LUSTER, ROBERT LEE
Remains Returned 27 January 1969
ID'd 23 February 1976
Family does not accept ID
Name: Robert Lee Luster
Rank/Branch: E3/US Army
Date of Birth: 30 December 1949
Home City of Record: Tiffin OH
Date of Loss: 23 January 1969
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 141911N 1074330E (YA940681)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Other Personnel in Incident: William R. Henderson, Frank D. Moorman (both
missing); Robert F. Scherdin (missing - see text)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1991 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.
REMARKS: REMS REC 690127, IDD 760222
SYNOPSIS: MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and
Observation Group) was a joint-service unconventional warfare task force
engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th
Special Forces channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (although it was not a
Special Forces group) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA), which
provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. The teams
performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and
interdiction into Laos and Cambodia which were called, depending on the time
frame, "Shining Brass" or "Prairie Fire" missions.
On December 19, 1968, PFC Robert F. Scherdin was the assistant team leader
of a MACV-SOG reconnaissance patrol in Rotanokiri Province, Cambodia, near
the border of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The team leader, suspecting enemy
activity, had taken four members of the team to check out the area. The rear
element, with Scherdin in charge, came under heavy automatic weapon fire as
they were moving up to the leader's position. Montagnard soldier Nguang in
this element, saw Scherdin fall on his right side and tried to help him
stand up, but Scherdin only groaned and would not get up. Nguang was then
wounded himself and realized that he had been left by the other three
Vietnamese of the rear element, whereupon he left Scherdin and joined the
rest of the unit.
The team leader and his element were extracted a short time later, then the
rear element was extracted, except for Scherdin. The team leader had been
informed that Scherdin had been wounded and because of the tactical
situation, had to be left behind. Scherdin was not seen again.
On December 30, a platoon was inserted into the area to search for Scherdin,
but had to be extracted because of heavy enemy activity. In January, 1969,
the rear element of the original team was also reinserted and remained four
days. They died in a helicopter crash shortly after their extraction. They
had not been questioned by the investigation board, and it is not known if
they located information concerning Scherdin.
There are only three Americans missing who are associated with the loss of a
helicopter in January 1969. Lost January 23, 1969, in the general vicinity
of the Scherdin loss, they are SGT. William R. Henderson, SP4 Frank D.
Moorman and PFC Robert L. Luster. These three were lost in the Tri-border
area in South Vietnam. Their remains were recovered on January 27, 1969 and
positive identifications confirmed February 23, 1976.
According to Luster's wife, the remains were subsequently buried in a mass
grave. She does not accept the identification of her husband. Further, Mrs.
Luster states that one of the team "walked off the plane in 1973" (was a
released POW). According to all available public records, only Luster,
Moorman and Henderson were classified missing from this incident, and no
released POW went missing that day.
It is believed that these three may have comprised the flight crew of the
helicopter extracting the Special Forces search party. [As the remainder of
the rear element was probably completely indigenous, U.S. records would not
contain reference to them. The individual released may have been an
Nearly 2500 Americans were lost in Southeast Asia during our military
involvement there. Since the war in Southeast Asia ended in 1973, thousands
of reports relating to Americans prisoner, missing or unaccounted for have
been received by the U.S. Government. The official policy is that no
conclusive proof has been obtained that is current enough to act upon.
Detractors of this policy say conclusive proof is in hand, but that the
willingness or ability to rescue these prisoners does not exist.
Robert F. Scherdin, if one of those hundreds said to be still alive and in
captivity, must be wondering if and when his country will return for him. In
America, we say that life is precious, but isn't the life of even one
American worth the effort of recovery? When the next war comes, and it is
our sons lost, will we then care enough to do everything we can to bring our