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THESE WE REMEMBER: SMOKEJUMPERS WHO DIED IN LAOS

by Fred Donner (Missoula ‘59)

This article is reprinted from the January 2004 issue of Smokejumper quarterly magazine through the courtesy of the National Smokejumper Association.

 

The Book of Honor: Covert Lives and Classified Deaths At The CIA by Ted Gup (2000) is about many of the now 80 named and unnamed stars on the memorial wall just inside the main lobby entrance of the Central Intelligence Agency.  As noted in the July 2002 article “Smokejumpers and the CIA: A Bibliography” by this author, the book mentions jumpers from Intermountain Aviation in Marana, Arizona relative to one event. Mr. Gup caused controversy by allegedly naming nearly all of the previously unnamed stars. 

Whatever the arguments re The Book of Honor, many more Americans now know the sacrifices of a band of people     whose dedication to duty and devotion to nation equals that of our military.  But what is unknown even to many in the intelligence community is that there is another memorial to CIA deaths with 241 names and dates on it and no mysteries about how they got there.  At least eight smokejumpers are among them. 

As Mr. Gup relates, when the CIA created their memorial they had to make a policy decision  whether to include air operations deaths.  This was a major question in the aftermath of the Indochina War with the well-known roles of Civil Air Transport, Air America, Air Asia, and Southern Air Transport, all CIA-affiliated, in the war. In the end, they were not included. 

Later former employees formed the Civil Air Transport Association and the Air America  Association.  These groups selected the History of Aviation Collection of the Eugene McDermott Library at the University of Texas at Dallas to house their archives and historical records.  In 1987 a memorial (the memorial is on the web site)   was dedicated at this location.  A smaller replica of this marker without the names can be found on an inside corridor wall at the CIA just a short distance beyond the well-known main lobby memorial wall. 

David W. Bevan (Missoula ‘51), John S. Lewis (McCall ‘53), and Darrell A. Eubanks (McCall ‘54), all “kickers” or “PDOs” (parachute delivery officers) died with two other crew members in the crash of a C-46 in Laos on August 13, 1961.  They were dropping cargo in support of General Vang Pao’s Hmong army when they apparently had a mechanical problem.  A fine tribute to John Lewis was published in the January 2003 issue of Smokejumper.

Charles T. “Tom” Dieffenbach (Missoula ‘56) was the pilot of a Helio Courier shot down over Laos on July 22, 1962.  He survived the crash but died walking out despite the efforts of his Laotian observer passenger to save him.  Tom was a former U.S. Marine Corps pilot who flew in the same helicopter squadron in Vietnam with a Missoula ‘56 rookie classmate, Bob Whaley.

Gideon A. Newton (Cave Junction ‘55), a kicker, died with five other crew members when their C-46 crashed on a cargo drop over Laos due to apparent weather problems on July 17, 1963. According to information in the October 1994 issue of The Static Line, Gid was found with a     D-ring clutched in his hand, obviously trying.

Eugene H. DeBruin, a Missoula ‘59 rookie classmate of the author, parachuted from a burning C-46 along with three Thai kickers and a Chinese radio operator on September 5, 1963.  Two American pilots went down with the plane.  Eugene has been mentioned several times in this magazine.  In 1966, Gene and six others made the largest POW breakout escape of the Indochina War.  Unfortunately Gene did not reach safety and remains MIA.

Billy K. Hester (Missoula ‘58), a kicker and friend of the author from several months together in the fall of 1959 on a jumper-tanker crew on the Cleveland National Forest, died with five other crew members in the apparent weather-related crash of a C-130 in Laos on April 10, 1970. 

Edward J. Weissenback (Cave Junction ‘64), a kicker, and three other crew members disappeared in a C-123 that was presumably shot down over the “China Road” in northwest Laos on December 27, 1971.  “Animal Ed” had served on long-range recon patrols with the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He was mentioned in the April 2002  issue of this magazine. 

I believe it would be appropriate that all of our fallen colleagues who died in the service of our U.S. government - military and civilian - be remembered at our reunion memorial services as we now remember those who died in forest fire, airplane, and parachute accidents.  Perhaps another author can tackle the problem of listing military smokejumpers who died in war.  A baseline for initial research would be the July and October 1994 issues of the old green NSA newsletter, The Static Line, that contained considerable obituary information. 

                (This article has been reviewed by CIA.  That review neither constitutes CIA authentication of information nor implies CIA endorsement of the author’s views.)

Fred Donner is an AAM Association member.  He was the traffic manager at Danang, 1965-1967.  Previously an Air Force lieutenant and a Foreign Service officer, he is now a retired Defense Intelligence Agency officer with nearly 40 years of experience and education related to Southeast Asia and China. 

This article is reprinted from the January 2004 issue of Smokejumper quarterly magazine through the courtesy of the National Smokejumper Association.

It was reviewed by the CIA.  That review neither constitutes CIA authentication of information nor implies CIA endorsement of the authors views.

NSA life member Fred Donner is a retired Defense Intelligence Agency officer with nearly 40 years of experience and education related to Southeast Asia and China.  Fred is also a member of the Air America Association.

 


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