HARPER, RALPH LEWIS Group burial announced 11/08/2008
Name: Ralph Lewis Harper Branch/Rank: United States Marine Corps/E3 Unit: HS/1/4 3 MAR DIV MOS: 0341 = Mortarman Date of Birth: 14 January 1948 Home City of Record: INDIANAPOLIS IN Date of Loss: 06 June 1968 Country of Loss: South Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 163436 North 1064534 East UTM: XD877334 Status (in 1973): Killed In Action/Body Not Recovered Category: 5 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: CH46A 151940 Missions:
Other Personnel in Incident: Paul Burgard KIA; Kurt LaPlant, Luis Palacios, Jose Sanchez all KIA/BNR
Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews and CACCF = Combined Action Combat Casualty File. Information update with details from the Vietnam Veterans Helicopter Pilots Association Historian, Gary Rousch. Updated 2003 - see source below.
CACCF/CRASH/NON-AIRCREW/QUANG TRI Province/I Corps
Incident number: 68060610.KIA Unit: CO D 1 BN 4 MAR 3 MARDIV This was a Combat incident. This helicopter was LOSS TO INVENTORY for Troop Extraction, Hot Area. While on Landing Zone this helicopter was Climbing at unknown feet and unknown knots in South Vietnam
A count of hits was not possible because the helicopter burned or exploded.
Casualties: 02 INJ, 05 DOI
Both mission and flight capability were terminated.
Summary: Helicopter was forced down by enemy small arms fire. The helicopter made an emergency landing, crashed and rolled down a mountain. The aircraft was destroyed by fire.
The crew consisited of BURGARD, PAUL E; Passengers: were: LCP HARPER RALPH LEWIS, MC, PX, BNR; LCP LAPLANT KURT ELTON, MC, PX, BNR; PFC SANCHEZ JOSE RAMON, MC, PX, BNR; LCP PALACIOS LUIS FERNANDO, MC, PX, BNR; PFC BURGARD PAUL EDWARD, MC, PX, KIA;
LCP Ralph Lewis Harper's body was not recovered from an incident on 06/06/68 while performing the duty of Passenger. He was 20.4 years old at the time of his death, and had been a Marine for only one year. His Wall location is 59W-004.
Date: Mon, 20 Jan 2003 20:01:27 -0500 From: Jerry Ostapowicz <firstname.lastname@example.org> USMC/Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Subject: Comments on Harper, Ralph Lewis, et al
Incident Date 680606 HMM-165 CH-46A 152533
[PASSENGERS] Harper, Ralph Lewis LCPL Pass 1/4/3rdMarDiv 680606 LaPlant, Kurt Elton LCPL Pass 1/4/3rdMarDiv 680606 Palacios, Luis Fernando LCPL Pass 1/4/3rdMarDiv 680606 Sanchez, Jose Ramon PFC Pass 1/4/3rdMarDiv 680606
HARPER RALPH LEWIS : 2316342 : USMCR : LCPL : E3 : 0341 : 20 : INDIANAPOLIS : IN : 19680606 : hostile, crash, land : Passenger : body NOT recovered : Quang Tri : 01 : 19480114 : Cauc : Protestant/single : 59W : 004
LaPLANT KURT ELTON : 2361247 : USMCR : LCPL : E3 : 0341 : 19 : LENEXA : KS : 19680606 : hostile, crash, land : Passenger : body NOT recovered : Quang Tri : 01 : 19481211 : Cauc : Protestant/single : 59W : 006
PALACIOS LUIS FERNANDO : 2348657 : USMCR : LCPL : E3 : 0341 : 19 : LOS ANGELES : CA : 19680606 : hostile, crash, land : Passenger : body NOT recovered : Quang Tri : 01 : 19490228 : Cauc : RomanCatholic/single : 59W : 011
SANCHEZ JOSE RAMON : 2292525 : USMCR : PFC : E2 : 0341 : 19 : NEW YORK : NY : 19680606 : hostile, crash, land : Passenger : body not recovered : Quang Tri : 00 : 19490315 : Cauc : RomanCatholic/single : 59W : 013
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Comments on Incident: I was the portside gunner in the lead bird of a section that was redirected to do an emergency extract of a grunt company about seven miles/klicks southwest of Khe Sanh. Our wing bird went in on a hillside by the LZ after picking up a load of grunts. Both gunner and crew chief (Michael Boice: email@example.com) got screwed up, and we picked them up (along with some injured grunts at Khe Sanh after we dropped off the last grunt out of the LZ (he fell off the ramp of the previous aircraft when it took off). In my memory, there were grunts that went KIA as a result of our wing bird's crash. The same day, HMM-165 lost another 46 down south and the crew also got banged up: crew/chief Connie Myers (firstname.lastname@example.org) and S/Sgt. Miller were evac-ed to the states with critical burns. Connie mentioned that he believed that at least some of the grunts who went in on his bird were KIA. Submitted by Gary Zimmerman, HMM-165
