Name: Joe Palmer Pederson p096p
Rank/Branch: First Sergeant/US Army
Unit: 595th Signal Company, 36th Signal Battalion,
2nd Signal Group, 1st Signal Brigade
Dian, South Vietnam

Date of Birth: 12 July 1935 (Manatt, WA)
Home of Record: Seaside, CA
Date of Loss: 23 June 1970
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 110933N 1063858E (XT801340)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: 2 -ton Truck
Other Personnel In Incident: James M. Rozo and Robert P. Phillips (missing)


SYNOPSIS: On the afternoon of 22 June 1970, then SFC Joe P. Pederson, 1st Lt. Jerome B. Titus and 1st Sgt. Charles Wilder discussed the fact that a supply run was necessary to update clothing records, retrieve excess equipment, adjust hand receipts and inventory the weapons of two outlying subunits of the 595th Signal Company stationed at the Lai Khe and Phuoc Vinh Signal Sites, Binh Doung Province, South Vietnam. SFC Pederson said he planned to take SP4 Rozo and Pvt. Phillips with him and they may stay overnight at Phuoc Vinh depending on how long it took to complete their mission. 1st Sgt. Wilder concurred with SFC Pederson's plans.

At approximately 0830 hours on 23 June 1970, SFC Joe P. Pederson, supply sergeant; SP4 James M. "Jimmy" Rozo, armorer; and Pvt. Robert P. "Bob" Phillips, driver; departed Dian for Lai Khe in a GMC 2 -ton truck, vehicle #14 (serial #04063369). In preparation for the mission, SFC Pederson, SP4 Rozo and Pvt. Phillips checked out their M-16 rifles. In addition to being armed with an M-16, SFC Pederson carried a .45 caliber pistol. The supply party arrived in Lai Khe Signal Site at approximately 1000 hours to update the Red Platoon's hand receipts for equipment and clothing.

Before leaving the town of Lai Khe, SFC Pederson told SSgt. Pickell that he and his party were going to Phuoc Vinh before returning to Dian. Upon learning of the supply sergeant's destination, he told Joe Pederson that they would have to "go down to the new Phuoc Vinh road since the cutoff to Ben Cat - Provincial Highway 7B (TL 7B) - was closed to traffic reportedly because it had been mined and booby trapped and might even have ambushes set up on it." Sgt. Townsend who was in the room at the time, confirmed that information and added that Red Platoon had received notification of the cutoff closure in April 1970.

Joe Pederson joined Jimmy Rozo and Bob Phillips who were loading a damaged field safe, 2 reels of coax cable, 1 AT-903 antenna, 1 cross "T" frame and 1 mounting bracket into the truck. As they finished loading the equipment, SP4 Vaughn was talking with SFC Pederson. When Joe Pederson stated they were going to Phuoc Vinh, SP4 Vaughn once again informed SFC Pederson that the road was closed. SFC Pederson and his party departed Lai Khe at approximately 1100 hours. In spite of the repeated warnings, the supply party took the cutoff to Ben Cat.

At 1815 hours, 1st Lt. Titus received a telephone call from CW2 Donald Murphy, the Platoon Leader of the 595th Signal Company stationed at the Phuoc Vinh Signal Site, stating that at 1530 hours, truck #14 had been discovered by members of Mobile Assistance Team (MATS) 3-3, a joint American and ARVN unit based at Lam Son and operating in the area of TL 7B. The vehicle showed no signs of having sustained any serious damage.

According to CW2 Murphy, the truck was found in a ditch along the road with its engine running. The only damage to the truck appeared to be both windshields shattered by gunfire and a blown left front tire. The following day, the company commander and other members of the 595th Signal Company inspected truck #14. They found 12 small caliber bullet holes in the vehicle, several small holes in its canvas top and some small metal objects in the cab. Assorted signal equipment and supply records were also found along with roughly 16 spent M-16 shell casings. While the truck, records and equipment were found, there was no sign of Joe Pederson, Jimmy Rozo or Bob Phillips in the area.

The TL 7B was a well-used dirt road connecting Lai Khe and Phuoc Vinh that ran through the Michelin Rubber Plantation, rice fields and small hamlets that dotted the region. The ambush site was near the village of Chanh Loo, approximately 2 miles south-southeast of Lai Khe, 3 miles east of Ben Cat, 11 miles southwest of Phuoc Vinh, 22 miles due north of Saigon, 32 miles east-northeast of the closest point on South Vietnamese Cambodian border and 32 miles east-southeast of Tay Ninh, Binh Doung Province, South Vietnam.

