CAVIL, JACK WALTER Remains Returned 1 April 1973 Name: Jack Walter Cavil Rank/Branch: Civilian Unit: Air America Date of Birth: Home City of Record: Date of Loss: 09 February 1973 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 171600N 1045500E (VE909094) Status (in 1973): Missing in Action Category: 2 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: C123 Refno: 1984 Other Personnel in Incident: Howard H. Boyles, Jr. (remains returned) Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 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 1998. REMARKS: SYNOPSIS: During the 1950's a deteriorating political situation in Laos had allowed NVA troops and Pathet Lao guerrillas to seize the Laotian panhandle from the Royal Lao Army. Prevented by Geneva Accords from having a large military presence in Laos, the U.S. established a "Program Evaluation Office" (PEO) in 1958 as a CIA cover for anti-communist covert actions. One activity, begun in 1958, used Meo tribesmen for a small pilot guerrilla program, which soon became the largest clandestine army in CIA history. In the first year, using U.S. Special Forces White Star teams as PEO "civilians", a few CIA officers and 90 elite Thai Border guards, an army of 9000 Meo (A term for Hmong tribesmen which most consider derogatory) was trained for behind-lines guerrilla activity. Within 10 years, the Hmong army grew to over 40,000 guerrillas, becoming the most effective fighting force in Laos. The CIA's covert airline, known as "Air America" (AA) supported the Hmong as well as numerous other CIA-backed clandestine guerrilla armies. With the escalating war, a large US military presence guaranteed that Air America could operate in relative obscurity. With little fanfare throughout the war, AA fought in the front lines of unconventional war. AA pilots flew "black missions" over China, North Vietnam and the Laotian panhandle. AA flew in every type of aircraft from 727 jets to small Cessnas and junk aircraft, transporting everything from combat troops (alive, wounded or dead) to baby chicks, dropping rice to refugees and specially trained Nung trailwatchers into denied areas. AA contracted both with the Drug Enforcement Agency (to track international drug smugglers) and with the Hmong (to haul its annual and valuable opium crop). As U.S. forces pulled out, AA picked up the slack, straining to maintain the status quo. The communists drove the Hmong from their homelands in the early 1970's, and as the Hmong retreated, AA was in the position of hauling (and feeding) tens of thousands of refugees. There were problems as the CIA fell under Congressional scrutiny of its world-wide paramilitary activities and public pressure to divest itself of Air America. South Vietnam's rapid collapse in 1975 signified the end of the clandestine war that began in Vietnam thirty years earlier. Jack W. Cavil and Howard H. Boyles, Jr., were the crew of an Air America C123 transport operating in Laos near the Mekong river town of Thakkek, Laos. Just outside of town, the aircraft took heavy anti-aircraft fire and crashed. Rescue teams could see two bodies but were driven from the scene by heavy enemy fire. Over a period of six weeks, reconnaissance was conducted on the site revealing a deeply-seated aircraft with an empty cockpit. Both seat belts were open. There is no mention of a catastrophic fire in these reports. Two months later, on April 1, ashes were recovered from the scene which were later (November 12) positively identified as being those of Cavil and Boyles. Mrs. Mary Boyles did not accept what she described as 6 ounces of ashes as being her husband and refuted the positive identification. She quite naturally felt that there had been an opportunity for her husband to escape the aircraft, since the cockpit had been found empty and apparently intact, with two open seat belts. Cavil and Boyles are among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many are known to have been alive on the ground following their shoot downs. Although the Pathet Lao publicly stated on several occasions that they held "tens of tens" of American prisoners, not one American held in Laos has ever been released. Laos did not participate in the Paris Peace accords ending American involvement in the war in 1973, and no treaty has ever been signed that would free the Americans held in Laos. Americans prisoner, missing, or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S. since the end of the war, convincing many authorities that hundreds are still alive. Whether Cavil and Boyles were alive when the aircraft went down and survived to be captured will perhaps never be known. As far as the U.S. Government is concerned, the two are accounted for.