REESE, GOMER DAVID III
Name: Gomer David Reese Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force Unit: 56th Special Operations Wing, Udorn AF TH (RAVENS) Date of Birth: 24 July 1942 Home City of Record: Scarsdale NY Date of Loss: 24 April 1970 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 193458N 1033059E (UG444658) Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered Category: 3 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: U-17B Refno: 1604
Other Personnel in Incident: James E. Cross (missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 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.
SYNOPSIS: The Steve Canyon program was a highly classified FAC (forward air control) 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 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 radio call sign which identified the flyers of the Steve Canyon Program. Men recruited for the program were rated Air Force officers with at least six months experience in Vietnam. They tended to be the very best of pilots, but by definition, this meant that they were also mavericks, and considered a bit wild by the mainstream military establishment.
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 records were maintained at Udorn with Detachment 1. Officially, they were on loan to the U.S. Air Attache at Vientiane. Unofficially, they were sent to outposts like Long Tieng, where their field commanders were the CIA, the Meo Generals, and the U.S. Ambassador. Once on duty, they flew FAC missions which controlled all U.S. air strikes over Laos.
All tactical strike aircraft had to be under the control of a FAC, who was intimately familiar with the locale, the populous, and the tactical situation. The FAC would find the target, order up U.S. fighter/bombers from an airborne command and control center, mark the target accurately with white phosphorus (Willy Pete) rockets, and control the operation throughout the time the planes remained on station. After the fighters had departed, the FAC stayed over the target to make a bomb damage assessment (BDA).
The FAC also had to ensure that there were no attacks on civilians, a complex problem in a war where there were no front lines and any hamlet could suddenly become part of the combat zone. A FAC needed a fighter pilot's mentality, but but was obliged to fly slow and low in such unarmed and vulnerable aircraft as the Cessna O1 Bird Dog, and the Cessna O2. Consequently, aircraft used by the Ravens were continually peppered with ground fire. A strong fabric tape was simply slapped over the bullet holes until the aircraft could no longer fly.
Ravens were hopelessly overworked by the war. The need for secrecy kept their numbers low (never more than 22 at one time), and the critical need of the Meo sometimes demanded each pilot fly 10 and 12 hour days. Some Ravens completed their tour of approximately 6 months with a total of over 500 combat missions.
The Ravens in at Long Tieng in Military Region II, had, for several years, the most difficult area in Laos. The base, just on the southern edge of the Plain of Jars, was also 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". This book contains the following account of the loss of Captains James E. Cross and Gomer D. Reese III:
"Volunteer Ravens presented a problem opposite that facing most military commanders--they needed to be held back, not egged on. It was the Head Raven's job to spot the signs of combat exhaustion among his men before it killed them.
"One of the Ravens [the Head Raven] felt needed to be watched was Jim Cross. [The Head Raven] ordered Cross to stay out of the combat zone and restricted his flying to checking out new pilots. Cross moved down to Vientiane and busied himself buying stereo gear and bamboo furniture to ship back to the States.
"One of the newcomers Cross was supposed to check out was Dave Reese, an amiable young man distinguished by a scar across his nose. Cross had been instructed to check out the new Raven in the Vientiane area and then fly on up to Alternate [Long Tieng]. On the way Cross thought he would take Reese out onto the Plain of Jars, as they were flying in the long-range U-17, and keep on going until they reached the Ban Ban valley.
"Mark Diebolt was out on the Plain of Jars in a T-28 when he heard Cross's Mayday distress signal. Unknown to the pilot, the NVA had moved a mobile 37mm antiaircraft gun into the Ban Ban valley--always a potential flak trap because of the number of guns positioned there--and the U-17 had taken three hits. One shell had blown a massive hole in the wing. 'I've got full trim--everything's jettisoned,' Cross said over the radio. Moments later he made his final transmission: 'I can't hold it--it's going down.'
