DOTSON, JEFFERSON SCOTT Remains Returned 12/11/2001 ID 08/09/2002 Announced by family Sept 4, 2002.
Name: Jefferson Scott Dotson Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force Unit: 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Tuy Hoa Airbase, South Vietnam Date of Birth: 06 August 1944 Home City of Record: Pound VA Date of Loss: 09 August 1969 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 161800N 1063900E (XD762026) Status (in 1973): Missing In Action Category: 4 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: F100F Other Personnel In Incident: Laurent Lee Gourley (missing) Refno: 1477
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews: 01 January 1990. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2002.
SYNOPSIS: When North Vietnam began to increase their military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. The border road, termed the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" was used for transporting weapons, supplies and troops. Scores 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 in Laos. Many of them went down along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the passes through the border mountains between Laos and Vietnam.
In the early morning of August 9, 1969, 1Lt. Jefferson S. Dotson, pilot, and Capt. Lee Gourley, his rear-seat co-pilot, departed Tuy Hoa Airbase located on the coast of central South Vietnam on a "Misty" Forward Air Control (FAC) mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in central Laos.
Lee Gourley had written home early that same day saying that all missions for that day had been scrubbed due to bad weather. He did not expect to have to fly that day - and he had time to write his family. Gourley had been working with Misty for some time as a volunteer. Misty FAC volunteers were chosen from among the best and most experienced pilots. He had delayed a trip to Hawaii for R & R until the Misty duties were complete in another week, knowing his time in the Vietnam arena would be short following his return. The FAC mission had come up unexpectedly.
The aircraft Dotson and Gourley flew, the F100 Super Sabre, had been specially modified a few years before to include a second crewman. The F model, introduced in 1965, had the latest technology in radar signal detectors. The initial shipment of F100F's were called "Wild Weasel I" and were an important element in several combat operations.
Gourley and Dotson were not on a Wild Weasel mission, however, and on the FAC mission this day, no bombs were loaded. They were to fly low and fast over their objective area and presumably analyze targets for future air strikes, or assess the potential need for further strikes. FAC reconnaissance missions in the traditional sense were often flown by light observation aircraft rather than fighter/bombers, but the necessary element for this mission was low altitude and high speed, as well as the ability to cover a large territory.
Although there was normally no scheduled air backup or escort on a FAC mission, and Gourley and Jefferson had none, other aircraft which happened to be in the area provide information as to what happened to Dotson and Gourley as they flew near Sepone in Savannakhet Province, Laos.
One passing aircraft intercepted a radio transmission from the F100F, "We've been hit, we're going to try to get out." Observers from the passing aircraft then saw the F100 go up in flames, and observed one fully deployed parachute. (NOTE: The standard ejection called for the rear-seater, Gourley, to make the first ejection, then the pilot, and a fully deployed chute indicated the successful ejection of a crew member.)
Dotson and Gourley were classified Missing in Action. Their families understood that they might have been captured, and like the families of others who were missing, wrote regular letters.
Lee Gourley's sister, Elzene, became active in the POW/MIA families' effort to "watchdog" U.S. Government actions regarding American Prisoners of War held in Indochina. In early 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger came to the POW/MIA families and announced that peace agreements were ready to be signed and their men would soon be home, or accounted for, if they were dead. Elzene Gourley specifically asked Kissinger about the prisoners in other countries besides Vietnam - Laos, Cambodia and China - and if his good news included the men missing there. Kissinger replied, "What do you think took us so long?"
When 591 American prisoners were released from communist prison camps in Southeast Asia in the spring of 1973, it became apparent that Kissinger had lied to the POW/MIA families. Not a single man who had been held in Laos had been released. Although the Pathet Lao had spoken publicly of American prisoners they held, and many were known to have survived their loss incidents, the U.S. had not negotiated the freedom of the American POWs held in Laos.
In 1974, the Gourleys sent a letter to Lee in care of the Prime Minister of Laos, who responded that the letter would be conveyed later to their son. The U.S. State Department said the Prime Minister might not know English and probably an error was made in translation.
In 1976, the Gourleys wrote to Lee in care of Prince Souvanna Phouma in Vientiane, Laos. He wrote back that he would give their letter to the "central committee" to be sent to the "one for whom (it was) intended." The U.S. State Department ordered the Gourleys to quit writing Lee in care of the Lao.
