Remains returned 2012

Name: Derrell Blackburn Jeffords
Rank/Branch: O5/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 10 August 1925
Home City of Record: Phoenix AZ
Date of Loss: 24 December 1965
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 154800N 1064400E (XC856474)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Category: 4
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: AC47D
Refno: 0222

Other Personnel In Incident: Arden K. Hassenger; W. Kevin Colwell; Dennis L.
Eilers; Larry C. Thornton; Joseph Christiano (all 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.


SYNOPSIS: On December 24, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson announced a
week-long bombing halt on North Vietnam. That same day, an AC47D "Spooky"
gunship was shot down during an armed reconnaissance flight just south of
the city of Ban Bac in Saravane Province, Laos. Planes in the area of the
loss of the plane heard mayday signals, but were unable to establish contact
with the crew.

The Spooky had evolved from the famed "Puff the Magic Dragon" versions of
the Douglas C47. Puff introduced a new principle to air attack in Vietnam.
Troubled by difficulties in conducting nighttime defense, Capt. Ronald Terry
of the U.S. Air Force Aeronautical Systems Division remembered reading about
flying missionaries in Latin America who lowered baskets of supplies on a
rope from a tightly circling airplane. Throughout the series of pylon turns,
the basket remained suspended over a selected point on the ground. Could
this principle be applied to fire from automatic weapons? Tests proved it
could, and could be extremely successful.

Puff's "flare kicker" illuminated the target, then the pilot used a mark on
the window to his left as a gun sight and circled slowly as three
multibarrel 7-62mm machine guns fired 18,000 rounds per minute from the door
and two windows in the port side of the passenger compartment. The aircraft
was called "Puff" after a popular song of the day, and because it resembled
a dragon overhead with flames billowing from its guns. Men on the ground
welcomed the presence of Puff and the later Spooky version, which was
essentially the same as the Puff, because of its ability to concentrate a
heavy dose of defensive fire in a surgically determined area. These aircraft
were very successful defending positions in South Vietnam, but proved unable
to survive against the anti-aircraft defenses in Laos.

The Spooky lost in Laos on December 24, 1965 was flown by Col. Derrel B.
Jeffords and Capt. Dennis L. Eilers. The crew aboard the aircraft was Maj.
Joseph Christiano, MSgt. Larry C. Thornton, TSgt. W. Kevin Colwell, and
SSgt. Arden K. Hassenger.

When 591 Americans were released from Vietnam in 1973, the Spooky crew was
not among them. As a matter of fact, no American held in Laos was (or has
been) released. The Lao were not included in negotiations ending American
involvement in the war in Southeast Asia.

In June 1989, Arden Hassenger's wife was informed that a report had been
received saying her husband had been sighted alive in Laos. This report is
one of nearly 10,000 relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia
received by the U.S. Government since the war ended. Mrs. Hassenger was
unable to sleep to sleep at night wondering and worrying, yet Arden
Hassenger is still missing.

According to a National League of POW/MIA families list, Christiano also
survived the incident.

A September 13, 1968 statement by Soth Pethrasi was monitored from Puerto
Rico in which Christiano and Jeffords were mentioned. The report stated that
"Smith, Christiano, Jeffords, and Mauterer" were part of "several dozen
captured Airmen" whom the Pathet Lao were "treating correctly and who were
still in Laos. Another name, Norman Morgan, captured January 9, 1968, was
mentioned but is not on lists of missing. This is believed to correlate to
Norman Green, lost on January 9, 1968 in Laos.

Christiano and Jeffords were never classified Prisoner of War. Few lost in
Laos ever were. Like Christiano and Jeffords, many were suspected to be
alive on the ground and in radio contact with search and rescue and other
planes; some were known to have been captured. Hanoi's communist allies in
Laos, the Pathet Lao, publicly spoke 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.

Were it not for the thousands of reports concerning Americans still held
captive in Southeast Asia, the Christiano and Jeffords families might be
able to close this tragic chapter of their lives. But as long as Americans
are alive, being held captive, Joseph Christiano and Derrell Jeffords could
be among them. It's time we brought these men home.

During the period he was maintained missing, Joseph Christiano was promoted
to the rank of Colonel.

News from the Defense Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Office;

  • Col. Joseph Christiano, Col. Derrell B. Jeffords, Lt. Col. Dennis L. Eilers, Chief Master Sgt. William K. Colwell, Chief Master Sgt. Arden K. Hassenger, and Chief Master Sgt. Larry C. Thornton, U.S. Air Force, were lost on Dec. 24, 1965, when their AC-47D gunship crashed in Savannakhet Province, Laos. They were identified on March 5, 2012. They were accounted for on April 5, April 7, April 6, March 29, March 22, and April 10 respectively.

July 5, 2012


            The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of six U.S. servicemen, missing in action from the Vietnam War, were recently identified and are being returned to their families for burial with full military honors. 

Air Force Col. Joseph Christiano, 43, of Rochester, N.Y.; Col. Derrell B. Jeffords, 40, of Florence, S.C.; Lt. Col. Dennis L. Eilers, 27, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Chief Master Sgt. William K. Colwell, 44, Glen Cove, N.Y.; Chief Master Sgt. Arden K. Hassenger, 32, of Lebanon, Ore.; and Chief Master Sgt. Larry C. Thornton, 33, Idaho Falls, Idaho, will be buried as a group July 9, in a single casket representing the entire crew, in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.  On Dec. 24, 1965, the crew was aboard an AC-47D aircraft nicknamed “Spooky” that failed to return from a combat strike mission in southern Laos.  After a “mayday” signal was sent, all contact was lost with the crew.  Following the crash, two days of search efforts for the aircraft and crew were unsuccessful.  

In 1995, a joint U.S./Lao People’s Democratic Republic (L.P.D.R.) team investigated a crash in Savannakhet Province, Laos.  Local villagers recalled seeing a two-propeller aircraft, similar to an AC-47D, crash in December 1965.  A local man found aircraft wreckage in a nearby field while farming, and led the team to that location.  The team recovered small pieces of aircraft wreckage at that time and recommended further investigative visits. 

Joint U.S./L.P.D.R. investigation and recovery teams re-visited the site four times from 1999 to 2001.  They conducted additional interviews with locals, recovered military equipment, and began an excavation.  No human remains were recovered, so the excavation was suspended pending additional investigation.   

In 2010, joint U.S./L.P.D.R. recovery teams again excavated the crash site.  The team recovered human remains, personal items, and military equipment.  Three additional excavations in 2011 recovered additional human remains and evidence. 

Scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command used dental records and circumstantial evidence in the identification of their remains.

            For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO web site at or call (703) 699-1420.