|Name:||Leon Andrew Hunt|
Ubon Airfield, Thailand
|Date of Birth:||07 August 1949|
|Home of Record:||Pleasure Ridge Park, NY|
|Date of Loss:||18 June 1972|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view map
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Jacob Mercer; Richard Nyhof; Robert Wilson; Gerald F. Ayres; Larry J. Newman; Paul F. Gilbert; Stanley Lehrke; Robert Harrison; Donald H. Klinke; Richard M. Cole; Mark G. Danielson (all missing)|
SYNOPSIS: It was well known in the summer of 1972 that the war was drawing to a close, and that the North Vietnamese had offered huge bonuses to anti-aircraft gunners who could shoot down American aircraft and capture the crews alive. At that stage in the war our enemy knew the more they could capture, the better their chances at the negotiating table to secure peace on their terms. Everyone knew the prisoners were worth much more alive than dead to both sides.
On 18 June 1972, Capt. Paul F. Gilbert, pilot; Capt. Robert A. Wilson, co-pilot; Maj. Robert H. Harrison, navigator; Capt. Mark G. Danielson, electronic warfare officer; TSgt. Richard M. Cole, Jr., flight engineer; SSgt. Leon A. Hunt, aerial gunner; TSgt. Richard E. Nyhof, aerial gunner; TSgt. Larry J. Newman, aerial gunner; SMSgt. Jacob E. Mercer, aerial gunner; SSgt. Stanley L. Lehrke, aerial gunner; TSgt. Donald H. Klinke, crew member; Maj. Gerald F. Ayres, crew member; and three unidentified men who were rescued the next day, comprised the 15-man crew of an AC130A Spectre gunship on a night operational mission to attack elite NVA forces known to be in that area. At 2355 hours it was struck by intense hostile fire (possibly a missile), exploded in the air, and went down near the A Shau Valley, Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam. Multiple emergency beepers were immediately heard by other US forces, and according the debriefing statements given by the men who were rescued, a bailout order was given by Captain Gilbert, and at least one additional parachute was observed by them.
Interestingly, the first loss location given to the families of the missing men was in Laos, not South Vietnam. That location was quickly changed, many believe, because the war in Laos was considered to be "secret". The next of kin was never given an explanation for this abrupt change.
On 30 December 1972 - 6 months after the Spectre gunship was shot down - a photograph of an "unidentified" American POW appeared in Peking's Hsinahu News Agency publication. The family of Capt. Mark Danielson immediately identified it as Mark. Further, leading forensic specialists confirm that identification through scientific means.
Years after the incident, former National Security Agency analysts testified under oath to congressional committees that Capt. Danielson was tracked by name and rank electronically (intercepted enemy radio messages) for at least 48 hours after the shoot down as he was being moved from one location to another. It is not known if other crew members were also tracked in this same manner.
In early 1985, additional information pertaining to another crewman surfaced through resistance forces in Laos which indicated that SMSgt. Jacob Mercer had survived the crash and was being held prisoner. They provided the USG a photograph of a bearded Caucasian sitting on a log next to an asian who appeared to be guarding him.
In May 1994, the USG conducted a crash sight investigation of the AC130A. To no one's surprise they recovered approximately 300 bone chips and 5 teeth, and heralded this achievement as the successful recovery of all 12 unaccounted for crewmen. None of the bone chips could be identified as belonging to a specific crewmen. When the families (including mothers, sisters and daughters) first asked the mortician who processed the bone chips if DNA testing could be done on them to determine a positive identification, they were told it was not possible to do so because the DNA would have to be checked against the maternal line. When female family members offered their assistance for DNA testing, they were then told, no, it could not be done because it would destroy the bone chips and there would be nothing left to bury. These statements beg the question: If there aren't enough bone chips to test, how can you rationally pretend there is EVIDENCE of death for even one member of that crew let alone all twelve?
As for the teeth, the USG claims that one tooth is the back molar of Jacob Mercer, two teeth belong to Mark Danielson and two teeth belong to Gerald Ayres. The families believe that the identification of only one or two teeth is not ample or sufficient proof of death for their men.
Further, there is still the question of which country they were actually lost in. They well may be among the 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Laotians admitted holding "tens of tens" of American POWs, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiations between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords which ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.
Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 20,000 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 captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Aircrews in Vietnam were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they 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.
On 17 November 1994, a group burial of the co-mingled remains of the AC130A Spectre gunship crew was held at Arlington National Cemetery. While the USG considers all these men to be "remains returned", some of the families of this aircrew do not. They ask that Americans continue to wear their men's POW/MIA bracelets and help them fight for an honorable accounting of them.