CALFEE, JAMES HENRY
Name: James Henry Calfee Rank/Branch: E7/US Air Force Unit: TDY-Civilian/Lockheed, Lima Site 85, Phou Pha Thi, Laos Date of Birth: 05 January 1932 Home City of Record: Newgulf TX Date of Loss: 11 March 1968 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 202600N 1034400E (UH680600) Status (in 1973): Killed In Action/Body Not Recovered Category: Acft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground Refno: 2052
Other Personnel In Incident: Clarence Blanton; James Davis; Henry Gish; Willis Hall; Melvin Holland; Herbert Kirk; David Price; Patrick Shannon; Donald Springsteadah; Don Worley (all missing from Lima 85); Donald Westbrook (missing from SAR 13 March)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 June 1990 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 2012.
SYNOPSIS: When James Calfee volunteered for a sensitive assignment called Project Heavy Green, his wife had to sign a secrecy agreement too. Calfee, an Air Force man, was to be temporarily relieved of duty to take a civilian job with Lockheed Aircraft. He would be helping operate Lima 85, a radar base in Laos, whose neutrality prohibited U.S. military presence. The radar site would direct U.S. air traffic from Thailand over the hostile territory of Laos and into North Vietnam. No one was to know.
Lima 85 was on a peak in the Annam Highlands near the village of Sam Neua on a 5860 ft. mountain called Phou Pha Thi. The mountain was protected by sheer cliffs on three sides, and guarded by 300 tribesmen working for CIA. Unarmed US "civilians" operated the radar which swept across the Tonkin Delta to Hanoi.
For three months in early 1968, a steady stream of intelligence was received which indicated that communist troops were about to launch a major attack on Lima 85. Intelligence watched as enemy troops even built a road to the area to facilitate moving heavy weapons, but the site was so important that William H. Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Laos, made the decision to leave the men in place.
When the attack finally came March 11, some were rescued by helicopter, but eleven men were missing. The President announced a halt in the bombing of North Vietnam.
Donald Westbrook was flying one of four A1Es orbiting on stand-by to search for survivors of the attack at Phou Pha Thi when his plane was shot down March 13. Westbrook was never found. Finding no survivors, the Air Force destroyed Lima 85 to prevent the equipment from falling into the hands of the enemy.
In mid-March, Edna Calfee was notified that Lima Site 85 had been overrun by enemy forces, and that her husband and the others who had not escaped had been killed. Many years later, she learned that was not the whole truth.
Two separate reports indicate that all the men missing at Phou Pha Thi did not die. One report suggests that at least one of the 11 was captured, and another indicates that 3 were captured; another that 6 were captured. Information has been hard to get. The fact that Lima Site 85 existed was only declassified in 1983, and finally the wives could be believed when they said their husbands were missing in Laos. Some of the men's files were shown to their families for the first time in 1985.
Edna Calfee and the other wives have talked and compared notes. They still feel there is a lot of information to be had. They believe someone survived the attack on Lima Site 85 that day in March 1968. They wonder if their country will ever bring those men home.
Welcome to the Air Force Personnel Center News Service March 7, 2005 Release No. 018
Bracelet draws senior NCO, family together
By Tech. Sgt. James Brabenec AFPC Public Affairs
RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas - When Senior Master Sgt. Cheryl Wells chose a POW/MIA bracelet, she did so for many reasons, none of which included becoming part of the Airman's family.
That selection happened three years ago when Sergeant Wells began her work as the program manager here for the Air Force Personnel Center's missing persons branch, a portion of the personnel career field most Airmen are unaware of.
"I selected the bracelet because the Airman, Senior Master Sgt. James Calfee, was from Texas, in the same career field as my husband and wore the rank I hoped to achieve," said Sergeant Wells of the Air Force Personnel Center missing persons branch here. "This bracelet is a part of who I am, and I'll continue to wear it until Senior Master Sergeant Calfee is identified and comes home."