"The plane had lost all power, glided into some trees, and exploded. Diebolt flew over the wreckage and saw the great gaping hole in the right wing made by the shell. It had been yet another of those deadly Old Head-FNG checkout rides, where the combination of over-confidence and inexperience had proved fatal."
Cross and Reese are among nearly 600 Americans lost in Laos. Even though the Pathet Lao stated publicly that they held "tens of tens" of these men as prisoners, not one American held in Laos was ever released -- or negotiated for.
Since U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War ended, nearly 10,000 reports have been received by the U.S. Government relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia. Many authorities have reluctantly concluded that hundreds are still alive in captivity today.
The Ravens were extremely dedicated to the freedom-loving people of Laos and put their very lives on the line for them. They believed in America and the job it was trying to do in Southeast Asia. They were also quite insistant that each of their own were accounted for, dead or alive. While Cross and Reese may not be among those thought to be still alive, one can be certain that they would be among the first to volunteer, in the Raven spirit, to assist them to freedom.
============================== 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
April 24, 2009
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY - Sisters Nancy Palazzo and Betsy Bommer mourned the death of their brother decades ago. At his funeral yesterday, they celebrated his life.
"He's finally home, resting peacefully," Palazzo, a Pelham resident, said of Air Force Capt. Gomer David Reese III, who was buried with full military honors almost 39 years to the day after his plane was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam war. "It's been a long journey, but we're blessed that this day has come."
Reese, who grew up in Scarsdale, was a member of the Ravens, an elite group of volunteer pilots who flew dangerous, covert missions during the war. His small plane was hit by ground fire April 24, 1970, and crashed, killing him and another pilot, Capt. James E. Cross of Ohio. Both men were officially listed as missing in action and presumed dead. Their remains were found last year by a search team from the military's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and identified by the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.
"I never expected this day to come," said Bommer of Canton, N.Y. "I knew they were still looking, but in my mind it was just never going to happen. When it did, it was quite a shock. A wonderful shock."
About 80 people attended the funeral - family members, friends and veterans.
During a service in the Old Post Chapel, Reese was remembered as a fun-loving man who put others before himself while pushing himself to be the best. Palazzo recalled that he was a "terrible tease," remembering that one year, when his mother said she preferred practical gifts over expensive ones, he gave her 100 rolls of toilet paper for Christmas.
"After he died, five of my friends told me they should have married him, and all for the same reason," Palazzo said. "He made them feel special, like they mattered. He did that. He made people feel like they mattered."
She said he grabbed life and lived it to the fullest.
"He took it all in, and then he turned around and tried to give it all back. That was David," she said.
After the service, family members followed the flag-draped casket as it was taken to the grave site on a caisson drawn by six white horses and accompanied by an honor guard and an Air Force band. As the simple brown coffin was removed from the caisson, five Air Force jets roared overhead in a flyover tribute.
The brief graveside service was followed by a three-volley rifle salute. Moments later, a far off bugler played taps before the carefully folded flag was presented to Bommer by Col. Charlie Stutts, an Air Force chaplain. Throughout the service, an Air Force sergeant stood sentry, carrying a black POW/MIA flag.
While the military ceremonies were conducted with somber dignity, the mood was one of joy.
"The grieving and the mourning is long over," Bommer said.
"There have been tears along the journey, but this is a happy day. A day of celebration and pride. The flyover, the flag, the bugle - that all makes it more memorable and joyous," Bommer added.
Both sisters said they were amazed at the outpouring of love and support they've received from childhood friends, other pilots and veterans groups since the recovery of their brother's remains.
"This experience has made me deeply aware of the mystery and oneness of life," Bommer said. "It's brought all of these people into my life that were strangers. That one life creates so many connections - that's something to celebrate."
On 03/23/09 family members announced that Captains Reese's remains had been identified.
Notes or cards may be sent to: Betsy Reese Bommer 1300 Ben Franklin Dr, 806 Sarasota, FL 34236
Nancy Paluzzo 451 Wolf's Lane Pelham, NY 10803