BUNKER, PARK GEORGE
Name: Park George Bunker Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force Unit: 432nd Combat Support Group, Udorn AF TH under secret Assignment to 56th Special Operations Wing, Udorn (RAVENS) Date of Birth: 10 December 1940 Home City of Record: Homewood IL Date of Loss: 30 December 1970 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 193100N 1031300E (UG129588) Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered Category: 2 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: O1F Refno: 1686 Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 1990 with the assistance of 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 2013.
SYNOPSIS: The Steve Canyon program was a highly classified FAC (forward air control) operation covering the military regions of Laos. U.S. military operations in Laos were severely restricted during the Vietnam War era because Laos had been declared neutral by the Geneva Accords.
The non-communist forces in Laos, however, had a critical need for military support in order to defend territory used by Lao and North Vietnamese communist forces. The U.S., in conjunction with non-communist forces in Laos, devised a system whereby U.S. military personnel could be "in the black" or "sheep-dipped" (clandestine; mustered out of the military to perform military duties as a civilian) to operate in Laos under supervision of the U.S. Ambassador to Laos.
RAVEN was the radio call sign which identified the flyers of the Steve Canyon Program. Men recruited for the program were rated Air Force officers with at least six months experience in Vietnam. They tended to be the very best of pilots, but by definition, this meant that they were also mavericks, and considered a bit wild by the mainstream military establishment.
The Ravens came under the formal command of CINCPAC and the 7/13th Air Force 56th Special Operations Wing at Nakhon Phanom, but their pay records were maintained at Udorn with Detachment 1. Officially, they were on loan to the U.S. Air Attache at Vientiane. Unofficially, they were sent to outposts like Long Tieng, where their field commanders were the CIA, the Meo Generals, and the U.S. Ambassador. Once on duty, they flew FAC missions which controlled all U.S. air strikes over Laos.
All tactical strike aircraft had to be under the control of a FAC, who was intimately familiar with the locale, the populous, and the tactical situation. The FAC would find the target, order up U.S. fighter/bombers from an airborne command and control center, mark the target accurately with white phosphorus (Willy Pete) rockets, and control the operation throughout the time the planes remained on station. After the fighters had departed, the FAC stayed over the target to make a bomb damage assessment (BDA).
The FAC also had to ensure that there were no attacks on civilians, a complex problem in a war where there were no front lines and any hamlet could suddenly become part of the combat zone. A FAC needed a fighter pilot's mentality, but but was obliged to fly slow and low in such unarmed and vulnerable aircraft as the Cessna O1 Bird Dog, and the Cessna O2. Consequently, aircraft used by the Ravens were continually peppered with ground fire. A strong fabric tape was simply slapped over the bullet holes until the aircraft could no longer fly.
Ravens were hopelessly overworked by the war. The need for secrecy kept their numbers low (never more than 22 at one time), and the critical need of the Meo sometimes demanded each pilot fly 10 and 12 hour days. Some Ravens completed their tour of approximately 6 months with a total of over 500 combat missions.
The Ravens in at Long Tieng in Military Region II, had, for several years, the most difficult area in Laos. The base, just on the southern edge of the Plain of Jars, was also the headquarters for the CIA-funded Meo army commanded by General Vang Pao. An interesting account of this group can be read in Christopher Robbins' book, "The Ravens". The following account of Capt. Park George Bunker, lost on December 30, 1970, is found in this book:
"..Bunker [was] a tall, reserved man who kept his distance. A senior captain in his early thirties with a receding hairline--and married, with two children--he was looked upon as ancient by his companions.
"Despite his reserve on the ground, Bunker [seemed indifferent] to enemy fire and held the current record among his group for the most bullet holes in his O-1. Just before the new year he flew out to the northern edge of the Plain of Jars, near Roadrunner Lake, to verify a recorded sighting of enemy tanks. Sure enough, he spotted the front of a tank protruding from a group of trees and dropped low for a better look. A rapid-fire 14.5 mm antiaircraft gun--deadly to a height of 4,500 feet--opened up at close range and nailed the engine.
"Bunker put out a Mayday call before managing to [maneuver] the O-1 onto a flat area in the middle of a horseshoe formed by a bend in a small river. When Bunker climbed out of the cockpit he found himself in open country.... He lowered himself into...a small gully choked with brush.... Unknown to him, a large group of NVA soldiers were bivouacked along the bank of a distant treeline that followed the curve in the river. He was surrounded on three sides.
"Four Ravens heard the distress call and headed toward the downed plane. Bunker said he was hiding in a gully by the side of the O-1 and was being shot at from three sides. Gunfire could be heard over the radio. It seemed to...grow louder until Bunker announced he was going to make a run for it.
"...the Ravens raced toward the crash site, listening helplessly to [Bunker's} desperate transmissions. When Bunker next came on the radio, he was out of breath. 'They're all shooting at me! I've been hit! I'm hit! I've been hit twice--God, I've been shot five times. I'm not going to make it. I'm as good as dead.'"
