DEICHELMANN, SAMUEL MACKALL
|Name: Samuel Mackall Deichelmann
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Unit: 56th Special Operations Wing, Udorn AF TH (RAVENS)
Date of Birth: 24 September 1938
Home City of Record: Montgomery AL
Date of Loss: 06 September 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 0105007N 1074246E (YS960990)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March1990 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 2018.
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
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". On pages 60-63, this book
includes the account of Capt. Samuel M. Deichelmann, who became Missing in
Action on September 6, 1968:
"One of two things happened to Ravens, as they logged an increasing number
of combat missions and took their share of groundfire; they became either
overcautious or reckless. The first merely made them ineffective, but the
second risked their lives. The inclination to duel with a gun in a fixed
position, or settle a score after their aircraft had been peppered with
ground fire, led them to take risk after risk. Sam Deichelmann became one of
the worst offenders. [His commander] thought he was becoming too blase and
had reached the point where he believed himself immortal.
"...It was just one of those things. His plane took the Golden BB. [The
Golden BB was part of pilot's folklore -- the 'miracle' shot that would kill
them after countless times under heavy and close fire.]
"...Deichelmann had flown his C-130 out of Vietnam over the Trail at night
as a Blindbat pilot at ridiculously low altitudes and never taken a hit.
Then, flying over Route 4, southeast of the Plain of Jars...[he] took a
single round. The shell ripped through the plane, hit [his friend and
backseater] Vong Chou...and missing Deichelmann's head by a hairbreadth.
"...Deichelmann was shattered by the experience. ...He now entered a highly
dangerous phase. He had cheated death and dodged the Golden BB, but it had
wounded his friend, and he felt honor-bound to embark upon a course of
"...In the circumstances, the air attache's office thought it wise to remove
him temporarily from the picture. ...In September he left for Bien Hoa,
where his younger brother was stationed. He planned to spend a few days
leave with him and then [return, bringing with him a new O1 for the unit].
"...Deichelmann reached Vietnam without incident, and the brothers enjoyed a
pleasant reunion. He mentioned a desire to see the great Cambodian lake of
Tonle Sap, an illegal but easy detour on the journey back. He boarded the
new Bird Dog and took off from Bien Hoa and headed back toward Laos. He was
never seen again."
Sam Deichelmann's disappearance was deeply mourned at Long Tieng. His
comrades admired him as a first-rate pilot and FAC, but especially admired
his humanity. They had seen him play with village children, and knew how he
suffered when his friend Vong Chou had been wounded. He had been honest,
good-hearted, open and warm. His friends would miss him greatly. Some
refused to accept that he had died, and were convinced that he had been
forced to make an emergency landing in Cambodia, and would reappear with yet
another account of escaping death. But Sam Deichelmann never returned.
(NOTE: "The Ravens" continues, saying Sam's younger brother was later killed
in a midair collision in Vietnam. There is, however, only one Deichelmann
listed on the Vietnam Memorial, so the accuracy of this portion of the
account cannot be established.)
Sam Deichelmann is one of nearly 600 Americans lost in Laos. Even though the
Pathet Lao stated publicly that they held "tens of tens" of American
prisoners, not one American held in Laos was ever released -- or negotiated
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.
Deichelmann could be one of those thought to be still alive in Southeast
Asia. What must he be thinking of his country? It's time we brought our men
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
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.
(Thomas E. Lee, Colonel USAF (Ret))
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