ALDERN, DONALD DEAND Name: Donald Deane Aldern Rank/Branch: O5/US Navy Unit: Attack Air Wing 19, USS ORISKANY Date of Birth: 05 May 1930 Home City of Record: Sioux Falls SD Date of Loss: 29 June 1970 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 144400N 1065200E (YB121263) Status (in 1973): Missing in Action Category: 2 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A7A Refno: 1641 Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing) Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 30 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. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK. REMARKS: SYNOPSIS: Commander Donald D. Aldern was a pilot assigned to Attack Air Wing 19 onboard the USS ORISKANY. On June 29, 1970, Aldern was launched in an A7A Corsair aircraft on a bombing mission in southern Laos. His aircraft was the lead aircraft in a flight of two on this night mission over Attopeu Province, Laos. The flight was to be monitored and directed by a Forward Air Contoller (FAC). All tactical strike aircraft operating in Southeast Asia 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 or ground based station, 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. Cdr. Aldern reported commencing his bombing run while his wingman circled the area awaiting his turn on target. The wingman observed several bomb explosions and then a large explosion and fire just beyond the bomb impact area. He attempted to make radio contact with Cdr. Aldern, but received no response. No parachute or electronic signals were observed or heard by either the wingman or the FAC. Darkness and monsoon conditions precluded verification of a parachute deployment, and also precluded immediate search and rescue efforts. At daybreak, however, airborne search efforts were conducted and additional arrangements were initiated through the Joint Personnel Recovery Center (JPRC), Saigon, to provide a ground search party when feasible. Airborne search efforts produced negative results. On June 30, 1970 the JPRC reported that a ground search party was in the vicinity of the reported crash site and had to depart the area prior to examination. Subsequent search efforts produced negative results. A reconnaissance aircraft, operating in conjunction with a ground party, received ground fire while attempting to pinpoint the crash. Observation of the bomb detonations indicate that a bomb run was, in general, normal up to the point of the bomb release point. If the aircraft was struck by anti-aircraft fire in the bomb run, at the release point or lower, there would be very little reaction time available to initiate pilot ejection. In view of the above, and reconstructing the observation of the other aircraft on station, the Navy came to the conclusion that Aldern was still in the aircraft at the time it impacted the ground. However, the Navy further concluded, there existed the possibility that Aldern ejected, and declared Aldern Missing in Action rather than Killed in Action. Eight years later, as no evidence had been received that Aldern was alive, he was presumptively found dead. Aldern is one of nearly 600 Americans who were lost in Laos during the Vietnam war. Although the Pathet Lao stated publicly that they held "tens of tens" of American prisoners, not one American held in Laos was released when the war ended. No negotiations had occurred which would free them. Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing, prisoner or otherwise unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. Many officials who have reviewed this largely classified information have come to the conclusion that there are still hundreds of Americans still alive in captivity. Whether Aldern survived the crash of his aircraft is unknown. It is possible that he could be among those thought to be still alive today. If so, what must he be thinking of us? Donald D. Aldern was promoted to the rank of Captain during the period he was maintained as missing.