ELZINGA, RICHARD GENE
Remains Returned announced 07/07/2011
Name: Richard Gene Elzinga Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force Unit: 56th Special Operations Wing, Udorn AF TH (RAVENS) Date of Birth: 13 August 1942 Home City of Record: Shedd OR Date of Loss: 26 March 1970 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 175900N 1023400E (TF543931) Status (in 1973): Missing in Action Category: 4 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: O1 Refno: 1579
Other Personnel in Incident: Henry L. Allen (missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 1990 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 2011.
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 combat missions.
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". This book contains an account of the loss of 1Lt. Henry L. Allen and Capt. Richard G. Elzinga:
The post at Long Tieng had been under seige, and it became necessary for Ravens to live in Vietntiane in new quarters nicknamed Silver City, but they continued to stage out of Long Tieng. "They called the daily flight there and back...the 'commute.'
"Hank Allen, an exceptional pilot with eyes like a hawk, took off with Dick Elzinga in the front seat of his O-1. Allen was 'short', soon to return home after a tour in which he had notched up four hundred combat missions, and he planned to return directly to the States and marry his fiancee within a fortnight. Elzinga had only just arrived in Laos, and it was his first trip up to the secret city. Allen intended to use the 'commute' as a checkout ride. It was a cloudy day. He took off and reported over the radio...that the O-1 was airborne. It was the last thing ever heard from them. Neither of the pilots, nor the plane, was ever seen again.
"They had disappeared. Each of the Ravens spent at least two hours, on top of their usual day's flying, searching for the wreckage. No Mayday call had been heard, nor had a beeper signal been picked up from the survival radio, and no clue to the airplane's whereabouts was discovered. The disappearance was a complete mystery."
The official point of loss was noted as 20 miles northeast of Vientiane, Laos. Both men were classified Missing in Action.
Three years later, on March 10, 1973, a Pathet Lao agent was captured carrying three of Elzinga's traveler's checks and money of three countries. Elzinga had not been in Vientiane long enough to get a locker for his billfold. According to a 1974 list compiled by the National League of POW/MIA Families, Elzinga, at least, survived the loss of the O1 plane.
Elzinga and Allen are among 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 for.
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. We, as a nation, owe these men our best effort to find them and bring them home. Until the fates of the men like Elzinga and Allen are known, their families will wonder if they are dead or alive .. and why they were abandoned.
================================= 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 http://members.xoom.com/targeteer.
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.
Tom Lee (Thomas E. Lee, Colonel USAF (Ret)) Savannakhet, Laos 1968-1969
Air Force Pilot Missing from Vietnam War Identified
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a serviceman, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Air Force Maj. Richard G. Elzinga of Shedd, Ore., will be buried on July 8 in Arlington National Cemetery. On March 26, 1970, Elzinga and his co-pilot went missing when their O-1G Birddog aircraft failed to return to base from a familiarization flight over Laos. Fifteen minutes after the last radio contact, a communication and visual search showed no sign of the men or their aircraft. Search and rescue missions continued for two days with no results.
Between 1994 and 2009, joint U.S.-Lao People's Democratic Republic teams led by Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, analyzed leads, interviewed villagers and surveyed possible crash site locations. During several joint field surveys, teams recovered human remains, aircraft wreckage, and crew-related equipment.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA -- which matched that of his aunt and cousin -- in the identification of Elzinga's remains.
For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO website at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo or call 703-699-1169.