ROBERTSON, JOHN HARTLEY

Name: John Hartley Robertson 
Rank/Branch: Master Sergeant/US Army 
Unit: Military Assistance Command, Vietnam 
Studies and Observation Group Command and Control North 
5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces 

Date of Birth: 25 October 1936
Home of Record: Birmingham, AL
Date of Loss: 20 May 1968 
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 160023N 1072353E (YC566710)
Click coordinates to view(4) maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH-34 "Seahorse"
Other Personnel In Incident: (None missing) 

REMARKS:  N INTERROG PO60 TOLD SUBJ DIED

SYNOPSIS:  One of the earliest helicopters employed in Southeast Asia, and the primary helicopter used during the early years of the war, was the Sikorsky UH34D Seahorse. This aircraft was already quite old when they arrived in the battle zone. However, both the US and South Vietnamese military found them to be extremely effective throughout the war.

Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG) was a joint service unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel into MACV-SOG through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA) which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. These teams performed highly classified, deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction that were called, depending on the location and time frame, "Shining Brass," "Salem House," "Daniel Boone" or "Prairie Fire" missions.

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 this sector than any other place in Laos. This was because burrowed deep in the hills of Oscar Eight was North Vietnamese General Vo Bam's 559th Transportation Group's forward headquarters. It was also the Ho Chi Minh Trail's control center and contained the largest NVA storage facility outside of North Vietnam. Oscar Eight was defended by consecutive belts of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) guns of all sizes that were not only stationed on the ground, but also mounted on platforms in the trees and were expertly camouflaged. In addition to the weaponry, the region contained bunkered infantry units strategically located throughout the area.

Then SFC John H. Robertson was assigned to MACV-SOG, Command and Control North (CCN) as an operations sergeant at Forward Operating Base (FOB) #1, Kontum, South Vietnam. On 20 May 1968, he was a passenger, and the only American, aboard a South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) UH-34 helicopter, call sign "Kingbee," that was conducting a resupply/medevac mission for a 130-man strong Hatchet Force comprised of South Vietnamese (ARVN) troops and their 14 US Special Forces advisors from FOB #4, DaNang, South Vietnam.

The Hatchet Force was conducting a reconnaissance in force mission approximately 15 miles inside Laos in the extreme southeastern portion of Oscar Eight in the early morning hours when it engaged an enemy force of unknown size in combat. During the ensuing battle, the US-led ground force sustained a number of dead and wounded including MSgt. Robert D. Plato, the only American killed in this action.

After breaking contact, the Hatchet Force moved in an easterly direction away from the battle site. The senior American advisor established radio contact with the Forward Air Control (FAC) requesting a resupply/medevac mission to bring in badly needed supplies and to evacuate their casualties. Due to the location of the friendly ground troops and the US need to maintain a degree of "plausible deniability" of not personally conducting ground operations in Laos, the resupply/medevac mission was assigned to the VNAF, which supported the majority of MAGV-SOG operations in Laos.

The designated landing zone (LZ) was located in a small clearing on northeast edge of the top of Hill 1095. It was also approximately ½ mile south of Routes 923 and 614, two primary roads used by communist forces infiltrating through this sector of Laos into South Vietnam, along with other trails and footpaths that laced through the jungle covered mountains that comprised this portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In addition, the clearing was 4 miles south of the Lao/South Vietnamese border, the same distance south of the southern end of the infamous A Shau Valley, 7 miles south of Be Loung, and 55 miles west of DaNang Airfield's runways, South Vietnam.

After reaching the LZ, the Hatchet Force secured the area and established their perimeter. As the morning wore on, the members of the allied force were aware that the NVA had surrounded their position. At this time weather conditions throughout the region were clear.

About midday the resupply/medevac flight arrived onsite. Kingbee lead established radio contact before making its approach to the LZ. As the Seahorse hovered over the small clearing, a single NVA soldier emptied his AK-47 automatic rifle into it. The Hatch Force's medic, SFC Steve Schofield, was located roughly 30 yards away from the enemy soldier and witnessed his shots striking the helicopter. In addition to the automatic weapons fire, a rocket struck it as it pulled up and away from the clearing toward the west. As the Hatchet Force watched in horror, the crippled Seahorse flared, tried to climbed for altitude and flew east a short distance before it caught fire, began to loose power and crashed into the tree-covered valley below. Upon impact, the Seahorse exploded and burst into flames. Due to the intense enemy activity, the Hatchet Force was unable to reach the wreckage or to see if anyone was able to escape the burning aircraft.

As soon as it was safe to do so, the Hatchet Force initiated contact with friendly forces notifying them that the Kingbee had been shot down and providing them with additional intelligence pertinent to the loss. An aerial search and rescue/recovery (SAR) operation employing several aircraft was immediately initiated the same day. Unfortunately it was terminated after encountering intense NVA ground fire coupled with the onset of darkness. No ground search operation was possible due to the crash site's location and the continuing enemy presence in the area. At the time the formal search effort was terminated, John Robertson was reported as Missing in Action.

For every operation like this one that was detected and stopped, dozens of others safely slipped past NVA lines to strike a wide range of targets and collect vital information. The number of MACV-SOG missions conducted with Special Forces reconnaissance teams into Laos and Cambodia was 452 in 1969. It was the most sustained American campaign of raiding, sabotage and intelligence-gathering waged on foreign soil in US military history. MACV-SOG's teams earned a global reputation as one of the most combat effective deep-penetration forces ever raised.

John Robertson is among 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.

If John Robertson died in the loss of the VNAF helicopter, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he was able to get out prior to it exploding, he most certainly could have been captured by the same communist force that shot it down and his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way, the Vietnamese know what happened and could provide answers, and could possibly return him or his remains, any time they had the desire to do so.

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 captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Military men in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly in 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.