Name: Charles Frederic Klusmann
Rank/Branch: O3/US Navy

Date of birth: September 7, 1933
Place of Birth: San Diego, California

Home City of Record: San Diego CA
Date of Loss: 07 June 1964
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 192800N 1031500E
Status (in 1973): Escapee
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: RF8A

Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 May 1990 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.


SYNOPSIS: In the spring of 1964, Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese forces
launched attacks against Neutralist forces on the Plain of Jars in
Xiangkhoang Province, Laos, prompting Neutralist General Kong Le to warn the
Royal Lao Government that without air support the situation was hopeless,
mostly because the troops of the Royal Lao Army had fled. (Neutralist, in
the military sense, refers to the soldiers who followed Kong Le, who sought
to remove foreign influence and foreigners from the country. Earlier
circumstances had forced him into an alliance with the Communist Pathet Lao,
but he broke with them when he came to understand they were serving their
Vietnamese masters in the way the Royal Lao Army was serving the United
States. Later his troops fought against the Communists, but to complicate
matters, a splinter group of leftist Neutralists fought with the

Air Force and Navy photoreconnaissance jets were authorized in May 1964 to
begin gathering intelligence information supporting T-28 bombing raids
against North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao troops in Laos. Navy participation
began on May 21 with a flight of two RF8A Crusader photoreconnaissance
planes from the decks of the USS KITTY HAWK (CVA 63). During one of these
early Navy missions, LT Charles F. Klusmann, from VFP 63 onboard the KITTY
HAWK flew over Laos and was hit by ground fire. Although the aircraft burned
for twenty minutes en route back to the carrier, Klusmann was able to bring
his Crusader back safely.

The United States charged the Pathet Lao with "an outright attempt to
destroy by violence what the whole structure of the Geneva Accords was
intended to preserve (neutrality of Laos)". There was ample evidence to
support this claim. Navy and Air Force reconnaissance planes had come back
with photos showing the Plain of Jars bristling with newly installed
anti-aircraft guns--sixteen sites in all, housing guns capable of firing 150
rounds a minutes, effective to a ceiling of 15,000 feet.

Ambassador Leonard Unger obtained approval from the Johnson Administration
to release the fuses on previously delivered U.S. bombs, for use by the
Royal Lao Air Force. Prince Souvanna Phouma also authorized the use of U.S.
fighters to accompany the unarmed reconnaissance jets over Laotian
territory, and these missions became code-named Yankee Team.

Once again, LT Klusmann launched in his RF8A as a Navy Yankee Team aircraft
on June 7. Again his aircraft was hit by ground fire. This time, the damage
was so severe that Klusmann had to eject near communist troops. The Pathet
Lao forces immediately set out to capture him, firing on an Air America
rescue chopper sent to pick him up. The helicopter was finally forced to
abandon Klusmann who, to make matters worse, had twisted his ankle during
his parachute landing. Another Air America helicopter was hit when it
attempted to make a recovery three hours after the plane went down. The
Pathet Lao had set up a flak trap (where the downed pilot was kept alive and
allowed to call for help while enemy gunners lay in wait for the arrival of
vulnerable helicopters).

The two Air America helicopters abandoned their rescue effort when two crew
members were critically wounded in the heavy fire. LT Klusmann, was captured
by the Pathet Lao. Happily, Charles F. Klusmann was able to escape captivity
with several Lao prisoners in late August, 1964. After two days of hiding in
the jungle from his captors, he was able to reach a government camp and was
eventually rescued. He is one of only a handful who ever escaped captivity
in Southeast Asia.

The events on the Plain of Jars in June 1964 and in subsequent weeks were
released by New China News Agency in Peking, and ultimately reached U.S.
media sources. The situation raised a howl of outrage from the U.S. media.
The lid was blown on the entire Yankee Team operation. From this point on,
U.S. operations in Laos were fully classified and kept ultra-secret. The
U.S. Government was not to acknowledge more than "armed reconnaissance"
flights in northern Laos until March 1970. One of the proposed articles of
impeachment against President Richard Nixon would deal with his treatment of
the secret war in Laos.

