RIESS, CHARLES FRANCIS
Name: Charles Francis Riess Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force Unit: Date of Birth: Home City of Record: East St. Louis IL Date of Loss: 24 December 1972 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 201300N 1030500E (UG043387) Status (in 1973): Released POW Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A7D
Other Personnel in Incident: Paul V. Jackson III (missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1990 with the assistance of 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 with information provided by "Raven 20," Chuck Hines. 2013
REMARKS: 730328 RELSD BY PL
SYNOPSIS: The Steve Canyon program (Project 404) was a highly classified FAC (Forward Air Controller) operation covering the military regions of Laos. U.S. military operations in Laos were severely restricted during the Vietnam War era because Laos had been declared neutral by the Geneva Accords.
The non-communist forces in Laos, however, had a critical need for military support in order to defend territory used by Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese communist forces. The U.S., in conjunction with non-communist forces in Laos, devised a system whereby U.S. military personnel could be "in the black" or "sheep-dipped" (clandestine; mustered out of the military to perform military duties as a civilian) to operate in Laos under supervision of the U.S. Ambassador to Laos.
RAVEN was the tactical radio call sign which identified the pilots of the Steve Canyon Program. Ravens, all volunteers for the program, were rated Air Force pilots with at least six months FAC experience in Vietnam. Backgrounds varied and included graduates of a spectrum of universities ranging from the Air Force Academy to Berkeley. Many had prior enlisted service in sister services before coming into the Air Force. They tended to be superbly confident, experienced pilots, but by definition this implie d that they were also mavericks and were considered to be more than a bit wild by the conventional military establishment. Spirits soared when they arrived in Laos, discovered that constraining rules were minimal and that they were free to fight. Unleashed, they fought.
The Ravens came under the formal command of CINCPAC and the 7/13th Air Force 56th Special Operations Wing at Nakhon Phanom, but their pay, supply, and medical records were maintained by Detachment One at Udorn, Thailand. Officially, they were on loan to the U.S. Air Attach, in Vientiane. Unofficially, they flew from and were stationed at outposts like Long Tieng (Twenty Alternate) and provided tactical air support to CIA led field forces -- Lao, Thai, and Meo (Hmong). The U.S. Ambassador to Laos exercised field command of the Ravens and defined the Rules of Engagement for Raven control of all U.S. air strikes in Laos.
Once checked out in their aircraft, they flew FAC missions. All tactical strike aircraft (fighter bombers) had to be controlled by a FAC, who was intimately familiar with the terrain, the population, locations of friendly forces, and the changing tactical situation. The FAC would locate the target, request U.S., Lao, or H'mung fighter/bombers with an appropriate ordnance load from an orbiting airborne command and control center, accurately mark the target by using white phosphorus (Willy Pete) rockets, an d control weapons delivery throughout the air strike. After the fighters were finished the FAC remained over the target to make a bomb damage assessment (BDA). Strike aircraft included sorties flown by the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Air Force. Many were flown from carriers.
The FAC also had to assure that there were no civilians targeted, a complex problem in a war without no front lines where any hamlet could suddenly become part of the combat zone. A Raven FAC needed a fighter pilot's experience and mentality, but was obliged to fly slow and low in unarmed and vulnerable aircraft such as the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog or a U-17, a standard Cessna 185 with rocket tubes mounted beneath the wings and a huge iron sight jutting up from the engine cowl. Aircraft flown by the Ravens wer e continually peppered by ground fire. A piece of strong metallic fabric tape was simply slapped over bullet holes and strike missions flown until the aircraft became no longer fit to fly.
Ravens were hopelessly overworked by the war. The need for secrecy kept their numbers low (never more than 22 at one time), and continuous enemy pressure on ground forces frequently required that each pilot fly 10 or 12 hour days. Some Ravens completed their in country tour, approximately 6 months, with a total of over 500 combat missions.
The Ravens at Long Tieng in Military Region II, had, for several years, the most difficult area in Laos. The base, nested in karst on the southern edge of the Plain of Jars, was the headquarters for the CIA-funded Meo army commanded by General Vang Pao. An interesting account of this group can be read in Christopher Robbins' book, "The Ravens".
