(ed. More about the FAC mission in Laos may be found at www.ravens.org. – SJS)

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors. He is Maj. John L. Carroll, U.S. Air Force, of Decatur, Ga. He will be buried on Nov. 13 at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

On Nov. 7, 1972, Carroll was flying a Forward Air Controller mission over Xiangkhoang Province, Laos, when his O-1G Bird Dog aircraft was hit by enemy ground fire and forced to land. Once on the ground, he radioed the Search-and-Rescue (SAR) helicopters on his intent to stay in the aircraft. Two SAR helicopters attempted a recovery, but intense enemy fire forced them to depart the area. A second pickup attempt was made later, but the pilot of that helicopter saw that Carroll had been fatally wounded. The recovery attempt was unsuccessful due to nearby enemy forces that opened fire on the helicopter.


In 1993, a joint U.S./Lao People’s Democratic Republic (L.P.D.R) team, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), investigated the incident and surveyed the crash site. During the site survey, the team found small fragments of aircraft wreckage.

Between 1996 and 2007, joint U.S./L.P.D.R./Socialist Republic of Vietnam teams, led by JPAC, conducted several interviews concerning the incident. One witness provided the team with identification media which belonged to Carroll. In another interview, a former People’s Army of North Vietnam officer turned over some of Carroll’s personal effects and told the team that local residents had buried Carroll. Another witness later led a team to the burial site. In 2007, a joint team excavated the burial site and found his remains. Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC also used dental comparisons in the identification of the remains.

But wait, there’s more…

The Details:

CARROLL, JOHN LEONARD

Name: John Leonard Carroll
Rank/Branch: O4/US Air Force
Unit: 56th Special Operations Wing, Udorn AB TH, (RAVENS)
Date of Birth: 06 May 1940
Home
City of Record: Decatur GA
Date of Loss: 07 November 1972
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 191933N 1030630E (UG13378)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: O1
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)
Refno: 1944
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 1990 with the assistance of one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2000.

The Mission:

SYNOPSIS: The Steve Canyon program was a highly classified FAC (forward air control) operation covering the military regions of Laos. U.S. military operations in Laos were severely restricted during the Vietnam War era because Laos had been declared neutral by the Geneva Accords. The non-communist forces in Laos, however, had a critical need for military support in order to defend territory used by Lao and North Vietnamese communist forces.

RAVEN was the radio call sign which identified the flyers of the Steve Canyon Program. Men recruited for the program were rated Air Force officers with at least six months experience in Vietnam. They tended to be the very best of pilots, but by definition, this meant that they were also mavericks, and considered a bit wild by the mainstream military establishment.

The Ravens came under the formal command of CINCPAC and the 7/13th Air Force 56th Special Operations Wing at Nakhon Phanom, but their pay records were maintained at Udorn with Detachment 1. Officially, they were on loan to the U.S. Air Attache at Vientiane. Unofficially, they were sent to outposts like Long Tieng, where their field commanders were the CIA, the Meo Generals, and the U.S. Ambassador. Once on duty, they flew FAC missions which controlled all U.S. air strikes over Laos. All tactical strike aircraft had to be under the control of a FAC, who was intimately familiar with the locale, the populous, and the tactical situation. The FAC would find the target, order up U.S. fighter/bombers from an airborne command and control center, mark the target accurately with white phosphorus (Willy Pete) rockets, and control the operation throughout the time the planes remained on station. After the fighters had departed, the FAC stayed over the target to make a bomb damage assessment (BDA).

The FAC also had to ensure that there were no attacks on civilians, a complex problem in a war where there were no front lines and any hamlet could suddenly become part of the combat zone. A FAC needed a fighter pilot’s mentality, but but was obliged to fly slow and low in such unarmed and vulnerable aircraft as the Cessna O1 Bird Dog, and the Cessna O2. Consequently, aircraft used by the Ravens were continually peppered with ground fire. A strong fabric tape was simply slapped over the bullet holes until the aircraft could no longer fly.

Ravens were hopelessly overworked by the war. The need for secrecy kept their numbers low (never more than 22 at one time), and the critical need of the Meo sometimes demanded each pilot fly 10 and 12 hour days. Some Ravens completed their tour of approximately 6 months with a total of over 500 combat missions. The Ravens in at Long Tieng in Military Region II, had, for several years, the most difficult area in Laos. The base, just on the southern edge of the Plain of Jars, was also the headquarters for the CIA-funded Meo army commanded by General Vang Pao. An interesting account of this group can be read in Christopher Robbins’ book, “The Ravens”.

Major John L. Carroll was a Raven on station over the Plain of Jars region of Xiangkhoang Province on November 7, 1972. At a point about 5 miles southwest of the city of Ban Na Mai, Carroll’s aircraft was struck by hostile fire and crashed. Witnesses advised that Maj. Carroll died of a massive head wound, and according to the Air Force, evidence of this death was received the following day, although it is not stated what the evidence consisted of.

