Entire Recon Team MIA after Da Nang Jump?
As I Remember
In 1967 I was a Marine 2nd Lt. assigned duties as 11th Marines
Target Information Officer and I stood watch in the Fire Support
Coordination Center (FSCC) at 1st Martine Division Headquarters
in Da Nang. We were headquartered in a large underground bunker
which housed the FSCC, COC and DASC. FSCC coordinated all
division artillery and naval gunfire, COC was Division Command
and DASC coordinated all air traffic. First Recon headquarters
was literally across the road. I had served 10 months in the
field as and artillery forward observer and unit commander
before assignment to the FSCC in about July, 1967. As a forward
observer with 3/5 I had observed numerous recon teams taken
to the field in helicopters. It looked to me like the pretty
standard method of dropping off a recon team involved the
chopper landing in a couple of places, so that the enemy would
not know where the team was actually dropped. Later in the
FSCC I became aware that the recon teams would quickly move
to a new location after drop off. I am personally not jump
qualified and have no technical knowledge about it. The events
described below happened in September of 1967 four or five
days before I left country on R and R.
One afternoon a Marine Major from 1st Marine Division Reconnaissance
appeared at FSCC to brief us on a mission that was to take
place that evening. The Major informed us that mission would
be launched by parachuting a recon team at night into an area
outside Da Nang. The gung ho Major stressed that this would
be the first night time combat parachute jump since World
It was my immediate unspoken opinion that the mission was
motivated by the notion that it was the first jump of its
kind since WWII. There was no need or expressed justification
to do this high risk jump, particularly at night! As an artillery
forward observer assigned to 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, I
had been on patrols in the area of the proposed jump. The
topography was rough, steep and wooded, and it was in an area
where the enemy had been active. As a 2nd Lt. I stood moot
during the briefing and said nothing of my personal opinion.
That night the mission was launched as scheduled. I understood
that the mission included the Major and an 8 man recon team.
At Division Headquarters we monitored the progress of the
mission and were advised when the team had jumped from the
fixed wing aircraft. We waited in vain for radio contact from
the team. There was nothing but radio silence, so we waited
and waited hour after hour for some word that they had landed
and accounted for all team members. But there was no contact
from the team… . ever. They had all jumped to their
I was one of several officers who briefed the 1st Marine
Division commanding General and his staff each morning. As
far as I know, the entire recon. team remained MIA! At the
General’s briefing the morning after the team had jumped,
it was simply reported that the team was missing in action
and there was no further information available.
During the days following this incident there was no explanation
provided at the morning briefings and I never heard an official
explanation as to what had happened to the recon team.
I knew a Lieutenant in DASC and in the days following this
incident, I asked him to call over to the air wing and find
out what the pilots and air wing personnel thought had happened.
After making several phone calls to the air wing, my friend
informed me he had been told that air wing personnel suggested
that there had been high winds on the night of the jump. They
used the language ‘wind sheer’ and said that under
some conditions the parachutes would not open or may collapse.
On September 10, 1967, I left Vietnam for 6 or 7 days in
Okinawa, and in October 1967 my Vietnam tour of duty was completed
and I returned to the United States. I left Vietnam understanding
that the entire team was MIA and that, in all probability,
the team died as their parachutes did not open. This is one
of the Vietnam memories of needless death that has haunted
me for over 40 years!
Those of you who know the 'rest of the story' also know that
I have been wrong, that I had made assumptions about what
had happened and that I have let my assumptions torment me
for all this time! Of course we combat veterans do just that.
We rotate home before the facts are known. We have knowledge
of some incomplete information and we are quick to fill in
the blanks with assumptions. We torment ourselves, and all
too often, these unconscious mental gymnastics create and
contribute to post traumatic stress.
A month ago, December 2008, I contacted Bob Morris through
the 1st Marine Division Recon. web site and offered to write
up my memories of events. Bob is working on a history of the
unit. I drafted up my account, as set forth above, and sent
it to Bob. He then sent me a computer link from which I learned
the rest of the story:
The Rest of the Story
The jump took place at night on September 5, 1967. Reports
vary a little on detail, but the major events are pretty clear.
All nine chutes opened. But the team was dropped in the wrong
spot and from ‘twice as high’ as had been ordered.
They had jumped into a 30 knot westerly wind and missed the
drop zone of 3 ½ kilometers. They landed in a 125ft
high jungle canopy in rough terrain near the eastern end of
Happy Valley. Seven members of the team found each other but
two were seriously injured and a medevac was called in. Missing
were Gunnery Sgt Walter M. Web Jr, who dangled 60 feet in
the air until daylight. He was located and medevaced out that
evening after having evaded three Viet Cong.
The team corpsman, 2nd Class Petty Officer Michael L. Laporte
was also missing. He was last seen as his parachute separated
from the team and he drifted away from the others. Laporte
was officially listed as MIA until 1977 when he was officially
pronounced a KIA and in 1982 Laporte’s name was added
to the Vietnam Memorial Wall. However, there remains a great
deal of controversy suggesting that Laporte survived, was
AWOL and that he was a traitor. (See the above referenced
link for LaPorte details.) Later that day the team was hit
by 5-6 Viet Cong and in the firefight some members of the
team were wounded. The drop area was searched by reconnaissance
personnel without success. On September 6, with their mission
abandoned, the remaining 5 team members were extracted.
The jump was a tragedy from some standpoints. The mission
was not accomplished, one team member was MIA, and some team
members were wounded. And the entire operation raises questions
about command decisions about the necessity of incurring the
risks associated with a night time jump. On the other hand,
we should not judge the wisdom of the mission 40 years after
the fact, particularly without knowledge of the intelligence
known to those in command at the time.
On a personal level, I feel much relieved that the chutes
opened and that, except perhaps for Laporte, the team survived
the jump! ,
The author John C. Minahan, Jr was on active duty from 1965-1969.
After discharge as a Captain, he attended law school, spent
time as a Law Professor and attorney and the last 13 years
as a Federal Bankruptcy Court Judge. He retired in 2001 with
PTSD as long suppressed Vietnam memories surfaced.