told him that Bivens had died about 2 hours after capture
On April 29, 1970, a U.S. search and recovery team was able to examine the crash site and recover the remains of WO Barthelme and Sgt. Montana. The only identifiable thing about Barthelme was the green St. Mary's County t-shirt he wore
Herndon Bivens has been missing nearly 20 years, and there can be no question that the Vietnamese know precisely what happened to him, but they deny any knowledge of his fate. Further, even though WO Miller knew that Bivens had been captured, Bivens is classified Missing in Action rather than the more appropriate category of Prisoner of War. His name did not appear on Henry Kissinger's descrepancy case list at the end of the war
THERE ARE NEARLY 2500 AMERICANS STILL PRISONER, MISSING OR UNACCOUNTED FOR FROM THE WAR IN VIET NAM
Tragically, most experts agree, based on evidence received in thousands of refugee reports, that many of them are still alive. Bivens could be among them
WHAT ARE WE DOING TO BRING THESE MEN HOME????
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