|Rank/Branch:||Sergeant First Class/US Army|
|Unit:||Troop B, 7th Squadron, 1st Air Cavalry, 1st Aviation Brigade|
|Date of Birth:||19 July 1934|
|Home of Record:||Northup, OH|
|Date of Loss:||27 February 1971|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
|Loss Coordinates:||162753N 1063121E (XD625208)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Killed/Body Not Recovered|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Ronald L. Babcock (missing)|
SYNOPSIS: The Hughes OH6A Cayuse was known by the troops by its nickname "Loach" - a derivative of "light observation helicopter." The armed OH6A was the primary scout helicopter used in Vietnam and usually carried a crew of two. The pilot controlled a mini-gun and a gunner/crew chief handled a "free 60" machine gun, among other weapons, which was attached to the aircraft by a strap. The Loach crews flew the most dangerous missions assigned to Army aviators because they flew low and usually slow enough to get a good look at the ground making them easy targets for the enemy.
It was no secret by this point in time that North Vietnamese Army units were openly operating in areas of Laos that were part of the notorious Ho Chi Minh Trail. This "highway" was frequently little more than a path cut through the jungle used by the enemy to move troops and supplies from North Vietnam, through neutral Laos, into South Vietnam. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and material from moving south into the acknowledged war zone.
Oscar Eight was the code name given to a sector of eastern Laos located in rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 25 miles northwest of the infamous A Shau Valley, Saravane Province, Laos. The area encompassed the junction of Highway 92, which was a primary north-south artery of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and Highway 922, which branched off and ran directly east where it crossed into South Vietnam at a strategic point near the northern edge of the A Shau Valley. Oscar Eight was also located at the southeastern end of a large and narrow jungle covered valley that had two primary roads running through it, one on each side of the valley. Highway 92 ran along the west side and Highway 919 along the east. A power line ran parallel to Highway 92 and sometimes crossed it. In addition to the roads and power line, the Hoi An River also flowed through the valley passing the road junction roughly 1 mile west of it.
More American aircraft were downed in the vicinity of the junction of Highways 92 and 922 than any other place in Laos. This was because burrowed deep in the hills of Oscar Eight and located just to the east of the road junction was North Vietnamese General Vo Bam's 559th Transportation Group's forward headquarters. Also contained within Oscar Eight was the Ho Chi Minh Trail's control center as well as the largest NVA storage facility outside of North Vietnam. Further, this region was defended by consecutive belts of small arms, automatic weapons and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) guns of all sizes that were not only stationed on the ground, but also mounted on platforms in the trees. All of these firing positions, including the AAA batteries, were expertly camouflaged.
On 8 February 1971, South Vietnamese President Thieu announced Lam Son 719, a large-scale offensive against enemy communications and supply lines in that part of Laos adjacent to the two northern provinces of South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The mission was to interdict the flow of supplies from North Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) would provide and command ground forces, while US forces would provide airlift and supporting fire.
Phase I, renamed Operation Dewey Canyon II, involved an armored attack by the US from Vandegrift Base Camp toward Khe Sanh, while the ARVN moved into position for the attack across the Laotian border. Phase II began with an ARVN helicopter assault and armored brigade thrust along Route 9 into Laos. ARVN ground troops were transported by American helicopters, as the US Air Force provided cover strikes around the landing zones.
On February 27, 1971, Lt. Ronald L. "Ron" Babcock, pilot; and SFC Fred Mooney, door-gunner/observer, comprised the crew of an OH6A in a flight of helicopters providing air support for the ARVN 1st Infantry Division during Lam Son 719. Operating as part of their squadron's "pink teams, " Lt. Babcock and SFC Mooney flew the low-level position in the scouting operation.
The Loach skimmed low over Highway 9210, a dirt road running generally northeast to southwest, through an area approximately 1 mile east of the road junction of Highway 919 and 9210 that was covered in trees and elephant grass. As they flew above the road looking for signs of enemy activity in the area, the helicopter was struck and crippled by NVA ground fire. Ron Babcock immediately made an emergency radio call stating that they were hit and going down.
The crew of the Command and Control aircraft watched, then followed the damaged Loach as it descended toward the ground and crash-landed on Highway 9210. Its aircrew then observed Fred Mooney and Ron Babcock jump from the Loach and run across a grassy clearing toward a nearby wooded area. As they approached the safety of the tree line, Lt. Babcock and SFC Mooney were cut down by North Vietnamese small arms or automatic weapons fire. Both men fell to the ground and lay motionless.
Through a hail of enemy fire, the C & C aircraft commander flew over the position of the downed helicopter and dropped to a ten-foot hover above the bodies. Before they were driven off by ground fire, the aircrew was able to obtain a decent look at the men lying prone in the elephant grass. The pilot radioed that from their appearance, he believed Lt. Babcock and SFC Mooney were probably dead. The location of loss was approximately 10 miles east of the Lao/Vietnamese border, 10 miles west of Ban Taling and 20 miles south-southeast of Muang Xepon, Savannakhet Province, Laos.
Over the next several days, search and rescue/recovery (SAR) personnel and other aircrews operating in that sector, flew over the crash site. They observed the bodies of Ron Babcock and Fred Mooney lying out in the open where they fell. They were also keenly aware that NVA troops were operating in the area and believed the enemy was using the bodies of the downed aircrew as bait to lure other aircraft attempting to recover them into a trap. At the time of loss, Ron Babcock and Fred Mooney were initially listed Missing In Action. That status was changed in less than a year to Killed/Body Not Recovered.
Fred Mooney was the scout platoon sergeant. A man in his forties, SFC Mooney was not required to fly, but he volunteered to do so to show the young troopers that old lifers could be as tough as they were. His tour was to be completed in May and his plans were to return to Killeen, Texas and continue his life with his wife and four children.
Ron Babcock graduated from college with a degree in forestry. Like his gunner/observer, 1st Lt. Babcock was anxious to return to his home Arizona to begin his new career in that field after completion of his service to his country.
Ronald Babcock and Fred Mooney are among the nearly 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 Prisoners of War, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords that ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.
There is little doubt that Ron Babcock and Fred Mooney died of wounds they received while fleeing their downed helicopter. And if, in fact, they died of those wounds, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friend and country. Either alive or dead, there is no doubt the Vietnamese have the answers and could return them or their remains any time they had the desire to do so. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different.
Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam and Laos 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.