IRELAND, ROBERT NEWELL Remains returned and identified September 1995. Name: Robert Newell Ireland Rank/Branch: E7/US Air Force Unit: 16th Special Operations Squadron, Ubon Airbase, Thailand Date of Birth: 11 July 1935 (childhood in Olathe KS) Home City of Record: San Bernardino CA (family in Theodosia, MO) Date of Loss: 22 April 1970 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 154400N 1065100E (XC990410) Status (in 1973): Missing In Action Category: 2 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: AC130A Refno: 1600 Source: Compiled 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. Other Personnel in Incident: Ronnie Hensley; Thomas Adachi; Stephen Harris; Donald Lint; William Brooks; Charles B. Davis; Donald G. Fisher; John C. Towle; Charles Rowley (all missing); Eugene L. Fields (rescued). REMARKS: SYNOPSIS: In the early hours of April 22, 1970, an AC130 gunship flown by veteran pilot Major William Brooks departed Ubon Airbase with a crew of ten for a Commando Hunt mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos. The aircraft, code named "Ad Lib", was joined near its destination by two jet escort fighter bombers, code named "Killer 1" and "Killer 2", and immediately began air strikes against enemy traffic below. The crew of the aircraft included Brooks, the pilot; SSgt. Thomas Y. Adachi, the aerial gunner; LtCol. Charlie B. Davis, a navigator; Maj. Donald G. Fisher, a navigator; SSgt. Stephen W. Harris; SSgt. Ronnie L. Hensley; Master Sgt. Robert N. Ireland; Airman Donald M. Lint; LtCol. Charles S. Rowley; and 1Lt. John C. Towle. During its fourth strike, the gunship was hit by anti-aircraft fire and began burning. Brooks radioed, "I've been hit, babe". Fisher, the navigator, reported that his position was OK. Fields and Hensley, battling the blaze in the rear of the aircraft, lost contact with each other in the smoke. Fields inched his way to Adachi's position, and found Adachi gone and the left scanner window open. Fields used an auxiliary parachute to abandon the aircraft. Killer 1 reported seeing no parachutes, although Killer 2 reported the crew was bailing out. Just before Killer 1 departed the area for refueling, it received one emergency beeper signal from the ground. Killer 2 established voice contact with a member of the crew identifying himself as Ad-Lib 12 (Fisher), who reported that he had burns on his face and hands. Killer 2 also left for refueling, while other aircraft monitored the downed craft and waited for morning to attempt rescue of the survivors. The following morning, Ad-Lib 11 (Fields) was rescued, but due to hostile ground forces, no ground search or photographs were made at the time. The Air Force assumed at the time that Fields had incorrectly identified himself, and announced that 6 of the crew had been killed and four were missing. The rest of the story is confusing. The family of one of the crew was told that a ground crew had been inserted and that partial remains of one crew member had been recovered. Another family was advised that photographs of the crashsite existed. A photograph of a captive airman having burn bandages on his hands was identified as being Fisher by his family. Rowley's family was informed of a secret intelligence report indicating that 8 of the crew had been captured, and that a controlled American source had witnessed them being tortured to death for their "crimes". A returned POW reported seeing Rowley in a propaganda film. Another returned POW stated that Fisher had been a POW. Although the Air Force would not allow family members to contact the only survivor, Fields, Fisher's son located him after 18 years. Fisher denied ever being in contact with any of the Killer jet escorts. It was not he who identified himself by radio to rescue forces. Apparently, at least some of the crew of Ad Lib survived to be captured in Laos, often called the "Black Hole" of the POW issue because of nearly 600 lost there, not a SINGLE man was released that had been held in Laos. The Pathet Lao stated on several occasions that they held prisoners, yet we never negotiated their freedom, and reports continue to be received that some of these men are still alive. The surviving crew members lost that day were abandoned by the country for which they bravely fought. [up1003b.95 10/09/95] UPn 10/03 Vet finds solace in MIA return By WILLIAM D. MURRAY SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- For the last 25 years, Gene Fields has pondered the fate of his crew mates aboard a AC-130A that plummeted from the skies in flames over Laos in 1970. He remembers the fresh faces of 19-year-olds assigned to him in his role as a gunnery instructor. He remembers their laughter, their thoughts and their dreams. Those visions danced in his head Sept. 27 as he stood on the Tarmac at California's Travis Air Force Base, watching the remains of the crew being loaded off a military jet and returned to U.S. soil. "Once they were loaded off the jet I said 'they are back home' and now I can put this behind me," he told United Press International Tuesday. "There is nothing else that can be done. I say it's over, but there hasn't been a week I haven't thought about them." Fields was on an AC-130A assigned to strike at the Viet Cong on the Ho Chi Minh Trail on the Laotian-Vietnam border on the night of April 22, 1970. As was his routine, he made sure his handgun was loaded and both personal transmitters were functioning before the heavily armed aircraft took off for its mission. For Fields, it was his 105th mission, a feat he was proud of. But he said his experience would save his life later that night. "We flew with the back of the plane open," he said. "Somewhere over the Ho Chi Minh Trail we were hit by a phosphorus rocket....There was smoke and fire everywhere....I was trying to put the fire out but saw it was hopeless and told the crew they had to get out. "But the way out was blocked by the fire. I had often thought you might be able to crawl out a window near the wing and escape....That's where I crawled to....Somehow I got outside, missed the propeller and my chute opened." As he glanced back, Fields said he saw the plane head into the ground nose first. "The explosion lit up the jungle," he said. "I kept hoping someone else got out." Fields' troubles were far from over. His hands were severely burned and his chute came down and hung up in a tree. "Somehow I got myself down and I got away from the chute as quickly as I could," he said. "My transmitter was activated and luckily there were a lot of aircraft in the sky. They located me and I was rescued the next day. Everyone had transmitters, but the planes could not pick anyone else up." Fields later returned for a second tour of duty in Vietnam, aiding in the final evacuation of Saigon. But he always wondered about the other crewmen. "I always hoped someone else survived," he said. "I would read through the list of POWs and hoped that one of their names would appear. But there was nothing." The remains of Col. Charlie Davis, Col. Charles Rowley, Capt. John Towle, Chief Master Sgt. Ronnie Hensley, Chief Master Sgt. Robert Ireland, Senior Master Sgt. Donald Lint, Sgt. Stephen Harris and three others whose identities were not released at their families wishes were recovered Nov. 15, 1993. The remains were later identified in Hawaii and returned to the mainland Sept. 27. Fields said he had been prevented from talking about the crash because it was "classified" until the remains were returned. "That was the hardest part," he said. "The families would contact me, and I wanted to tell them everything but I couldn't." Fields, who currently works for Pacific Gas & Electric, said a day doesn't go by "when I wonder why I survived. Why was I one to get out? Hopefully, now that they are back home, I can stop asking that question. "