O'DONNELL, MICHAEL DAVIS Group Identification
Name: Michael Davis O'Donnell Rank/Branch: O3/US Army Unit: 170th Aviation Company, 17th Aviation Group, 52nd Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Brigade Date of Birth: 13 August 1945 (Columbus OH) Home City of Record: Springfield IL Date of Loss: 24 March 1970 Country of Loss: Cambodia Loss Coordinates: 142750N 1071816E (YB484003) Status (in 1973): Missing In Action Category: 3 Acft/Venicle/Ground: UH1H Refno: 1578
Other Personnel in Incident: Berman Ganoe; John C. Hosken; Rudy M. Becerra; John Boronski; Gary A. Harned, Jerry L. Pool (all missing)
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, including James E. Lake's account found in "Life on the Line" by Philip D. Chinnery, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2001.
REMARKS: SURVIVAL UNLIKELY - PER SAR
SYNOPSIS: Kontum, South Vietnam was in the heart of "Charlie country" -- hostile enemy territory. The little town is along the Ia Drang River, some forty miles north of the city of Pleiku. U.S. forces never had much control over the area. In fact, the area to the north and east of Kontum was freefire zone where anything and anyone was free game. The Kontum area was home base to what was known as FOB2 (Forward Observation Base 2), a classified, long-term operations of the Special Operations Group (SOG) that involved daily operations into Laos and Cambodia. SOG teams operated out of Kontum, but staged out of Dak To.
The mission of the 170th Assault Helicopter Company ("Bikinis") was to perform the insertion, support, and extraction of these SOG teams deep in the forest on "the other side of the fence" (a term meaning Laos or Cambodia, where U.S. forces were not allowed to be based). Normally, the teams consisted of two "slicks" (UH1 general purpose helicopters), two Cobras (AH1 assault helicopters) and other fighter aircraft which served as standby support.
On March 24, 1970, helicopters from the 170th were sent to extract a MACV-SOG long-range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP) team which was in contact with the enemy about fourteen miles inside Cambodia in Ratanokiri Province. The flight leader, RED LEAD, serving as one of two extraction helicopters was commanded by James E. Lake. Capt. Michael D. O'Donnell was the aircraft commander of one of the two cover aircraft (serial #68-15262, RED THREE). His crew consisted of WO John C. Hoskins, pilot; SP4 Rudy M. Beccera, crew chief; and SP4 Berman Ganoe, gunner.
The MACV-SOG team included 1LT Jerry L. Pool, team leader and team members SSGT John A. Boronsky and SGT Gary A. Harned as well as five indigenous team members. The team had been in contact with the enemy all night and had been running and ambusing, but the hunter team pursuing them was relentless and they were exhausted and couldn't continue to run much longer. when Lake and O'Donnell arrived at the team's location, there was no landing zone (LZ) nearby and they were unable to extract them immeidately. The two helicopters waited in a high orbit over the area until the team could move to a more suitable extraction point.
While the helicopters were waiting, they were in radio contact with the team. After about 45 minutes in orbit, Lake received word from LT Pool that the NVA hunter team was right behind them. RED LEAD and RED THREE made a quick trip to Dak To for refueling. RED THREE was left on station in case of an emergency.
When Lake returned to the site, Pool came over the radio and said that if the team wasn't extracted then, it would be too late. Capt. O'Donnell evaluated the situation and decided to pick them up. He landed on the LZ and was on the ground for about 4 minutes, and then transmitted that he had the entire team of eight on board. The aircraft was beginning its ascent when it was hit by enemy fire, and an explosion in the aircraft was seen. The helicopter continued in flight for about 300 meters, then another explosion occurred, causing the aircraft to crash in the jungle. According to Lake, bodies were blown out the doors and fell into the jungle. [NOTE: According to the U.S. Army account of the incident, no one was observed to have been thrown from the aircraft during either explosion.]
The other helicopter crewmen were stunned. One of the Cobras, Panther 13, radioed "I don't think a piece bigger than my head hit the ground." The second explosion was followed by a yellow flash and a cloud of black smoke billowing from the jungle. Panther 13 made a second high-speed pass over the site and came under fire, but made it away unscathed.
Lake decided to go down and see if there was a way to get to the crash site. As he neared the ground, he was met with intense ground fire from the entire area. He could not see the crash site sice it was under heavy tree cover. There was no place to land, and the ground fire was withering. He elected to return the extract team to Dak To before more aircraft was lost. Lake has carried the burden of guilt with him for all these years, and has never forgiven himself for leaving his good friend O'Donnell and his crew behind.
