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
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.
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
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
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
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 insistent
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
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.
(Thomas E. Lee, Colonel USAF (Ret))