Following the war, refugees fled Southeast Asia and brought with them stories of Americans still held prisoner and other information relating to Americans missing in their homelands. By 1989, the number of such reports approaches 10,000, and most authorities reluctantly have concluded that many Americans must still be alive and held captive.
It is certainly reasonable to speculate that Gourley and Dotson survived to be captured. Only the communist goverments of Southeast Asia could say if they are among those hundreds of Americans thought to be still alive, and they deny any knowledge of Americans missing in their countries.
Lee Gourley and Jefferson Dotson pledged to "keep the faith" with their country. Have we kept faith with the men who are still fighting an old war in our names? What would Lee Gourley and Jefferson Dotson say?
Laurent Lee Gourley graduated from the U. S. Air Force Academy in 1966.
Scott Dotson graduated from Virginia Military Institutue in 1966. (The class lost 11, including Scott in SE Asia.)
============ Bold Camp VA Sept 2002
On Wednesday, Sept. 4, Barbara Elkins, Sheila Cantrell and Buddy Dotson gathered at the Bold Camp home of their mother, Margery Dotson.
The knock on the door came at 10 a.m. It was a knock this Pound family had been waiting to hear for more than 30 years. The news the military official on the other side brought came as no surprise. They all knew why he was there.
The remains found at the crash site in Vietnam this past spring were those of their son and brother, Jefferson Scott "Scotty" Dotson, who had been missing in action since 1969.
It was the official notification of what the family had suspected ever since they learned his plane had gone down behind enemy lines in Laos.
For the family members who still vividly remember that first knock on their doors many years ago, the news was both comforting and distressing.
On the one hand, it gave them relief and closure, because their loved one could finally be put to rest in his native America. The location of the remains also verified that Scotty, along with a second pilot, had died in the crash and were not taken prisoner and tortured.
On the other hand, confirmation of his death extinguished forever the tiny flicker of hope - no matter how unreasonable it might have been - that their beloved Scotty would some day come home to them.
According to family members, from the time he was a young boy growing up in Pound, Scotty had a passion for flying.
"He always wanted to be a fighter pilot," said Cantrell.
When her brother was young, and his mother asked him to pick blackberries or work in the garden, Cantrell says, he would refuse.
"He said fighter pilots didn't pick blackberries or work in the garden," she remembered with a chuckle.
Their father, Otis Edward Dotson Sr., a pilot himself, taught Scotty and his older brother, Buddy, to fly when they were only teen-agers, family members say. Their father later died while the boys were still teens.
After graduating from high school, Scotty went to the Virginia Military Institute where he received a degree in electrical engineering, Cantrell said.
During his college years, Cantrell says, her older brother grew up a lot and became her best friend. He was her companion and even helped teach her to drive.
He graduated from college in 1966 and joined the Air Force in January 1967 to pursue his dream of becoming a fighter pilot, she said. The Christmas of 1967 is one Cantrell will never forget.
She was pregnant at the time and living in Germany with her husband, Gerald, who was in the U.S. Army. She wasn't feeling well and didn't want to make the long trip home to spend the holidays with her family. When her mother remarked that she would be the only one not there, Cantrell gave in and came home. It was the last Christmas she ever spent with her brother.
Scotty left for Vietnam in the summer of 1968, leaving behind his wife Mary Ann and their 3-month-old daughter, Christa.
His mother and sisters would never see him again, but his wife did get to spend some time with him during a rest and relaxation period in Hawaii, according to Elkins.
As fate would have it, Scotty was stationed at the Phan Rang Air Force Base in South Vietnam, where his older brother Buddy also was stationed. The two brothers spent the next five months serving in Vietnam together. Although the situation was not ideal, it was five months Buddy will treasure forever.
He had been in Vietnam since January 1968 and in the military for longer.
Circumstances had kept the brothers apart and Buddy had not seen his brother, who was 18 months younger than him, for six years. Buddy did not share Scotty's love for flying, even though he also had a pilot's license.
His job in the military was to maintain refuelers, runway sweepers and fire fighting equipment.
Scotty, on the other hand, loved the glory that came with being a hard-core fighter pilot, he said. In the five months that followed, the brothers became closer than ever, perhaps because they were sharing in a common experience that few can comprehend.
