DOTSON, JEFFERSON SCOTT
Remains Returned 12/11/2001
Announced by family Sept 4, 2002.
Name: Jefferson Scott Dotson
Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force
Unit: 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Tuy Hoa Airbase, South Vietnam
Date of Birth: 06 August 1944
Home City of Record: Pound VA
Date of Loss: 09 August 1969
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 161800N 1063900E (XD762026)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Other Personnel In Incident: Laurent Lee Gourley (missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project from one or more of the following:
raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA
families, published sources, interviews: 01 January 1990. Updated by the
P.O.W. NETWORK 2020.
SYNOPSIS: When North Vietnam began to increase their military strength in
South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops intruded on neutral Laos for
sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some
years before. The border road, termed the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" was used for
transporting weapons, supplies and troops. Scores of American pilots were
shot down trying to stop this communist traffic to South Vietnam.
Fortunately, search and rescue teams in Vietnam were extremely successful
and the recovery rate was high. Still, there were nearly 600 who were not
rescued in Laos. Many of them went down along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the
passes through the border mountains between Laos and Vietnam.
In the early morning of August 9, 1969, 1Lt. Jefferson S. Dotson, pilot, and
Capt. Lee Gourley, his rear-seat co-pilot, departed Tuy Hoa Airbase located
on the coast of central South Vietnam on a "Misty" Forward Air Control (FAC)
mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in central Laos.
Lee Gourley had written home early that same day saying that all missions
for that day had been scrubbed due to bad weather. He did not expect to have
to fly that day - and he had time to write his family. Gourley had been
working with Misty for some time as a volunteer. Misty FAC volunteers were
chosen from among the best and most experienced pilots. He had delayed a
trip to Hawaii for R & R until the Misty duties were complete in another
week, knowing his time in the Vietnam arena would be short following his
return. The FAC mission had come up unexpectedly.
The aircraft Dotson and Gourley flew, the F100 Super Sabre, had been
specially modified a few years before to include a second crewman. The F
model, introduced in 1965, had the latest technology in radar signal
detectors. The initial shipment of F100F's were called "Wild Weasel I" and
were an important element in several combat operations.
Gourley and Dotson were not on a Wild Weasel mission, however, and on the
FAC mission this day, no bombs were loaded. They were to fly low and fast
over their objective area and presumably analyze targets for future air
strikes, or assess the potential need for further strikes. FAC
reconnaissance missions in the traditional sense were often flown by light
observation aircraft rather than fighter/bombers, but the necessary element
for this mission was low altitude and high speed, as well as the ability to
cover a large territory.
Although there was normally no scheduled air backup or escort on a FAC
mission, and Gourley and Jefferson had none, other aircraft which happened
to be in the area provide information as to what happened to Dotson and
Gourley as they flew near Sepone in Savannakhet Province, Laos.
One passing aircraft intercepted a radio transmission from the F100F, "We've
been hit, we're going to try to get out." Observers from the passing
aircraft then saw the F100 go up in flames, and observed one fully deployed
parachute. (NOTE: The standard ejection called for the rear-seater, Gourley,
to make the first ejection, then the pilot, and a fully deployed chute
indicated the successful ejection of a crew member.)
Dotson and Gourley were classified Missing in Action. Their families
understood that they might have been captured, and like the families of
others who were missing, wrote regular letters.
Lee Gourley's sister, Elzene, became active in the POW/MIA families' effort
to "watchdog" U.S. Government actions regarding American Prisoners of War
held in Indochina. In early 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger came to
the POW/MIA families and announced that peace agreements were ready to be
signed and their men would soon be home, or accounted for, if they were
dead. Elzene Gourley specifically asked Kissinger about the prisoners in
other countries besides Vietnam - Laos, Cambodia and China - and if his good
news included the men missing there. Kissinger replied, "What do you think
took us so long?"
When 591 American prisoners were released from communist prison camps in
Southeast Asia in the spring of 1973, it became apparent that Kissinger had
lied to the POW/MIA families. Not a single man who had been held in Laos had
been released. Although the Pathet Lao had spoken publicly of American
prisoners they held, and many were known to have survived their loss
incidents, the U.S. had not negotiated the freedom of the American POWs held
In 1974, the Gourleys sent a letter to Lee in care of the Prime Minister of
Laos, who responded that the letter would be conveyed later to their son.
The U.S. State Department said the Prime Minister might not know English and
probably an error was made in translation.
