Name: George Lytle Ritter
Rank/Branch: Civilian
Unit: Pilot, Air America
Date of Birth: 24 October 1922
Home City of Record:
Date of Loss: 27 December 1971
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 193357N 1012225E (QB410610)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Category: 3
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: C123E
Refno: 1791
Other Personnel in Incident: Edward Weissenback; Roy F. Townley (missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 October 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 2003.
SYNOPSIS: During the Vietnam war, Air America contracted with CIA to fly in
Laos transporting a variety of supplies. Because the United States "was not
at war" in Laos, some AA activities were secret. CIA considered its work
important enough to deceive the U.S. Congress, and obtained a large portion
of its funding through AID dollars that Congress believed were for civilian
help. Although Air America openly spoke of its humanitarian drops of rice,
blankets and medicine, they also conducted many "hard rice" drops -
ammunition, grenades, bombs and weapons to the secret CIA directed
indigenous army.
Many Air America pilots were crack pilots from World War II and Korea who
just were not ready to quit flying in the challenging arena of war. Some
took the job because they believed that in doing so, they could help fight
communism. Laos was a tough assignment. Not only were maps antiquated,
forcing the pilots to "eyeball" their way through the countryside, but the
weather and terrain could also be quite unpredictable.
Refugees created by the war depended on Air America, whose planes could
alter weeks of starvation, when the wounded suffered without medical
supplies, in a single drop. Enough food and supplies could be dropped in a
single morning to supply and feed five thousand people for a month. The
secret army depended on the AA materiel drops to such an extent that they
sometimes resorted to trickery to make sure they occurred. On one occasion,
a pilot observed the wind sock at a village strip hanging straight down, but
when he landed found the wind dangerously strong. An amiable native
explained, "We know plane not land when sock flies, so we put rocks in
At the foot of any runway, an AA pilot could encounter armed communist
troops intent on preventing him from ever flying again. Many planes returned
to base peppered with bullet holes, and some were destroyed. Others were
downed and their crews captured.
On December 27, 1971, Captain Roy F. Townley, Captain George Ritter and
Edward Weissenback were flying a mission over Laos in a C123K. The C123K
differed from other C123 models in that it had the addition of auxilliary
turbojet engines mounted in underwing pods. While this addition did little
to increase the speed of the "Provider," it added greater power for quicker
climbing on takeoff and power for maintaining altitude. Townley's aircraft
was shot down about 10 miles south of the city of Hong Sa in Sayaboury
Province, Laos.
Townley and Weissenback were known to have been captured alive. Records
state that a Pathet Lao communication was intercepted in August 1972 stating
that they had downed and captured all the crew. A Pathet Lao Major defected
and identified Roy Townley and Edward Weissenback from photos.
As late as 1984, reports were being received that Townley and Weissenback
were alive, in good health, and being held in a group of 8 American
prisoners. Four of the original 12 prisoners had died of dysentary, and two
who were still resisting had rings in their noses and were treated like
beasts of burden. Ritter, sources claimed, was being used as a roving
airplane mechanic in central Laos. A private, unauthorized rescue plan was
formulated to attempt to free him in 1984. The attempt was unsuccessful.
Townley's family has a photograph of an American POW lying in a hospital bed
taken prior to October, 1972. They believe the man is Roy Townley. Townley's
daughters met with Admiral Paulsen of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the
summer of 1983, at which time Paulsen told them, "I believe it's your father
(the man in the photo); everybody I show the pictures to believes it's your
father." Paulsen showed them the infrared photos of the man in the POW photo
and matched them with photos of Capt. Townley. The photos showed two moles
on the mouth area that identically match those of Townley.
Over 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia have
been received by the U.S. Government since 1975. A Pentagon panel concluded
in 1986 that there were at least 100 men still alive. Ackley and Driver are
two of nearly 600 Americans lost in Laos. Although the Pathet Lao publicly
stated that they held "tens of tens" of Americans, NOT ONE MAN returned that
had been held in Laos. The U.S. has yet to negotiate their release.
