Richard Allan Fitts
Remains Identified - 1990
|SYNOPSIS: SSgt. Richard A. Fitts was born on February 23, 1946 in Weymouth, Mass.
He entered the Army in January,1966. In Vietnam, Fitts was part of Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG) which was a joint service high command unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel
into MACV-SOG (though it was not a Special Forces group) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA) which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-
SOG. These teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance
and interdiction missions in Laos and Cambodia which were called, depending on the country and time frame, "Shining Brass" or "Prairie Fire" missions.
On November 30, 1968, Sgt. Richard A. Fitts, Sgt. Arthur E. Bader, Cpl. Gary R.
LaBohn, SSgt. Klaus D. Scholz, Maj. Samuel K. Toomey, Cpl. Michael H. Mein, 1Lt.
Raymond C. Stacks were passengers aboard a Vietnamese Air Force CH34 helicopter
(serial #14-4653) as their team was being transported to their reconnaissance mission
area in Laos. Details of their mission was classified at that time, and remains classified
The helicopter was flying at 4,000 feet when it was struck by 37mm anti-aircraft fire,went into a spin, crashed in a mass of flames and exploded. The helicopter crashed about 10 miles northwest of Khe Sanh, just into Laos east of Tchepone. The crash site is in heavy jungle, near a stream. From the time the aircraft was hit until the time it impacted out of view, the helicopter was under observation and no one was seen to leave the aircraft during its descent. No ground search was initiated because the location was in a denied area. Later visual search indicated that the pilot's hatch was open, and his helmet was seen 25-30 feet from the helicopter, but no survivors or bodies were seen. All the personnel aboard the aircraft, however, were not declared dead, but were declared Missing in Action, which was procedure when no proof of death existed.
When the war ended, and 591 Americans were releaesed from prison camps in Southeast Asia, not one man who had been held in Laos was released. Although the Pathet Lao stated publicly that they held "tens of tens" of Americans, no negotiations occurred which would free them at that time, nor have any occurred since.
In March 1988, the area in which the helicopter crashed was excavated by a joint Lao/
On January 3, 1990, it was announced that the remains of Richard Fitts had been
positively identified from the material recovered at the crash site. That identification
Barely a month later, on February 8, 1990, the Department of Defense announced that the remainder of the crew had been positively identified and would be buried, along with the Vietnamese crew, in a mass grave in Arlington National Cemetery. Fitts' name was included on that tombstone along with the other Americans because the Pentagon believed some of the bone fragments belonged to Fitts. Thus, even though the remains were scientifically unidentifiable, the cases were closed on these individuals.
Critics of the U.S. Government's identification of the entire crew of the helicopter point to a similar incident some years ago. In 1968, unidentifiable remains attributed to a group of U.S. Marines killed near Khe Sanh on February 25, 1968 were buried in a mass grave in St. Louis. One of the deceased was identified as being Marine Sgt. Ronald Ridgeway.
Five years later, Ridgeway was released from a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, giving rise to considerable speculation as to the validity of the positive identification of the other remains buried in St. Louis.
There are still over 2300 Americans who remain prisoner, missing, or otherwise unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. Nearly 600 of them were lost in Laos. The U.S. Government, by early 1990, had received nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing in Southeast Aisa. Many authorities believe there are hundreds of Americans still alive today, held captive.
In recent years, the numbers of remains returned from Vietnam and excavated in Laos has increased dramatically. Government strategists happily point to this as "progress" on the POW/MIA issue, although most of these remains are still unidentified. Indeed, many families, having had independent studies of the remains to assure accurate identi- fication, now have answers to long-awaited concerns about their loved ones. However, when remains are positively identified, the U.S. Government closes the books and the search for that missing man ends. Can we afford to close the books on an American who may be alive waiting for his country to bring him home?
How many will serve in the next war knowing they may be abandoned?