WOOD, WILLIAM COMMODORE JR.
Name: William Commodore Wood, Jr. Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force Unit: 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron, Takhli ABTH Date of Birth: 03 January 1943 Home City of Record: Paris TN Date of Loss: 02 September 1972 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 192500N 1030600E (TG996488) Status (in 1973): Missing in Action Category: 2 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4E Refno: 1918
Other Personnel in Incident: Robert R. Greenwood; Richard W. Herold (missing from an O1 at same location)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 31 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. 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 (Hmong) 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".
On the morning of September 2, 1972 at approximately 0900 hours, a flight of two F4E Phantom jets took off from Takhli airbase in Thailand for a combat mission in Military Region II, Laos. Their target was about 5 miles east of the city of Ban Na Mai in the Plain of Jars region of Xiangkhoang Province. Flying the number 2 aircraft was Captain William Wood, and his Weapons Systems Officer Major Robert Greenwood. The enemy's defense in the area was reported to be light to moderate.
On approaching the target area, the flight made contact with the FAC, Raven 23, flown by Capt. Richard W. Herold, already in the target area. Capt. Wood's aircraft, TUFA 2, made two passes and was rolling out of his third when TUFA 1 observed the aircraft burst into flames. TUFA 2 remained intact but stayed on a ground impacting course. It was later confirmed that Raven 23 had also crashed. No radio contact was made after this point with either aircraft.
TUFA 1 observed one parachute deployed and what seemed to be a second, but his visibility was limited by clouds. It was unclear whether the two aircraft had collided or both been hit by hostile fire. Two ejection seats were seen, and one personal parachute was seen, and possibly a second. Several parachutes were observed on the ground at the sites, but it could not be determined if they were personal parachutes or flare parachutes. The enemy was active in the area and had moved the tail section of the O1 aircraft. No ground search was possible, and no radio contact was ever made with possible survivors. Wood and Greenwood were listed Missing in Action; Herold's records state that he was killed in captivity.
Herold, Wood, and Greenwood are among 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.
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.
If Richard W. Herold was killed by the enemy, then someone has information they are not giving us. There is ample reason to believe Wood and Greenwood could be accounted for as well. Any of the three could be among those thought to be still alive. What can they be thinking of their country? It's time we brought our men home.
William C. Wood, Jr. was promoted to the rank of Major and Robert R. Greenwood, Jr. was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during the period they were maintained missing.
============================== 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