HMM-165 Command Chronology (does not jive with eye witness accounts): "6 June 1968. The White Knights launched two divisions today in support of the Third Marine Amphibious Forces. Major D. SAYES [Maj. Sayes was my HAC on this mission] led his division to the North and proceeded to work in the Khe Sanh area. His wingman, 1/Lt. M. J. FRIEL, was shot down while attempting to lift troops from a landing zone where they had come under fire. 1/Lt. FRIEL, using his competent abilities, flew the aircraft to the ground and was able to exit the aircraft along with his co-pilot 1/Lt. T. C. MADDEN. All personnel escaped serious injury and were immediately picked up by the wingman [BS -- we picked up the last grunt, dropped him off at Vandergrift, fueled-up, and returned to Khe Sanh for the wounded]. The other division led by Capt. E. N. Maley went south to the DaNang area. While flying cargo into the hills southwest of DaNang in direct support of the 26th Marines, YW-23, piloted by Capt. C L. Weaver and 1/Lt. G. L. KAHLER, was observed to receive enemy fire and almost instantaneously catch fire. Despite having been hit in the leg by an enemy round and his aircraft burning and quickly becoming uncontrollable Capt. WEAVER was able to get his aircraft low enough to the trees that when he crashed all personnel aboard were able to exit the aircraft. His wingman, in constant danger from enemy fire as well as the rounds set off in the burning aircraft, successfully hoisted the stricken aircraft's crew to safety to be med-evaced. The day's losses were 2 aircraft due to enemy ground fire with no loss of personnel. HMM-165 stands ready to do their mission against all odds with the professionalism and dedication exhibited by Capt. C. L. WEAVER, 1/Lt. G. L. KAHLER, 1/Lt. M. J. FRIEL, and 1/Lt. T. C. MADDEN. Their wingmen's actions are a tribute to the proud efforts and traditions of the professional White Knights of HMM-165."
I have been in contact off and on with Jim Smith, a crew chief who lost a grunt friend in action on 6 June 68. My take is that the side number he has received is not accurate. I suggested that he write away for all the MAG Command Chronologies for that day and see if any other aircraft went down on that day. Submitted by Gary Zimmerman, HMM-165 Comments on Incident: All Passengers from 1/4/3rdMarDiv - KIA at LZ LOON, SE of Khe Sanh
Following compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK: Loss Coordinates: 163436 North 1064534 East UTM: XD877334
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: CH46A 151940
Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews and CACCF = Combined Action Combat Casualty File. Information update with details from the Vietnam Veterans Helicopter Pilots Association Historian, Gary Rousch.
Unit: CO D 1 BN 4 MAR 3 MARDIV This was a Combat incident. This helicopter was LOSS TO INVENTORY for Troop extraction, Hot Area. While on Landing Zone this helicopter was Climbing at unknown feet and unknown knots in South Vietnam. A count of hits was not possible because the helicopter burned or exploded.
Casualties: 02 INJ, 05 DOI Both mission and flight capability were terminated.
Summary: Helicopter was forced down by enemy small arms fire. The helicopter made an emergency landing, crashed and rolled down a mountain. The aircraft was destroyed by fire.
Passengers: LCP HARPER RALPH LEWIS, MC, PX, BNR; LCP LAPLANT KURT ELTON, MC, PX, BNR; PFC SANCHEZ JOSE RAMON, MC, PX, BNR; LCP PALACIOS LUIS FERNANDO, MC, PX, BNR; PFC BURGARD PAUL EDWARD, MC, PX, KIA
Comments on Incident: Jim [Smith] had contacted the Vertol Division of Boeing in PA. In fact, the rep who took care of HMM 165 in '68 was still working there and agreed to share the incident reports with him if he could locate them. After the rep found the incident reports he reneged on his agreement to make the reports available, fueling speculation that a mechanical, or overload, or other situation may have been at issue. However, I have acquired a spec sheet for the Ch-46 "A" model from the Smithsonian and after reviewing it have concluded that the "overload" theory doesn't hold water.
