BECKWITH, HARRY MEDFORD III
Name: Harry Medford Beckwith III
Rank/Branch: E5/US Army
Unit: D Troop, 3rd Squad, 5th Cavalry, 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division
Date of Birth: 18 August 1948 (Ft. Dix NJ)
Home City of Record: Flint MI
Date of Loss: 24 March 1971
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 164602N 4063355E (XD668543)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Other Personnel In Incident: James P. Ross (survived and was rescued);
William E. Neal (body recovered).
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 2020.
SYNOPSIS: LAM SON 719 was a large offensive operation against NVA
communications lines in Laos. The operation called for ARVN troops to drive
west from Khe Sanh, cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, seize Tchpone and return to
Vietnam. The ARVN would provide and command the ground forces, while U.S.
Army and Air Force would furnish aviation airlift and supporting firepower.
The 101st Airborne Division commanded all U.S. Army aviation units in direct
support of the operation. Most of the first part of the operation, begun
January 30, 1971, was called Operation DEWEY CANYON II, and was conducted by
U.S. ground forces in Vietnam.
The ARVN were halfway on February 11 and positioned for the attack across
the Laotian border. On 8 February, ARVN began to push into Laos. The NVA
reacted fiercely, but the ARVN held its positions supported by U.S.
airstrikes and resupply runs by Army helicopters.
President Nguyen Van Thieu ordered a helicopter assault on Tchepone, and the
abandoned village was seized March 6. Two weeks of hard combat were
necessary for the ARVN task force to fight its way back to Vietnam.
On March 24, a OH58A light observation helicopter (serial #69-16136) was
lost near the border of South Vietnam and Laos in Quang Tri Province, South
Vietnam. The aircraft, flown by CW2 James P. Ross, was departing from its
squadron forward command post at Ham Nhi for a visual reconnaissance
mission. Onboard the aircraft were Sgt. Harry M. Beckwith III, the
tailgunner, and SP4 William E. Neal, crew member.
Shortly after takeoff, the aircraft was hit by enemy automatic ground-to-air
fire and crashed in enemy surrounded area. Within minutes, the aircraft
exploded and burned. A UH1 helicopter was sent immediately to the crash
site, and a team of aero-rifle platoon members was inserted to secure the
area and to rescue any survivors.
Once on the ground, the infantrymen encountered heavy enemy fire, but were
able to secure the aircraft. They found CW2 Ross near the aircraft, and he
indicated to Sgt. Somora, section leader of the rifle platoon, that both the
other crew members were dead, and that nothing could be done to help them
due to the enemy in the area and the extent of the aircraft fire.
A total search of the area was not made. The remains of two crewmen were put
into an extraction helicopter by infantrymen of the 101st Airborne Division.
After takeoff, another helicopter came into the landing zone about 100
meters behind the body-carrying helicopter. Before he could land, he saw
something fall out of the departing helicopter, which turned out to be Sgt.
Beckwith's body, wrapped in a poncho liner.
The chase helicopter, a Cobra, swept in and attempted to get a location of
where the body had fallen, but because of the distance, and the fact that
the poncho liner color blended with the terrain and foliage, no definite fix
could be obtained. The pilot of the chase Cobra reported that he saw ashes
and a floppy poncho liner, indicating that there was almost nothing in it,
fall from approximately 1150 feet.
Searches during the next two days were unsuccessful. On April 7, 1971,
another visual search flight was made over the area of the incident, but
with no results. It was concluded that because of the wind conditions, the
lightness of the poncho liner, and the fact that it had literally become
part of the terrain, further attempts would be futile.
[Note: A Michigan newspaper published a brief account of Beckwith's loss in
about 1986. This account stated that Beckwith had been aboard an observation
helicopter when it was hit by rifle fire from Viet Cong guerrillas hiding in
nearby trees. It further stated that Beckwith was shot running across a rice
paddy in the Mekong Delta, and that his pilot was also shot, but escaped and
was rescued. The Michigan story appears to be accurate except for Beckwith
running across a rice paddy in the Mekong Delta. All military data indicate
that Beckwith was lost in Quang Tri Province. As the Mekong Delta is some
350 miles south of Quang Tri Province, the "running across a rice paddy in
the Mekong Delta" portion of the Michigan story must be discounted as
Losses were heavy in Lam Son 719. The ARVN lost almost 50% of their force.
U.S. aviation units lost 168 helicopters; another 618 were damaged.
Fifty-five aircrewmen were killed, 178 wounded, and 34 missing in action in
the entire operation, lasting until April 6, 1971.
Beckwith is one of nearly 2400 Americans still missing from the Vietnam war.
Like Beckwith, some certainly died. However, since the end of the war,
thousands of reports have been received that indicate that hundreds of
Americans are still alive, held captive in Southeast Asia.
The United States Government, although involved in talks with the Vietnamese
since the end of the war, has been unable to bring home a single live
prisoner. The Vietnamese, on the other hand, refuse to let the issue die,
with the ultimate hope of normalizing relations with the west.
The Americans who are still alive have been reduced to bargaining pawns
between two nations. For their sakes, everything possible must be done to
bring them home. The sacrifice of men like Harry Beckwith is mocked by the
abandonment of their comrades. For the sake of our future fighting men and
those who have given their lives in the defense of their country, we must
see to it that we never again abandon our soldiers to enemy hands.
Harry Beckwith came from a military family and planned a career in the Army.
His father, Army Sgt. Major Harry M. Beckwith, Jr., was stationed in Saigon
when his son was lost in 1971 on his third tour of Vietnam.
While a tank commander at Cu Chi in 1968, Harry Beckwith was awarded the
Silver Star for rescuing, despite his own serious injuries, three others
pinned under a tank during an armored attack.