BALLENGER, ORVILLE ROGER
Name: Orville Roger Ballenger
Rank/Branch: E5/US Army Special Forces
Unit: Company B, FFT-59, 7th Special Forces
Date of Birth: 04/03/1934
Home City of Record: Columbus OH
Date of Loss: 22 April 1961
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 185521N 1022827E (TG240150)
Status (in 1973): Released POW (1962)
Other Personnel In Incident: Walter H. Moon; Gerald Biber; John Bischoff
REMARKS: RELSD 620817 VAN VIENG
Source: Compiled 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 in 2018.
SYNOPSIS: The early 1960's marked a period of civil war and military coups
in the country of Laos which resulted in major objectives being taken by
Kong Le-Pathet Lao communist forces. Kong Le had himself been a graduate of
the CIA-sponsored Philippine scout and ranger school and had announced that
he was fighting the corrupt royal government headed by Prince Souvanna
Phouma. Kong Le found support from the Soviets, who assisted him in
defeating Gen. Phoumi Nosavan's countercoup forces at the capitol city of
Vientiane in December 1960. Pathet Lao troops were airlifted by the Soviets
to take the Plaine des Jarres region in March 1961.
Although Gen. Nosavan and Groupement 12 of the new Forces Armees de Laos
continued to give chase to Kong Le and his troops, they were not successful
in regaining the Plain of Jars. In early March two Pathet Lao battalions
drove Groupement 12 back toward Vang Vieng. Capt. Walter Moon's four-man
Field Training Team FTT-59, MAAG, of the 7th Special Forces Group was
attached to the 6th Bataillon d'infanterie (Lao) at Ban Pha Home, about
thirty miles north of Vang Vieng. On April 22, 1961, the battalion was
subjected to a heavy and accurate artillery barrage and was rapidly flanked
at Phou Tesao.
Shortly after the battalion commander announced that they were cut off, the
perimeter collapsed and the Pathet Lao quickly overran the battalion
positions. The team's commander, Capt. Walter Moon, was captured in the
SFC John M. Bischoff (the medic), Sgt. Gerald M. Biber (the radio operator),
and some Laotian soldiers jumped aboard an armored car, heading south on
Route 13, in a breakout effort. According to Lao survivors, they crouched
behind the turret, but the car came under heavy grenade attack. Sgt.
Bischoff fired a machine gun from the vehicle until he was shot through the
neck and killed. Sgt. Biber had already been wounded and was apparently
killed by stick grenades thrown against the armored car. The vehicle was
halted and its crew captured.
Sgt. Orville R. Ballenger, demolitions sergeant, escaped through the jungle
and linked up with some Lao soldiers. They found a boat and were going
downriver when they were surprised and captured by the Pathet Lao seven days
later. Sgt. Ballenger were eventually released in August 1962.
Capt. Moon tried to escape twice during his confinement, and on the last
attempt was wounded in the chest and head. According to Ballenger, Moon's
head injury caused him to be come mentally unbalanced, and after several
months of persecution, he was executed in his prison quarters at Lat Theoung
by a Meo guard and a Pathet Lao officer on July 22, 1961. The Pathet Lao
have consistently denied knowledge of Moon, Biber or Bischoff.
In 1984, James "Bo" Gritz, a highly decorated former Special Forces colonel,
brought documents and a photograph pertaining to Moon from Laos and gave
them to the U.S. Government. Moon's wife positively identified the
photograph and Moon's signature. The Government stated that the photograph
was made May 6, 1961, two weeks after Moon's capture. (Moon was normally
clean-shaven but had, according to USG, grown a full beard in 2 weeks!)
Though the documents were taken from a large collection of 250-300 similar
documents held by the Lao People's Army in Laos, the U.S. refused to demand
the information from the Lao. The Defense Intelligence Agency, according to
Congressman Stephen Solarz, has full knowledge of this collection.
Whether Biber and Bischoff survived the ambush on April 22, 1961 is unknown.
They and Moon are among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos and did
not return. The treaty which ended American involvement in the war in
Southeast Asia did not pertain to the prisoners held by the Lao, and not a
single prisoner was released from Laos in 1973. The Lao publicly stated they
held prisoners, but the U.S. has never negotiated for their release.
Were it not for thousands of reports relating to Americans still held
captive in Southeast Asia, we could simply close the door on men like Biber,
Bischoff and Moon. But as long as there is even one man alive, the nation he
went to serve must do all it can to bring him home.
MSG Ballenger (RET) resides in N Carolina.
|Subject:||News article from the Adirondack Enterprise dated August 17, 1962|
|Date:||Sat, 6 Jan 2018 13:03:10 +0000 (UTC)|