CROSS, JAMES EMORY
Name: James Emory Cross Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force Unit: 56th Special Operations Wing, Udorn AF TH (RAVENS) Date of Birth: 22 June 1944 Home City of Record: Warren OH Date of Loss: 24 April 1970 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 193458N 1033059E (UG444658) Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered Category: 3 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: U-17B Refno: 1604 Other Personnel in Incident: Gomer D. Reese III (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 1998.
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". This book contains the following account of the loss of Captains James E. Cross and Gomer D. Reese III:
"Volunteer Ravens presented a problem opposite that facing most military commanders--they needed to be held back, not egged on. It was the Head Raven's job to spot the signs of combat exhaustion among his men before it killed them.
"One of the Ravens [the Head Raven] felt needed to be watched was Jim Cross. [The Head Raven] ordered Cross to stay out of the combat zone and restricted his flying to checking out new pilots. Cross moved down to Vientiane and busied himself buying stereo gear and bamboo furniture to ship back to the States.
"One of the newcomers Cross was supposed to check out was Dave Reese, an amiable young man distinguished by a scar across his nose. Cross had been instructed to check out the new Raven in the Vientiane area and then fly on up to Alternate [Long Tieng]. On the way Cross thought he would take Reese out onto the Plain of Jars, as they were flying in the long-range U-17, and keep on going until they reached the Ban Ban valley.
"Mark Diebolt was out on the Plain of Jars in a T-28 when he heard Cross's Mayday distress signal. Unknown to the pilot, the NVA had moved a mobile 37mm antiaircraft gun into the Ban Ban valley--always a potential flak trap because of the number of guns positioned there--and the U-17 had taken three hits. One shell had blown a massive hole in the wing. 'I've got full trim--everything's jettisoned,' Cross said over the radio. Moments later he made his final transmission: 'I can't hold it--it's going down.'
"The plane had lost all power, glided into some trees, and exploded. Diebolt flew over the wreckage and saw the great gaping hole in the right wing made by the shell. It had been yet another of those deadly Old Head-FNG checkout rides, where the combination of over-confidence and inexperience had proved fatal."
Cross and Reese are among nearly 600 Americans lost in Laos. Even though the Pathet Lao stated publicly that they held "tens of tens" of these men as 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.
The Ravens were extremely dedicated to the freedom-loving people of Laos and put their very lives on the line for them. They believed in America and the job it was trying to do in Southeast Asia. They were also quite insistant that each of their own were accounted for, dead or alive. While Cross and Reese may not be among those thought to be still alive, one can be certain that they would be among the first to volunteer, in the Raven spirit, to assist them to freedom.
=============================== 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