Last Known Activity|
On 3 April 1969, US Army 1Lt. Arthur Ecklund, pilot; and Air Force intelligence officer then Capt. Perry Jefferson, observer; comprised the crew of an O1G (serial #51-12078), call sign Seahorse 78, on a visual reconnaissance mission. This was no ordinary aircrew. Artie Ecklund was an experienced pilot in both helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft and Perry Jefferson was a highly skilled intelligence officer who was wrapping up his tour of duty in Vietnam. This flight was to be his final local air reconnaissance mission before rotating back to the United States.
They departed Phan Rang Airbase at 0655 hours in their Bird Dog and the last radio contact with the crew was at 0738 hours. At that time, 1Lt. Ecklund reported they were flying over the populated and forested mountains approximately 30 miles southwest of Cam Ranh Bay Airbase, 8 miles north of Phan Rang Airbase, and 19 miles west of the coastline, Ninh Thuan Province, South Vietnam.ï¿½ Further, he reported information pertaining to an enemy convoy they spotted along with their intent to investigate it more thoroughly. No undue concern was felt when the crew of Seahorse 78 failed to make their scheduled radio check at 0808 hours. However, a few minutes later the command center attempted to make contact without success.
By 0950 hours, an extensive search and rescue (SAR) effort was initiated utilizing all available aircraft. These air operations continued for nine days over the area of loss. Because it was heavily occupied by Viet Cong (VC) forces, no ground search was possible. During this time, one faint emergency beeper signal was heard for several seconds, but because it was heard for such a short time, it could not be homed in on. Likewise, because of the low speed and excellent gliding capability of the Bird Dog, both the US Army and Air Force believed its crew had a very good chance of survival. At the time formal SAR efforts were terminated, both Artie Ecklund and Perry Jefferson were listed Missing in Action.
Within two weeks of loss, on 15 April 1969, agent intelligence reports stating that the VC shot down an aircraft with two Americans in it between Phan Rang and Cam Ranh City. The reports also provided information indicating both men had been wounded, but were alive and being held captive by the VC at a secret base near the area of loss.
A later report indicated that two men fitting the descriptions of Artie Ecklund and Perry Jefferson were seen on a trail where VC soldiers were guarding them.ï¿½ It went on to state that the Americans appeared to be in good health.ï¿½ This report was of great interest to both men?s units since no other Americans were lost in that region during this time frame.ï¿½ Based this timely and detailed intelligence, the commander of the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing requested the US Army and Republic of Korea combat troops stationed in this region to attempt to rescue the American POWs. Two separate rescue attempts were initiated by ground units, one on 17 April and the second on 18 April, but both were unsuccessful. In spite of the overwhelming weight of the evidence that both crewmen of Seahorse 78 were actually captured by VC forces, 1st Lt. Ecklund and Capt. Perry's status was never upgraded by their respective branch of service.
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.ï¿½ 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 Apr 3, 2008, Maj Jefferson was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery with full Military Honors. In attendance were over 100 members of the Colorado Air National Guard who were laying to rest the last member of their unit lost in Vietnam. All are now accounted for. Maj. Jeffersons remains were turned over to authorities in 2007 from a Vietnamese National living in California who said the remains were brought to the US from Vietnam by his mother when she immigrated in 2001. The Major is now home!