A search party from Lai Khe's MACV Advisory Team 70 was inserted into the area of loss at first light the next morning. The team searched the area directly around the abandoned truck, and then expanded its search to the rubber plantation that was located on both sides of TL 7B. They found the body of a Viet Cong (VC) soldier who had been killed by a shell from Joe Pederson's pistol and three jammed M-16 rifles approximately 150 feet northwest of the road. Team members questioned local villagers regarding the incident, but all queries proved negative. Later a comparison of the rifles' serial numbers confirmed they were the ones signed out to SFC Pederson, SP4 Rozo and Pvt. Phillips prior to their departure.

On 25 and 26 June 1970, elements of the Air Cavalry Troop conducted aerial search and rescue (SAR) operations with negative results. On 26 June the 7th Regiment conducted a battalion size sweep through the area. They also interviewed local residents about the incident and the missing Americans, but their efforts also were unsuccessful in discovering the whereabouts of the three soldiers. Based on the evidence recovered at the ambush site, US intelligence concluded that SFC Pederson, SP4 Rozo and Pvt. Phillips had been ambushed; that the three men put up a brief struggle that resulted in the death of one enemy soldier before the Americans were captured. However, because there was no conclusive proof of capture, at the time the formal search operation was terminated; Joe Pederson, Jimmy Rozo and Robert Phillips were reported as Missing in Action.

On 16 September 1970, Tranh Van Thanh, a VC rallier, informed US counterintelligence personnel about an ambush he had taken part in that resulted in the capture of three Americans in June 1970. According to Tranh Van Thanh's debriefing statement, "The US vehicle had been traveling along TL 7B when he and 3 other VC attacked. After a short battle during which the VC shot out the front tires and shot several rounds into the vehicle, the US personnel surrendered." He added, "One of the captured individuals was a big, heavy NCO. After capture, the NCO became ill and refused to eat. Shortly after capture, the NCO died and was buried by the VC in the vicinity of XT934307." Intelligence personnel concluded the description of the American who died and was buried by the VC most closely matched that of Joe Pederson.

When questioned about the fate of the other two soldiers, Tranh Van Thanh said they initially were taken to the Sub-Region 5 Headquarters for interrogation. Shortly thereafter, other VC took both prisoners away in the direction of Cambodia. The rallier led US forces to the area in which the captives had been originally held. He was unable to locate the exact position of the grave due to recent tracked vehicle traffic and the use of plows in that sector. The location of the burial site was approximately 1 miles southeast of the ambush site.

In South Vietnam some of the prison camps were actually way stations the VC used for various reasons, others were regular POW camps. Regardless of size and function, conditions in them frequently included the prisoners' being tied at night to their bamboo bunks anchored by rope to a post in their small bamboo shelters. In others they were held in bamboo cages, commonly known as tiger cages. In yet other camps the dense jungle itself provided the bars to their cage. There was rarely enough food and water to sustain them, and as a result, the POWs suffered a wide variety of illnesses in addition to their injuries and wounds.

In November 1971, a captured VC soldier told interrogators he had seen two POWs being evacuated from South Vietnam into Cambodia. His description of the men fit Robert Phillips and Jimmy Rozo. The VC prisoner described the American POWs as being tired, but healthy. On 10 December 1971, based upon this additional confirming information, the US Army upgraded the status of Pvt. Phillips and SP4 Rozo to Prisoner of War. The status of SFC Pederson remained unchanged.

As a result of filing a Freedom of Information Act request, Jimmy Rozo's parents were given a recently declassified intelligence report in October 1985. That report documented that in 1972 their son and Bob Phillips escaped from the VC-run prison camp in which they were being held. The report indicated PFC Phillips was eventually recaptured and killed, but that SP4 Rozo remained free. At the time the classified report was written, SP4 Rozo's fate was unknown.

In April 1991 the US government released a list of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action who were known to be alive in enemy hands and for whom there is no evidence that he or she died in captivity. This list, commonly referred to today as the USG's "Last Known Alive" list, included Joe Pederson, Jimmy Rozo and Bob Phillips.

On 27 January 1973, the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG), better known as the Viet Cong, released a list containing the names of American POWs whom they reported died in captivity while under their control. The PRG list did not include Joe Pederson, Jimmy Rozo or Bob Phillips nullifying the VCs claims that SFC Pederson died and was buried by them.

There is no question that Joe Pederson, Jimmy Rozo and Bob Phillips were captured. If they died in captivity as some of the intelligence report suggest, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if the men survived as prisoners of the VC, their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is no question the communists know what happened to each man and could return him or his remains any time they had the desire to do so.

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 Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Military personnel in Vietnam were called upon to operate 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.

Bob Phillips had recently arrived in Vietnam when he was assigned to the supply run to Lai Khe and Phuoc Vinh Signal Sites.