ANSPACH, ROBERT ALLEN
Name: Robert Allen Anspach
Rank/Branch: E8/US Army Special Forces
Unit: Company D, Detachment A-401, 5th Special Forces Group
Date of Birth: 01 October 1933
Home City of Record: Macon MO
Date of Loss: 11 September 1967
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 105320N 1051632E (WT301036)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing)
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 2020.
SYNOPSIS: The Special Forces camps in the Delta region of South Vietnam had
been suffering loss and damage from floodwaters in late 1966. The
floodwaters also severely curtailed operations conducted on foot, and the
Special Forces, using airboats, and teamed up with Navy Patrol Air Cushion
Vehicles (PACV) and helicopters conducted a number of successful missions
over the flooded regions.
During the ensuing winter dry season, the camps were improved or rebuilt to
help withstand future flooding, while their garrisons trained toward
improving sampan and airboat patrols during the next high water season.
Despite the preparation, there were still only a limited number of Special
Forces personnel and technicians familiar with airboat operations and
logistics, and this activity was limited to Kien Phong ("Wind of Knowledge")
Province along the flooded banks of the San Tieu Giang River.
Detachment B-43 was deployed to Cao Lanh in Kien Phong Province during the
dry season in February 1967, and a full-shop airboat facility was finished
in May. The Viet Cong had realized the tactical potential of airboat
operations, and made this facility the target of a mortar and rocket attack
on July 3-4, with devastating losses to the airboat operations effort.
Capt. Jeffery Fletcher's Thuong Thoi Detachment A-432 had been redesignated
from A-426 on the first day of June, 1967. With the onset of floods on
September 9, two airboat sections were attached to his command under Capt.
Thomas D. Culp and SFC Robert A. Anspach from A-401's Mike Force at Don
Phuc. They began operating out of the camp on the river near the Cambodian
border close to Hong Ngu. Fletcher was concerned about his 454th CIDG
Company manning a border outpost on the Mekong River and the increase in
leaking that threatened the main camp berm. His camp was about to witness
one of the most crippling defeats that Special Forces airboats would suffer.
At 0830 hours on the morning of September 11, 1967, six airboats departed on
a reconnaissance mission. Each boat carried four men, and the force included
three Special Forces advisors, one interpreter, one LLDB noncommissioned
officer, and ten Chinese and eight Cambodian Mike Force soldiers. SFC Robert
Anspach, platoon sergeant, headed the formation in Boat 1, accompanied by
LLDB Sgt. Binh, one Chinese soldier, and interpreter Chau Van Sang, who
doubled as driver. Capt. Thomas D. Culp went in middle Boat 3, and the A-425
team sergeant, MSgt. James W. Lewis, occupied the last one, Boat 6. The
operation was to sweep north to within a mile of the Cambodian border, then
west to the Mekong River.
Possibly because floodwaters had changed the appearance of the landscape,
the airboats passed their intended turning point and proceeded in line down
a stream to the river that formed the international boundary. The rice
paddies were under six to ten feet of water, and the dry banks of the river
were covered with trees and heavy brush. As the first four airboats left the
stream and entered the Vietnamese portion of the river about 5 miles
northwest of the camp, Viet Cong bunkers on both sides of the channel caught
them in a lethal cross fire.
Concentrated machine gun fire riddled all six airboats in the first burst,
killing SFC Anspach immediately. This resulted in fatal confusion. Instead
of trying to break out of the area at once, the column circled and doubled
back to the killing zone. The lead boats were hit repeatedly. LLDB Sgt. Binh
screamed at Sang to turn back, and although Sang could not hear him over din
of engine and arms fire, he desperately drove Boat 1 back toward the mouth
of the stream as the Chinese soldier returned fire with the machine gun.
Just before the boat reached the west bank, it went dead in the water, and
Sang jumped out and swam ashore. Airboat 1, containing Anspach's body, was
later observed from the air being pushed and pulled across the border by the
Boats 2, 3 and 4 tried to execute a clockwise circle in the river, but the
maneuver was ripped apart by the intensity of fire directed at them. Boat 2
plowed into the riverbank and sank. Capt. Culp in Boat 3 was shot in the
left arm, crouched in the boat and returned fire at treeline with his M-79
grenade launcher. Airboat driver Than Ky Diep moved the craft back
downstream, but the craft took several more rounds, and Capt. Culp was
killed. The driver of Boat 4, Ly Phoi Sang, was wounded in the right
shoulder. He managed to get the boat back into the stream, where it lost
The crewmen of Boat 5 were killed or wounded in the first few seconds. Their
boat drifted to the bank of the river, where it was captured. MSgt. Lewis
had been wounded in Boat 6, but kept radio contact until he lost
consciousness. The driver, Hoang Van Sinh, steered his boat out of the
fighting, but the engine was shot to pieces, and it drifted to the stream
The firing had lasted two minutes. One boat had sank, two were in VC hands,
and two others immobilized. Only Boat 3 was still running. The remaining
airboat section raced out of Thuong Thoi under SSgt. Jackson of A-401 and
SFC Pollock of A-432 and linked up with Boat 3 to collect the survivors
huddled on the shorelines. Pollock reached Boat 4 and towed it back to camp.
Boat 2 was later evacuated by Chinook helicopter. Airstrikes were called in
to destroy Boat 5 and the bunkers on the near side of the river. Only Robert
Anspach remained unaccounted for after the battle.
Three reports relating to the mortal remains of Robert Anspach were received
by U.S. officials from ex-Viet Cong and refugee sources. One report stated
Anspach had died as a result of wounds suffered during an ambush. Another
report indicated that he was buried alone, wrapped in a hammock. Other, more
reliable sources claimed that he was buried in a common grave with 3 Nungs
(Vietnamese who were ethnic Chinese), mistaken for Koreans by the Viet Cong.
Attempts were made to recover the remains of Anspach, but enemy presence at
the site frustrated the attempt.
Over 20 years has past since the death of Robert Anspach. The Vietnamese
resolutely deny any knowledge of his fate. They resolutely deny access to
the area in which he is suspected to be buried. Tragically, Anspach lies in
enemy soil, when he should be buried with the honors he deserves in his
Even more tragic is the multitude of reports indicating that hundreds of
Americans are still alive in Southeast Asia, still captives from the long
ago war we called the "Vietnam Conflict". Anspach, his comrades say, is
dead. How many others will die wondering why their country has abandoned