Captain Lee Gourley
Name: Laurent Lee Gourley Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force Unit: 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Tuy Hoa Airbase, South Vietnam Date of Birth: 05 September 1944 Home City of Record: Villisco IA Date of Loss: 09 August 1969 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 161800N 1063900E (XD762026) Status (in 1973): Missing In Action Category: 4 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: F100F Refno: 1477 Other Personnel In Incident: Jefferson S. Dotson (missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews:
SYNOPSIS: When North Vietnam began to increase their military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. The border road, termed the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" was used for transporting weapons, supplies and troops. Scores of American pilots were shot down trying to stop this communist traffic to South Vietnam. Fortunately, search and rescue teams in Vietnam were extremely successful and the recovery rate was high. Still, there were nearly 600 who were not rescued in Laos. Many of them went down along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the passes through the border mountains between Laos and Vietnam.
In the early morning of August 9, 1969, 1Lt. Jefferson S. Dotson, rear seat co-pilot, and Capt. Lee Gourley, pilot, departed Tuy Hoa Airbase located on the coast of central South Vietnam on a "Misty" Forward Air Control (FAC) mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in central Laos.
Lee Gourley had written home early that same day saying that all missions for that day had been scrubbed due to bad weather. He did not expect to have to fly that day - and he had time to write his family. Gourley had been working with Misty for some time as a volunteer. Misty FAC volunteers were chosen from among the best and most experienced pilots. He had delayed a trip to Hawaii for R & R until the Misty duties were complete in another week, knowing his time in the Vietnam arena would be short following his return. The FAC mission had come up unexpectedly.
The aircraft Dotson and Gourley flew, the F100 Super Sabre, had been specially modified a few years before to include a second crewman. The F model, introduced in 1965, had the latest technology in radar signal detectors. The initial shipment of F100F's were called "Wild Weasel I" and were an important element in several combat operations.
Gourley and Dotson were not on a Wild Weasel mission, however, and on the FAC mission this day, no bombs were loaded. They were to fly low and fast over their objective area and presumably analyze targets for future air strikes, or assess the potential need for further strikes. FAC reconnaissance missions in the traditional sense were often flown by light observation aircraft rather than fighter/bombers, but the necessary element for this mission was low altitude and high speed, as well as the ability to cover a large territory.
Although there was normally no scheduled air backup or escort on a FAC mission, and Gourley and Jefferson had none, other aircraft which happened to be in the area provide information as to what happened to Dotson and Gourley as they flew near Sepone in Savannakhet Province, Laos.
One passing aircraft intercepted a radio transmission from the F100F, "We've been hit, we're going to try to get out." Observers from the passing aircraft then saw the F100 go up in flames, and observed one fully deployed parachute. (NOTE: The standard ejection called for the rear-seater, Gourley, to make the first ejection, then the pilot, and a fully deployed chute indicated the successful ejection of a crew member.)
Dotson and Gourley were classified Missing in Action. Their families understood that they might have been captured, and like the families of others who were missing, wrote regular letters.
Lee Gourley's sister, Elzene, became active in the POW/MIA families' effort to "watchdog" U.S. Government actions regarding American Prisoners of War held in Indochina. In early 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger came to the POW/MIA families and announced that peace agreements were ready to be signed and their men would soon be home, or accounted for, if they were dead. Elzene Gourley specifically asked Kissinger about the prisoners in other countries besides Vietnam - Laos, Cambodia and China - and if his good news included the men missing there. Kissinger replied, "What do you think took us so long?"
When 591 American prisoners were released from communist prison camps in Southeast Asia in the spring of 1973, it became apparent that Kissinger had lied to the POW/MIA families. Not a single man who had been held in Laos had been released. Although the Pathet Lao had spoken publicly of American prisoners they held, and many were known to have survived their loss incidents, the U.S. had not negotiated the freedom of the American POWs held in Laos.
In 1974, the Gourleys sent a letter to Lee in care of the Prime Minister of Laos, who responded that the letter would be conveyed later to their son. The U.S. State Department said the Prime Minister might not know English and probably an error was made in translation.
In 1976, the Gourleys wrote to Lee in care of Prince Souvanna Phouma in Vientiane, Laos. He wrote back that he would give their letter to the "central committee" to be sent to the "one for whom (it was) intended." The U.S. State Department ordered the Gourleys to quit writing Lee in care of the Lao.
Following the war, refugees fled Southeast Asia and brought with them stories of Americans still held prisoner and other information relating to Americans missing in their homelands. By 1989, the number of such reports approaches 10,000, and most authorities reluctantly have concluded that many Americans must still be alive and held captive.
It is certainly reasonable to speculate that Gourley and Dotson survived to be captured. Only the communist governments of Southeast Asia could say if they are among those hundreds of Americans thought to be still alive, and they deny any knowledge of Americans missing in their countries.
Lee Gourley and Jefferson Dotson pledged to "keep the faith" with their country. Have we kept faith with the men who are still fighting an old war in our names? What would Lee Gourley and Jefferson Dotson say?
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