APPELHANS, RICHARD DUANE "DICK"

Name:  Richard Duane "Dick" Appelhans
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant Colonel/US Air Force
Unit:  12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron 
Tan Son Nhut Airbase, South Vietnam

Date of Birth: 29 October 1937
Home of Record: Dodson, MT
Date of Loss: 16 October 1967 
Country of Loss:  Laos
Loss Coordinates:  160600N 1072300E (XC961808)
Click coordinates to view (4)  maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:  RF4C "Phantom II"
Other Personnel in Incident: George W. Clarke (captured) 

REMARKS:  NEGATIVE SAR CONTACT

SYNOPSIS:  The McDonnell F4 Phantom used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings served a multitude of functions including fighter/bomber, interceptor, photo/electronic surveillance, and reconnaissance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2) and had a long range, 900 - 2300 miles depending on stores and mission type. The F4 was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes. It was selected for a number of state-of-the-art electronics conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.

The RF4 version of the Phantom II is a reconnaissance aircraft outfitted for photographic and electronic reconnaissance missions. Other RF4s were equipped with infrared and side-looking radar which helped advance the technology of reconnaissance during the war. They were also used to fly target detection and bomb damage assessment missions throughout Southeast Asia.

On 16 October 1967, then Capt. Richard D. Appelhans, pilot, and Capt. George W. Clarke, navigator; comprised the crew of an RF4C that was assigned to a night reconnaissance mission. Their target area was over rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 85 miles due west of DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam; 24 miles west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border, 13 miles east-southeast of Ban Ralao and 24 miles east-southeast of Ban Pray, Salavan Province, Laos.

This area of eastern Laos was considered a major artery in the infamous "Ho Chi Minh Trail." When North Vietnam began to increase their military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. The border road was used for transporting weapons, supplies and troops. Hundreds of American pilots were shot down along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the passes through the border mountains between Laos and Vietnam. Many were alive on the ground and in radio contact with search and rescue and other planes; some were known to have been captured.

When radio and radar contact with the reconnaissance aircraft at 0345 hours, an aerial search and rescue (SAR) operation was immediately initiated over the rugged jungle-covered mountains where the aircraft disappeared. During the search, no parachutes were seen, no wreckage found and emergency beepers heard. At the time the formal search operation was terminated, both Dick Appelhans and George Clarke were listed as Missing in Action.

During the war several reports were received by US intelligence documenting the fact that George Clarke was captured by the NVA who were in control of this region of Laos, and that he was probably moved into the North Vietnamese prison system. Because of the quantity and quality of these reports, his status was upgraded from Missing in Action to Prisoner of War. Further, when American POWs were released in early 1973, several of the returnees reported that they had seen George Clarke as a prisoner of the communists, and all stated that the last time they saw him, he was alive and in reasonable health. Unfortunately, none of the returned POWs were able to provide information about the fate of Capt. Appelhans.

Dick Appelhans and George Clarke are among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known alive on the ground. The Lao admitted holding "tens of tens" of American prisoners of War, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiate between our countries or the Paris Peace Accords since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American prisoners of War remaining in captivity throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly under many dangerous circumstances, and were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.