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
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
"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.
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
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
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.
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 ...