Ernest Frank Briggs, Jr., was an SP5 in the United States Army when he went Missing in Action in Laos on 05 January 1968. Briggs was born on 12 December 1944, and his home city of record is Devine, Texas (some records state San Antonio, Texas). Briggs' remains were identified in 2007.
NO SIGN OF CREW
On 05 January 1968, WO Dennis C. Hamilton, aircraft commander, WO Sheldon D. Schultz, pilot, SP5 Ernest F. Briggs, Jr., crew chief, SP4 James P. Williamson, crewman, and SSgt. John T. Gallagher, passenger, were aboard a UH1D helicopter (tail # 66-1172) on a mission to infiltrate an indigenous reconnaissance patrol into Laos.
The reconnaissance patrol and SSgt. Gallagher were operating under orders to Command & Control North, MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observation Group). MACV-SOG was a joint service high command unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel into MACV-SOG (although it was not a Special Forces group) through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA), which provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. The teams performed deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction which were called, depending on the time frame, "Shining Brass" or "Prairie Fire" missions.
As the aircraft approached the landing zone about 20 miles inside Laos south of Lao Bao, it came under heavy 37mm anti-aircraft fire while at an altitude of about 300 feet above ground level. The aircraft immediately entered a nose-low vertical dive and crashed.
Upon impact with the ground, the aircraft burst into flames which were 10 to 20 feet high. No radio transmissions were heard during the helicopter's descent, nor were radio or beeper signals heard after impact. Four attempts to get into the area of the downed helicopter failed due to intense ground fire.
During the next two days more attempts to get to the wreckage failed. The pilot of one search helicopter maneuvered to within 75 feet of the crash site before being forced out by enemy fire. The pilot who saw the wreckage stated that the crashed helicopter was a mass of burned metal and that there was no part of the aircraft that could be recognized. No signs of life were seen in the crash area.
Weather delayed further search attempts for a couple of days. After the weather improved, the successful insertion of a ground team was made east of the crash site to avoid enemy fire. The search team was extracted on the second day when no remains, personnel affects or trace of the aircrew and passengers were found in and near the wreckage. Because of this, US intelligence believed that anyone who was able to escape the crash would have had no chance of escaping capture. At the time the formal search was terminated, Dennis Hamilton, Shelton Schultz, Earnest Briggs, James Williamson and John Gallagher were listed Missing in Action.
In December 1971, the CIA forwarded a report to DIA about the sighting of American Prisoners of War in Laos. One report described four Americans said to have been captured in South Vietnam as passing through Binh Tram Commo-Liaison Station 12, an NVA way station situated along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, located approximately 25 kilometers southwest of Tchepone, Savannahket Province, Laos. The source identified a photograph of James Williamson as resembling one of the four Americans. Another report described two captured pilots at Commo-Liaison Station 12 early in 1969 approximately 15 kilometers northwest of Muong Phine. Both of these reports were placed in the files of each of the men lost in this incident.
Biographical and incident of loss information was obtained from either POW/NET and/or Task Force Omega, Inc (unless otherwise noted). Additional information may be found via remembrances at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund or The Virtual Wall Vietnam Veterans Memorial.