CORDOVA, SAM GARY
Remains Returned December 15, 1988
Name: Sam Gary Cordova
Rank/Branch: O2/US Marine Corps
Unit: VMFA 232, 1st Marine Air Wing
Date of Birth: 27 August 1943
Home City of Record: Huntington Beach CA
Date of Loss: 26 August 1972
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 203058N 1043300E (VH531685)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Other Personnel In Incident: Backseater - Darrell Borders [rescued]--
regular back-seater, Dick Lamers was ill/or had a broken leg. Borders flew.
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1991 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 with information from Steven P. Albright
SYNOPSIS: Sam Cordova was the pilot of an F4J fighter jet shot down over
Laos on August 26, 1972. His plane was downed on the border of Laos and
Vietnam in Houa Phan Province near the city of Sop Hoa. His F-4J was Bureau
of Aeronautics Number 155811, and he was shot down by a MiG-21, the only
Marine jet ever to be lost to enemy aircraft during the Vietnam War. Cordova
wa part of a two-plane flight. The NVAF pilot who shot him down was Nguyen
Duc Soat, of the 3rd Company, and it was his fifth of six aerial kills. Lt.
Cordova spoke to U.S. aircraft in the area over his survival radio while
safely parachuting from his aircraft. He later radioed that he had fallen
into a ravine and heard his pursuers approaching. According to a member of
Cordova's squadron, Sam Cordova's last transmission stated that he was going
to be captured if he wasn't picked up immediately.
Cordova's backseater was rescued, but rescue attempts for Cordova were
hampered because of heavy ground fire. Sam's emergency radio beeper was
traced to Ban Na Ca Tay, a Viet Cong village. Attempts to contact him
through the device failed. This seemed clear indication that Cordova was
captured, but he was classified Missing in Action.
It was never determined whether or not Sam was captured. Although the Lao
stated publicly that they held "tens of tens" of American prisoners, less
than a dozen names were ever discovered of Americans held by the Lao.
When the Peace Agreements were signed in Paris in 1973, ending American
involvement in the Vietnam war, Laos was not included. The U.S. did not
negotiate the release of Americans held in Laos because it did not recognize
its communist government. As a result, not one American was released from
The families of men like Sam who were known to have survived their loss
incident have fought for years for information on their men, and have
prodded incessantly for more action to free them. They have been tantalized
by thousands of reports from refugees relating to missing men in Southeast
Asia, and believe there is every likelihood that there are still men alive
there in captivity.
In return for the U.S. Government's humanitarian assistance to Laos, and
more recently, in the private building of medical clinics in Laos, the
government of Laos agreed to assist in excavating a limited number of
American crash sites. Several remains have been recovered through the crash
site excavations, although several of the identifications have proven to be
In a seemingly humanitarian gesture to Presidential Envoy General John
Vessey, the Vietnamese have turned several dozen remains over to U.S.
control. Although several of these remains have turned out to be non-human,
many have been identified as U.S. servicemen.
In December 1988, Sam Cordova came home to be buried in American soil. When
the last American troops left Southeast Asia in 1975, some 2500 Americans
were unaccounted for. Reports received by the U.S. Government since that time
build a strong case for belief that hundreds of these "unaccounted for"
Americans are still alive and in captivity.
"Unaccounted for" is a term that should apply to numbers, not men. Nearly
600 men were left behind in Laos, and our government did not negotiate their
release. We, as a nation, owe these men our best effort to find them and
bring them home. Until the fates of the men like Cordova are known, their
families will wonder if they are dead or alive .. and why they were
Sam G. Cordova was promoted to the rank of Major during the period he was
The Orange County Register
March 15, 1989
Army Identifies body of MIA pilot
Family's quest for answers about aviator shot down in Laos ends....
MAJ SAM GARY CORDOVA
On March 13, 1989, the Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii
(CILH, now DPAA) identified the remains of Major Sam Gary
Cordova, missing from the Vietnam War.
Major Cordova joined the U.S. Marine Corps from California and was a member of Marine Attack Squadron 232. On August 26, 1972, he piloted an F-4J Phantom II (bureau number 155811) on a flight to the northern border between Laos and Vietnam. Major Cordova's aircraft was struck by a missile during the mission, and he was forced to eject; however, he died under unknown circumstances at some point after this. Search efforts for Maj Cordova were unsuccessful at the time. In December 1988, the Vietnamese government returned a set of unidentified remains to U.S. custody, and forensic analysis identified Maj Cordova's remains from among them.
Major Cordova is memorialized on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
If you are a family member of this serviceman, you may contact your casualty office representative to learn more about your service member.