William Francis Mullen
Missing In Action
|SYNOPSIS: The Ban Karai Pass was one of several passages through the mountainous
border of Vietnam and Laos. American aircraft flying from Thailand to missions over
North Vietnam flew through them regularly, and many aircraft were lost. The North
Vietnamese fiercely protected these supply channels. On the Laos side of the border
coursed the "Ho Chi Minh Trail", a series of roads heavily traveled by North
Vietnamese troops moving materiel and personnel to their destinations through the
relative safety of neutral Laos. The return ratio of men lost in and around the passes
is far lower than that of those men lost in more populous areas, even though both were
shot down by the same enemy and the same weapons. This is partly due to the extremely
rugged terrain and resulting difficulty in recovery.
It is also partly due to the fact that the U.S. never negotiated the freedom of Americans
held by the Lao.
Capt. William F. Mullen was a Marine A4 pilot. He flew, the Douglas Aircraft A4
Skyhawk, a lightweight attack and ground support aircraft. The design emphasized
low-speed control and stability during take-off and landing as well as strength enough for
catapult launch and carrier landings. The plane was compact, but in spite of its diminutive
size, packed a devastating punch and performed well where speed and maneuverability
On April 29, 1966, Capt. Mullen was sent on a combat mission near the Ban Karai
Pass in Laos. When the time arrived that he should have returned, and he had not,
the Marines began to try to find him. Bill Mullen was never found.
Barbara Mullen received a visit and a telegram from the Marine Corps telling her that
her husband had been shot down, but that "every effort" was being made to rescue him.
Barbara's experiences in trying to find information on her lost husband led to her later
book, "Every Effort."
Barbara spoke with notables from Eugene McCarthy, John Kerry, George McGovern
to Henry Kissinger and Ross Perot. She found interesting information. Capt. Mullen
was identified by other pilots as having been captured. She learned from an Australian
freelance photographer who had been held for twenty-nine days by Pathet Lao guerrillas
that some 200 Americans were being held in Laos. The guerrillas told him that there was
an underground bakery in Sam Neua which made bread especially for the American
prisoners, who were not used to a rice diet. The underground complex at Sam Neua was
used because of intense U.S. bombing.
During the war years, the Pathet Lao stated publicly that they held "tens of tens" of
American prisoners. Yet, when peace agreements were signed in Paris ending American
involvement in the war in Vietnam, the families of the men lost in Laos were horrified to
learn that Kissinger had not included Laos in the peace agreements.
The years passed, and Barbara, with two children to raise, finally remarried and began
a new life. Bill Mullen will forever be a part of her family. Her book was written to tell
others of the heartbreak she endured as the wife of a missing serviceman.
Today, Barbara and her family do not know if Bill Mullen survived, or if he was captured.
But they have watched as over 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing in Southeast
Asia have poured into the U.S. Government's intelligence community. They believe that Americans are still alive in Southeast Asia -- and they believe that the abandonment of
these men is one of our nation's greatest shames.