The daughters of Townley say, "We began getting reports of Daddy working on
airplanes in 1983. At first we were happy because he was still alive. Then
we wondered what he must think of us and his country for not getting him
out. People have got to know there are men alive in Vietnam and Laos. They
need your help."
How much longer must these men wait for their country to bring them home?
 George Ritter was a civilian pilot for Air America in Vietnam. (Photo
 courtesy of Phillipe Ritter)
 Neither POW Nor MIA, 34 Civilians Still Missing in Southeast Asia
c.2003 Newhouse News Service
Now that Charles Dean's body is being returned to his family -- which
includes brother Howard Dean, Democratic presidential contender -- the list
of civilians missing from the Vietnam War drops to 34.
They were physicians, engineers, teachers, missionaries, journalists or,
like Charles Dean, just traveling through. Then they were gone.
Americans know well the military designations of Prisoner of War and Missing
in Action. The Defense Department still is searching for more than 1,800
Americans from the Vietnam era. These include the 34 categorized as
"unaccounted for United States civilian citizens."
"They're a small number but just as important to their families as everyone
else," said Larry Greer, spokesman for the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing
Personnel Office at the Pentagon.
An "astounding" number of civilians -- several thousand -- lived, worked and
traveled in Vietnam, said Ron Rexilius, assistant professor of history at
Houston Baptist University. The son of missionaries in Vietnam, he wrote a
dissertation titled "Americans Without Dog Tags: U.S. Civilians in the
Vietnam War, 1950-1975."
There is scant information about them. "Their story is yet untold," said
Rexilius, who was born in Saigon in 1962.
Civilians disappeared throughout Southeast Asia. Charles Dean, 24, was on
the Mekong River in September 1974 when he and a friend were captured by
guerrillas. Physician Eleanor Ardel Vietti and two colleagues were kidnapped
by Viet Cong from a leprosy hospital near Ban Me Thuot in South Vietnam on
Memorial Day, 1962. Photojournalist Dana Stone was last seen in Cambodia in
April 1970.
Phillipe Ritter remembers well Dec. 27, 1971, the day his father, pilot
George Ritter, vanished.
Phillipe was 16, living with his parents and three siblings in Laos. His
father was flying for Air America, a fleet of planes (secretly owned by the
CIA) that dropped food and supplies and helped transport wounded troops and
"I was the first one in my family told," said Ritter, now living in Fort
Worth, Texas.
That day, he was at the airport restaurant with friends. "Somebody from Air
America pulled me into the office," he recalled. "I was in shock. Basically,
they didn't know what had happened."
 Now Ritter is a board member of the National League of Families of American
Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, based in Arlington, Va. Its
membership, about 1,000 relatives of the missing, work to keep the issue
alive while struggling to put their own grief to rest.
"I always told myself that if my father came back, he wouldn't have wanted
me to ruin my life with this," Ritter said. "And I have seen lives ruined."
In 1995, wreckage was found that was thought to be Ritter's plane.
But no remains.
Greer said evidence dictates when recovery teams are sent to check a site.
Sometimes timing also dictates the decision, as with Charles Dean.
That site, a rice paddy in Laos, "was soon to be developed with roadways and
buildings, so the recovery moved up in priority," Greer said.
Whether military or civilian makes no difference.
"We look at them as Americans, and our job is to bring Americans home,"
Greer said.
Civilians played a larger role in Vietnam than people realize, said Steve
Judycki, head of the CivSEA Project, an effort to locate civilians who
worked in Southeast Asia back then. (On the Web at www.civsea.org)
His father, Raymond Judycki, was a field service representative for the
Hamilton Standard Division of United Aircraft, specializing in jet engines
on Chinook helicopters. He survived both a mortar attack on his base as well
as being shot down in a helicopter.
"He came back, but I know first-hand what a sacrifice he and other civilians
made during the Vietnam War," said Judycki, of Wilbraham, Mass.
"These civilians made an important contribution to the national security in
the 1960s and '70s," he said. "But there is virtually no documentation of
their service."
Nov. 21, 2003