Skip Jackson was Raven Two One and stationed at Long Tieng. On December 24, 1972, Christmas Eve, Skip Jackson found substantial stacks of NVA supplies under trees on the PDJ and requested tactical air to destroy those supplies. Four Air Force A-7 aircraft (SLAM Flight) responded. Capt. Chuck Riess was a member of that flight flying SLAM Zero Four. The site under attack possessed both 12.7 and 14.5 weapons and the enemy had no reluctance to use them. After briefing the fighters and marking the target th e Raven sequentially cleared each of the fighters 'in hot', to release bombs on the supplies below. A-7's were a particular delight to FACs because they could put bombs on target with extraordinarily destructive accuracy. During SLAM Zero Four's pass the FAC abruptly pulled into an almost vertical climb and right into the A-7's flight path. Don't know why. The A-7 maneuvered violently to avoid collision with the FAC. The O-1's left wing strut was clipped, the left wing parted. The A-7 became uncontrol lable. Riess punched out. Another FAC, "Raven 20", piloted by Chuck Hines, arrived on-scene from Twenty Alternate a few minutes later. Both aircraft were visible on the ground, the A-7 still burning and Riess already in enemy hands. Riess had landed almost at the front door of an underground NVA Regimental Artillery command post. After what must have been a spectacular descent with only one wing attached to the airplane, the O-1 came to rest on t he ground sitting upright on its main and tail gear.
Hines reported that Skip Jackson was dead, based on what he had personally observed from a very low altitude visual check of the crash scene. Returning the evening of 24 DEC 72, he debriefed, reported the facts and strongly recommended an immediate KIA status report for Jackson. The MIA to KIA status change evident in the record reflects administrative processing errors at the clerical level -- and in no way reflects any lingering doubt that Skip was deceased upon impact with the ground.
Charles F. Riess was captured immediately upon landing after ejecting from his A-7. The U.S. carried him as missing, even though it was known he was marched barefoot to Hanoi, and was held in Hanoi with other American POWs. The Vietnamese kept Riess and several others captured by the Vietnamese in Laos completely separated from other American POWs until shortly before repatriation. In the spring of 1973, when 591 Americans were freed, Riess' release came as a complete and very welcome surprise. Riess had not been held in Laos.
Skip Jackson is one of nearly 600 Americans lost in Laos. Even though the Pathet Lao stated publicly that they held "tens of tens" of American prisoners, not one American held in Laos was ever released -- or negotiated for. His crash site has yet to be excavated, his remains yet to be found and returned home.
SOURCE: WE CAME HOME copyright 1977 Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602 Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and spelling errors).
CHARLES F. RIESS Captain - United States Air Force Shot Down: December 24, 1972 Released: March 28, 1973
I am the fifth son of a family of ten. My hometown is Wakefield, Massachusetts. My education is a Bachelors Degree in Science from St. Louis University (Parks College). I am currently enrolled in a Masters Degree program (management). I have served two tours of duty in Southeast Asia and have approximately 230 combat missions in F-4 and A-7 aircraft. I am married and the father of two boys, ages six and two. My period of captivity was for 95 days and started on Christmas Eve of 1972. Exactly one year earlier, almost exactly to the hour, I was greeting my wife and family at the airport while coming home from my first tour in Vietnam. In 1972, at approximately the same time, I was being tied and led away to an underground bunker while flight members attempted my rescue.
Never in my life have I felt so many emotional experiences in such a short period of time. Tension, hunger, anxiety, loneliness and boredom were just a few that I sampled while my fellow servicemen endured these and so much more for so many years. Never in my life have I had so much respect and admiration for so many people. Men like Col. Ted Guy, Lt. Col. Walter Stischer and civilian pilot Ernest Brace are just a few examples of courageous men who were confined for so many years and yet never lost their spirit and pride in their country. Men like these stood out as examples for newer prisoners like myself to look up to and draw strength and courage from. I was the last American to be captured in Laos and brought to Hanoi. Since the other prisoners captured in Laos had the code name of "Lulu", I was affectionately called "Lulu's Baby". The ten of us were completely isolated from all the other prisoners, but we always managed to communicate. I will always be grateful to these men for the help they gave me when I needed it, and I shall be forever grateful to those many people who helped me with prayers and kind attentions to my family.
