SMITH, RONALD EUGENE
Name: Ronald Eugene Smith
Rank/Branch: E7/US Army Special Forces
Unit: Command & Control Central, MACV-SOG, 5th Special Forces Group
Date of Birth: 29 March 1940 (Kingman IN)
Home City of Record: Covington IN
Date of Loss: 28 November 1970
Country of Loss: Laos (some lists say Cambodia)
Loss Coordinates: 143705N 1072737E (YB650174)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 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.
SYNOPSIS: Ronald Smith was assigned to Special Operations Augmentations, 5th
Special Forces Group. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel into
MACV-SOG (although it was not a Special Forces group) through Special
Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their "cover" while under
secret orders to MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and
Observation Group). MACV-SOG was a joint service high command unconventional
warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout
Southeast Asia. The teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic
reconnaissance and interdiction in Laos and Cambodia which were called,
depending on the time frame and location, "Shining Brass" or "Prairie Fire"
Ronald E. Smith was born in Kingman Indiana on March 29, 1940. He joined the
U.S. Navy as a young man, completed his commitment and then joined the Army.
He advanced in the Army to Sergeant First Class, and received Special Forces
training. He served in Germany until 1968, then was shipped to Vietnam,
where he was assigned to Command and Control Central, MACV-SOG.
On November 28, 1970, Smith was a rifleman and a member of a joint
Vietnamese and American long range reconnaissance team (LRRP) named
Kentucky/Louisiana on a mission in Attopeu Province Laos, near the
tri-border area of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. At 1605 hours, the team came
under enemy attack from a reinforced enemy company. The team became
separated and several members were wounded. In the initial attack, Smith was
hit by enemy fire, and was wounded and sought cover.
The team leader immediately went to him to bring him to cover. When he
turned Smith over, he saw that Smith had been hit in the forehead, chest and
side by automatic weapons fire. While he was attempting to recover Smith, a
B40 rocket propelled grenade (RPG) hit the area, killing a Vietnamese member
of the team who had also come to assist Smith. Enemy fire again struck
Smith, and concussion from the rocket fire knocked the team leader
The remaining team members, who were Vietnamese, broke contact with the
enemy, carrying the team leader with them. The team leader later stated that
it was his opinion that Smith was dead. However, the Army told Smith's
family that "based on past experience, we have learned that one cannot
always accurately determine an individual's condition under the stress of
battle." Therefore, the Department of the Army was reluctant to declare
Smith dead. He was was declared Missing in Action, and according to Maj.
Gen. Kenneth G. Wickham on December 9, 1970, "the search is continuing," as
no conclusive evidence was obtained that Smith was dead.
No search could be made because of continuing hostile troop movement in the
area. The area of loss was then classified, and Smith's family was informed
only that he had been "operating deep inside enemy dominated territory."
On January 15, 1971, Col. Michael D. Healy wrote Smith's family that he
offered "prayers for [Smith's] return.
On April 28, 1971, the Army again wrote to Smith's family and stated that it
had been decided he could not have survived the incident. He was declared
Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered. The action was based on the "additional
information" that the team leader "definitely determined that [Smith] died
of his wounds."
On August 14, 1973, Maj. General Bowers wrote Smith's family and told them
that the area of Smith's loss could now be released, and that he had been
lost in Laos. He enclosed an amended Report of Casualty (DD1300) reflecting
Smith is one of nearly 2500 Americans still missing, and among nearly 600
lost in Laos. Although the Pathet Lao stated on several occasions that they
held "tens of tens" of American prisoners, not one American was ever
released that was held in Laos. Laos was not part of the peace agreements
ending American involvement in Southeast Asia, and the U.S. has never
negotiated for these prisoners since that time.
Because the area was held by the enemy, there is every chance the enemy
knows Smith's fate. Alive or dead, Smith remains a prisoner of war.
For every insertion like Smith's that was detected and stopped, dozens of
other commando teams safely slipped past NVA lines to strike a wide range of
targets and collect vital information. The number of MACV-SOG missions
conducted with Special Forces reconnaissance teams into Laos and Cambodia
was 452 in 1969. It was the most sustained American campaign of raiding,
sabotage and intelligence gathering waged on foreign soil in U.S. military
history. MACV-SOG's teams earned a global reputation as one of the most
combat effective deep penetration forces ever raised.
The missions Smith and others were assigned were exceedingly dangerous and
of strategic importance. The men who were put into such situations knew the
chances of their recovery if captured was slim to none. They quite naturally
assumed that their freedom would come by the end of the war. For 591
Americans, freedom did come at the end of the war. For another 2500,
however, freedom has never come.
Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports relating to missing Americans in
Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S., convincing many authorities
that hundreds remain alive in captivity. What must they think of us?