SYNOPSIS: On February 5, 1973, about a week after the signing of the Paris
Peace Agreement, an EC47Q aircraft was shot down over Saravane Province, Laos,
about 50 miles east of the city of Saravane. The crew of the aircraft consisted
of the pilot, Capt. George R. Spitz; Capt. Arthur R. Bollinger, 2Lt. Severo J.
Primm III, 1Lt. Robert E. Bernhardt, Sgt. Dale Brandenburg, Sgt. Peter R.
Cressman, Sgt. Joseph A. Matejov, SSgt. Todd M. Melton, all listed as crew
members. The families of all aboard the aircraft were told the men were dead,
and advised to conduct memorial services.
It is known that the four enlisted men were members of Detachment 3, 6994th
Security Squadron from Ubon, Thailand. The aircraft, however, was flying out of
the 361st TEW Squadron (Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron) at Nakhon Phanom
Airbase, Thailand. It is not known which, if any, of the officers aboard were
assigned to the 6994th at Ubon, and which, besides Spitz, were assigned to the
361st at NKP.
The men in the 6994th were highly trained and operated in the greatest of
secrecy. They were not allowed to mingle with others from their respective
bases, nor were the pilots of the aircraft carrying them on their missions
always told what their objective was. They were cryptology experts, language
experts, and knew well how to operate some of the Air Force's most
sophisticated equipment. They were the first to hear the enemy's battle plans.
Over five years later, Joe Matejov's mother, Mary Matejov, heard columnist Jack
Anderson, on "Good Morning America", describe a Pathet Lao radio communique
which described the capture of four "air pirates" on the same day as the EC47Q
carrying her son was shot down. NO OTHER PLANE WAS MISSING THAT DAY. Anderson's
information indicated that reconnaissance personnel had 40 uninterrupted
minutes in which to survey the crash site.
The report of the reconnaissance team, which was not provided to the families
for over five years, showed that three bodies, which were thought to have been
higher ranking officers because of the seating arrangement, were found strapped
in seats. Four of the men aboard the aircraft were not in or around the
aircraft, and the partial remains of the eighth man was recovered. No
identification was brought out from the crash site, and no attempt was made to
recover the three bodies from the downed aircraft. It is assumed that the
reconnaissance team was most interested in recovering the sensitive equipment
aboard the EC47Q. The EC47Q became known as the "Flying Pueblo". Most of the
"kids" in back, as some pilots called them, were young, in good health, and
stood every chance of surviving captivity.
There were specific reports intercepted regarding the four missing men from the
aircraft missing on February 5, 1973. Radio reports indicated that the four
were transported to the North Vietnam border. None were released in the general
POW release beginning the next month.
Peter Cressman enlisted in the United States Air Force in August, 1969 and
after two years at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska he volunteered for
service in Vietnam and left for Da Nang in June 1972.
In Da Nang, Peter spent his free hours at Sacred Heart Orphanage. His letters
to his hometown priest in Oakland, New Jersey, resulted in the forming of
"Operation Forget-Me-Not". Community schools, churches, merchants and citizens
joined the effort to help the innocent victims of war. The group eventually
provided a boxcar of supplies to the orphans.
Peter was transferred to the airbase at Ubon, Thailand. He was intensely
opposed to the secret missions being flown into Laos, and had written letters
to his congressman in that regard. His family has been active in efforts to
locate information on Peter and the nearly 2500 others who remain unaccounted
for. They founded the National Forget-Me-Not Association for POW/MIAs in
St.Petersburg, Florida, the largest POW advocacy group in the country.
Joseph Matejov enlisted in the Air Force in 1970 from his home state of New
York and went to Southeast Asia in April, 1972. Joe's father and two brothers
were career military. His sister graduated from West Point in 1981. Steven
Matejov died in 1984 not knowing what happened to his son. Joe's mother, Mary
says, "Joe may be alive. If so, this government has a legal and moral
responsibility to get him home. The next generation of servicemen should not
have to wonder if they will answer the call to defend their country only to be
abandoned. We must stop this tragedy now, and never allow it to happen again."
Thousands of reports received by the U.S. Government have convinced many
experts that hundreds of Americans remain captive in Southeast Asia. Members of
a crew flying a secret mission after a peace agreement had been signed would
likely be considered war criminals. If they are among those thought to be
alive, the survivors of the EC47Q have been held captive over 15 years. It's
time we brought our men home.