MILLER, ROGER ALAN
Name: Roger Alan Miller
Rank/Branch: W1/US Army
Unit: Security Platoon, 52nd Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group, 1st
Date of Birth:
Home City of Record: Hopewell Junction NY
Date of Loss: 15 April 1970
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 145127N 1074126E (YB895442)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Other Personnel in Incident: Herndon A. Bivens (missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 July 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.
REMARKS: 730305 RELSD BY PRG - INJURED
SYNOPSIS: Kontum, South Vietnam was in the heart of "Charlie country" --
hostile enemy territory. The little town is along the Ia Drang River, some
forty miles north of the city of Pleiku. U.S. forces never had much control
over the area. In fact, the area to the north and east of Kontum was
freefire zone where anything and anyone was free game. The Kontum area was
home base to what was known as FOB2 (Forward Observation Base 2), a
classified, long-term operations of the Special Operations Group (SOG) that
involved daily operations into Laos and Cambodia. SOG teams operated out of
Kontum, but staged out of Dak To.
On April 15, 1970, helicopters from the 170th Assault Helicopter Company
("Bikinis") flown by James E. Lake and Bill McDonald, were flying a routine
FOB mission when they got word that some of the unit's other helicopters
were in heavy action at Dak Seang. [Much of the following is extracted from
Lake's account of the incident found in "Life on the Line."] Dak Seang was a
Special Forces camp about twenty miles north of Dak To, located in a valley
surrounded by high mountains, deep in Charlie country.
The helicopter unit had made a combat assault, carrying ARVN troops to the
top of a small hill just north of the camp. CPL Herndon A. Bivens, a
pathfinder with a security detachment, 52nd Aviation Battalion, was riding
in the lead helicopter as elements of the 52nd Aviation Battalion attempted
to insert the 3rd Battalion, 42nd Regiment, Army of the Republic of Vietnam
(ARVN) into the area. CPL Bivens and another pathfinder, SGT Rosindo Montana
and 6 ARVN soldiers were successfully inserted by the lead helicopter
without receiving fire.
In a common tactic used by the North Vietnamese, the first aircraft had been
allowed to land, drop its troops and depart the LZ. As soon as the second
bird neared the ground, the NVA fired at it from all sides and it crashed on
the landing zone. The second aircraft, UH1H (serial #68-16203) was flown by
WO1 Roger A. Miller (only two weeks in-country), and aircraft commander WO
Albert L. Barthelme Jr.. Also onboard the aircraft were SP4 Vincent S.
Davis, SP5 Donald C. Summers and 6 ARVN soldiers. Two of the ARVN died in
the crash of the aircraft. Miller was unhurt, as were Davis and Summers, the
gunner and crew chief. Barthelme crawled through the chin bubble to exit the
aircraft, but was then hit in the back and fell or was dragged into a bomb
crater. They were surrounded by NVA at a range of twenty meters in fortified
When the second aircraft hit the LZ, Cpl. Bivens was near the landing zone.
One by one, other helicopters tried to get the survivors off the hill, but
were shot down. Three unsuccessful extraction attempts were made to rescue
the survivors of the second aircraft and the passengers of the first.
The Air Force had called on SAR helicopters, Jolly 27 and Jolly 29
accompanied by four A1E Skyraiders (Sandys), to try and rescue the survivors
of the two helicopters. After some F4 fighters strafed the surrounding area,
Jolly 27 started his approach, immediately receiving enemy fire. The
aircraft was shot down and crashed in the trees. Jolly 29 didn't get that
close, but received crippling enemy fire and returned to Pleiku.
