At 1 p.m. Wednesday, one of 30 burials scheduled at the Arlington National Cemetery will be Green Beret Sgt. Alan Lee Boyer who disappeared during the deadly eight-year secret war fought during the Vietnam War – a war hidden from Congress, the public and families. He, along with two fellow Green Berets disappeared on March 28, 1968 in Laos following an encounter with communist forces from North Vietnam – facts his family didn’t learn until decades after the war.
They were members of a Special Forces Recon Team, code-named Spike Team Asp, which launched from Thailand into Laos on a “Circus Act” mission – a mission to insert Air Force sensors to monitor traffic along a trail enemy soldiers used to move supplies, troops and military equipment South, including anti-aircraft weapons. The eight-year secret war was fought from 1964 – 1972 under the aegis of the Military Assistance Group Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group, or simply SOG. In 1968, the secret war had become increasingly deadly. By the time ST Asp was flown into the target in Laos, more than 25 Green Berets, dozens of indigenous soldiers and airmen had been killed in action in the first three months of 1968 in Laos alone. Because it was a secret war, in most cases, the soldiers’ bodies could not be retrieved due to intense enemy activity on the ground, thus they were listed as MIA. And, the families of those soldiers entered an informational void where they were simply told their loved ones were missing in action in Southeast Asia and were never told about the deadly secret war where they fought valiantly against incredible odds.
Retired Green Beret MSG Patrick Watkins, who served three tours of duty running SOG recon missions, spoke to the three members of ST Asp on March 27, 1968 one day before the team was inserted into the deadly Laos target. ST Asp team leader was George R. “Ron” Brown, he said. The Assistant Team Leader was Charles G. Huston and Alan L. Boyer was the radio operator for that mission. Watkins had run an in-country mission with Boyer earlier in March 1968. “When we were on the ground he started telling me about all of the trees in the area,” he said. “He told me he was a forestry student. Some day he wanted to go back to Montana to be a smoke jumper, to fight forest fires. He had attended the University of Montana, but said he wanted to serve in the Army first. He, along with his teammates, were outstanding, fearless Green Berets.”
What haunts Watkins to this day is the fact that his recon team had run an identical mission into Laos a few days earlier. “We made heavy contact with enemy forces. Because we had launched into the target from Thailand, as ST Asp would do, we were in contact with the enemy for seven hours before they could pull us out. I warned Ron about increased enemy activity and the increased anti-aircraft weapons the communists were moving into Laos. Ron told me he’d be careful but would run the mission.” Watkins had first met Ron Brown in 1966 during Green Beret HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) parachute training.
Watkins and his team flew back to Da Nang after he had spoken to Brown and Boyer. “The next day, I was told ST Asp went MIA. I was stunned. It was a typical (SOG) mission impossible. We had minimal intel on enemy activities on the ground in the target area, we knew the enemy was gearing up to attack our recon teams to keep us out of Laos. Remember, in March 1968, the U.S. could have no conventional military troops in Laos, hence the secret war. We carried no identification papers or dog tags. We had to see what they were up to. The NVA (communist North Vietnamese Army) had 40,000 to 50,000 troops in Laos moving supplies south, building the Ho Chi Minh Trail and hunting our recon teams. After (ST) Asp disappeared, I spoke to the (Green Beret) chase medic David Mayberry, who flew the mission that went in to pull out ST Asp on March 28. Because the terrain was so rugged and the enemy activity in the area so intense, he said, the helicopter lowered a ladder for the team to climb up into the chopper. The SF men had the indigenous troops go up the ladder first. Al was the first SF soldier on the ladder when heavy enemy ground fire erupted. Mayberry said the helicopter had to pull out due to the gunfire. As it pulled out, the ladder, with Al on it, was separated from the chopper and fell to the ground…We never heard from them again. It was another tragic loss to SOG.”
In 2006, the remains of Ron Brown were recovered, but the remaining two Green Berets of ST Asp remained MIA until Alan Boyer’s sister Judi Boyer Bouchard received an email on March 7, “the eve of what would have been Alan’s 70th birthday,” she told SOFREP. “Our prayers had been answered, they called to tell us that Alan’s remains were identified by DNA matches that myself and my mother (Dorothy Boyer) had turned over to the government many years ago…my only regret, my parents weren’t alive to hear the news that they had found Alan.” Her father Charles died 21 years ago, with the loss of his son “being the saddest part of his life,” Bouchard said. Her mother passed away in 2013 after spending years working with the government and the National League of POW/MIA Families. Bouchard and her mother even traveled to the U.S. Embassy in Laos once in search of answers for Alan Boyer’s disappearance. And, together they had mourned the fact that Alan Boyer didn’t return from Vietnam in 1973 when U.S. POWs were returned from North Vietnamese prisons. Because Alan Boyer fought in the secret war, the family didn’t learn about SOG and its missions until a few years ago.