The Army account concludes stating that O'Donnell's aircraft began to burn immediately upon impact. Aerial search and rescue efforts began immediately; however, no signs of life could be seen around the crash site. Because of the enemy situation, attempts to insert search teams into the area were futile. SAR efforts were discontinued on April 18. Search and rescue teams who surveyed the site reported that they did not hold much hope for survival for the men aboard, but lacking proof that they were dead, the Army declared all 7 missing in action.
For every patrol like that of the MACV-SOG LRRP team that was detected and stopped, dozens of other commando teams safely slipped past NVA lines to strike a wide range of targets and collect vital information. The number of MACV-SOG missions conducted with Special Forces reconnaissance teams into Laos and Cambodia was 452 in 1969. It was the most sustained American campaign of raiding, sabotage and intelligence gathering waged on foreign soil in U.S. military history. MACV-SOG's teams earned a global reputation as one of the most combat effective deep penetration forces ever raised.
By 1990 over 10,000 reports have been received by the U.S. Government concerning men missing in Southeast Asia. The government of Cambodia has stated that it would like to return a number of American remains to the U.S. (in fact, the number of remains mentioned is more than are officially listed missing in that country), but the U.S., having no diplomatic relations with Cambodia, refuses to respond officially to that offer.
Most authorities believe there are hundreds of Americans still alive in Southeast Asia today, waiting for their country to come for them. Whether the LRRP team and helicopter crew is among them doesn't seem likely, but if there is even one American alive, he deserves our ultimate efforts to bring him home.
Michael O'Donnell was recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on March 24, 1970. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart as well as promoted to the rank of Major following his loss incident. O'Donnell was highly regarded by his friends in the "Bikinis." They knew him as a talented singer, guitar player and poet. One of his poems has been widely distributed, but few understand that the author remains missing.
If you are able, save them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go. Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have left and what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own. And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind.
Major Michael Davis O'Donnell 1 January 1970 Dak To, Vietnam
Gary Alan Harned-RT Pensylvaina 06/19/01 From: email@example.com (Anne Coon)
My name is Robert Schwab and I am from Meadville, Pennsylvania. I am looking for information on my Uncle, Gary Alan Harned, who was a member of RT Pennsylvania. He was listed as missing in action in March of 1970. I was also told to mention the CCC in this e-mail. I would be very interested in any information that anyone may have about my Uncle from people who knew him personally or through military operations.
It is believed that in March of 1970, a helicopter that Gary was on was shot down near Cambodia. Other passengers believed to be aboard were Captain Michael O'Donnell, Officer John Hosken, Rudy Becerra, Berman Grande, Jr., Lieutenant Jerry Poole, and Sergeant First Class John Boronski. Recently the Army has investigated the crash site and has found human remains. Through DNA Testing they have positively identified Captain Michael O'Donnell, Officer John Hosken, Rudy Becerra, and Berman Grande, Jr. The three remaining men, Lieutenant Jerry Poole, Sergeant First Class John Boronski, and my Uncle were not positively identified through testing, due to the condition of the remaining bones. These remaining bones are being offered for a group burial for Poole, Boronski, and my Uncle at Arlington Cemetery later this year.
Any information would be very helpful. Thank you for your time. Robert A. Schwab (814) 336-2270 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
July 1, 2001 The Journal Standard
Waiting for the truth
Freeport resident Darlene Pool holds her husband, Jerry Pool's MIA bracelet marking the date that Jerry was reported missing in action; March 24, 1970. Photo by Steve Ingram
Freeport resident still unsure of exactly what happened to her husband in Vietnam.
FREEPORT -- "I almost died this time," Darlene Pool said about hearing the latest news on her husband......
Travis Morse can be reached at 232-0178 or at email@example.com.
Date: Wed, 15 Aug 2001 12:04:38 EDT Subject: Soldiers and Airmen Returning Home Greetings,
I am .... for the US Army at Fort Myer, Va. I also had the pleasure to serve as ..... for 5th SFG(A) from Dec 91 through Dec 94. Today and tomorow, I have the honor to be part of an escort for the families and remains of 3 Special Forces soldiers and 4 members of the Air Force returned home from Cambodia. These soldiers were lost on 24 March 1970 in Cambodia; REFNO 1578.
They are: 1LT Jerry L. Pool SSG John Boronski SGT Gary Harned
CPT Michael D. O'Donnel WO1 John C. Hosken SP4 Rudy Becerra SP4 Berman Ganoe Jr.
There will be a ceremony at the Old Post Chapel on Fort Meyer at 1300 hours on 16 August. While this was a war before my time, I still feel a deep sense of pride, honor, and esprit de corps in their return. These days are very special for anyone who has every worn a uniform or served in the the defense of their country. I have the deepest pride in my service and the highest regard for my brothers who have fallen before me. I hope their return brings some closure and ease to the minds and hearts of those who care.