The Defense Intelligence Agency further expanded Carroll’s classification to include an enemy knowledge ranking of 1. Category 1 indicates “confirmed knowledge” and includes all personnel who were identified by the enemy by name, identified by reliable information received from escapees or releasees, reported by highly reliable intelligence sources, or identified through analysis of all-source intelligence. If, indeed, Carroll died in the crash of his aircraft or shortly thereafter, the enemy was on hand to witness it.

The Location:

Plain du Jares, Laos

The Rescue Attempt (from pownetwork.org):

At the time he was hit I was in an Air America S-58T enroute from LS-32, located to the north of the PDJ, to LS-20A, the CIA base at Long Tieng. We were taking a circuitous route back to LS-20A because of the massive enemy presence on the PDJ, especially at the southwestern edge.

While we were enroute, approximately halfway through our flight, we heard Major Carroll’s radio calls on Guard channel relating to his circumstances. He advised that his aircraft had been hit and that he was heading for LS-20A. That began a series of transmissions between Major Carroll and several Air America helicopters operating out of LS-20A. Major Carroll began reporting that he was losing oil pressure and that the oil and cylinder head temperatures were rising rapidly, all indications of an impending engine failure. These conversations went on for a period of at least 15-20 minutes while Major Carroll continued to fly toward LS-20A. Just prior to our own arrival at Long Tieng to refuel, we heard Major Carroll announce that his temperatures were pegged in the red and that his oil pressure was zero. The AAM helicopters then told Major Carroll to turn north from his present position and land out on the PDJ away from any roads while he still had power. He radioed that he would continue to try for Long Tieng. The AAM pilots again tried to convince him to turn north, land with power and they would pick him up. At that point at least two AAM helicopters had him in sight and were rapidly closing on him. Major Carroll again said that he was going to try for LS-20A. That was the last transmission I heard from him. A few minutes later one of the AAM Hueys radioed that he was down on the PDJ – right next to a road.

A few minutes later we landed at Long Tieng to refuel. At the time I felt that we would probably not be involved in the rescue because there were already at least two helicopters in the area who would conduct the rescue of Major Carroll. A short time later, after refueling, we were told to proceed to the PDJ and assist in the rescue. We were airborne very quickly and proceeded to the southwestern edge of the PDJ. Upon arrival we were greeted by the sight of two AAM Hueys flying toward us, one spewing a huge purple cloud of jet fuel behind him, caused by numerous hits to the fuel tanks. Shortly after they passed us the damaged helicopter went down but the crew was rescued by his wingman.

We continued on to the location where Major Carroll went down. I recall that there was a Raven in the air as well as two AAM Hueys along with our S-58T. There had been no contact with Major Carroll but we could plainly seen his O-1 on the ground. Being the last on the scene we tried to get an idea of the situation. Apparently one pickup attempt had already been made which resulted in the shot up Huey we had passed. The Raven was trying to get some fixed wing support for us prior to making another attempt. The area was known to be at the forward edge of the enemy’s lines and was swarming with large enemy units. While waiting for fixed wing support and orbiting directly over the downed aircraft we began receiving very heavy fire from a 23 mm antiaircraft gun. In order to avoid the fire from this gun we deliberately flew into a cloud layer for several minutes. When we broke out of the clouds we were somewhat disoriented and had lost sight of the downed aircraft and all the other rescue aircraft. By the time we regained our bearings and got back into the area a flight of A-7’s had arrived and were being directed onto some targets by the Raven FAC. I recall watching a series of air bursts from 37 mm antiaircraft guns explode behind each A-7 as they made their runs. All of this activity was in very close proximity to the downed O-1. There still had not been any radio contact with Major Carroll during this entire time. Because of the extremely high threat of antiaircraft fire in the immediate area one of the AAM Hueys decided that he would make a low level dash from the north to effect the rescue. He proceeded north a few miles, spiraled down to a few feet above the ground and rushed south to the downed aircraft. The copilot of that Huey later told me that as they came over a gentle rise they spotted the O-1 alongside the road. Up to that point they had received no fire. As they slowed and came to a hover in preparation for landing he saw that the pilot of the O-1, Major Carroll was hanging out of the open door of the aircraft and that he had what was obviously a severe injury to the back of his head. He made no movement as the helicopter hovered only a few feet away. We apparently had not been able to see Major Carroll’s body because it was under the high wing of the O-1. The Huey crew later said that at that point literally hundreds of enemy troops stood up in the tall grass all around them, some as close as 50 feet. Knowing that it was senseless to try to recover the body in those impossible conditions, they spun around and egressed to the north. Although they received very heavy small arms fire on the way out they safely departed the area. The SAR effort was canceled shortly after that and we returned to base.

Welcome home Major Carroll – and now rest in peace.

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