The "A" model had a payload of 25 combat troops plus three crew or 4,000 pounds total. After counting the survivors and the KIA's the total doesn't exceed 22 give or take one or two. And we had discarded most, if not all, of our combat gear. All we carried were our weapons and little to no ammunition. Therefore, I believe the original perceptions were the correct ones. YW-7 was shot up enough to prevent a sustained flight.
I have also gone over the JTFFA reports from the 1993 site visit and based on their coordinates the crash site they visited was the correct one. Approximately 600 meters SSW on the LZ. The only remaining issues as far as I'm concerned is the conflict of having about half on the guys that were on YW-7 with me being listed as victims of the crash of YT-13 from HMM 164. I have no clue of how that came to pass but I know as sure as sure can be that if I was on YW-7, they were on YW-7.
I don't even know if YT-13 crashed at all. The crash coordinates they give for YT-13 are actually those of YW-7. Finding out what, if anything, happened to YT-13 is half the battle. I'm reasonably satisfied that the accounting I have put together after talking to some of my guys who were there, you, Mike Boice, and the research of Jim Smith, is 95% accurate. Submitted by Tom Snow, M-60 machine gunner, 1st Bn 4th Marines, surviving passenger of YW-7 incident.
Comments on Incident: As we were approaching Ca Lu, a call came over the UHF Guard frequency from Finger Print 22, a Marine O-1, requesting any helicopter in the Khe Sanh area to come up on Guard. No one responded for several seconds and Bob keyed the intercom. "Jim, see what he wants."
"Finger Print 22, Chicken Man 22 Mike on Guard. Over."
"Chicken Man 22 Mike, Finger Print 22, I am South of Khe Sanh near LZ Loon. There is a down CH-46 with wounded crew members outside the burning aircraft. Can you make an extraction?"
I looked over at Bob and he shook his head up and down.
Chicken Man 22 Mike, that's affirmative. We are five minutes out with a UH-1H inbound. Do you have any air cover on station?"
"See what you can come up with, before we get there."
Bob was now on final to LZ Stud, but broke off his approach and turned back south. As we flew over the charred heap of ashes, that only an hour and a half earlier had been Jim's gun ship. A Graves Registration team was pulling the charred remains of the crew members, from what was left of the helicopter and placing them in rubber body bags. I was getting tired of seeing rubber body bags. It was hard to believe, that we had lost two good men, flying a mission that was "not happening." The President of the United States, LBJ, had told the American public on television and radio that "No American troops are engaged in any secret war in Laos." We all knew that was a lie, but one that was told to cover up the destruction of NVA men and equipment headed to the South Vietnam.
Bob told the guys in the back to check their guns and make sure they were ready to get shot at.
When we arrived, the situation was not good. The CH-46 had been shot down on takeoff from the primary east/west ridge line south of Khe Sanh. It had crashed, somewhere on the south side of the ridge line, rolled to the bottom and burned. The area had been sprayed with defoliant, Agent Orange, sometime ago and all the trees that were still standing were leafless. The rest of the area had grass and weeds growing, but not much cover for the enemy. Bomb craters were everywhere and most were fresh.
As we approached the area, Bob said he was getting tired and asked if would I take it for a while. I assumed control of the Huey and continued directly for LZ Loon.
A minute out, I saw Finger Print 22 pop above the ridge line in his Bird Dog. "Chicken Man 22 Mike is one minute out."
"22 Mike roger. Two Spads, three minutes out. Enemy approaching the down crew members from the east and south. Lots of ground fire. Over."
"We will do a three-sixty, to the left, over the down helicopter and land as soon as we can. Put the Spads to work as soon as they arrive on station."
"Wilco. The down aircraft is now at your eleven o'clock."
"You'al in the back are clear to fire at any bad guys you see."
"You got it Bob. Make a tight three-sixty and see if you can spot a place to land."
"I got it."
A few seconds later Bob entered a forty-five-degree bank to the left. A steam of tracers came across the nose and the Gunner opened up, returning fire. Bob increased the turn to sixty degrees as the airspeed dropped through fifty. Everything was perfect. We were a couple hundred feet above the trees descending. Bob could roll out and be on short final to a hole large enough for us to hover down into.
