CHESTNUT, JOSEPH LYONS Remains Returned/Identified 7/25/95
Name: Joseph Lyons Chestnut Rank/Branch: O4/US Air Force Unit: 56th Special Operations Wing, Udorn AF TH (RAVENS) Date of Birth: 15 July 1934 Home City of Record: Murfeesboro TN Date of Loss: 13 October 1970 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 195659N 1022546E (TH310078) Status (in 1973): Missing in Action Category: 1 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: T28 Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing) Refno: 1666
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 2006 as shown.
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. The U.S., in conjunction with non-communist forces in Laos, devised a system whereby U.S. military personnel could be "in the black" or "sheep-dipped" (clandestine; mustered out of the military to perform military duties as a civilian) to operate in Laos under supervision of the U.S. Ambassador to Laos.
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 Joseph L. Chestnut was a Raven pilot operating in Military Region I, Laos on October 13, 1970. On that day, he was flying a T28 Nomad counter-insurgency aircraft, which Ravens were strictly forbidden to fly in combat. The precise nature of Maj. Chestnut's mission is unknown, and it could have been non-combat, or he may have been conducting a strike against regulations. In dealings with the Royal Lao Air Force, Ravens found that they occasionally located a target only to have the Lao refuse to hit it. Ravens had been known to have taken Lao bombers and flown out themselves to bomb their targets.
Maj. Chestnut was last known to be about 12 miles northwest of the city of Louangphrabang in the province of the same name. He was listed Missing in Action, and the U.S. Government has confirmed information that the enemy knows his fate -- alive or dead.
Chestnut is one of nearly 600 Americans lost in Laos. Even though the Pathet Lao stated publicly that they held "tens of tens" of American prisoners, not one American held in Laos was ever released -- or negotiated for.
From - Mon Apr 10 13:05:06 2000 From: "Lee, Thomas E. - SAIC" <TLee@NSES.com> Subject: Information correction
First I would like to establish my credentials with you, before I point out errors in the descriptive write-ups on approximately 20 entries in your data base.
I am a retired US Air Force Colonel who served in Laos covertly as part of DoD Project 404 from June 1968-June 1969. I was the intelligence officer in Savannakhet operating in "civilian" status working for the US Embassy. I carried civilian documentation for presentation but also possessed my military ID card. We wore civilian clothes. One of my roles was to support the Raven forward air controllers (FAC), the US FACs operating from "in-country" bases in Laos. See my website at http://members.xoom.com/targeteer.
The following is a paragraph from your description of the "Raven" Forward Air Controllers operating in Laos.
We lost 21 of them from 1966-1973.
"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. The U.S., in conjunction with non-communist forces in Laos, devised a system whereby U.S. military personnel could be "in the black" or "sheep-dipped" (clandestine; mustered out of the military to perform military duties as a civilian) to operate in Laos under supervision of the U.S. Ambassador to Laos."
**** An error in the above description is that most of the US military personnel operating in Laos were NOT "sheep-dipped" as you described. We were in the "Black" in that we were technically not there, we were assigned to out of country units and our in-country existence was generally classified for part of the 1964-1973 period. (The existence of these operations was revealed during Congressional Hearings in late 1969 or 1970). The Raven Program and the complementary DoD Project 404 both began in 1966. However, there was no mustering out of the service for the Ravens or the Project 404 personnel. To my knowledge the only program that was "sheep dipped" as you described was Project Heavy Green (the Air Force troops supporting Site 85 and the TACAN site support). That accounted for under 100 people. (13 were lost) There were military personnel operating within the Air America and CIA (CAS) operations that may have operated under different rules.
Critically speaking the US devised the sheep dipping process. It was used across the US intelligence community. The non-communist forces had virtually nothing to do with that process. They did play a role in accepting the US military members in "civilian" status by accepting our presence and not "spilling the beans". We were not deceiving the opposition because they knew we were military. Our deception was aimed at the World scene and the US population regarding our activities in contravention of the 1962 Geneva Accords.
**** This was a very unique period and very misunderstood period in our military history due to its classified nature. Fortunately, we are able to tell our story now. Those of us that served in Laos are trying to correct this mis-information and myth that has grown up around these activities so they are better understood in their real context.
Tom Lee (Thomas E. Lee, Colonel USAF (Ret)) Savannakhet, Laos 1968-1969
From: "G. J. Dorner" <email@example.com> To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Joseph Chestnut, MIA Date: Tue, 06 Jun 2006 00:09:04 -0700
I wish to add to your bio on Joe Chestnut. I was the intel man with the Air Operations Center at Luang Prabang. I was on duty the day Joe Chestnut crashed. I debriefed his wingman, a Lao pilot named Chao Vant, an extremely reliable man. Joe Chestnut had been honing his skills with a T28 over a several week period. On one occasion, the line crew had to replace a wing tip after he flew into his own bomb fragments. On the day he crashed, Chao Vant reported, Chestnut flew into his own bomb fragments again. His T28 wobbled as though under total control. He pulled up, and was hit by ground fire from a nearby village. He then curved upwards, but did not quite clear a ridge. The 250 mph impact sprayed wing panels and other aluminum pieces throughout the treetops on top of the ridge as the T28 disintegrated. Chao Vant tried to call for help, but his radio didn't work. We could see him speeding back from the crash site, which was within sight of the airstrip. In fact, we could watch the swarm of directionless aircraft over the site. If another Raven had been available to direct them, the SAR might have been successful. The crash time was late afternoon. The attempted SAR was a race against darkness. At the last minute, the Embassy called off the Air America chopper that was headed out to the crash site. The following morning, there was no sign of the T28 except the engine, which was embedded in the hillside. There were hoofprints all over the ridge; some of the locals did use Mongolian ponies. If you wish more info, contact me. I'll try to dig the answers to your questions out of memory. Sincerely, George J. Dorner