ASHBY, CLAYBORN WILLIS, JR
REMAINS RETURNED 1993
Name: Clayborn Willis Ashby, Jr.
Rank/Branch: E5/US Navy
Unit: Observation Squadron 67
Date of Birth: 16 November 1946
Home City of Record: Louisville KY
Date of Loss: 17 February 1968
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 164959N 1055858E (XD030612)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: OP2E
Refno: 1053
Other Personnel In Incident: Chester Coons, Frank Dawson; Paul Donato; Glen
Hayden; James Kravitz; James Martin; Curtis Thurman; James Wonn (all missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 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.
REMARKS: CRASH FND - NO PARBEEP - NO PERS - J
SYNOPSIS: The Lockheed P2 "Neptune" was originally designed for submarine
searching, using magnetic detection gear or acoustic buoys. Besides flying
maritime reconnaissance, the aircraft served as an experimental night attack
craft in the attempt to interdict the movement of enemy truck convoys.
Another model, the OP2E, dropped electronic sensors to detect truck
movements along the supply route through Laos known as the "Ho Chi Minh
Trail".
The Ho Chi Minh Trail was used by the North Vietnamese for transporting
weapons, supplies and troops. Hundreds of American pilots were shot down
trying to stop this communist traffic to South Vietnam. Fortunately, search
and rescue teams in Vietnam were extremely successful and the recovery rate
was high.
Still there were nearly 600 who were not rescued. Many of them went down
along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the passes through the border mountains
between Laos and Vietnam. Many were alive on the ground and in radio contact
with search and rescue and other planes; some were known to have been
captured. Hanoi's communist allies in Laos, the Pathet Lao, publicly spoke
of American prisoners they held, but when peace agreements were negotiated,
Laos was not included, and not a single American was released that had been
held in Laos.
The Neptune had precise navigational equipment and accurate optical
bombsight. Radar was housed in a well on the nose underside of the aircraft,
and radar technicians felt especially vulnerable working in this glass
bubble nosed aircraft. The aircraft could place seismic or acoustic devices
within a few yards of the desired point. To do so, however, the OP2E had to
fly low and level, making it an easy target for the enemy's anti-aircraft
guns that were increasing in number along the Trail.
On February 17, 1968, an OP2E from Observation Squadron 67 departed Thailand
in a flight of four aircraft on an operational mission over Laos. The crew
of the aircraft included Commander Glenn M. Hayden; Lt.Jg. James S. Kravitz;
Lt. Curtis F. Thurman; Ensign James C. Wonn; AO2 Clayborn W. Ashby, Jr.;
ADJ2 Chester L. Coons; AN Frank A. Dawson; ATN1 Paul N. Donato; and AN James
E. Martin.
After completion of the first target run, the aircraft reported to its
fighter escort and forward air control aircraft that it had been hit by
small arms fire but would continue with the second target run.
 
During the second run, the fighter escort reported the starboard engine of
the OP2 on fire. The OP acknowledged the report and aborted the rest of
their mission to return to home base. The last radio transmission from the
aircraft was, "we're beat up pretty bad."
The fighter escort climbed to the top of the overcast to await the OP2
rendezvous, but the aircraft never emerged from the cloud base. The fighter
dropped below the clouds to search for the OP2 and found burning wreckage.
No parachutes were seen, nor were any emergency radio beepers heard. Search
and rescue efforts were negative. Investigation of the crash site was not
feasible because of enemy presence in the area. The aircraft crashed about
34 kilometers northwest of Xepone in Savannakhet Province, Laos. The crash
site was situated 2,800 meters south of Route 91 in rugged terrain on the
side of a 550 meter ridge, approximately 4 kilometers northwest of Muang
Phin. The aircraft was on a reconnaissance mission and carried no ordnance.
Because there was no direct witness to the crash of the OP2, it is not known
whether any of the crew of nine survived, but it was assumed that they did
not. All nine aboard were classified Killed, Body Not Recovered. Although
this aircraft went down in a relatively populous area, it is not known
whether the enemy knows the fates of the crewmembers.
Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing in
Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S. Government. Many authorities
have reluctantly concluded that hundreds of them are still alive in
captivity. Whether the crew of the Neptune that went down on February 17,
1968 is among them is not known. What seems certain, however, is that we
must do everything possible to bring our men home.