Bob McDonnell, Vietnam veteran
San Diego, CA, USA
On March 6, 1969, the 4/77th ARA A battery was called upon to take
out enemy mortar installations on the north side of the Bach Ma
mountain range in the Thua Tien Province of South Vietnam. Company
commander Major Robert Graham called for volunteers as the Camp
Eagle battery had already flown their missions that day. Cpt. John
McDonnell and Lt. Ron Greenfield volunteered for the extra duty
and were assigned together as the crew in the lead Cobra. After
completing only part of their mission and running low on fuel, they
went to a refueling base and exchanged responsibilities so that
Greenfield could pilot the aircraft from the backseat. The horseshoe-shaped
valley held in the clouds that day forcing the aircraft to maintain
a precarious altitude between the tree tops and the low cloud ceiling.
While on their final rocket run, the Cobra took enemy fire and the
last thing that Greenfield remembers is the stick going limp. He
was extracted from the jungle roughly 24 hours after going down.
Three officers, Creech, Woodside, and Thompson, also went in that
day while searching for the Cobra wreckage from their LOH. There
were no survivors.
Author and then-Ranger Gary Linderer recalls the SAR effort to
find and extract the five pilots: "... our pilot signaled that we
were over the wreckage of the Cobra. I looked over the side and
I could barely make out the sixty-to-seventy foot trees shrouded
in the mist. I could not see the downed Cobra. The jungle seemed
to emit some erie almost ethereal vibration that threatened to overpower
me. I sensed sheer, unadulterated terror. I fought back panic as
it tried to root me in place. I couldn't drop into that ... whatever
it was. It was like something out of a horror movie. The only thing
missing was the tombstones."
Thirteen years later McDonnell's name was engraved into the polished
black granite of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial on the 58th line
of panel 30W.
The recent declassification and release of documents raises some
interesting issues with respect to McDonnell's fate. Two live sighting
reports have turned up in his file. One report is provided by a
North Vietnam defector who held a press conference in early June
of 1973, long after all living American prisoners had supposedly
returned home. The coverage of the press conference by NBC and UPI
was squashed at the State Department's request. The AP did report
on the event, as evidenced by an article in the Baltimore Sun, albeit
with many inaccuries.
In April, 1976, the JCRC put forth a study to "evaluate the possibility
of any of the unaccounted for being alive." This study concluded
that "there is a possibility that as many as 57 Americans could
be alive...." Of the 57 men included in Project X, one was the Marine
Robert Garwood who subsequently returned to the US. Another name
on that list was McDonnell's.
McDonnell's military ID card has been found in the Hue Military
Museum and remains mute testimony to his fate.
This information has been discovered long after a seven year old
boy learned that his Green Beret father was shot down while flying
a Cobra over the jungles of Vietnam. And who grew up concluding
that his father's inability to go lightly might have readily led
to his demise.
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