DAVIS, DONALD VANCE
Remains returned 1997 identified 04/01/98
Name: Donald Vance Davis
Rank/Branch: O4/US Navy
Unit: Attack Squadron 163, USS ORISKANY
Date of Birth: 08 November 1934
Home City of Record: Salisbury NC
Date of Loss: 25 July 1967
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 181259N 1055500E (WF828272)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Other Personnel in Incident: (none 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. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK. 2020
SYNOPSIS: The USS ORISKANY was a World War II-era carrier on duty in Vietnam
as early as 1964. The ORISKANY at one time carried the RF8A (number 144608)
that Maj. John H. Glenn, the famous Marine astronaut (and later Senator),
flew in his 1957 transcontinental flight. In October, 1966 the ORISKANY
endured a tragic fire which killed 44 men onboard, but was soon back on
station. In 1972, the ORISKANY had an at-sea accident which resulted in the
loss of one of its aircraft elevators, and later lost a screw that put the
carrier into drydock in Yokosuka, Japan for major repairs, thus delaying its
involvement until the late months of the war.
The ORISKANY's 1966 tour was undoubtedly one of the most tragic deployments
of the Vietnam conflict. This cruise saw eight VA 164 "Ghostriders" lost;
four in the onboard fire, one in an aerial refueling mishap, and another
three in the operational arena. However, the 1967 deployment, which began in
June and ended on a chilly January morning as the ORISKANY anchored in San
Francisco Bay, earned near legendary status by virtue of extensive losses
suffered in the ship's squadrons, including among the Ghostriders of VA 164,
and Saints of VA 163. One reason may have been that Navy aviators were, at
this time, still forbidden to strike surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites
which were increasing in number in North Vietnam.
On July 18, 1967, LCDR Richard D. Hartman's aircraft fell victim to
anti-aircraft fire near Phu Ly in Nam Ha Province, North Vietnam. Hartman,
from VA 164, ejected safely, but could not be rescued due to the hostile
threat in the area. Others in the flight were in radio contact with him and
resupplied him for about three days. He was on a karst hill in a difficult
recovery area. Eventually the North Vietnamese moved in a lot of troops and
AAA guns, making rescue almost impossible.
One of the rescue helicopters attempting to recover LCDR Hartman on the 19th
was a Sikorsky SH3A helicopter flown by Navy LT Dennis W. Peterson. The crew
onboard the aircraft included ENS Donald P. Frye and AX2 William B. Jackson
and AX2 Donald P. McGrane. While attempting to rescue LCDR Hartman, this
aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed killing all onboard. The remains
of all but the pilot, Peterson, were returned by the Vietnamese on October
14, 1982. Peterson remains missing.
The decision was made to leave Hartman before more men were killed trying to
rescue him. It was not an easy decision, and one squadron mate said, "To
this day, I can remember his voice pleading, 'Please don't leave me.' We had
to, and it was a heartbreaker." Hartman was captured and news returned home
that he was in a POW camp. However, he was not released in 1973. The
Vietnamese finally returned his remains on March 5, 1974. Hartman had died
in captivity from unknown causes.
In July 1967, LCDR Donald V. Davis was one of the Saints of VA 163 onboard
the ORISKANY. Davis was an aggressive pilot. On the night of July 25, 1967,
Davis was assigned a mission over North Vietnam. The procedure for these
night attacks was to drop flares over a suspected target and then fly
beneath them to attack the target in the light of the flares. Davis and
another pilot were conducting the mission about 10 miles south of Ha Tinh
when Davis radioed that he had spotted a couple of trucks. He dropped the
flares and went in. On his strafing run, he drove his Skyhawk straight into
the ground and was killed immediately. Davis is listed among the missing
because his remains were never recovered.
LTJG Ralph C. Bisz was also assigned to Attack Squadron 163. On August 4,
1967, Bisz launched on a strike mission against a petroleum storage area
near Haiphong. Approximately a minute and a half from the target area, four
surface-to-air missiles (SAM) were observed lifting from the area northeast
of Haiphong. The flight maneuvered to avoid the SAMs, however, Bisz'
aircraft was observed as it was hit by a SAM by a wingman. Bisz' aircraft
exploded, burst into flames, and spun downward in a large ball of fire.
