Tragedy in Laos (III)

Research conducted on Corporal Bruce Edward Kane declared Missing in Action on August 9, 1969
By John Heeg

Lively’s report included 11 statements from individuals that were involved in the incident. None of the 8 Army pilots involved were interviewed. According to Captain Brokovich who was at the time commanding four AH-1G Cobras, if Kane did jump none of the pilots of the 8 Army Cobra helicopters saw him jump. Brokovich concluded that Kane would have been jumping from the helicopter when it was at 75 feet in the air. His impact with the water along with the debris of the helicopter would have certainly lead to fatal injuries.

At the time that Major Lively was conducting his investigation he did not make a trip to Camp Eagle where Captain Brokovich was staying in between missions. Brokovich was not aware that an investigation was being conducted and was never contacted. His analysis and conclusions of the incident could have had a significant impact on the investigation. After reviewing Lively’s report Captain Brokovich had some conclusions that challenge statements and conclusions made in the report such as:

  • Major Hill’s helicopter may have been 3500 feet above sea level however; if he were 3500 above the ridge line he would have avoided small arms fire. Captain Brokovich flew over the same ridgeline as Hill at less than 100 feet when his aircraft received fire.
  • Hill’s statement about preparing the landing zone he had selected may not have been necessary. With four Army Cobras present carrying a total of 272 rockets and with 28 between the Marine aircraft they could have prepped the landing zone easier given the gravity of the situation.

In regards to Major Billy H. Adams statement Captain Brokovich added:

  • It was the mission of the Army Cobras to provide cover for the transport helicopter extracting the recon team. Adams’s stated that it was part of his mission.
  • A VNAF CH-34 picked up Major Hill and Lance Corporal Dean. When the crew picked up Hill and Dean they did not see any other persons in the water. They hovered downstream searching for more before going back to the crash site.
  • After Hill and Dean were picked up, and Dai Uy Ahn returned to the crash site, they departed the area. The ground fire was heavy, and no other helicopter went down to continue the search.

Captain Brokovich thoughts on Lt. Janousek probably not being able to do anything due to the fact that he was probably unconscious was consistent with the medical statement made by Lt. George E. Wettach:

Lt. Janousek was rendered either unconscious or dead at the time of the first fire flash explosion. The normal reflex during the panic of fire is to take a deep breath and attempt to escape a fire. All animals, including man are afraid of fire and being burned. A deep breath taken at the time of the described flash would obviously sear the mouth, throat, and lungs, burning delicate lung tissue and causing a relative vaccuum which would cause the immediate collapse of both lungs or heavy tracheal secretions which would surely cause rapid suffocation. No man sits, burning, in a seat of fire unless he is unconscious. The normal response is to escape heat and burning in any way possible, including rational movements or frank panic–neither of which Lt. Janousek was noted to have attempted.

Major Lively’s recommendations in his August 27, 1969 investigation is that both First Lieutenant Janousek and Corporal Bruce E. Kane be declared dead.

On September 15, 1969, Bruce Kane’s mother received a letter from Marine Light Helicopter Squadron 367 informing her that Bruce’s status had been changed from missing in action to killed in action. Lieutenant Colonel Bobby R. Wilkinson indicated in his letter that Bruce was lost in the dark murky waters of the river. Before Wilkinson closes his letter he informs her that a memorial service would be conducted on the 19th of that month for Bruce by Father W.J. Klapps at the Prince of Peace Chapel, Phu Bai, Republic of Vietnam.

On August 2, 1991, the United States Senate approved a resolution introduced by Sen. Robert Smith providing for the creation of a Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs to serve during the remainder of the 102nd Congress. In October, 1991, a Chairman (Sen. John Kerry), Vice-chairman (Sen. Robert Smith), and ten additional Members were appointed to the Committee. A resolution providing funding was approved. The hearings began on November 5, 1991. The Committee’s Final Report was issued on January 13, 1993. The Committee was to investigate events, policies, and knowledge that guided U.S. Government POW/MIA-related actions over the previous 20 years and to do so in order to determine whether there was evidence to support that whether there were troops still in captivity. Twenty-three years after Kane’s family had been notified that he was killed in action they were notified of some changes.

According to a story written on Kane in 1994 in the Bagor Daily News about the status of Kane, the Department of Defense denied that it had changed the casualty status of Kane. According to Beverly Baker a spokeswoman of the Pentagon Cpl. Bruce Edward Kane’s name was included on a “discrepancy list” of war casualties about whom more information is being sought. A discrepancy list is one about which the U.S. government has convincing evidence that the Governments of Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia should have specific knowledge. The three subcategories of discrepancy cases are: listed POW at homecoming, last known alive, and other discrepancy cases in which an Indochinese Government should have knowledge of the incident. The discrepancy list mentioned in the article included casualties whose remains have not been recovered. The list that Kane appeared on was included with casualties in Laos and Cambodia. Bob Jones of Meredith, New Hampshire, chairman of the Northeast MIA-POW Network, said the initial casualty report may have substituted Vietnam for Laos to conceal the presence of U.S. combat operations in that country

Kane’s mother Joan Dunham stated that it was not the first time that her son’s status had been changed. In 1992, the Navy notified her that her son was killed in Laos, not South Vietnam, as she initially was told. Days before the article was printed Ms. Dunham received a two-page letter advising her that Kane’s status had been changed from “killed in action” to “last known alive.”