"Jim, there ain't any place to land. All the holes are two tight."
Both M-60s were firing at bad guys, when I keyed the mike. "22 Mike there's no place to land near the down helicopter. Give us a minute to come up with a plan."
"Bob, get back up over the ridge line and get out of this fire."
As I was speaking, Bob already was heading up to the top of the ridge.
Ken came on the intercom. "Sir, there are a couple hundred Gooks in uniform, two or three hundred meters east of the down Crew."
"22, 22 Mike you see those NVA east of the down crew?"
"That's affirmative. I have been making gun runs with my M-16 on them."
Bob came on the intercom "Jim, what about you land on one of the fingers just a little east of the down crew. I will get out, go down and get them. You guys can cover me and it might work."
Three intercom switches keyed at the same time. The clear consensus of the rest of the crew was "FUCK NO!!!" Ken said that if I got shot, we would all be dead, he was right.
I heard the fist, hit the transmission well wall, which was a signal between Crew Chiefs and Gunners to make eye contact with each other. I looked back and the hand signals were flying.
"Sir, we will get out and go get them."
"Are you both sure, you want to do that?"
"22, 22 Mike. My crew chief and gunner have volunteered to go get the down crew if we can land just northeast on the first clear finger. You seen any bad guys there?"
"22 Mike. There are bad guys all over the area."
"Jim, the wind is out of the west and the slope will be on your side. You have the aircraft."
"I have got it."
"22 Mike is short final."
Reeves came on the intercom "God, that's a steep slope."
"You guys, both get out the right side and don't go up the slope or you will be in the rotor blades." As I finished, Ken opened up with his M-60.
"Sir, seventy bad guys four thirty to five o'clock in the bottom of the draw."
I came back "five seconds Ken. You guys don't get killed out there."
I had the right skid into the slope, as Ken and Gaylon stepped out. The rotor blades were in the short grass up slope and there was a dead NVA Officer laying on the ground, between the skids and the rotor blades. I was airborne after three seconds. Bob opened up with his M-16. "Brake left and I can get a few more."
Then it happened. A sound that scared me to death. It was a low pitched growling sound, that I thought was the tail rotor eating into the tail boom. Then the sound stopped and started again, as the Spad went by. It was the first time I had ever heard a 20 MM Gatling gun. After I got my heart going again, it was the sweetest sound I had ever heard.
Finger Print 22 was directing the Spads in on enemy troops and pulling pressure of Ken and Gaylon, who were under heavy enemy fire moving down the slope.
Bob grabbed the controls "I've got it." Bob pulled back on the cyclic to slow from 40 knots, while lowering the collective and kicking in left pedal. "Jim, six Gooks two o'clock, low. Got'em?"
"Yea." I had my M-2 out the window and pulled the trigger. All thirty rounds were gone, before I pulled her back inside. It only took a second to change magazines from the empty to a full one. I had five of them welded and taped together. Bob was now hovering at 60 feet just above the defoliated trees and just east of the bad guys, who were shooting at not only Ken and Reeves but at us too. I fired another thirty rounds and hit my mark. I don't know how many I killed, but I sure as hell hit every one of them.
Ken keyed his hand held Guard radio. "Good shooting. You got'em. We're moving on down the hill."
I looked down the slope, towards the down crew to see mortar rounds impacting just south and to the west. Some bad guy opened up on us with a light machine gun a hundred meters south of the down crew. Spad 2 rolled in, before we could call the fire. His 20 MM found its mark and the exploding shells ate up the area. No more fire came from there.
Ken came up on Guard. "Jim these guys are really bad off. We are going to have to carry them out. We are taking small arms fire from the east and south and mortars are falling near us."
"Everyone copy that?"
"Finger Print, roger."
"Spad lead, roger. We are going to make some passes closer in and see if that helps."
"You all be careful, that my Crew Chief and Gunner down there."
Bob moved the helicopter out to the west, still hovering above the trees and still taking fire from the south and east. The Spads worked out for a couple more passes and the enemy fire died down.