"We had five wonderful months together," Buddy said. "We had a brotherhood like we had never had before."
In December 1968, his term of service over, Buddy left Vietnam, and his little brother, behind to return to the United States.
"I hated leaving him there when I came back," he said.
After a trip to Pound, Buddy, his wife and two children moved to an Air Force base in New York.
Prior to leaving Vietnam, Buddy says, he begged his brother not to transfer to the Tuy Hoa Air Force Base because of the dangerous missions the pilots flew from there.
However, he says, Scotty did transfer to Tuy Hoa and it was from there that the fatal mission originated.
MISSING IN ACTION
"Aug. 9, 1969. That is a date that will be burnt in my memory for as long as I live," said Cantrell. It was on that day that Scotty and fellow pilot Lee Gourley of Iowa flew out on a reconnaissance mission in a F-100-F fighter jet over Laos only days after Scotty's 25th birthday. They never returned.
According to Buddy, the men would fly over enemy territory, spot targets and then fly back and mark the targets with smoke for bombers to take out.
What happened is not exactly clear. According to Elkins, a villager told military officials that the plane was on fire before it slammed into a nearby mountainside, indicating it could have been shot down. Buddy speculates that based on information he has obtained, the plane malfunctioned because it was sending out weak signals before it crashed. The military has not been able to provide an explanation.
Elkins still remembers vividly being notified that her brother was missing in action.
Air Force officials first went to Scotty's wife's house at Pound Bottom and notified her, she said. From there, they came to Elkins' house on Bold Camp. When she saw the two Air Force officials walking toward her house, Elkins says, she knew immediately something was wrong.
After hearing the news, she and other family members went to her mother's house as a group to tell her.
Buddy was still at the Air Force base in New York when he was notified. At first, he blamed himself. If only he had stayed in Vietnam, he told himself, maybe his brother would not have been killed. If he had stayed, he said, his brother would have stayed with him at Phan Rang and never transferred. He would have never gone on that mission.
However, Buddy says, he eventually came to realize that it was not his fault. There is no guarantee that his brother would be alive today if he had stayed behind in Vietnam with him.
He knows it is not what his brother would have wanted.
Cantrell says after being notified, she often thought of her brother when a plane would fly over her house on Bold Camp.
As the years dragged by, the family dealt with their grief as best they could.
They assumed Scotty had been killed when the plane went down, but each admits to keeping alive just a tiny ray of hope that maybe he had survived.
"You always have that hope at the back of your mind that they'll come home," Cantrell said.
But with the hope of him being alive also comes concern. Was he taken prisoner? Was he tortured? What kind of life could he return to after 33 years?
Cantrell says there comes a time when a person has to be realistic. Even if her brother survived and returned today, there would be little left for him.
His family members have moved on with their lives. His wife eventually remarried and moved away.
His daughter grew up, joined the Air Force and married a man who is in the Air Force. She is now living in England.
Most of all, family members say, it is better that Scotty died instantly and did not spend the long years that followed being tortured as a prisoner of war.
In the end, Cantrell says, he died "doing what he always wanted to do."
The family learned in fall 2001 that the U.S. Government had found what they believed to be the crash site.
Officials began excavating the site for remains in the fall, but inclement weather kept interfering.
In spring of this year, they found remains.
According to Buddy, the remains of the pilot who was with his brother were found at the crash site about 10 miles outside the village of Sepone in the Savannakhet Province.
His brother's remains, however, were found buried near a villager's hut.
It is a mystery as to why they were removed from the crash site, he said.
The Air Force, using DNA testing, positively identified the remains of both men a few months ago, but the information was slow getting to the families.
Cantrell learned that her brother had been found after talking to the other pilot's sister, and she then contacted the Air Force for confirmation.
Cantrell then spread the news to other family members, who waited for the official notification on Sept. 4. It has not been decided when his remains will be returned.
Scotty's daughter, now Christa Plikat, plans to escort his remains back to the United States, according to Elkins and Cantrell.
Plikat is leaning towards having his remains buried at Arlington National Cemetery where he will be forever memorialized for his sacrifice to his country, they said.
His family members say they will support whatever decision she makes.
However, Cantrell said, there is also talk of placing a local marker for him next to their father's grave.