The information given to Corporal Kane’s mother Joan Dunham was never complete. There are an assortment of reasons as to why an accurate conclusion could not be reached. When special operation units were operating in Laos they did not wear or use weapons that could be traced back to the United States, even the cigarretes they smoked had to be consistent with the brands smoked in that region. In instances when service members were captured in denied areas the United States had to ignore them. Pilots that flew missions in denied areas had to change locations in After Action Reports to show that they were not operating in denied areas. With those factors in mind it would be difficult for someone to believe how accurate accident investigations were.

Conducting an investigation on a helicopter accident in a combat zone would for obvious reasons be difficult to accomplish. In many instances investigators were officers assigned from the unit to conduct an investigation on a helicopter accident. At that time there was no specialized training that investigators received on how to conduct an investigation. Efforts were made to make sure that the officer conducting the investigation on a helicopter crash was the same rank or higher as the pilot. A young Lt. tasked with investigating a Major might become intimidated by conducting an investigation on a Major which could possibly lead to a conclusion that is inaccurate. Then there is submitting that investigation report when it is concluded. Were reports altered? Would an officer write the report in a manner that would protect a fellow officer? When the investigation was complete the investigator completing the investigation satisfied their units requirements in conducting an investigation. If a service member’s body was not recovered that does not mean a family would be satisfied.

The Joint Prisoner of War/Missing In Action Accounting Command or JPAC lead the organized effort to find the remains of missing troops. The unit is military in nature however; its mission is humanitarian. With there success there has been some shortcomings and criticisms of JPAC such as a 2013 report from the Associated Press stating that too much time was spent on each investigation with too few results, and that it is encumbered by a glacial bureaucracy that inflates its own results. The Associated Press review described JPAC missions as “military tourism”. During his research for his book Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II, Wil S. Hylton saw how the effect that the agencies bureaucracy had on families of the missing. It can take years for commanders to reveal what their field teams have found on a wreck site. Even the most obvious discovery, like a dog tag, is often kept under wraps until every piece of evidence has been collected, processed and analyzed, including DNA sampling. And while labs are analyzing data and investigators look over their findings the families wait.

Three years after Kane’s family was notified about the discrepancy his 13 year old niece Erica Olsen wrote an essay for an English class about how her family mourns and wonders what happened to him on that August day. Kane’s mother Joan made attempts to find answers but was cautioned by the government not to discuss Bruce’s situation with anyone. She was told that if Bruce was still alive, her comments or contacts could reach the enemy and Bruce could pay with his life. Mrs. Dunham was fortunate to get support in her new home state of Maine from a VFW post and a POW/MIA network.

Through Joan’s support network she was able to find a friend in Donald Amorosi. Kane was officially adopted by the Frank L. Mitchell VFW post 3335 in Jay, Maine. Amorosi described Kane’s mother as intelligent, patient, appreciative, and articulate, but fearful, confused, and afraid to reach out to those she didn’t know. Mrs. Dunham was exactly what decades of involvement with Gold Star Mothers has taught me to expect and love. Her quiet demeanor and strength were betrayed by her tears, and at each meeting, I reminded her that there were few things in life for me as precious as a Gold Star Mother’s hug.

In 2010, Joan Dunham took her last breath. From 1969 until her death the Gold Star mother lived her life without knowing what happened to her son.

Works Cited

“1969.” 1969. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Brokovich, Michael J. “A Few Good Med.” (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

“Corporal Bruce Edward Kane , USMC.” Corporal Bruce Edward Kane , USMC. N.p., 1998. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Davis, Ken, and Alan H. Barbour. “POPASMOKE KIA DATABASE.” POPASMOKE. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Hylton, Wil S. “Missing in Action, but Not Forever.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 11 July 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.

Leary, William M. “CIA Air Operations in Laos, 1955-1974.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 27 June 2008. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

“Military.” Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 (HMLA-367). N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

“Missing in Action…” Missing in Action. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Olson, Wyatt. “Http://” Stars and Stripes. N.p., 22 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.

PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

“Pentagon: Marine’s Status Not Changed Jay Woman’s Son Listed as `last Known Alive’.” BDN Maine Archive RSS. N.p., 16 Nov. 1994. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Vang, Mai Der. “Heirs of the ‘Secret War’ in Laos.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 May 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

“The Vietnam-Era Prisoner-of-War/Missing-in-Action Database.” United States Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs: Vietnam-Era POW/MIA Database. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

The following documents were consulted during the research and writing of this paper and were obtained from: POW/MIA Databases and Documents

Dear Mrs. Lind 8/1969

Dear Mrs. Lind 9/1969

Medical Statement of the demise of Lt. Janousek

Casualty Message for Bruce Kane

Reconciliation Country of Loss

Joint Task Force Full Accounting

Investigation to determine the disappearance of Kane and Janousek

About the author:

John has been a Social Studies Teacher in the Deer Park School District, NY for over 16 years. He received the Bright Light Award from Suffolk County Asset in 2015 for use of technology in the classroom. John served 8 years as a Hospital Corpsman with the Marine Corp and deployed with a Combat Engineer Battalion to Iraq in 2001-07. He is currently in the Air National Guard as an Aviation Resource Manager.
Follow him on Twitter: @dpmrheeg

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