If you know of the where-a-bouts of this former Prisoner of War, please contact the P.O.W. NETWORK at 660-928-3304 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
From - Mon Jan 10 17:30:49 2000 From: Bollinger James E SSgt 353CTS/QAE <email@example.com>
As unit historian of the 353CTS I was researching Capt. Charles Riess and stumbled into your web site.
Some information for you:
The 353TFS Jan-Mar 73 Historians report states that on 27 January 1973 Capt. Reiss is a confirmed POW and no longer MIA.
The report goes on to say "In late January Capt. "Chuck" Reiss who had been MIA in Laos since December 24 was reported as prisoner of war in Hanoi. His return to Myrtle Beach will be in conjunction with the peace agreement provisions signed between the United States and Laos. Captain Reiss was confirmed as POW and removed from MIA status."
Misspellings aside I believe this indicates that his status was known prior to his release, as well as the fact that he was to be released by Laos, even though he was held in Hanoi.
Unfortunately the historian (Lt. Robert Scott Stewart) did not see fit to preserve the official message that gave them this information.
If you have located a current address for the Captain, I'd also like to get in touch with him. Many of the 353TFS personnel do not realize the unit is alive and well (even if we don't own any aircraft).
SSgt. James E. Bollinger Unit Historian 353 CTS/HO
web page: http://copethunder.eielson.af.mil/HISTORY/HISTORY.HTM
================================================== From - Mon Apr 10 13:05:06 2000 From: "Lee, Thomas E. - SAIC" <TLee@NSES.com> Subject: Information correction
First I would like to establish my credentials with you, before I point out errors in the descriptive write-ups on approximately 20 entries in your data base.
I am a retired US Air Force Colonel who served in Laos covertly as part of DoD Project 404 from June 1968-June 1969. I was the intelligence officer in Savannakhet operating in "civilian" status working for the US Embassy. I carried civilian documentation for presentation but also possessed my military ID card. We wore civilian clothes. One of my roles was to support the Raven forward air controllers (FAC), the US FACs operating from "in-country" bases in Laos. See my website at http://members.xoom.com/targeteer.
The following is a paragraph from your description of the "Raven" Forward Air Controllers operating in Laos.
We lost 21 of them from 1966-1973.
"The non-communist forces in Laos, however, had a critical need for military support in order to defend territory used by Lao and North Vietnamese communist forces. The U.S., in conjunction with non-communist forces in Laos, devised a system whereby U.S. military personnel could be "in the black" or "sheep-dipped" (clandestine; mustered out of the military to perform military duties as a civilian) to operate in Laos under supervision of the U.S. Ambassador to Laos."
**** An error in the above description is that most of the US military personnel operating in Laos were NOT "sheep-dipped" as you described. We were in the "Black" in that we were technically not there, we were assigned to out of country units and our in-country existence was generally classified for part of the 1964-1973 period. (The existence of these operations was revealed during Congressional Hearings in late 1969 or 1970). The Raven Program and the complementary DoD Project 404 both began in 1966. However, there was no mustering out of the service for the Ravens or the Project 404 personnel. To my knowledge the only program that was "sheep dipped" as you described was Project Heavy Green (the Air Force troops supporting Site 85 and the TACAN site support). That accounted for under 100 people. (13 were lost) There were military personnel operating within the Air America and CIA (CAS) operations that may have operated under different rules.
Critically speaking the US devised the sheep dipping process. It was used across the US intelligence community. The non-communist forces had virtually nothing to do with that process. They did play a role in accepting the US military members in "civilian" status by accepting our presence and not "spilling the beans". We were not deceiving the opposition because they knew we were military. Our deception was aimed at the World scene and the US population regarding our activities in contravention of the 1962 Geneva Accords.
**** This was a very unique period and very misunderstood period in our military history due to its classified nature. Fortunately, we are able to tell our story now. Those of us that served in Laos are trying to correct this mis-information and myth that has grown up around these activities so they are better understood in their real context.
Tom Lee (Thomas E. Lee, Colonel USAF (Ret)) Savannakhet, Laos 1968-1969
More info: http://tinyurl.com/cegghpb