That Time A U.S. Spy Plane Was Shot Down In A Secret War

C-47 Skytrain

The whole world knew about the war in Vietnam with all the media coverage and constant commentary coming from leaders in Washington. However, no one talked about what was going on in Laos.

“Secret War”

The conflict in Laos was kept tightly under wraps with few resources, even less oversight, and a lot of secrecy. The point was to interrupt the steady stream of men, supplies, and equipment using the Ho Chi Minh trail.

The people in charge of daily operations were volunteers who used the call sign Ravens to direct a compact group of combat controllers who were pretending to be civilians.

Everything was done in secret due to the Geneva Accords that the U.S. and North Vietnam had signed in 1962. However, North Vietnam was not keeping its end of the bargain, even though the U.S. was.

The U.S. became involved at the request of the Laotian Prime Minister. President Kennedy did not want to violate the agreement but wanted to help Laos simultaneously. So, he asked the Air Force to make a plan, which ended up involving the CIA to ensure secrecy.

Ambassador William Sullivan was initially in charge, followed by the next ambassador G. McMurtrie Godley, while Colonel Gus Sonnenburg worked the air operations beginning in 1963.

Butterfly Patrol

The Butterfly NCOs were given civilian identities while they were in Laos. They handled targeting instructions and trained Hmong and Thai pilots through Project Water Pump.

In 1966, the Butterfly program ended because the pilots were not jet fighter pilots. In 1967, the Ravens began Palace Dog/ Project 404. Pilots would train, then they could volunteer for assignments in Laos.

Mavericks, Ravens and Hmong pilots would fly from Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, Savannakhet, and Long Chieng. The missions were not easy, and many were treacherous.

Pilot Shot Down

C-57 Skytrains were used by Americans to find the frequencies used by Soviet pilots and trace it back to their bases. One took off from Vientiane with a crew of eight.

The team was going north, but were soon hit by artillery fire, killing seven. One soldier survived, Army Major Lawrence R. Bailey. Bailey was a prisoner of war for 17 months.

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