This page is a special tribute to a young man who remained unaccounted for for just over nineteen years. William Charles Dunlap was a Chief Warrant Officer in the United States Army when he and the crew of a UH1B Huey gunship went MIA on 02 December 1969. Billy was a special man. He had already served one tour in Vietnam, and when asked by his mother, Eva Jo Dunlap, why he wanted to go again, this time as a helicopter pilot for the Army, he replied that he had left some buddies over there.
The Dunlap family, who then was living in Tuscon, Arizona, was expecting Billy for a visit on the 6th of December. He was coming to the States for R&R and wanted to visit his parents and brothers before going to visit his wife in Louisiana. When a car pulled up that morning, Mrs. Dunlap expected it to be Billy; brother Robert informed his mom that it was another soldier. Mrs. Dunlap's was informed that her son was Missing In Action. (It should be noted that Mrs. Dunlap had a son-in-law who was serving in the Marine Corps at the same time).
The Dunlap family would wait for nearly twenty years before being able to bury their son on American soil. William Charles Dunlap was buried in the family cemetery in Chapel Hill, Arkansas, on 20 April 1990. There were over 300 people in attendance, and over fifteen POW bracelets were placed on his coffin before it was put in the ground.
I had the great honor of meeting Eva Jo Dunlap on Memorial Day 2003. She was a pleasure to talk with, and told me to come visit whenever I wanted to (she lives not too far from Texarkana now). Below is the incident of loss information obtained from taskforceomegainc.org; much of the information above was obtained from a Texarkana Gazette article.
On 2 December 1969, W2 Martin D. Vanden Eykel, aircraft commander; then W2 William C. "Bill" Dunlap, pilot; SP5 William D. Sanderlin, crew chief; and SP5 Michael H. Shanley, Jr., door gunner; comprised the crew of the #2 UH1B Huey gunship (serial #64-13959) in a flight of two conducting a night ground support mission for a long range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP) that was engaged in combat with enemy forces and had radioed for assistance. The ground patrol was operating in the southern portion of a heavily forested mountain range in Bong Son District, Binh Dinh Province, South Vietnam.
Because this region was heavily infested with well-armed and entrenched Viet Cong (VC) forces, it was considered to be extremely dangerous. Further, a remarkably large number of aircraft had been downed in this sector earning it the nickname, "the graveyard of helicopters." The two gunships were accompanied by a third that was equipped with flares to illuminate the target area.
The flight departed Landing Zone (LZ) English and arrived on the target area at 2230 hours. Immediately the flight leader attempted to establish radio contact with the members of the LRRP, but was unsuccessful in doing so. About the same time, the third Huey began dropping flares to illuminate the terrain while the two gunships flew low over the jungle covered mountains searching for signs of the ground team as well as for enemy targets. Almost immediately W2 Vanden Eykel radioed Lead that he was experiencing vertigo and the pilot of the flare ship radioed both gunships that they had to change course to avoid flying into the side of a mountain.
Under the untenable conditions caused by the flares and terrain features, the flight leader made the decision to abort the mission if contact with the ground team could not be established. The two gunships made one more pass over the area in an attempt to spot the ground team. At this time the pilot of the lead Huey also experienced vertigo and radioed the other aircrews that he nearly crashed because of it. Lead directed his wingman and the flare ship to make a 180-degree turn and depart the area. W2 Vanden Eykel acknowledged the command with an affirmative response. This acknowledgement was also the last transmission received from the #2 aircraft.
When the Huey failed to return to base, a radio check was made with all the other airfields and LZs in the region in case they were forced to divert to one of them. At first light the next morning a full-scale search and rescue (SAR) operation began. The area in which the gunship disappeared was heavily forested with hamlets and villages of varying sizes scattered along the grassy foothills located just to the south of the target area. A river flowed through the mountains half a mile to the west and it continued through large rice fields located south, east and west of the mountains. The loss location was also approximately 14 miles southwest of Hoa Nhon, 21 miles west of the coastline, 43 miles northwest of Qui Nhan and 54 miles east-southeast of Kontum, South Vietnam.
Throughout the numerous ground and air searches that were conducted over the next few days, no emergency beeper signals were heard and no wreckage was found. At the time the formal SAR was terminated, Martin Vanden Eykel, Bill Dunlap, William Sanderlin and Michael Shanley were reported as Missing in Action.
Following the loss of the helicopter and crew, a Board of Inquiry was held to review all known facts surround the loss of the gunship and determine the status of its aircrew. A local Vietnamese woman appeared at the hearing and reported that she saw the helicopter go down and the crew captured by the Viet Cong.
In July 1973, Vietnamese wood cutters who were working in the mountains reported finding the wreckage of a helicopter in that vicinity. Immediately an investigation was conducted. The results disclosed that the aircraft was not a helicopter, but a fixed wing airplane not related to this case.
In December 1974, another local Vietnamese reported finding aircraft wreckage in the same general area. Another field investigation was conducted, but the wreckage was that of a South Vietnamese helicopter, not the American Huey gunship.
On 23 January 1989, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam repatriated 25 sets of remains to the US control. Four of those sets of remains were identified on 20 April 1990 as being the crew of this aircraft. Of these four, Bill Dunlap and William Sanderlin were positively identified through dental comparison. Michael Shanley and Martin Vanden Eykel were never conclusively identified. The families of each crewman aboard the UH1B accepted the remains.