William Leslie Brooks was a Major in the United States Air Force when he was Missing in Action in Laos on 22 April 1970. Brook was born on 24 April 1933, and his home city of record is Tolar, Texas. Brooks' supposed remains were buried in a group burial in 1995.
In the early hours of April 22, 1970, an AC130 gunship flown by veteran pilot Major William Brooks departed Ubon Airbase with a crew of ten for a Commando Hunt mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos. The aircraft, code named "Ad Lib", was joined near its destination by two jet escort fighter bombers, code named "Killer 1" and "Killer 2", and immediately began air strikes against enemy traffic below. The crew of the aircraft included Brooks, the pilot; SSgt. Thomas Y. Adachi, the aerial gunner; LtCol. Charlie B. Davis, a navigator; Maj. Donald G. Fisher, a navigator; SSgt. Stephen W. Harris; SSgt. Ronnie L. Hensley; Master Sgt. Robert N. Ireland; Airman Donald M. Lint; LtCol. Charles S. Rowley; and 1Lt. John C. Towle.
During its fourth strike, the gunship was hit by anti-aircraft fire and began burning. Brooks radioed, "I've been hit, babe". Fisher, the navigator, reported that his position was OK. Fields and Hensley, battling the blaze in the rear of the aircraft, lost contact with each other in the smoke. Fields inched his way to Adachi's position, and found Adachi gone and the left scanner window open. Fields used an auxiliary parachute to abandon the aircraft.
Killer 1 reported seeing no parachutes, although Killer 2 reported the crew was bailing out. Just before Killer 1 departed the area for refueling, it received one emergency beeper signal from the ground. Killer 2 established voice contact with a member of the crew identifying himself as Ad-Lib 12 (Fisher), who reported that he had burns on his face and hands. Killer 2 also left for refueling, while other aircraft monitored the downed craft and waited for morning to attempt rescue of the survivors.
The following morning search and rescue operations commence shortly after daybreak. Adlib 11, Eugene Fields, was rescued shortly thereafter and was treated for minor injuries. SAR efforts continued throughout the day for the rest of the aircrew. Because of heavy enemy activity in the area, no ground search was possible. At the time formal search efforts were terminated, William Brooks, Ronnie Hensley, Robert Ireland, Stephen Harris, Donald Lint, Thomas Adachi, Charlie Davis, Donald Fisher, John Towle and Charles Rowley were declared Missing in Action.
The Rest of the Story?
From here on the story becomes more confused based on information provided to different families by the US Government (USG) during the years before the war ended. For example:
1. One family was told that a ground team had been inserted into the crash site (date unknown) and had recovered the partial remains of one of the crew, but no identity was ever provided to them. Likewise, those reported remains were not identified nor returned to any of the families of men on this aircraft.
2. Another family was advised that photographs of the crash site existed, but none were provided to them or to any of the other families.
3. The Fisher family was shown a photograph of a captive airman with burn bandages on his hands. Each family member identified that photo as Donald Fisher. The Air Force assumed at the time of the incident that Eugene Fields had incorrectly identified himself to Killer 2 and dismissed the report of Adlib 12 being the one in contact. Major Fisher's son located SSgt. Fields 18 years later and questioned him about that communication. Eugene Fields told him that he, Fields, had not been in radio contact with anyone before being rescued, therefore, it was not him proving that at least one other man safely reached the ground.
4. Charles Rowley's family was informed of a classified intelligence report indicating that 8 of the 10 crew members had been captured, and tortured to death for their "crimes", yet no such report has been provided to them, or any of the other families.
In 1987 Life Magazine published a recently taken photograph of an American POW that had been smuggled out of Laos with the caption: "The mysterious Mr. Roly". Lt. Col. Rowley's family had that photo analyzed and compared to pre-capture family photos by noted forensic experts. The results prove the man in the 1987 photo is Charles Rowley.
In 1993 the USG conducted a joint US-Lao crash site excavation of the AC130A. To no one's surprise they found a few teeth and bone chips, and heralded this achievement as the successful recovery of all 10 crewmen. They also claim to have found a dogtag belonging to Lt. Col. Rowley. Since his dogtags were returned to his family with the rest of his personal possessions shortly after being shot down, the USG's discovery of his dogtag at the crash site is both miraculous and suspicious. The families of all the men aboard this aircraft requested that an independent examination be made, including DNA testing. The Pentagon's reply is very revealing, specific and sinister: "they cannot release remains to family members unless the remains can be positively identified". Each family requested the remains that were attributed to their man be turned over to them. Each request was DENIED.
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.