WALSH, RICHARD AMBROSE III Name: Richard Ambrose Walsh III Rank/Branch: O5/U.S. Air Force Unit: Nakhon Phenom Airfield, Thailand Date of Birth: 28 April 1926 Home City of Record: St. Paul, MN Date of Loss: 15 February 1969 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 155000N 1064900E (XC949515) Status (in 1973): Missing In Action Category: 3 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: A1J Refno: 1384 Other Personnel in Incident: Stanley S. Clark (lost at XD990530 on 14 February; still missing) Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 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. NETWORK 1998. REMARKS: 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. Many of them went down along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and passes through the border mountains between Laos and Vietnam. Many were alive on the ground and in radio contact with search and rescue planes; some were known to have been captured. Hanoi's communist allies in Laos, the Pathet Lao, publicly spoke of "tens of tens" 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. On February 14, 1969, LtCol. Stanley S. Clark was the commander of the lead aircraft in a flight of two F4D's which departed Ubon Airfield, Thailand on a night mission over southern Laos along the "Ho Chi Minh Trail". On his second pass of the target, Clark's plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and burst into flames. Clark climbed to about 12,000 feet and ordered his backseater to eject. The backseater ejected as the plane began a rapid descent. The aircraft entered a cloud layer at about 10,000 feet and was obscured from view, but was later seen as it crashed in a river. Contact was established with the co-pilot as he descended in his parachute, but no other parachute was seen, and no emergency signals were heard. All attempts to contact Clark failed. At 0500 hours on February 15, 1969, LtCol. Richard A. Walsh III (code name Sandy 01) departed as the pilot of the lead aircraft in a flight of two A1J "Spad" aircraft from Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, on a Search and Rescue mission over southeastern Laos. The A1J was commonly used for flying rescue, close air support and forward air control (FAC) missions. Walsh's job that day was to rescue the pilot of an F4 that had been shot down the day before in Saravane Province near the city of Ban Bac. It is believed that this pilot is Stanley Clark's backseater. The common procedure in A1 escorted rescues was for two A1s to fly directly to the general search area and look for some sign of the downed crewmen while two other A1s escorted the rescue helicopter to the area. If it was determined that the pilot was in a hostile area, the A1s would commence a bombing attack using rockets, bombs and 20 mm cannon fire to suppress enemy defenses so that the helicopter could land. Upon arrival in the assigned area, LtCol. Walsh and the second A1J were joined by two other A1 aircraft and two helicopters. Walsh became on-scene commander of the rescue operation. Walsh made several low passes over the target area attempting to make visual contact with the downed pilot. He established radio contact with the downed pilot and ordered helicopters to pick him up. While flying at about 1000 feet Walsh radioed that he was receiving ground fire. This was the last transmission received from him. At the same time, members in the flight observed flashes and air bursts of 37mm anti-aircraft fire behind Walsh's aircraft and along his flight path. Although the weather was clear, no parachute was seen and no emergency radio beeper signals were heard. While all the flight members did not have the aircraft under continuous observation, these events appear to have been closely witnessed by the wingman, except when he momentarily looked into his cockpit to change radio frequencies to alert the search and rescue coordinator of the situation. Flight tapes recorded during this period were still classified as of 1985. The downed pilot was recovered, and later stated that he heard an anti-aircraft site open fire as Walsh's aircraft approached, and shortly thereafter heard the explosion of impact. He further stated that it was less that 15 seconds from the time he heard the engine begin to race until he heard the aircraft impact the ground. He could not observe the incident due to dense jungle and foliage. The incident occurred approximately 38 miles northeast of Chavane, Laos, in a sparsely populated, mountainous, and heavily wooded area. The search for LtCol. Walsh and LtCol. Clark was eventually terminated and both men were classified Missing In Action. LtCol. Clark's family later learned that although no second parachute was seen, no body was found with his plane. NEITHER WAS HIS EJECTION SEAT, which indicated that Clark escaped the aircraft. The area in which Clark and Walsh were lost was recaptured by friendly forces about three months later. Walsh's wife was told that the wreckage of her husband's aircraft was located, but there were no remains at the crash site. During the years following the loss of Clark and Walsh both men were promoted to the rank of Colonel. The families of both men have been very active in the effort to obtain information related to the nearly 2500 Americans listed missing in Southeast Asia, with particular emphasis on the nearly 600 lost in Laos. Mrs. Sharon Walsh received an early report that someone was killed at the same time that Col. Walsh went down. The US Air Force was never able to confirm this report, and was not certain of its origin. In 1985, an intelligence source reported that Col. Walsh had been seen in Laos. He was also reported to be seen in one other location in Laos, in captivity, and was the leader of 17 other American POWs. This report was never confirmed. Col. Richard Walsh's family still lives in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. They neither believe nor disbelieve that he is alive, but follow up every lead and every report to the best of their ability. Col. Stanley Clark's family still lives in California. His son, Michael greatly resembles his father. Michael doesn't know if his father is alive, but is convinced that many Americans are still alive. "If not my father, then SOMEONE's father is alive," says Michael. "We owe them our every effort to bring them home." In February 1991, Walsh's squadron commander, LtCol. Walter Stueck, of Georgetown, Texas, announced for the first time that it was policy in his squadron for a pilot to indicate his preference of being declared killed or missing if he was shot down. Stueck explained that if a pilot chose the "missing" status before being shot down, the squadron recommendation would be to classify him missing, and his family would receive additional benefits until he was finally declared presumptively dead. Although the Air Force denies that this policy could have been in force, and other pilots state it is "absurd," Stueck says the policy was followed for the emotional and financial well-being of the survivors of downed pilots. Stueck's story is backed up by two members of the squadron and a Air Force historian, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The historian said pilots in Vietnam were rountinely asked their preference and most selected MIA. But he added that it was accepted procedure to list a downed pilot as MIA unless there were witnesses or physical evidence that he died, and, "A pilot can get out of what seems to be impossible odds and come out alive." The Air Force says a downed pilot is listed as missing in action only if there is reason to hope he may have survived. Stueck, who was flying near Walsh, reported to superiors at the time that there was a chance Walsh could have escaped alive. Stueck said then that he looked away momentarily as the plane tumbled into the jungle. "I flat-out lied," Stueck told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "This is what he (Walsh) wanted. He added that he actually watched the plane all the way to the ground and was certain Walsh died, but felt bound to report him as missing. That, he said, was because Walsh and other pilots had signed forms saying how they wanted their casualty status recovered. Stueck said he had drawn up the forms himself. He added that the men were supposed to let their families know of this request. Sharon Walsh was never told of such a decision, or even that it was an option to decide. She has spent the last 22 years searching for answers. Numerous reports have been received indicating that her husband did not go down with the aircraft, and despite the statement of Stueck, Mrs. Walsh is not the type to quit until all the evidence is in. Since the war ended, the Defense Department has received over 10,000 reports relating to the men still unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, yet concludes that no actionable evidence has been received that would indicate Americans are still alive in Southeast Asia. A recent Senate investigation indicates that most of these reports were dismissed without just cause, and that there is every indication that Americans remained in captivity far after the war ended, and may be alive today. It's time we learned the truth about our missing and brought them home.