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Remains Returned 12/11/2001
Remains Identified 08/08/2002
(NOT announced, but posted by USG>
Name: Laurent Lee Gourley
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Unit: 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Tuy Hoa Airbase, South Vietnam
Date of Birth: 05 September 1944
Home City of Record: Villisco IA
Date of Loss: 09 August 1969
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 161800N 1063900E (XD762026)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Category: 4
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: F100F
Refno: 1477
Other Personnel In Incident: Jefferson S. Dotson (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 2003.
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, rear seat
co-pilot, and Capt. Lee Gourley, 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
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 Laos.
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 the Lao.
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 Institutue in 1966. (The class
lost 11, including Scott in SE Asia.)
December 2002
"US Government said they identified brother Lee's remains when they
excavated an F-100F plane crash site in Laos 33 years after the crash, so
we buried those remains next to my Dad in Villisca, Iowa with Offutt Air
Force Base providing full miliatry honors. So far this seems anti-climactic
at best and surreal at worst."