In March, a few days after receiving news of her brother’s return, Judi Boyer Bouchard received a visit from a Green Beret soldier serving with the 5th Special Forces Group today, Michael Linnington, director of the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), and Michael Mee, the Army’s chief of casualty operations. They presented Bouchard with her brother’s medals, including a Silver Star, the third-highest military decoration for valor, and a Purple Heart. They also delivered the Army’s official report on Boyer’s case. The key to the Boyer case was a piece of leg bone recovered from Laos, that linked it to the DNA that Bouchard and her mother had provided to the government years ago, as the field of DNA research emerged as a valuable tool in recognizing the remains of missing service members.
“The forensic anthropologists said it was the most specific matched set they’d seen,” said Ann Mills-Griffiths, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National League of POW/MIA Families. “It wasn’t a large portion of the remains, but it was enough to get that high degree of accuracy in the match…The Alan Boyer case is a good example of why the League works with DPAA and the families in an on-going effort to bring home the remains of U.S. service members still listed as Missing in Action. In this case, the years of prayers by and for the Boyer family have been answered. The family will have closure tomorrow (Wednesday).” Mills-Griffiths noted that the return of Boyer, there are still 1, 618 American service members still listed as MIA in Southeast Asia alone, which includes the Green Berets and airmen who were killed in action fighting in the secret war in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam and CIA airmen who were presumed to be KIA in another part of the secret war in Laos.
Boyer will receive full military honors during his service, including having his flag-draped casket transported to the gravesite on a caisson pulled by six horses of the “Old Guard” Caisson Platoon. Boyer’s remains arrived quietly Friday afternoon at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, where an Army colonel and Special Forces soldiers from the 5th Special Forces Group, now stationed at Ft. Campbell, KY, escort saluted his arrival before transporting the remains to a funeral home in preparation for Wednesday’s Arlington service. Coincidentally, Wednesday is the first day of the POW/MIA League of Families 47th annual meeting in Arlington.
Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group will serve as an honor guard. A spokesman from the 5th Special Forces Group recently told SOFREP, “Sgt. Boyer was killed in the line of duty as a member of the 5th Special Forces Group, detached to serve in SOG. We’re going to treat this as a present-day casualty, one of our fallen is returning to home, after being MIA for 48 years, and we’ll pay homage to his return.
In addition, there will be several SOG veterans in attendance Wednesday, including SOG Recon Team Leader Rick Estes, who served one tour of duty in SOG from April 1968 – April 1969. Today he is president of the Special Operations Association, a group founded by SOG recon men. Today, in addition to the Green Berets, its members include U.S. and South Vietnamese aviators who supported SOG missions, as well as Navy SEALs, Marine Corps Force Recon men, and Air Force special operations members. Estes arrived in SOG two months after ST Asp went MIA. “The secret war was deadly when we arrived in Nam,” said Estes. “I remember ST Asp and many other teams that went missing in action…Through the SOA, we now have programs where we bring family members to our reunions to meet the Green Berets who served with their siblings or husbands. Due to the secret nature of the war, the relatives of the MIAs seldom knew the truth about the secret war and of the heroic efforts that our soldiers, our indigenous troops and the aviators who supported SOG put forth under a veil of governmental secrecy.”
Judi Boyer Bouchard added, “We’re so grateful for this closure, to have the opportunity to finally know that Alan will be at rest among fellow warriors at Arlington. And, I’ll be eternally grateful to the SOA for welcoming me into that family of warriors. I’m the only surviving family member, now. In the last few years, thanks to attending the SOA reunion, I’ve met Pat Watkins, retired Green Beret Command Sgt. Major Robert J. “Spider” Parks and other SOG recon men who knew Alan, his fellow teammates. Through them we learned about just how deadly SOG missions were across the fence deep into enemy territory without conventional military support…and, we’ll also remember the remaining 1,618 men listed as MIA, including approximately 50 Green Berets listed as MIA from the secret war in Laos and the hundred-plus airmen who died supporting them. This is why I’ll support the League and the DPAA efforts to bring home our remaining MIAs.”
“The importance of ending uncertainty surrounding the loss of a missing loved one cannot be overstated,” said Mills-Griffiths. “Knowing Boyer’s sister Judi for so many years, I know how much it means to her and others who have been blessed with concrete answers to see her loved one back home. The ability to inter SFC Boyer at Arlington National Cemetery, especially in the presence of so many of his fellow Special Forces friends ‘makes this even more special.’ Such loyalty and caring from the SF community is not only commendable, but truly beyond measure, and all of the families are grateful.”
Today there is an Alan Lee Boyer Scholarship that is awarded to two students annually for $1,000 at the University of Montana, Boyer’s alumna mater.