RIESS, CHARLES FRANCIS
Name: Charles Francis Riess
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
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
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. 2023
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
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
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
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.
(Thomas E. Lee, Colonel USAF (Ret))
Charles Riess resides in Illinois.
More info: http://www.veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=1868