It took Ken and Gaylon about ten minutes to carry a Mud Marine and the Crew Chief, Mike Boyce up to the finger, where we had dropped them off. The Mud Marine was burnt pretty badly. Most of the flesh was missing from both his hands and lower arms. Mike Boyce was drifting in and out of consciousness with a deep cut in his head. While Ken was carrying him up the side of the ridge an enemy bullet cut through Mike's foot. I landed and the two Marines were put on board. Ken and Gaylon headed back down the hill, giving me a thumbs up as I lifted off.
Finger Print 22 asked what was happening and I told him that "we have two on board and my crew is going back for the last two."
The enemy fire had dropped off, to almost nothing, until Ken and Gaylon reached the last two Marines, then all hell broke loose. Ken got on Guard and said "We are taking heavy fire down here. Drop some bombs to the east and south. Right now, as close as you can."
I could see the clouds of dust being kicked up by the 82 MM mortar shell landing, then the heavy stuff started landing 152 MM artillery shells were now falling from some place far away. The Spads rolled in from the west, Lead dropped just to the east while, 2 dropped to the south.
Ken came back up on Guard "All right, I think that helped." But we could still hear the bullets cracking and artillery shells exploding in the back ground.
It took almost ten minutes to carry the Door Gunner, Johnny C. Youngblood, back up to the pick up point. His back was broken and he was paralyzed from the chest down. He was a brave and hurting Marine that was in very severe pain. Twice, they had to stop and call in the Spads, because the enemy fire was getting too heavy. When I finally landed, the two Marines were put on the floor and Ken crawled over to his M-60. I pulled pitch and after 50 knots turned north up over the ridge line. Ken was working out with his M-60.
Bob asked him what he was shooting at and Ken came on the intercom in a winded and exhausted voice. "Sir, the mother fuckers, that were trying to kill me."
Finger Print 22 thanked us for our effort as we headed for Khe Sanh medevac. I called the Spads and thanked them for their help.
We had saved four Marines and killed a couple hundred NVA. I was shaking like a leaf. I let Bob fly awhile and looked over the armor plated seat at our passengers. They looked like hell, a couple of them didn't look like they were going to make it, but we tried and never gave up.
At the Khe Sanh medevac pad Marine medics unloaded the injured Marines [Youngblood and Friel]. It took several minutes, because of the back and neck injuries. Ken asked one of the Medics about some cokes or something to drink and the Medic sent someone after some cokes.
Ken and I both looked over the helicopter for bullet holes, while Bob and Gaylon found some more ammo for the M-60s. Miraculously no damage was found. Ken and Gaylon were skinned up from crawling around and had a few scratches, but luckily neither of them had been wounded.
A Marine showed up with a half dozen hot Cokes and we repositioned to the refueling pad. Submitted by CWO2 Jim Caufman, US Army rescue pilot on mission. =================================
November 05, 2008
Marines Missing From Vietnam War Are Identified
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of four U.S. servicemen, missing from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to their families for burial with full military honors.
They are Lance Cpl. Kurt E. La Plant, of Lenexa, Kan., and Lance Cpl. Luis F. Palacios, of Los Angeles, Calif. Remains that could not be individually identified are included in a group. Among the group remains are Lance Cpl. Ralph L. Harper, of Indianapolis, Ind., and Pfc. Jose R. Sanchez, of Brooklyn, N.Y. All men were U.S. Marine Corps. Palacios will be buried Friday in Bellflower, Calif., and the other Marines will be buried as a group in the spring in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
On June 6, 1968, these men were aboard a CH-46A Sea Knight helicopter that was attempting an emergency extraction of elements of the 1st Battalion, 4th Regiment, 3rd Marine Division then engaged against hostile forces in the mountains southwest of Khe Sanh, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. The helicopter was struck by enemy ground fire and crashed, killing 12 of the 23 crewmen and passengers on board. All but four of the men who died were subsequently recovered and identified.
Between 1993 and 2005, joint U.S./Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) teams, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), investigated the incident in Quang Tri Province, interviewed witnesses and surveyed the crash site three times. The team found a U.S. military boot fragment and wreckage consistent with that of a CH-46 helicopter.
In 2006, a team began excavating the site and recovered human remains and non-biological material evidence including La Plant's identification tag. While at the site, a Vietnamese citizen turned over to the team human remains the he claimed to have found amid the wreckage. In 2007, another team completed the excavation and recovered additional human remains, life support material and aircraft wreckage.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA and dental comparisons in the identification of the remains.
For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO web site at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/ or call (703) 699-1420.