Two years ago at a Defense Department Family Member Update in Houston, Sergeant Wells unexpectedly met two civilian women attending for the first time. She became aware of them during the opening roll call where family members introduce themselves and the unaccounted-for serviceman from their family.
"I stood up for our family; eight of us attended that day, and said we were there for Senior Master Sergeant James Calfee. That's when Cheryl came over, stuck out her arm and showed her bracelet with our uncle's name on it," said Ms. Debra Morris.
"When Cheryl reached out to us we realized that people were aware of our uncle's story and that they care for us," said Ms. Morris's sister, Ms. Julia Barta.
Unlike most unaccounted-for servicemen, secrecy shrouded Sergeant Calfee's case for many years. Their uncle was part of a covert, contractor operated radar bombing and communications site supporting American war fighting efforts in Vietnam. The site was located high in the mountains of Laos, a neighboring neutral country to North Vietnam. North Vietnamese soldiers overran the site March 11, 1968 resulting in the largest ground loss of Airmen during the war.
Details of the site and its demise remained classified until 1983, but even into the early 1990s whenever the sisters found someone who was stationed at the site most were reluctant to share any information.
"We never felt any hostility for anyone involved," said Ms. Morris. "We just wanted closure to bring peace especially to our mother and her sisters."
Since the Houston update, Ms. Morris and Ms. Barta have found the DoD and Air Force much more able and willing to communicate.
"The missing persons branch is now much easier to work with," said Ms. Morris. "Everyone in our family knows who Cheryl is and appreciates her openness, honesty and compassion."
For Sergeant Wells, the love she feels for the families of unaccounted-for Airmen helps her to serve more effectively.
"Working in missing persons has helped me to understand how people back in the 1960s viewed government and the frustration some people carry to this day. I'm thankful to serve at a time when we'll tell people pretty much everything we know, and if we can't share information, we tell them why," she said. "These families faced so many obstacles that prevented them from knowing where their loved ones served and later what happened to them. I hope we'll be able to help them get the answers they need and resolve their cases."
Debra described her family's relationship with Sergeant Wells as having gone beyond mere professional interaction to include getting together for social reasons. The sisters attended Sergeant Wells' promotion ceremony where they shared tears of joy.
With a remote assignment to South Korea looming in Sergeant Wells' near future, the sisters remain confident they will stay in contact.
"We think of Cheryl like she's our cousin," said Ms. Morris. "We'll keep in touch - that's what families do."
High-resolution images for the cutlines below are located on the AFPC Web site at http://www.afpc.randolph.af.mil/pubaffairs/release/2005/03/POW_bracelet.htm
RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Senior Master Sgt. Cheryl Wells of the Air Force Personnel Center missing persons branch here greets Ms. Debra Morris as her sister, Ms. Julia Barta, looks on. The sisters became good friends with Sergeant Wells during a Department of Defense Family Member Update in Houston two years ago thanks to the same POW/MIA bracelet each wore. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. James Brabenec)
RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Senior Master Sgt. Cheryl Wells and Ms. Debra Morris show their POW/MIA bracelets, each with the name of Ms. Morris' uncle, Senior Master Sgt. James Calfee etched on it. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. James Brabenec)
http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123322296Silver Star represents 44-year closure for KIA Airman's family
by Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Rojek
Air Force News Service
10/15/2012 - HOUSTON (AFNS) -- "Promise me you're going to find out what happened to him."
All Lillian Calfee wanted to know was the fate of her only son.
On March 11, 1968, Lillian was told by her daughter-in-law, June Calfee, that her son, Master Sgt. James Calfee was missing in action. He was part of a secret mission in Southeast Asia, and his family was given no other details. The Calfees clung to the word "missing," holding out hope that James would be found and returned to them. Even after they were told his status was changed to "killed in action - body not recovered," Lillian waited. ....
Vietnam Veteran Awarded Posthumous Silver Star | Armed Forces ...
Forty-four years after he was listed as missing in action, Air Force Master Sgt. James Calfee received a posthumous Silver Star medal for heroism he displayed ...