MARTIN, DUANE WHITNEY
Name: Duane Whitney Martin
Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force
Unit: Det 3, 38th ARS
Date of Birth: 02 January 1940
Home City of Record: Denver CO
Date of Loss: 20 September 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 180555N 1054400E (WF775009)
Status (in 1973): Killed in Captivity
Other Personnel in Incident: Thomas J. Curtis; William A. Robinson; Arthur N.
Black (all returned POWs)
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.
REMARKS: REPORTED KILLED BY NATIVE/EE
SYNOPSIS: On September 20, 1965, 1Lt. Duane W. Martin, co-pilot; Capt.
Thomas J. Curtis, pilot; SSgt. William A. Robinson, flight engineer; and
Airman Arthur N. Black, pararescue; comprised the crew and passengers of an
HH43B "Huskie" helicopter operating about 10 miles from the border of Laos
in Ha Tinh Province, North Vietnam.
The Huskie is typically a crash rescue helicopter, and although it was
considered to be inadequate for Southeast Asia duty, the Air Force had no other
options at the time. The increase in combat called for an ever increasing need
for rescue services. Some of the Huskies were shored up with heavy armor plate
to protect the crews, and outfitted with long cables to facilitate rescue in the
high rain forest. During the period Martin, Curtis, Robinson and Black were on
their mission in Ha Tinh Province, most of the rescue crews were dispatched out
of Nakhon Phanom, Thailand and Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, both being stop-gap
installations until the primary rescue agency, 3rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery
Group was formed at Tan Son Nhut in January 1966.
Public records do not indicate the precise nature of the mission undertaken on
September 20, 1965, but the HH43B went down near the city of Tan An, and all
four personnel aboard the aircraft were captured. It is not clear if the four
were captured by North Vietnamese or Pathet Lao troops or a combination of the
two. Duane W. Martin was taken to a camp controlled by Pathet Lao. Curtis,
Robinson and Black were released in 1973 by the North Vietnamese, and were in
the Hanoi prison system as early as 1967.
Duane Martin found himself held by the Pathet Lao with other Americans. Some of
them had been held for more than two years. (Note: This would indicate that
there were Americans in this camp who had been captured in 1964. The only
American officially listed as captured in Laos in 1964 is Navy Lt. Charles F.
Klushann, who was captured in June 1964 and escaped in August 1964. Source for
the "two years" information is Mersky & Polmer's "The Naval Air War in Vietnam",
and this source does not identify any Americans by name who had been held "for
more than two years". Civilian Eugene DeBruin, an acknowledged Laos POW, had
been captured in the fall of 1963. Dengler has stated that a red-bearded DeBruin
was held in one of the camps in which he was held. All previous Laos loss
incidents occurred in 1961 and 1962.)
One American who joined the group in February 1966 was U.S. Navy pilot Lt.
Dieter Dengler. Lt. Dengler had launched on February 1, 1966 from the aircraft
carrier USS RANGER in an A1H Skyraider as part of an interdiction mission near
the border of Laos. Ground fire severely damaged his aircraft, and he was forced
to crash land in Laos. Although he had successfully evaded capture through that
night, he was finally caught by Pathet Lao troops, who tortured him as they
force-marched him through several villages.
Throughout the fall of 1965 and into spring and summer of 1966, the group of
Americans suffered regular beatings, torture, harassment, hunger and illness in
the hands of their captors. According to an "American Opinion" special report
entitled "The Code" (June 1973), Dengler witnessed his captors behead an
American Navy pilot and execute six wounded Marines. (Note: no other source
information available at time of writing reveals the names of these seven
On June 29, 1965, after hearing the prisoners were to be killed, Martin and
Dengler and unnamed others (Eugene DeBruin was apparently part of this group,
but was recaptured, and according to information received by his family, was
alive at least until January 1968, when he was taken away with other prisoners
by North Vietnamese regular army troops.) decided to make their escape in a hail
of gunfire in which six communist guards were killed. Dengler was seriously ill
with jaundice, and Martin was sick with malaria. Dengler and Martin and the
others made their way through the dense jungle surviving on fruits, berries, and
some rice they had managed to save during their captivity.
They floated down river on a raft they had constructed, eventually coming to an
abandoned village where the men found some corn. After a night's rest, Dengler
and Martin made their way downstream to another village. This settlement was
occupied, however, and the two Americans were suddenly attacked by a villager
with a machete. Dengler managed to escape back into the jungle, but Martin was
beheaded by the assailant. It had been 18 days since their escape.
Dengler made his way alone, and on the 22 day, with his strength almost gone, he
was able to form an SOS with some rocks, and waited, exausted to be rescued or
die. Luck was with him, for by late morning, an Air Force A1E spotted the signal
and directed a helicopter to pick up Dengler. He weighed 98 pounds. When he had
launched from his aircraft carrier 5 months earlier, he had weighed 157 pounds.
Curtis, Robinson and Black were released from Hanoi on February 12, 1973, over
seven years from the time of their capture. Lt. Duane Martin's fate remains
uncertain. If, as reported, he was killed during the escape attempt, no effort
has been made by the Lao to return his body.
Martin is one of nearly 600 Americans who remain prisoner, missing or otherwise
unaccounted for in Laos. Although the U.S. maintained only a handful of these
men in POW status, over 100 were known to have survived their loss incident. The
Pathet Lao stated during the war that they held "tens of tens" of American
prisoners, but they would be released only from Laos (meaning that the U.S. must
negotiate directly with the Pathet Lao).
The Pathet Lao were not part of the agreements that ended American involvement
in Southeast Asia, and no negotiations have been conducted with them since for
the prisoners they held.
Reports continue to come in related to missing Americans in Southeast Asia. It
does not seem likely that Martin is among the hundreds thought by many
authorities to be still alive, but what would he think of the abandonment of his
fellow Americans. Are we doing enough to bring these men home?