When the first Raven arrived on the scene, Bunker could not be found. One of the Ravens, Chuck Engle, took his plane almost to ground level for a closer look, braving enemy fire. He did see something under a tree, but his aircraft was so badly shot up, he had to return to Long Tieng. A Skyraider pilot volunteered to look, but was met with the same withering fire as Engle had encountered. He confirmed that there was a body under a tree wearing a blood-covered survival vest. "The Ravens" continues:
"The description certainly sounded like Bunker, who always flew to war in a chocolate-colored walking suit and a green survival vest, while most of the other Ravens draped theirs over their seats. The growing dark made it impossible to check, and when the Ravens returned the following morning the body had been removed."
Bunker had only 30 days to run before the end of his tour. Ironically, the Ravens, wishing to spare his family the grief of uncertainty, declared him dead. It was a matter of honor with them that they either got their men out or determined positively they were dead. The Ravens began a ritual after Bunker died that they continue to this day -- reading a list of those Ravens who are no longer among them, drinking to their memories, and then shattering the drink glasses.
Bunker is one of nearly 600 Americans lost in Laos. His comrades believe he was dead when last seen. The Pathet Lao, however should be able to provide information to confirm this, and even produce his body for honorable burial. Even though the Pathet Lao stated publicly that they held "tens of tens" of American prisoners, not one American held in Laos was ever released -- or negotiated for.
Since U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War ended, nearly 10,000 reports have been received by the U.S. Government relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia. Many authorities have reluctantly concluded that hundreds are still alive in captivity today. Bunker and the others were abandoned by their own country.
Park George Bunker graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1963.
================================== From - Mon Apr 10 13:05:06 2000 From: "Lee, Thomas E. - SAIC" <TLee@NSES.com> Subject: Information correction
First I would like to establish my credentials with you, before I point out errors in the descriptive write-ups on approximately 20 entries in your data base.
I am a retired US Air Force Colonel who served in Laos covertly as part of DoD Project 404 from June 1968-June 1969. I was the intelligence officer in Savannakhet operating in "civilian" status working for the US Embassy. I carried civilian documentation for presentation but also possessed my military ID card. We wore civilian clothes. One of my roles was to support the Raven forward air controllers (FAC), the US FACs operating from "in-country" bases in Laos. See my website at http://members.xoom.com/targeteer.
The following is a paragraph from your description of the "Raven" Forward Air Controllers operating in Laos.
We lost 21 of them from 1966-1973.
"The non-communist forces in Laos, however, had a critical need for military support in order to defend territory used by Lao and North Vietnamese communist forces. The U.S., in conjunction with non-communist forces in Laos, devised a system whereby U.S. military personnel could be "in the black" or "sheep-dipped" (clandestine; mustered out of the military to perform military duties as a civilian) to operate in Laos under supervision of the U.S. Ambassador to Laos."
**** An error in the above description is that most of the US military personnel operating in Laos were NOT "sheep-dipped" as you described. We were in the "Black" in that we were technically not there, we were assigned to out of country units and our in-country existence was generally classified for part of the 1964-1973 period. (The existence of these operations was revealed during Congressional Hearings in late 1969 or 1970). The Raven Program and the complementary DoD Project 404 both began in 1966. However, there was no mustering out of the service for the Ravens or the Project 404 personnel. To my knowledge the only program that was "sheep dipped" as you described was Project Heavy Green (the Air Force troops supporting Site 85 and the TACAN site support). That accounted for under 100 people. (13 were lost) There were military personnel operating within the Air America and CIA (CAS) operations that may have operated under different rules.
Critically speaking the US devised the sheep dipping process. It was used across the US intelligence community. The non-communist forces had virtually nothing to do with that process. They did play a role in accepting the US military members in "civilian" status by accepting our presence and not "spilling the beans". We were not deceiving the opposition because they knew we were military. Our deception was aimed at the World scene and the US population regarding our activities in contravention of the 1962 Geneva Accords.
**** This was a very unique period and very misunderstood period in our military history due to its classified nature. Fortunately, we are able to tell our story now. Those of us that served in Laos are trying to correct this mis-information and myth that has grown up around these activities so they are better understood in their real context.
Tom Lee (Thomas E. Lee, Colonel USAF (Ret)) Savannakhet, Laos 1968-1969
Final chapter After 33 years, Barb Moore can put her brother's memory to rest
Thursday, March 6, 2003 By Scott Richardson Pantagraph staff
BLOOMINGTON -- The Vietnam War ended Tuesday for Barb Moore of Bloomington when she opened an envelope from the U.S. Air Force. The letter said an old man had surfaced in Hanoi a few months earlier to talk with U.S. military officials investigating the fate of American soldiers in Vietnam. The man said he was among Communist Vietnamese and Laotian soldiers who buried the bodies of two American pilots in Laos more than 30 years ago.....
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By Scott Richardson Pantagraph staff
STREATOR -- Soldiers' paths may cross in eerie ways years after the battles have ended.Take the experience Jim Hogan had while reading The Pantagraph early Thursday.
A front-page article gave an update of the search for the body of a pilot who was shot down in Laos during the Vietnam War. His name was Capt. Parker George Bunker , the brother of Barb Moore of Bloomington.....
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