CHENEY, JOSEPH C. Remains Returned 07/10/2001 ID 05/30/2002
Name: Joseph C. Cheney Rank/Branch: U.S. Civilian Unit: Air America Date of Birth: Home City of Record: Date of Loss: 05 September 1963 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 164245N 1061021E (XD250480) Status (In 1973): Category: Acft/Vehicle/Ground: C46 Refno: 0018
Other Personnel in Incident: Charles Herrick (killed in crash); Eugene Debruin, Chui To Tik and 3 other Thai nationals (names unknown) (all captured)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 July 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 2002.
SYNOPSIS: During the 1950's a deteriorating political situation in Laos had allowed NVA troops and Pathet Lao guerrillas to seize the Laotian panhandle from the Royal Lao Army. Prevented by Geneva Accords from having a large military presence in Laos, the U.S. established a "Program Evaluation Office" (PEO) in 1958 as a CIA cover for anti-communist covert actions. One activity, begun in 1958, used Meo tribesmen for a small pilot guerrilla program, which soon became the largest clandestine army in CIA history. In the first year, using U.S. Special Forces White Star teams as PEO "civilians", a few CIA officers and 90 elite Thai Border guards, an army of 9000 Meo was trained for behind-lines guerrilla activity. Within 10 years, the Meo army grew to over 40,000 guerrillas, becoming the most effective fighting force in Laos.
The CIA's covert airline, known as "Air America" (AA) supported the Meo as well as numerous other CIA-backed clandestine guerrilla armies. With the escalating war, a large US military presence guaranteed that Air America could operate in relative obscurity. With little fanfare throughout the war, AA fought in the frontlines of unconventional war. AA pilots flew "black missions" over China, North Vietnam and the Laotian panhandle. AA flew in every type of aircraft from 727 jets to small Cessnas and junk aircraft, transporting everything from combat troops (alive, wounded or dead) to baby chicks, dropping rice to refugees and specially trained Nung trailwatchers into denied areas. AA contracted both with the Drug Enforcement Agency (to track international drug smugglers) and with the Meo (to haul its annual and valuable opium crop).
As U.S. forces pulled out, AA picked up the slack, straining to maintain the status quo. The communists drove the Meo from their homelands in the early 1970's, and as the Meo retreated, AA was in the position of hauling (and feeding) tens of thousands of refugees. There were problems as the CIA fell under Congressional scrutiny of its world-wide paramilitary activities and public pressure to divest itself of Air America. South Vietnam's rapid collapse in 1975 signified the end of the clandestine war that began in Vietnam thirty years earlier.
On September 5, 1963, an Air America C46 aircraft was hit by ground fire and crashed about 2 kilometers from Tchepone, Savannakhet Province, Laos. Eugene DeBruin, Chui To Tik and two Thai nationals parachuted to safety, but were immediately captured by the Pathet Lao. Two crew members, Joseph C. Cheney and Charles Herrick, were reportedly killed in the crash.
Later, the the Pathet Lao photographed DeBruin and four others prisoners and published a leaflet naming the five as their prisoners. Several times during their captivity the entire crew was moved to different locations within Savannakhet and Khammouane Provinces.
In early July 1966, Eugene and six other prisoners made an escape. However, only two of the seven, Dieter Dingler and one of the Thai nationals who was part of Eugene's crew, reached safety. One report stated that DeBruin was killed in the escape attempt, but the Thai national reported that DeBruin was last seen attempting to reach high ground in a classified location.
Eugene's family has not stopped looking for answers. They were able to find a report that Eugene may have been alive as late as January 1968. His brother, Jerome traveled to Laos in 1972 in search of information.
In 1983, Joseph C. Cheney's name reappeared on the U.S. Government lists of missing Americans in Southeast Asia. There was no information available to determine why his name had been omitted from the lists to be added 20 years later.
Although the Pathet Lao openly admitted holding American prisoners of war, they insisted that the U.S. negotiate directly with them to ensure their release. The U.S. never negotiated or recognized the Pathet Lao, and as a consequence, not one of the nearly 600 Americans lost in Laos (many of whom were known to have survived their loss incidents) was ever released.
As reports mount that Americans are still alive in Southeast Asia, the Debruin family wonders if one of them could be Eugene or one of his crewmen.