In 1976, the Gourleys wrote to Lee in care of Prince Souvanna Phouma in
Vientiane, Laos. He wrote back that he would give their letter to the
"central committee" to be sent to the "one for whom (it was) intended." The
U.S. State Department ordered the Gourleys to quit writing Lee in care of
Following the war, refugees fled Southeast Asia and brought with them
stories of Americans still held prisoner and other information relating to
Americans missing in their homelands. By 1989, the number of such reports
approaches 10,000, and most authorities reluctantly have concluded that many
Americans must still be alive and held captive.
It is certainly reasonable to speculate that Gourley and Dotson survived to
be captured. Only the communist goverments of Southeast Asia could say if
they are among those hundreds of Americans thought to be still alive, and
they deny any knowledge of Americans missing in their countries.
Lee Gourley and Jefferson Dotson pledged to "keep the faith" with their
country. Have we kept faith with the men who are still fighting an old war
in our names? What would Lee Gourley and Jefferson Dotson say?
Laurent Lee Gourley graduated from the U. S. Air Force Academy in 1966.
Scott Dotson graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1966. (The class
lost 11, including Scott in SE Asia.)
Bold Camp VA Sept 2002
On Wednesday, Sept. 4, Barbara Elkins, Sheila Cantrell and Buddy Dotson
gathered at the Bold Camp home of their mother, Margery Dotson.
The knock on the door came at 10 a.m. It was a knock this Pound family had
been waiting to hear for more than 30 years. The news the military official
on the other side brought came as no surprise. They all knew why he was
The remains found at the crash site in Vietnam this past spring were those
of their son and brother, Jefferson Scott "Scotty" Dotson, who had been
missing in action since 1969.
It was the official notification of what the family had suspected ever
since they learned his plane had gone down behind enemy lines in Laos.
For the family members who still vividly remember that first knock on their
doors many years ago, the news was both comforting and distressing.
On the one hand, it gave them relief and closure, because their loved one
could finally be put to rest in his native America. The location of the
remains also verified that Scotty, along with a second pilot, had died in
the crash and were not taken prisoner and tortured.
On the other hand, confirmation of his death extinguished forever the tiny
flicker of hope - no matter how unreasonable it might have been - that their
beloved Scotty would some day come home to them.
According to family members, from the time he was a young boy growing
up in Pound, Scotty had a passion for flying.
"He always wanted to be a fighter pilot," said Cantrell.
When her brother was young, and his mother asked him to pick blackberries or
work in the garden, Cantrell says, he would refuse.
"He said fighter pilots didn't pick blackberries or work in the garden," she
remembered with a chuckle.
Their father, Otis Edward Dotson Sr., a pilot himself, taught Scotty and his
older brother, Buddy, to fly when they were only teen-agers, family members
say. Their father later died while the boys were still teens.
After graduating from high school, Scotty went to the Virginia Military
Institute where he received a degree in electrical engineering, Cantrell
During his college years, Cantrell says, her older brother grew up a lot and
became her best friend. He was her companion and even helped teach her to
He graduated from college in 1966 and joined the Air Force in January 1967
to pursue his dream of becoming a fighter pilot, she said. The Christmas of
1967 is one Cantrell will never forget.
She was pregnant at the time and living in Germany with her husband, Gerald,
who was in the U.S. Army. She wasn't feeling well and didn't want to make
the long trip home to spend the holidays with her family. When her mother
remarked that she would be the only one not there, Cantrell gave in and came
home. It was the last Christmas she ever spent with her brother.
Scotty left for Vietnam in the summer of 1968, leaving behind his wife Mary
Ann and their 3-month-old daughter, Christa.
His mother and sisters would never see him again, but his wife did get to
spend some time with him during a rest and relaxation period in Hawaii,
according to Elkins.
As fate would have it, Scotty was stationed at the Phan Rang Air Force Base
in South Vietnam, where his older brother Buddy also was stationed. The two
brothers spent the next five months serving in Vietnam together. Although
the situation was not ideal, it was five months Buddy will treasure forever.
He had been in Vietnam since January 1968 and in the military for longer.
Circumstances had kept the brothers apart and Buddy had not seen his
brother, who was 18 months younger than him, for six years. Buddy did not
share Scotty's love for flying, even though he also had a pilot's license.