Remnants of the aircraft were observed falling down in the large ball of
fire until reaching an altitude estimated to be 5,000 feet and then appeared
to almost completely burn out prior to reaching the ground. No parachute or
ejection was observed. No emergency beeper or voice communications were
Bisz' aircraft went down in a heavily populated area in Hai Duong Province,
Vietnam. Information from an indigenous source which closely parallels his
incident indicated that his remains were recovered from the wreckage and
taken to Hanoi for burial. The U.S. Government listed Ralph Bisz as a
Prisoner of War with certain knowledge that the Vietnamese know his fate.
Bisz was placed in a casualty status of Captured on August 4, 1967.
The Navy now says that the possibility of Bisz ejecting was slim. If he had
ejected, his capture would have taken place in a matter of seconds due to
the heavy population concentration in the area and that due to the lack of
additional information it is believed that Bisz did not eject from his
aircraft and that he was killed on impact of the SAM.
Classified information on Bisz' case was presented to the Vietnamese by
General Vessey in the fall of 1987 in hopes that the Vietnamese would be
able to resolve the mystery of Bisz' fate. His case is one of what are
called "discrepancy" cases, which should be readily resolved. The Vietnamese
have not been forthcoming with information on Ralph Bisz.
On August 31, three pilots from the ORISKANY were shot down on a
particularly wild raid over Haiphong. The Air Wing had been conducting
strikes on Haiphong for two consecutive days. On this, the third day, ten
aircraft launched in three flights; four from VA 164 (call sign Ghostrider),
four from VA 163 (call sign Old Salt) and two from VA 163. As the flight
turned to go into Haiphong, one of the section leaders spotted two SAMs
lifting off from north of Haiphong. They were headed towards the Saints
section leader and the Ghostrider section leader, LCDR Richard C. Perry.
The Saints section leader and his wingman pitched up and to the right, while
Old Salt 3 (LCDR Hugh A. Stafford) turned down, his wingman, LTJG David J.
Carey close behind him. Carey, an Air Force Academy graduate, was on his
first operational mission. The missile detonated right in front of them and
aircraft pieces went everywhere.
The other SAM headed towards Perry's section, and he had frozen in the
cockpit. All three planes in the division pulled away, and he continued
straight and level. His helpless flightmates watched as the missile came
right up and hit the aircraft. The aircraft was generally whole and heading
for open water.
Old Salt Three and Old Salt Four, Stafford and Carey, had by that time
ejected from their ruined planes and were heading towards the ground. Both
were okay, but Stafford had landed in a tree near a village, making rescue
impossible. Stafford and Carey were captured and held in various prisoner of
war camps until their release in Operation Homecoming on March 14, 1973.
Richard Perry had also ejected and was over open water. But as Perry entered
the water, his parachute went flat and he did not come up. A helicopter was
on scene within minutes, and a crewman went into the water after Perry. He
had suffered massive chest wounds, either in the aircraft or during descent
in his parachute and was dead. To recover his body was too dangerous because
the North Vietnamese were mortaring the helicopter. The helicopter left the
area. Richard Perry's remains were recovered by the Vietnamese and held
until February 1987, at which time they were returned to U.S. control.
Flight members were outraged that they had lost three pilots to SAMs that
they were forbidden to attack. Policy was soon changed to allow the pilots
to strike the sites, although never to the extent that they were disabled
On October 7, 1967, VA 164 pilot LT David L. Hodges was killed when his
Skyhawk was hit by a SAM about twelve miles southwest of Hanoi. His remains
were never recovered and he is listed among those missing in Vietnam.
On October 18, 1967, VA 164 pilot LCDR John F. Barr was killed when his
Skyhawk was hit by enemy fire and slammed into the ground while on a strike
mission at Haiphong. Barr's remains were not recovered.
On November 2, 1967, VA 164 pilot LTJG Frederic Knapp launched as the lead
of a flight of two aircraft on an armed reconnaissance mission over North
Vietnam. The wingman reported that during an attack run, the aircraft
appeared to have been hit by anti-aircraft fire. The wingman saw Knapp's
aircraft impact the ground and did not see the canopy separate from the
aircraft. There was no parachute sighted or emergency radio beeper heard.