Nearly 600 Americans would be lost in Laos before the war ended. Although
the Pathet Lao stated publicly that they held "tens of tens" of American
prisoners, the U.S. did not negotiate their release. Consequently, not one
American held in Laos was ever released.

Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing in
Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S. Government. Many authorities
believe there are hundreds still alive, held captive by our long-ago
enemies. Charles Klusmann was exceedingly fortunate. Nearly 600 of his
comrades were abandoned in Laos. It's time we found a way to get them home.

Charles Klusmann retired from the United States Navy as a Captain. He and
his wife Ellen reside in Florida.



The following is a condensed version of an article that appeared in the July
issue of Proceedings, journal of the US Naval Institute in Annapolis,
Maryland as printed in Air Force Magazine, October 1999. It was written by
Commander Glenn Tierney, a retired US Navy fighter pilot.

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon in Hawaii on 5 June 1964. . . .I was the
assistant current air operations (Navy, J-3116) on the staff of the commander
in chief, Pacific (CinCPac). Admiral Harry D. Felt. . . . My four-digit
designator put me well down on the totem pole. As one of the few Navy pilots
on the staff with any recent fleet experience, however, I wound up in the middle
of things when the air war in Southeast Asia expanded. .

After many months of indecision, on 23 May 1964 the Joint Chiefs of Staff
(JCS) finally authorized the Navy to conduct low-altitude photographic
reconnaissance flights over the Plaine des Jarres [in Laos].  Within days,
Photographic Squadron (VFP)-63 pilots began flying missions from the USS
Kitty Hawk (CVA-63), which was operating from Yankee Station in the Gulf of
Tonkin. Along with the authorization came orders that the RF-8 Crusader
photo planes were to operate without armed escorts--even though the practice
hand been standard operating procedure since World War II. . . . The
potential problems with the flights were their frequency and Times Over
Target (TOT), which were specified by the Secretary of Defense.  For these
missions, the TOTs were specified as every other day a 1 p.m. (Laotian
time). Anyone could see that such a pattern created a built-in opportunity
for the Pathet Lao to spring an ambush. . . . The telephone in my quarters
rang late on that Sunday afternoon: "You asked me to call you whenever we
had a problem with one of your projects [meaning overt and covert aerial
reconnaissance]. We have a bad one," said Army Master Sergeant Duncan, in
charge of communications in the CinCPac Command Center. . . . I
automatically assumed that we had lost a Navy photo plane and pilot in the
Plaine des Jarres; that day's TOT had been about an hour earlier.  Duncan
confirmed my fears: The pilot had been shot down and the escort pilot had
seen him moving about. The Rescue Combat Air Patrol (ResCAP) from the ship
had launched, he added quickly, but had been recalled because the "word" had
come down that there was to be "No round-eye" [American] effort to rescue
the pilot. I could not believe it.  We had two Air America helicopters
stationed on a hill about 20 miles away, on alert for just this purpose. . .
.The ridiculous aspect of the order was that there were no other forces
available. . . . For all practical purposes, at this point the photo pilot
had been abandoned by the government that had sent him in harm's way. I
called the JCS on the secure telephone and spoke with the Army brigadier
general who was the duty flag officer.  He confirmed the order.  When I
literally demanded to know who had issued such an order, he said he was not
sure. I respectfully suggested that he find out as soon as possible and we
would be calling him back, also ASAP.  As I dropped the secure phone, I
called my immediate boss, Marine Brigadier General George Bowman, our
J-3/operations officer, but he was not at home. To hell with this, I said to
myself, and I called Admiral Felt on his private line at his quarters in
Makalapa, just down the hill; I was bypassing at least three other senior
flag officers. The line was not secure, so I told him briefly that we had a
serious problem in the PDJ.. . . 'I'm on the way," he replied. Less than 10
minutes later, the JCS brigadier general was telling the admiral that the
