CHURCHILL, CARL RUSSELL
Name: Carl Russell Churchill
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Unit: 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Ubon Airbase, Thailand
Date of Birth: 08 July 1945
Home City of Record: Bethel ME
Date of Loss: 03 May 1970
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 193358N 1034859E (UG759674)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Other Personnel in Incident: Lawrence Y. Conaway (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: In violation of, yet somewhat protected by the neutrality of Laos
accorded at Geneva in a 14-nation protocol conference July 23, 1962, the
North Vietnamese and supporting communist insurgent group, the Pathet Lao,
lost no time in building strategic strongholds of defense in Northern Laos
and establishing a steady flow of manpower and material to their
revolutionary forces in South Vietnam via the Ho Chi Minh Trail on the
eastern border of the Laotian panhandle.
As a result, the Royal Lao sought help from the U.S. in stopping both
initiatives. It was strategically important to do so, although every
initiative had to be cleared through the U.S. Ambassador at Vientiane, so
that the delicate balance of "look-the-other-way-neutrality" engaged in by
the nations involved (including China) could be preserved.
Defense of non-communist activity in Laos generally fell into three
categories: 1) U.S. Army and CIA's bolstering of the Meo (Hmong) army led by
General Vang Pao; 2) Strategic U.S. Air Force bombing initiatives on the Ho
Chi Minh Trail (Operations Commando Hunt, Steel Tiger, etc.); 3) U.S. Air
Force bombing initiatives in northern Laos (Operation Barrell Roll, etc.)
both against communist strongholds there, and in support of the Royal Lao
and Gen. Vang Pao's army.
On May 3, 1970, LtCol. Lawrence Y. Conaway, pilot, and Capt. Carl R.
Churchill, systems operator, departed Ubon Airbase in southeast Thailand on
an operational mission over Laos. When they were about half way between the
cities of Ban Ban and Nong Het in Xiangkhoang Province, Laos, their aircraft
was hit by enemy fire and crashed in a river.
Conaway and Churchill were northeast of the heavily contested Plaine des
Jarres region of Laos. Just short of a year following the aircraft crash, a
determination of death was made that both crew members died in the crash of
their aircraft. However, the fact remained that there was every reason to
believe the Pathet Lao or Vietnamese know the precise fates of Conaway and
During the course of the war, the Pathet Lao stated publicly that they held
"tens of tens" of American prisoners, but that they would be released only
from Laos. They wished to negotiate the end of the massive bombing of their
country before releasing American POWs. The U.S. did not officially
recognize the communist government of Laos, and therefore, never negotiated
with the Pathet Lao. As a result, not one of the nearly 600 Americans lost
in Laos was ever released.
Since the end of the war, nearly 10,000 reports have been received
concerning Americans missing in Southeast Asia, convincing many authorities
that hundreds remain alive. Whether Churchill and Conaway are among those
said to be still alive is not known. What is certain, however, is that as
long as even one American is held against his will, we must do everything
possible to bring him home.