COTA, ERNEST KENO
Name: Ernest Keno Cota
Rank/Branch: E5/US Navy
Unit: USS HARNETT COUNTY (LST-821)
Date of Birth: 22 December 1944 (La Mesa CA)
Home City of Record: San Diego CA
Date of Loss: 14 May 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 100515N 1054415E (WS808151)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 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: 01
January 1990. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2020.
SYNOPSIS: Petty Officer Ernest K. Cota was assigned to the USS HARNETT
COUNTY (LST 821) on station in South Vietnam. The HARNETT COUNTY was
anchored on the Bassac River some 2000 yards upriver from the Naval Supply
Activity Detachment Base at Binh Thuy, Repulic of Vietnam, and had been on
station on the Bassac River since April 12, 1968.
At about 1800 hours on May 14, EN2 Cota and other members of the crew left
the ship on liberty at the NAVSUPPACT Det Binh Thuy Enlisted Club. Fellow
crewmembers were later to make statements that EN2 Cota had consumed a
quantity of beer and was in good spirits.
At 22:30 hours there was a disturbance at the Binh Thuy boat landing with
men returning to the HARNETT COUNTY later said to have been caused by the
intoxicated EN2 Cota. Ten minutes later, an LCM departed the landing for the
HARNETT COUNTY. About 600 yards upriver from the landing, EN2 Cota fell over
the port side of the LCM at a point about 300 yards from the south bank of
the Bassac River.
Several crewmembers from the LCM immediately entered the water in an attempt
to find and rescue EN2 Cota, but with the darkness and strong ebb current,
the personnel in the water only confused and complicated rescue efforts as
it was impossible to determine the identity of the swimmers. Shortly
afterwards, a helicopter from the HARNETT COUNTY joined the search, dropping
flares in the area. The search was continued until about 3:00 a.m. May 15,
1968, then concluded, but EN2 Cota was never recovered.
The considered opinion of the Commanding Officer of the USS HARNETT COUNTY
was that the possibility of Cota's survival was remote, and with the
darkness and strong ebb current in the river, it was suspected that Cota
drowned and his body was not recoverable. On May 28, Cota's status was
changed from Missing in Action to Determined Dead.
EN2 Cota is listed among the missing because his remains were never found to
send home to the country he served. He died a tragically ironic death in the
midst of war. But, for his family, the case seems clear that he died on that
day. The fact that they have no body to bury with honor is not of great
For others who are missing, however, the evidence leads not to death, but to
survival. Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports received relating to
Americans still held captive in Indochina have convinced experts that
hundreds of men are still alive, waiting for their country to rescue them.
The notion that Americans are dying without hope in the hands of a long-ago
enemy belies the idea that we left Vietnam with honor. It also signals that
tens of thousands of lost lives were a frivolous waste of our best men.