Remains Returned 22 May 1990

Name: Roger Horace Stearns
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 04 February 1941
Home City of Record: Boulder CO
Date of Loss: 11 September 1969
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 163920N 1062250E (XD472415)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 2
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D
Refno: 1488

Other Personnel in Incident: Roger D. Helwig (missing)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project  01 April 1991 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: When North Vietnam began to increase their military strength in
South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for
sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some
years before. The border road, termed the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" was used for
transporting weapons, supplies and troops. Hundreds of American pilots were
shot down trying to stop this communist traffic to South Vietnam.
Fortunately, search and rescue teams in Vietnam were extremely successful
and the recovery rate was high.

Still there were nearly 600 who were not rescued, including Stearns and
Helwig. Many were alive on the ground and in radio contact with search and
rescue and other planes; some were known to have been captured. Hanoi's
communist allies in Laos, the Pathet Lao, publicly spoke of American
prisoners they held, but when peace agreements were negotiated, Laos was not
included, and not a single American was released that had been held in Laos.

One of the aircraft used the Trail was the F4 Phantom, used by Air Force,
Marine and Navy air wings. The Phantom served a multitude of functions
including fighter-bomber and interceptor, photo and electronic surveillance.
The two-man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2), and had a long range (900
- 2300 miles, depending on stores and mission type). The F4 was also
extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes. Most
pilots considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.

Capt. Roger D. Helwig and Capt. Roger H. Stearns are both listed as pilots
by the Department of Defense. They comprised the aircrew of an F4D
fighter/bomber sent on a combat mission over Laos on September 11, 1969.
During the mission, the aircraft was shot down about 5 miles southeast of
Sepone in Savannakhet Province. This location is about 10 miles west of the
Vietnam border a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone. It is on the Ho
Chi Minh Trail.

The fates of Helwig and Stearns are not known, but circumstances surrounding
the crash of the aircraft indicated to the Air Force that both died in the
crash, and that the enemy probably knew their fate.

On May 22, 1990, the Vietnamese, having denied knowledge of Helwig and
Stearns for many years, "discovered" and returned to U.S. control the
remains of Roger H. Stearns. The fate of Helwig remains unclear.

Were it not for the thousands of reports concerning Americans still held
captive in Southeast Asia, the Helwig family might be able to close this
tragic chapter of their lives. But as long as Americans are alive, being
held captive, one of them could be Helwig. No one realloy knew the
Vietnamese had control of Stearns' body. Helwig could have fallen into the
hands of either the Lao or Vietnamese. It's time we brought all our men