Several hours passed before Lake and McDonald arrived in their helicopters
to do what they could to retrieve their friends. Monitoring the Air Force
efforts, they returned to Dak To and requested the assistance of what SOG
called the "Bright Light Team." This was an emergency response team
consisting of select Special Forces people who would respond in an extreme
situation. They were very tough, courageous, and they were often killed. The
request was granted, and with the Bright Light team on McDonald's aircraft,
Lake and McDonald returned to Dak Seang. McDonald and Barthelme were high
school friends that had grown up together in St. Mary's County, Maryland. It
was decided that McDonald would make the first approach and Lake would cover
Like Jolly 27, McDonald started to receive heavy ground fire a quarter mile
from the LZ. Undaunted, he pressed on and landed next to the downed crew
under heavy close-range fire from 360 degrees. The door gunner and crew
chief were firing back into the charging NVA soldiers, who were running
within a few feet of the aircraft. Tom Benne, McDonald's pilot, was shot
through both legs by a round that came through the armored seat. The door
gunner and the crew chief from Barthelm's aircraft, SP4 Davis and SP5
Summers, leaped on and were both shot multiple times in the process. Miller
also jumped on and then jumped off again, saying he was going back for
When McDonald touched down on the LZ, he had 1,100 pounds of fuel. After 30
seconds on the ground, he reported that he had only 400 pounds left, that
everyone was hit and he was coming out. Soon after liftoff he lost pedal
control. Fuel was pouring out of a huge hole in the fuel cells. He made a
slow turn to the south and made an approach to the wire at Dak Seang,
landing just inside the wire. There were hundreds of NVA just outside the
wire, less than a hundred meters away.
Lake's aircraft began to take ground fire on his approach to the wire at Dak
Seang, but he also landed safely a few seconds after McDonald. As he landed
facing McDonald's aircraft, bodies were falling out of the doors. Lake's
gunner and crew chief left their seats and ran to assist. John Kemper, an
ex-Special Forces E6 on his third tour of Vietnam, was Lake's pilot. He
jumped out to help. Ground fire was continuous, and bullets were smashing
through the windscreen and the instrument panel as they carried the wounded
from McDonald's to Lake's aircraft. Everyone except McDonald had been shot,
most of them several times, and blood was everywhere. Lake lifted off,
believing he also had Barthelme aboard, but he was wrong.
Summers and Davis reported that WO Barthelme was badly wounded, and that one
of the pathfinders was dead. Two ARVN survivors from the first helicopter
were able to evade capture. Before they left the LZ that night, they asked
CPL Bivens and WO Miller to go with them, but the Americans chose to stay on
the LZ and await rescue.
WO Miller was captured by the Viet Cong and eventually moved to Hanoi and
was released in Operation Homecoming in March 1973. When he was released, he
reported that he and Bivens had spent the night on the LZ, and on the
morning of April 16 attempted to return to friendly lines. At an unknown
location they were ambushed by two enemy squads. WO Miller saw that Bivens
had been wounded in the chest 5 or 6 times by small arms fire. After their
capture they were separated and given medical attention. The last Miller saw
of Bivens was when he was taken from the site of the ambush on a stretcher.
At that time, Bivens was still undergoing medical treatment. About four days
later, the camp commander where Miller was being held told him that Bivens
had died about 2 hours after capture.
On April 29, 1970, a U.S. search and recovery team was able to examine the
crash site and recover the remains of WO Barthelme and Sgt. Montana. The
only identifiable thing about Barthelme was the green St. Mary's County
t-shirt he wore.
Herndon Bivens has been missing nearly 20 years, and there can be no
question that the Vietnamese know precisely what happened to him, but they
deny any knowledge of his fate. Further, even though WO Miller knew that
Bivens had been captured, Bivens is classified Missing in Action rather than
the more appropriate category of Prisoner of War. His name did not appear on
Henry Kissinger's descrepancy case list at the end of the war.
There are nearly 2500 Americans still prisoner, missing or unaccounted for
from the war in Vietnam. Tragically, most experts agree, based on evidence
received in thousands of refugee reports, that many of them are still alive.
Bivens could be among them. What are we doing to bring these men home?
Roger Miller resides in Washington State.