A recent effort to find the remains of six Americans killed in action in Southeast Asia reflects a continued commitment to find, locate, and return the remains of U.S. service members killed in the line of duty to provide final closure for family members and comrades in arms.

Earlier this month, a recovery team from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) attempted to find the remains of the six Americans—two Green Berets and four aviators—who fought and died in the secret war fought for eight years under the aegis of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam–Studies and Observations Group, or simply SOG.

Cliff Newman (shown above), a former Green Beret who located those fallen Americans 44 years ago but was unable to recover their bodies due to intense enemy gunfire, traveled with the DPAA team along the Laos/South Vietnam border on this mission in an effort to pinpoint the exact location of those remains. They went to the A Shau Valley, which was a hotbed of enemy activity in 1971.

Enemy documents captured at the time revealed that the communist North Vietnamese Army (NVA) placed nearly a dozen counter-recon companies in that valley to reinforce LZ (landing zone) watchers and to force locals to work with the communist soldiers. In addition, enemy estimates of troop strength in the A Shau Valley listed several infantry battalions as resting and training there. The communists moved at least two anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) battalions to defend the valley.

Laos is a dramatically different country today than it was when SOG recon teams were running clandestine, top-secret missions 44 years ago. Amidst the beautiful, steep mountains with deep, lush valleys, streams, and double- and triple-canopy jungle, primitive farmers still use slash-and-burn agriculture techniques. Three Green Beret A-camps were driven from the valley between 1965 and ’66. Today, there is at least one hotel near the A Loui airstrip.

In 1971, although communists in North Vietnam had signed a treaty agreeing not to station or train soldiers in Laos and Cambodia, there were more than 60,000 communist soldiers and couriers in Laos alone. The A Shau Valley bristled with NVA armaments and equipment supplied to North Vietnam by Russia, China and other Eastern Bloc countries.

On February 18, 1971, two recon teams assigned to SOG base of operations in Da Nang, Command and Control North, were designated to run a diversionary mission along the A Shau Valley. Their mission was to tie down NVA enemy forces through the use of air strikes while gathering any military intelligence possible from enemy soldiers and local Laotians pressed into service with the NVA.

Because of the dangerous nature of this mission, two additional Green Berets were assigned to RT Intruder: SFC. Sammy Hernandez and SFC. Charles “Wes” Wesley. The team leader was Capt. Ronald L. “Doc” Watson, the assistant team leader was Sgt. Allen R. “Baby Jesus” Lloyd, and Sgt. Raymond L. “Robby” Robinson was the radio operator. RT Python, with team leader Capt. Jim Butler, was inserted on the other side of the A Shau Valley.