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 Category: 5 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: LST821 Refno: 1174 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 1998. REMARKS: 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 significance. 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.