DEICHELMANN, SAMUEL MACKALL
Name: Samuel Mackall Deichelmann Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force Unit: 56th Special Operations Wing, Udorn AF TH (RAVENS) Date of Birth: 24 September 1938 Home City of Record: Montgomery AL Date of Loss: 06 September 1968 Country of Loss: South Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 0105007N 1074246E (YS960990) Status (in 1973): Missing in Action Category: 4 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: O1F Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing) Refno: 1273
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March1990 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 1998.
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". On pages 60-63, this book includes the account of Capt. Samuel M. Deichelmann, who became Missing in Action on September 6, 1968:
"One of two things happened to Ravens, as they logged an increasing number of combat missions and took their share of groundfire; they became either overcautious or reckless. The first merely made them ineffective, but the second risked their lives. The inclination to duel with a gun in a fixed position, or settle a score after their aircraft had been peppered with ground fire, led them to take risk after risk. Sam Deichelmann became one of the worst offenders. [His commander] thought he was becoming too blase and had reached the point where he believed himself immortal.
"...It was just one of those things. His plane took the Golden BB. [The Golden BB was part of pilot's folklore -- the 'miracle' shot that would kill them after countless times under heavy and close fire.]
"...Deichelmann had flown his C-130 out of Vietnam over the Trail at night as a Blindbat pilot at ridiculously low altitudes and never taken a hit. Then, flying over Route 4, southeast of the Plain of Jars...[he] took a single round. The shell ripped through the plane, hit [his friend and backseater] Vong Chou...and missing Deichelmann's head by a hairbreadth.
"...Deichelmann was shattered by the experience. ...He now entered a highly dangerous phase. He had cheated death and dodged the Golden BB, but it had wounded his friend, and he felt honor-bound to embark upon a course of reckless revenge.
"...In the circumstances, the air attache's office thought it wise to remove him temporarily from the picture. ...In September he left for Bien Hoa, where his younger brother was stationed. He planned to spend a few days leave with him and then [return, bringing with him a new O1 for the unit].
"...Deichelmann reached Vietnam without incident, and the brothers enjoyed a pleasant reunion. He mentioned a desire to see the great Cambodian lake of Tonle Sap, an illegal but easy detour on the journey back. He boarded the new Bird Dog and took off from Bien Hoa and headed back toward Laos. He was never seen again."
Sam Deichelmann's disappearance was deeply mourned at Long Tieng. His comrades admired him as a first-rate pilot and FAC, but especially admired his humanity. They had seen him play with village children, and knew how he suffered when his friend Vong Chou had been wounded. He had been honest, good-hearted, open and warm. His friends would miss him greatly. Some refused to accept that he had died, and were convinced that he had been forced to make an emergency landing in Cambodia, and would reappear with yet another account of escaping death. But Sam Deichelmann never returned.
(NOTE: "The Ravens" continues, saying Sam's younger brother was later killed in a midair collision in Vietnam. There is, however, only one Deichelmann listed on the Vietnam Memorial, so the accuracy of this portion of the account cannot be established.)
Sam Deichelmann 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.
Since U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War ended, nearly 10,000 reports have been received by the U.S. Government relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia. Many authorities have reluctantly concluded that hundreds are still alive in captivity today.
Deichelmann could be one of those thought to be still alive in Southeast Asia. What must he be thinking of his country? It's time we brought our men home.
======================= 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