His job in the military was to maintain refuelers, runway sweepers and fire
Scotty, on the other hand, loved the glory that came with being a hard-core
fighter pilot, he said. In the five months that followed, the brothers
became closer than ever, perhaps because they were sharing in a common
experience that few can comprehend.
"We had five wonderful months together," Buddy said. "We had a brotherhood
like we had never had before."
In December 1968, his term of service over, Buddy left Vietnam, and his
little brother, behind to return to the United States.
"I hated leaving him there when I came back," he said.
After a trip to Pound, Buddy, his wife and two children moved to an Air Force
base in New York.
Prior to leaving Vietnam, Buddy says, he begged his brother not to transfer
to the Tuy Hoa Air Force Base because of the dangerous missions the pilots
flew from there.
However, he says, Scotty did transfer to Tuy Hoa and it was from there that
the fatal mission originated.
MISSING IN ACTION
"Aug. 9, 1969. That is a date that will be burnt in my memory for as long as
I live," said Cantrell. It was on that day that Scotty and fellow pilot Lee
Gourley of Iowa flew out on a reconnaissance mission in a F-100-F fighter
jet over Laos only days after Scotty's 25th birthday. They never returned.
According to Buddy, the men would fly over enemy territory, spot targets and
then fly back and mark the targets with smoke for bombers to take out.
What happened is not exactly clear. According to Elkins, a villager told
military officials that the plane was on fire before it slammed into a
nearby mountainside, indicating it could have been shot down. Buddy
speculates that based on information he has obtained, the plane
malfunctioned because it was sending out weak signals before it crashed. The
military has not been able to provide an explanation.
Elkins still remembers vividly being notified that her brother was missing
Air Force officials first went to Scotty's wife's house at Pound Bottom and
notified her, she said. From there, they came to Elkins' house on Bold Camp.
When she saw the two Air Force officials walking toward her house, Elkins
says, she knew immediately something was wrong.
After hearing the news, she and other family members went to her mother's
house as a group to tell her.
Buddy was still at the Air Force base in New York when he was notified. At
first, he blamed himself. If only he had stayed in Vietnam, he told himself,
maybe his brother would not have been killed. If he had stayed, he said, his
brother would have stayed with him at Phan Rang and never transferred. He
would have never gone on that mission.
However, Buddy says, he eventually came to realize that it was not his
fault. There is no guarantee that his brother would be alive today if he had
stayed behind in Vietnam with him.
He knows it is not what his brother would have wanted.
Cantrell says after being notified, she often thought of her brother when a
plane would fly over her house on Bold Camp.
As the years dragged by, the family dealt with their grief as best
They assumed Scotty had been killed when the plane went down, but each
admits to keeping alive just a tiny ray of hope that maybe he had survived.
"You always have that hope at the back of your mind that they'll come
home," Cantrell said.
But with the hope of him being alive also comes concern. Was he taken
prisoner? Was he tortured? What kind of life could he return to after 33
Cantrell says there comes a time when a person has to be realistic. Even if
her brother survived and returned today, there would be little left for him.
His family members have moved on with their lives. His wife eventually
remarried and moved away.
His daughter grew up, joined the Air Force and married a man who is in the
Air Force. She is now living in England.
Most of all, family members say, it is better that Scotty died instantly and
did not spend the long years that followed being tortured as a prisoner of
In the end, Cantrell says, he died "doing what he always wanted to do."
The family learned in fall 2001 that the U.S. Government had found what they
believed to be the crash site.
Officials began excavating the site for remains in the fall, but
inclement weather kept interfering.
In spring of this year, they found remains.
According to Buddy, the remains of the pilot who was with his brother were
found at the crash site about 10 miles outside the village of Sepone in the
His brother's remains, however, were found buried near a villager's hut.
It is a mystery as to why they were removed from the crash site, he
The Air Force, using DNA testing, positively identified the remains of both
men a few months ago, but the information was slow getting to the families.
Cantrell learned that her brother had been found after talking to the other
pilot's sister, and she then contacted the Air Force for confirmation.
Cantrell then spread the news to other family members, who waited for the
official notification on Sept. 4. It has not been decided when his remains
will be returned.
Scotty's daughter, now Christa Plikat, plans to escort his remains back to
the United States, according to Elkins and Cantrell.
Plikat is leaning towards having his remains buried at Arlington National
Cemetery where he will be forever memorialized for his sacrifice to his
country, they said.
His family members say they will support whatever decision she makes.
However, Cantrell said, there is also talk of placing a local marker for him
next to their father's grave.