The aircraft crashed about 9 kilometers west-southwest of Cho Giat, near
route 116, in Nghe An Province.
A source later reported that people from his village had removed the remains
of a dead pilot from his aircraft and buried the remains nearby. These
remains are believed to be those of Knapp. On October 14, 1982, Vietnamese
officials turned over to U.S. authorities a Geneva Convention card belonging
to Ltjg. Knapp. To date, no remains have been repatriated.
Six of the thirteen pilots and crewmen lost in 1967 off the decks of the
ORISKANY remain prisoner, missing, or otherwise unaccounted for in Vietnam.
Disturbing testimony was given to Congress in 1980 that the Vietnamese
"stockpiled" the remains of Americans to return at politically advantageous
times. Could any of these six be in a casket, awaiting just such a moment?
Even more disturbing are the nearly 10,000 reports received by the U.S.
relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia. Many authorities who have
examined this information (largely classified), have reluctantly come to the
conclusion that many Americans are still alive in Southeast Asia. Could any
of these six be among them?
Perhaps the most compelling questions when remains are returned are, "Is it
really who they say it is?", and "How -- and when -- did he die?" As long as
reports continue to be received which indicate Americans are still alive in
Indochina, we can only regard the return of remains as a politically
expedient way to show "progress" on accounting for American POW/MIAs. As
long as reports continue to be received, we must wonder how many are alive.
As long as even one American remains alive, held against his will, we must
do everything possible to bring him home -- alive.
Defense POW/MIA Weekly Update
April 1, 1998
REMAINS OF U.S. SERVICEMEN FROM SOUTHEAST ASIA IDENTIFIED
The remains of three Americans previously unaccounted-for from Southeast Asia
have been identified and will be returned to their families for burial in the
United States. One is identified as U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Donald V.
Davis, of Salisbury, N.C. The other is Captain Carey A. Cunningham, U.S. Air
Force, of Collinsville, Ala. The name of a U.S. civilian lost in Laos will not
be released at the request of his family.
On July 25, 1967, LCDR Davis left the USS Oriskany, flying an A4-E aircraft,
on an armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. His wingman observed
LCDR Davis' aircraft crash as it was attacking a truck convoy. The wingman
reported there was no chance for survival. No search and rescue was initiated.
In 1988 and 1996, a joint U. S./Socialist Republic of Vietnam team visited the
probable location of LCDR Davis' crashsite and interviewed local villagers for
information on this loss incident. Witnesses reported finding a crashsite and
burying the remains of a pilot found within the wreckage. Analysis of aircraft
wreckage determined it to be from an A-4 aircraft.
In 1997, a joint U.S./Vietnamese team excavated a possible burial site
identified by the villagers. The team recovered human remains, life support
equipment, and aircraft wreckage. The remains were repatriated to the U.S.
Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii for analysis and
subsequently identified as those of LCDR Davis.
On August 2, 1967, Capt. Cunningham and his crewmember were flying a daylight
photographic reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. Their wingman stated
that Capt. Cunningham's RF-4C Phantom banked into a hard right turn and
crashed. No parachutes were seen exiting the aircraft before it crashed.
In 1989, the Vietnamese government repatriated two boxes of remains, one of
which they claimed belonged to Capt. Cunningham's crewmate. In 1992 and 1994,
a joint U.S./Vietnamese team interviewed villagers about a 1967 crash of an
American aircraft in which both pilots died. The villagers reported that the
remains of the pilots were turned over to central authorities.
Personal effects belonging to the Americans were examined in two Vietnamese
military museums. The remains repatriated in 1989 were subsequently identified
as those of Capt. Cunningham. His crewmember is still unaccounted- for.
With this identification, 2,093 Americans remain unaccounted-for from the
June 2, 1998
After 31 years my brother's remains were returned and buried at Arlington
National Cemetery May 19, 1998 -- Lt. Commander Donald Vance Davis.
If someone wore a bracelet or had a license tag for him, I would like to
write them a note.
P.O. Box 5609
Pinehurst, NC 28374