Left Behind in Laos – Missing Airman’s Remains recovered: Linked to an Ongoing POW Mystery.

Left Behind in Laos – Missing Airman’s Remains recovered: Linked to an Ongoing POW Mystery.

Above Photo: The result of defoliants and bombing on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos  (© smsdharp, flikr)

I was very interested to read news reports a while back that the remains of Air Force Colonel Francis Jay McGouldrick, who has been missing in action for 45 years, had finally been found in a remote jungle in Laos.

The circumstances of McGoldrick’s loss directly relate to an abiding POW mystery from the Vietnam War, involving another airman, Morgan Donohue, who was lost in the same incident, and who was the subject of persistent rumours that he, along with many other U.S. servicemen, were left behind in the jungles of Laos long after the war had ended.

How Donohue and McGoldrick were Lost over the Ho Chi Minh Trail

On December 13, 1968, Morgan Donohue was one of the crew of a C123K, a converted World War 2 glider that was on a nighttime operational mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.

C123K Glider

A C123K “Glider” (© warbirddepot.com)

Flying low, at 2000-3000 feet, the job of the seven man crew was to spot North Vietnamese truck convoys on the Trail and to light up targets for accompanying B57 bombers which were flying overhead. Donahue’s station was in the underbelly of the plane where, lying on his stomach, he directed an infrared detection device through an open hatch, onto targets on the Ho Chi Minh Trail below.

Part of the original Ban Karai Pass, showing the old stone surface of the Ho Chi Minh Trail (LaosGPSmap)

Part of the original Ban Karai Pass, showing the old stone surface of the Ho Chi Minh Trail (LaosGPSmap)

As the aircraft was flying about 30 miles southwest of the Ban Karai Pass in Laos, the glider was hit in mid-air by a B57 bomber that had been called in for an air strike. Major Francis J. McGouldrick was the co-pilot of the bomber.

B57 Bomber

A Vietnam-War B57 Bomber

The glider lost power, and the pilot, stunned by a blow to the head, lost consciousness.

Because of its glider configuration, the aircraft did not fall straight to the ground, but drifted in a spin which lasted several minutes. When the glider pilot (in the POW Network report of the loss, it says this pilot was “Name Unknown”!) regained consciousness, he parachuted out and landed in a treetop where he remained until he was rescued at dawn.

On the way down, he saw another chute below him, but, because of the darkness, he was unable to determine who the crew member was.

Intelligence reports after the incident indicated that Morgan Donahue had safely reached the ground near Tchepone (now called Sepon), but had suffered a broken leg.

Approximate location of Tchephone (now Sepon)

Approximate location of Tchephone (now Sepon) shown in red circle

What Happened to Morgan Donohue After He Landed?

A refugee who escaped captivity in Laos in 1974 reported having observed an American prisoner, believed to be Donohue, who was brought to caves near Tchepone, where he was held between 1968 and 1970. This American was later moved to another location unknown to the refugee.

Several reports referring to “Moe-gan” and others describing Donahue as the American called the “animal doctor” were received over the years, well after the war had ended.

In June and August, 1987, nineteen years after he was lost, the Donahue family were given intelligence reports tracking Morgan’s movements from a POW camp in Kham Kuet, Khammouane Province, Laos in the spring of 1987 to another camp in the Boualapha District of the same province in August 1987.

These reports were mere WEEKS old, yet the U.S. marked them “routine”. Yet, incredibly, one of them gave Morgan’s aircraft type and serial number, which turned out to be, instead of the serial number of the aircraft, Morgan’s father’s ZIP CODE.

Morgan Donohue

Morgan Donohue

Morgan’s family firmly believed this was a signal to them from Morgan, that he was alive and still in Laos, nineteen years after he was shot down, and fourteen years after the U.S. had pulled out of Vietnam and Laos.

Unfortunately, nothing was done, and what happened to Morgan may never be known. At the time of writing, his remains have not yet been recovered, along with the hundreds of other U.S. servicemen lost in and over the jungles of Laos during the Vietnam War.

Our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.

MIA button

See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. 

For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:

© Peter Alan Lloyd

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Front cover of BACK Part 1.

Front cover of BACK Part 1.

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Front cover of BACK Part 2.

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