One clear day in May 1968, Green Berets Glen O. Lane and Robert Owen, boarded a South Vietnamese Air Force H-34 helicopter along with four South Vietnamese team members and flew west from the top secret MACV-SOG FOB 1 base in Phu Bai near the China Sea, into a target in Laos where communist forces had amassed an estimated 45,000-50,000 troops moving supplies south on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and hunting SOG recon teams.
Lane was the team leader, code-named One-Zero of recon team code-named Spike Team Idaho. Owen, was the assistant team leader. In Owen’s case, he left N. Carolina on May 1, kissed his daughter good-bye and promised to be home for her next birthday in May 1969. Owen hitch-hiked across the country to Ft. Lewis, WA, in order to save money, which he mailed back to his wife. Being a combat veteran from previous tours of duty in Vietnam, he skipped in-country training, volunteered for SOG and was shipped to FOB 1 in Phu Bai. Lane was a highly-respected One-Zero who fought valiantly during the Korean War and earned the respect of fellow Green Berets at Phu Bai through his leadership skills as well as his ability to work with the indigenous team members on ST Idaho.
Today, National POW/MIA Recognition Day, Lane and Owen remain among the 50 Green Berets who are still listed by the government as missing in action/unaccounted for. Today, few Americans know about the deadly secret war conducted in Southeast Asia for eight years from 1964 to 1972, which yielded the highest casualty rate of the entire war, exceeding 100 percent, as many Green Berets who went across the fence into Laos, Cambodia or into N. Vietnam received multiple Purple Heart awards for being wounded in combat.
Those 50 Green Berets missing in Laos, are, in addition to the approximately 244 airmen, also listed as Missing In Action/unaccounted for. Of those 244 men, an estimated 105 died supporting SOG missions alone in Laos – that includes Air Force FACs (forward air controllers) F-4 Phantom jets, A-1 Skyraider single-propeller driven WWII airplanes, Marine Corps Cobra and Huey gunships, Army aviators and crews from 101st Airborne Division, the 1st Cavalry, 176th Muskets of the Americal Division, and the 195th, to mention a few.
Sadly, on September 15, 2017, the official National POW/MIA Recognition Day, those Americans are among the 1,602 U.S. personnel still listed as missing in action/unaccounted for from the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia.
Getting back to Lane and Owen, although they are listed as Missing In Action/Unaccounted for, there’s little doubt in the minds of the Green Berets who served with them at FOB 1 that they were killed in action. I landed at FOB 1 on the South Vietnamese H-34 helicopter that later inserted ST Idaho into Laos. I was in the camp when repeated efforts to raise radio communications with Owen or any member of ST Idaho failed. The silence was gut-wrenching to all of us back on base in Phu Bai – among the most worried were Green Beret Staff Sgt. Robert J. “Spider” Parks and Nguyen Cong Hiep.
Parks had joined ST Idaho earlier in 1968, ran several successful missions with Lane as the One-Zero into Laos and the DMZ. Parks had performed so well as a team member, Lane recommended that Parks be promoted to One-Zero of another recon team, as the need for trained team leaders was reaching critical mass at FOB 1. By May, more than a dozen Green Berets from separate recon teams had been killed in action or were wounded so seriously that they were transported outside Southeast Asia to receive advanced medical training and rehabilitation. By May 1968, Hiep had served on ST Idaho for more than two years, running missions across the fence with other team leaders, before Lane became the One-Zero. Hiep didn’t go on this fateful mission because he had an illness, thus Lane picked another team member, a man Hiep had trained to become the back up interpreter.
After several days of maddening radio silence, another SOG recon team led by Mike Tucker and George “The Troll” Sternberg ran a “Bright Light” mission – the most dangerous of all SOG missions, where the recon team goes in heavily armed, with extra ammo, extra grenades, extra bandages and cravats, no food and maybe one canteen of water because they know the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) are probably waiting for them to land in search of ST Idaho.
Tucker and Sternberg, landed, located what appeared to be possible trail markings left by ST Idaho, and began to follow them in an effort to locate the missing team. Instead, within a short period of time, the NVA found them and began attacking from two different directions. Before long, Tucker and Sternberg retreated to a huge bomb crater to make their last stand while Sternberg began directing a series of bombing runs, strafing gun runs and finally napalm strikes delivered precisely on the hordes of NVA massing to overrun the small six-man SOG recon team by A-1 Skyraiders. During those tumultuous assaults one S. Vietnamese team member was killed. All others were wounded.
And, Tucker and Sternberg were startled to learn that the NVA were using American CAR-15 weapons and American M-26 fragmentation grenades against them – which was a horrific indicator that ST Idaho had met its fate and that the communists were using American weapons and grenades against them. On several occasions, Sternberg picked up grenades that the NVA had thrown into the bomb crater and threw them back at the NVA, until one grenade rolled further down the slope, too far out of Sternberg’s reach. Suddenly, violently, the M-26 exploded with such force that it literally blew one of Sternberg’s jungle boots off of his foot while peppering the rest of the team with heavy shrapnel wounds – wounds inflicted by an American-made hand grenade, which doubled the mental as well as the physical pain of the moment.
Finally, Sternberg directed a series of close-air support gun runs by The Muskets, of the 176th of the Americal Division, and on the last run, a South Vietnamese Air Force H-34 – code-named Kingbee – followed it closely and landed on the lip of the bomb crater, enabling Tucker and Sternberg to place all of the wounded men on the chopper and leave the hot LZ ASAP. There was no time to go to the bottom of the bomb crater to retrieve the dead team member – survival of the living remained more important at that critical moment in time, than retrieving the dead. The Kingbee whisked them away to from the battlefield quickly, eventually taking the wounded to the field hospital in Phu Bai.
However, Sternberg – in the excitement of the moment, failed to give the FAC (code-named Covey) the team all clear radio call, and Parks – who was flying in a “chase” H-34, landed on the bomb crater, fearing there were still team members alive who needed assistance. In addition, he had a burning desire to do all that was humanly possible to find any evidence of his teammates from ST Idaho. The intense enemy gunfire forced Parks to end his quest to locate anyone from ST Idaho or the Bright Light team and he dashed back to the Sikorsky H-34 of the South Vietnamese Air Force’s Special Operations Squadron in a hail of bullets. As the warbird lifted off from the hot LZ, NVA troops poured hundreds of rounds toward the chopper, with one instantly killing the door gunner sitting next to Parks.
Thus, to this day, Lane and Owen are heavy on the minds and hearts of fellow teammates and family members – none of whom were told the truth about where or how Lane and Owen died, because they were members of the MACV-SOG’s secret war, where all participants were ordered not to speak to anyone about what happened in war zones across the fence in Laos, Cambodia and N. Vietnam.
And, it’s because of their service to our country and that of the remaining 1,600 missing Americans, that POW/MIA Recognition services are being held across the country from Washington, D.C., to Vandenberg Air Force Base north of Santa Barbara, CA, to Mississippi and north to Montana.
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