Crash Site Excavated (see text) Remains returned 01/90

Name: Ralph Angelo Moreira, Jr.
Rank/Branch: W1/US Army
Unit: Company C, 158th Aviation Battalion, 101st Airborne Brigade
Date of Birth: 19 June 1949 (Volpa, Renondo, Brazil)
Home City of Record: Beaver Falls PA
Date of Loss: 05 March 1971
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 163850N 1061544E (XD425405)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1H
Refno: 1717

Other Personnel In Incident: Michael E. King; David L. Nelson; Joel C.
Hatley (remains returned)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 October 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. NETWORK 1998.


SYNOPSIS: Lam Son 719 was a large-scale offensive against enemy
communications lines which was conducted in that part of Laos adjacent to
the two northern provinces of South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese would
provide and command ground forces, while U.S. forces would furnish airlift
and supporting fire.

Phase I, renamed Operation Dewey Canyon II, involved an armored attack by
the U.S. from Vandegrift base camp toward Khe Sanh, while the ARVN moved
into position for the attack across the Laotian border. Phase II began with
an ARVN helicopter assault and armored brigade thrust along Route 9 into
Laos. ARVN ground troops were transported by American helicopters, while
U.S. Air Force provided cover strikes around the landing zones.

On March 5, 1971, during one of these maneuvers, a UH1H helicopter (tail
#67-17341) was in a flight of ten aircraft on a combat assault mission in
Savannakhet Province, Laos. The crew of the aircraft consisted of WO Ralph
A. Moreira Jr., pilot; Capt. David L. Nelson, aircraft commander; SP4
Michael E. King, door gunner; and SP4 Joel C. Hatley, crew chief.

While on its final approach to Landing Zone Sophia, and at the time the
pilot should have been making his final turn, Nelson radioed that the
aircraft had been hit in the fuel cell and that the door gunner had been
wounded in the head. He then said they would attempt to return to the fire
support base on the same flight path as previously briefed.

After the other aircraft had disembarked their troops and were on their way
back to the fire support base, some of the other crewmen said they saw a
chopper believed to be that commanded by Nelson burst into flames, crash and
explode. As soon as the ball of flame was observed, attempts to make radio
contact were made with no success. No formal air to ground search was
attempted because of enemy anti-aircraft fire and ground activity in the
area. All aboard the aircraft were declared Killed in Action, Body Not

In 1988 a former officer in the Royal Lao Army, Somdee Phommachanh, stated
on national television that he was held captive along with two Americans at
a prison camp in northern Laos. The Americans had been brought to the camp
at Houay Ling in 1978. One day Somdee found one of the prisoners dead in his
cell. Somdee identified the American very positively from a photo. His name,
he said, was David Nelson. Nelson was Somdee's friend and he would not
forget him. Somdee buried his friend with all the care he would a cherished
loved one, given his limited ability as a prisoner of war. Although Somdee
has been threatened, he has stuck to his story. Nelson's family is grateful
to know his fate, but outraged that David Nelson died over FIVE YEARS after
American troops left Southeast Asia and the President of the United States
had announced that "all American prisoners of war had been released." The
U.S. Government did not inform the other families of this development.

January 5-10, 1990, a joint US/Lao team excavated the site of the crash of
the helicopter lost on March 5, 1971. Not one piece of aircraft material was
recovered, although an unspecified number of teeth and a ring were found. No
remains whatever were found that could be attributed to David Nelson, but on
September 17, 1990, the Defense Department announced that all four men
onboard the aircraft had been positively identified and that the remains
would be buried in a "group" grave. When asked about the Somdee report, Ms.
Shari Lawrence, a civilian working with U.S. Army Public Affairs Office
said, "We are not concerned with that."

The books on Nelson, Moreira, Hatley and King are now officially closed. The
U.S. Government is no longer looking for them. Even though live sighting
reports may come in relating to them, the reports will be discounted as
untrue because the four men are "dead." The books are closed despite the
fact that remains that could be forensically matched to David Nelson were
not found at the site.

Did David Nelson survive? What of the others? If David Nelson was abandoned
by the country he served, how many more were also abandoned? Not a single
American held by the Lao (and there were nearly 600 lost there) was ever
released or negotiated for.

If it were not for over 10,000 reports relating to the men missing in
Southeast Asia, most Americans could forget. But as long as even one man
could be still alive, unjustly held, we must do everything possible to bring
him home.