order had come from the Secretary of Defense himself. (Before he called the
JCS< Admiral Felt had instructed me to pick up a second secure phone and
admonished me: "You listen; you do not speak.") . . . Admiral Felt spoke
quietly: "General, get me the Secretary of Defense on this line
immediately." . . . Several minutes later, sounding very wide awake, and
almost jovial, Robert McNamara came on the line and asked Admiral Felt the
reason for the call. Admiral Felt was never one to mince words. "Mr.
Secretary, I have been told that you are aware that we just had a Navy photo
pilot shot down in the Plaine des Jarres and that an order had been issued
by your office that there was to be no 'round-eye' effort to rescue the
pilot. Is that correct?" "That is correct, Admiral," McNamara answered.  At
this point Admiral Felt interrupted him: "May I ask by whose authority this
order was issued?" "The recommendation came from State," McNamara replied,
"and the Secretary of State and I discussed it and agreed that this is the
best course of action." . . . Admiral Felt turned slightly to look at me. .
. . He spoke again, very quietly but in a short clipped tone that I had
never heard him use before. "Mr. Secretary, that is not a decision that can
be made by the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense. The decision
to rescue this pilot or not to rescue him can be made only by the Commander
in Chief of the United States armed forces, and I am asking you to put me
through to the Commander in Chief--now, sir." . . . After a few seconds,
McNamara started almost mumbling; he didn't argue the point, or refuse the
request, but he made a big point that it was very late and that the
President had just retired after a long evening. . . . Again, Admiral Felt
quietly repeated his previous statement word for word. . . McNamara, without
another word on the subject, said, "All right, I will ring the President."
Within 30 seconds President Johnson came on the line. . . . "Good morning,
Admiral Felt, what can I do for you?"  "Mr. President, we just had a Navy
photo pilot shot down over the Plain des Jarres in northern Laos, but the
Navy and Air America rescue effort has been called off by the Secretary of
Defense as recommended by the Secretary of State. I just spoke to the
Secretary of Defense and told him that this is a critical military decision
that cannot be made by the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of State,
but one that can be made only by the Commander in Chief of the United States
armed forces, and I am asking your permission to go in and rescue this
pilot."  Without hesitation, President Johnson came back, "Well, I'll be
damned.  Of course, go in and get him--and let me know how it comes out."
Note: The unfortunate Navy photo pilot was Lt. Charles F. Klusmann.  He was
not rescued but was captured.  It was several hours before Air America
helicopter crews reached the scene.  Heavy ground fire drove off the lead
aircraft; Klusmann waved off the second helo because it, too, was flying
into an ambush. The Kitty Hawk's ResCAP never did show up; they had been
recalled. The author writes that, in all probability, they would have
neutralized the area by the time the helicopters arrived and the Air America
crews would have been able to make the pickup.

Klusmann, captured on June 6, escaped from his captors on August 31. He is
now a retired US Navy captain living in Pensacola, Florida.

[NETWORK NOTE - USG files differ from the article on loss date]

There is a note on the entry about Charles Klusman's shoot down and subsequent recovery that
there was a discrepancy as to the date of his flight.
 That day was erroneously reported to be 7 June, 1964 in one account and 5 June 1964 by the
staff officer in Hawaii. Actually it was 6 June (5 June  in Honolulu). I was there and flew the
RESCAP flight the following day (June 7).

Hal Gulledge
Captain USN Retired




August 31, 2014

A Pensacolian's escape from Laos
Pensacola News Journal
According to the POW Network, Klusmann was the first American pilot taken prisoner in the
Vietnam War, and the first to escape. "First in, first out," ...


December 14, 2014

Aviation Museum celebrates POW hero
Klusmann was the first American pilot taken prisoner in the Vietnam War, according to the POW Network. He was also the first to escape. To honor and ...


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