HATLEY, JOEL CLINTON Crash Site Excavated (see text) Name: Joel Clinton Hatley Rank/Branch: E4/US Army Unit: Company C, 158th Aviation Battalion, 101st Airborne Brigade Date of Birth: 24 October 1948 (Conrad KY) Home City of Record: Albemarle NC Date of Loss: 05 March 1971 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 163850N 1061544E (XD425405) Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered Category: 3 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1H Refno: 1717 Other Personnel In Incident: Michael E. King; Ralph A. Moreira; David L. Nelson (all missing) Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 September 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 in 1998. REMARKS: EXPLOD - N RAD C - N SEARCH - J SYNOPSIS: Lam Son 719 was a large-scale offensive against enemy communications lines which was conducted in that part of Laos adjacent to the two northern provinces of South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese would provide and command ground forces, while U.S. forces would furnish airlift and supporting fire. Phase I, renamed Operation Dewey Canyon II, involved an armored attack by the U.S. from Vandegrift base camp toward Khe Sanh, while the ARVN moved into position for the attack across the Laotian border. Phase II began with an ARVN helicopter assault and armored brigade thrust along Route 9 into Laos. ARVN ground troops were transported by American helicopters, while U.S. Air Force provided cover strikes around the landing zones. On March 5, 1971, during one of these maneuvers, a UH1H helicopter (tail #67-17341) was in a flight of ten aircraft on a combat assault mission in Savannakhet Province, Laos. The crew of the aircraft consisted of WO Ralph A. Moreira Jr., pilot; Capt. David L. Nelson, aircraft commander; SP4 Michael E. King, door gunner; and SP4 Joel C. Hatley, crew chief. While on its final approach to Landing Zone Sophia, and at the time the pilot should have been making his final turn, Nelson radioed that the aircraft had been hit in the fuel cell and that the door gunner had been wounded in the head. He then said they would attempt to return to the fire support base on the same flight path as previously briefed. After the other aircraft had disembarked their troops and were on their way back to the fire support base, some of the other crewmen said they saw a chopper believed to be that commanded by Nelson burst into flames, crash and explode. As soon as the ball of flame was observed, attempts to make radio contact were made with no success. No formal air to ground search was attempted because of enemy anti-aircraft fire and ground activity in the area. All aboard the aircraft were declared Killed in Action, Body Not Recovered. In 1988 a former officer in the Royal Lao Army, Somdee Phommachanh, stated on national television that he was held captive along with two Americans at a prison camp in northern Laos. The Americans had been brought to the camp at Houay Ling in 1978. One day Somdee found one of the prisoners dead in his cell. Somdee identified the American very positively from a photo. His name, he said, was David Nelson. Nelson was Somdee's friend and he would not forget him. Somdee buried his friend with all the care he would a cherished loved one, given his limited ability as a prisoner of war. Although Somdee has been threatened, he has stuck to his story. Nelson's family is grateful to know his fate, but outraged that David Nelson died over FIVE YEARS after American troops left Southeast Asia and the President of the United States had announced that "all American prisoners of war had been released." The U.S. Government did not inform the other families of this development. January 5-10, 1990, a joint US/Lao team excavated the site of the crash of the helicopter lost on March 5, 1971. Not one piece of aircraft material was recovered, although an unspecified number of teeth and a ring were found. No remains whatever were found that could be attributed to David Nelson, but on September 17, 1990, the Defense Department announced that all four men onboard the aircraft had been positively identified and that the remains would be buried in a "group" grave. When asked about the Somdee report, Ms. Shari Lawrence, a civilian working with U.S. Army Public Affairs Office said, "We are not concerned with that." The books on Nelson, Moreira, Hatley and King are now officially closed. The U.S. Government is no longer looking for them. Even though live sighting reports may come in relating to them, the reports will be discounted as untrue because the four men are "dead." The books are closed despite the fact that remains that could be forensically matched to David Nelson were not found at the site. Did David Nelson survive? What of the others? If David Nelson was abandoned by the country he served, how many more were also abandoned? Not a single American held by the Lao (and there were nearly 600 lost there) was ever released or negotiated for. If it were not for over 10,000 reports relating to the men missing in Southeast Asia, most Americans could forget. But as long as even one man could be still alive, unjustly held, we must do everything possible to bring him home.