Name: Richard Lebrou Whitesides
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 14 January 1937
Home City of Record: Stockton CA
Date of Loss: 26 March 1964
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 163912N 1064621E (XD890419)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: L19
Refno: 0029
Other Personnel in Incident: Floyd J. Thompson (released POW)

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 2014.


SYNOPSIS: In the early years of American involvement in Southeast Asia, most
Americans were not aware of the situation there. When Floyd J. Thompson told
his mother he was being shipped out to Vietnam for a six-month tour in early
1964, she asked, "Where the hell is that?"  He replied, "I don't know."

On March 26, 1964, the Air Force L19 observation plane flown by CAPT Richard
L. Whitesides and U.S. Army Special Forces co-pilot CAPT Floyd J. Thompson
was downed by small arms fire about 20 kilometers from Thompson's Special
Forces Camp near Quang Tri, South Vietnam.

Thompson survived the crash, suffering burns, a bullet wound across the
cheek and a broken back, and was quickly captured by the Viet Cong. The
pilot of the aircraft was not found. Aerial search and ground patrols failed
to find a trace of the aircraft. This was before the excellent search and
rescue programs which would recover so many downed pilots had been
implemented in Southeast Asia.

The following day, an Army officer visited Thompson's home and informed his
wife that he was missing. The trauma sent Alyce into labor and their son,
and fourth child was born that evening.

Thompson spent the next nine years as a prisoner of war, first in the hands
of the Viet Cong and he later was moved to the Hanoi prison system. During
his captivity, he was tortured and starved, and suffered the mental anguish
of being nearly totally alone for years. He was released in mid-March, 1973
in Operation Homecoming. He is the longest held American POW from the
Vietnam war.

The Thompson/Whitesides loss cameos the heartache and problems faced by the
men who returned from captivity and by the families of those still missing.
Thompson faced a failed marriage and alcoholism, and later a heart attack
and debilitating stroke. The years of deprivation and mental and physical
torture took their toll. To add insult to injury, few understand that he,
not Ed Alvarez, was the longest-held POW, and his name is virtually unknown
to Americans who honor the brave men who were captives in our name.

Richard Whitesides was definitely known to the enemy, according to U.S.
intelligence. His name, however, did not appear on the so-called
"discrepancy" list given the Vietnamese by Henry Kissinger. To this day, the
Vietnamese deny any knowledge of Whitesides. Although Thompson was told by
the North Vietnamese that Whitesides had been killed, he had learned the
hard way that his captors were not to be believed, and is uncertain of
Whitesides' fate.

Over 10,000 reports of Americans missing in Southeast Asia have been
received by the U.S. since the war ended. Many authorities who have examined
this information have concluded that hundreds are still alive, and this puts
a new perspective on the loss of Americans in Southeast Asia. Their families
must wait to see if the country he proudly served will ever bring them home.

Floyd J. Thompson remained in the Army and was promoted to the rank of
Lieutenant Colonel. Richard L. Whitesides, who was declared killed, remained
at the rank of Captain.