ARD, RANDOLPH JEFFERSON Remains recovered Oct 4, 2004
Name: Randolph Jefferson Ard Rank/Branch: W1/US Army Unit: Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized) Date of Birth: 16 June 1951 (Pensacola FL) Home City of Record: West Pensacola FL Date of Loss: 07 March 1971 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 163700N 1063250E (XD653388) Status (in 1973): Missing In Action Category: 2 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: OH58A Refno: 1719
Other Personnel In Incident: Phil Bodenhorn; Jerry Castillo (rescued); Sheldon J. Burnett (missing); Mike Castro (fate unknown)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 September 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 2005.
REMARKS: Survived to call MAYDAY
SYNOPSIS: LAM SON 719 was a large offensive operation against NVA communications lines in Laos in the region adjacent to the two northern provinces of South Vietnam. The operation was a raid in which ARVN troops would drive west from Khe Sanh on Route 9, cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, seize Tchpone, some 25 miles away, and then return to Vietnam. The ARVN would provide and command the ground forces, while U.S. Army and Air Force would furnish aviation airlift and supporting firepower. The 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) commanded all U.S. Army aviation units in direct support of the operation.
Most of the first part of the operation, begun January 30, 1971 was called Operation DEWEY CANYON II, and was conducted by U.S. ground forces in Vietnam. The ARVN met their halfway point on February 11 and moved into position for the attack across the Laotian border.
On 8 February, ARVN began pushing along Route 9 into Laos. The NVA reacted fiercely, committing some 36,000 troops to the area. The ARVN held its positions supported by U.S. airstrikes and resupply runs by Army helicopters.
President Nguyen Van Thieu ordered a helicopter assault on Tchepone, and the abandoned village was seized March 6. Two weeks of hard combat were necessary for the ARVN task force to fight its way back to Vietnam.
Randy Ard had been in Vietnam only a few weeks when an emergency call came in for him to fly the squadron commander to a platoon command post to work his way down to his Third Platoon, which was in ambush in the northwest segment of South Vietnam. He flew his Kiowa Scout chopper from the 5th Mech and picked up LtCol. Sheldon Burnett, the squadron commander; Capt. Phil Bodenhorn, Alpha Company commander; and SP4 Mike Castro, Third Platoon RTO.
Ard mistakenly flew past the command post and west into Laos. Seeing yellow marking smoke, he took the chopper down lower. It was too late to pull up when they heard the sound of an RPD machine gun and AK-47's. They had been tricked into a North Vietnamese ambush.
The helicopter went down fast, and smashed into the brush, coming down on its side (or upside down, depending on the version of the account). Ard and Burnett were trapped in the wreckage, but alive. Ard got on the radio and began mayday calls. Bodenhorn and Castillo, who had been in the rear seat, got out of the aircraft. Bodenhorn managed to free Art, but he had two broken legs and possibly a broken hip. Burnett was completely pinned within the wreckage and injured, but alive. Bodenhorn and Castillo positioned themselves on opposite sides of the aircraft for security and expended all the colored smoke grenades they had, marking their position for rescue.
[Note: Mike Castro's name appears in one account of this incident, but his fate is not given. He does not appear in a second account from the U.S. Army Casualty Board.]
Bodenhorn and Castillo soon heard North Vietnamese approaching, and killed these Vietnamese. The two listened for nearly an hour as others advanced towards their position from two directions, and 155 artillery rounds impacted very near them. They couldn't understand why they were not being rescued, unless it was because the enemy was so close to them. A helicopter flew over, but took heavy fire and left. They decided to leave Ard and Burnett and escape themselves. They told Ard, who nodded wordlessly. Burnett was drifting in and out of consciousness. Both men were alive.
Bodenhorn and Castillo worked their way to 80 yards away when a UH1C came in on a single run, firing flechette rockets which seemed to explode right on the downed chopper. Later, they watched an F4 roll in for a one-bomb strike over the crash site. Ard and Burnett were surely dead.
Bodenhorn and Castillo were rescued by ARVN troops an hour later. Ard and Burnett were classified Missing In Action. The story was released to reporters at Khe Sanh three days later. The army spokesman accurately described the ambush, but told the press that Burnett had been in radio contact with the ambushed platoon, and that he and Ard had appeared dead to the two escaping officers. The names of the survivors were not released.
General Sutherland stated, ".. the decision was not made to employ the Air Cavalry and the Hoc Bao to attempt to retrieve either LtCol. Burnett alive or his body. ..Burnett had no mission nor units in Laos. He had no reason or authority to take his helicopter over the Laotian border."
After 11 days of heavy resistance, the 11th ARVN Airborne Battalion fought their way into the area where the helicopter had crashed. The searched the wreckage and the surrounding area for several days, but found no sign of the two missing men or any of their belongings or anything to indicate that either man was buried in the area.
In 1989, a large part of this loss incident was still classified.
There can be no question that Randy Ard and Sheldon Burnett were abandoned by the country they served.
Losses in LAM SON 719 were heavy. The ARVN suffered some 9,000 casualties, almost 50% of their force. U.S. forces incurred some 1,462 casualties. Aviation units lost 168 helicopters; another 618 were damaged. Fifty-five aircrewmen were killed in action , 178 were wounded and 34 were missing in action. There were 19,360 known enemy casualties for the operation lasting until April 6, 1971.
Nearly 600 Americans were lost in Laos during the war in Vietnam. Although the Pathet Lao stated on several occasions they held "tens of tens" of American prisoners, Laos was not included in the agreements ending American involvement in the war, and the U.S. has not negotiated for the freedom of these men since that day. Consequently, not one American held in Laos has ever been released.
These Americans, too, were abandoned.
================== March 1, 2005 National League of Families
POW/MIAs - VIETNAM WAR: There are now 1,836 Americans listed by the Defense Department as missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War - 1,399 in Vietnam, 375 in Laos, 55 in Cambodia and 7 in PRC territorial waters. The League was informed today that the remains of four US personnel, previously listed as KIA/BNR in South Vietnam have been recovered and identified. The four Americans were all lost on May 10, 1967, and their remains were recovered May 27, 2003, though identified late last year and accepted by their families recently. Those now accounted for include 2LT Heinz Ahlmeyer, USMC, of NY; HM3 Malcolm T. Miller, USN, of FL; LCpl Samuel A. Sharp, USMC, of CA; and SGT James N. Tycz, USMC, of WI. In addition, the League recently confirmed that COL Sheldon J. Burnett, USA, from NH, and CWO (3) Randolph J. Ard, USA, both listed as MIA in Laos March 7, 1971 are now accounted for. Their remains were jointly recovered October 4, 2004, and recently identified. Still others have been ID'd, not yet announced by DPMO, perhaps due to delays in scheduling ID consultations with the primary-next-of-kin (PNOK). The reality is that PNOK no longer retain decision-making capability before official ID, but the pretense has been retained.