What I can do - I will - || Remembering Fellow Texans || Richard Castillo


Panel 02 W, Line 121

Richard Castillo was a Captain in the United States Air Force when he went Missing in Action in Laos on 29 March 1972. Castillo was born on 21 November 1938, and his home city of record is Corpus Christi, Texas. Castillo's remains were returned and identified in 1986.



The Incident

On 29 March 1972, Major Irving B. Ramsower II, aircraft commander; Capt. Curtis D. Miller, pilot; 1st Lt. Charles J. Wanzel III, pilot; Major Henry P. Brauner, navigator; Capt. Richard Castillo, infrared sensor operator; Major Howard D. Stephenson, electronic warfare officer; then Capt. Barclay B. Young, fire control officer; Capt. Richard C. Halpin, low light TV senior operator; SSgt. James K. Caniford, illuminator operator; SSgt. Merlyn Paulson, flight engineer; SSgt. Edward D. Smith, Jr., aerial gunner; SSgt. Edwin Pearce, aerial gunner; AFC William A. Todd, aerial gunner and AFC Robert E. Simmons, aerial gunner; comprised the crew of an AC130A gunship named "Prometheus," tail number 55-0044, and call sign "Spectre 13." They departed Ubon Airbase, Thailand on an armed reconnaissance mission with an F4D fighter escort over Laos to interdict North Vietnamese supplies moving south into the acknowledged war zone, then return to Ubon.

This area of Laos was considered a major artery of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

At 0300 hours, the F4D's aircrew saw a surface to air missile (SAM) lift off the ground. Before the gunship could take evasive action, the SAM hit Specter 13. A few seconds later the AC130A impacted the ground on the east side of a jungle covered mountain followed by secondary explosions. A north/south running power transmission line ran along a ridgeline just east of the crash site and approximately 1 mile to the east ran a long somewhat pear shaped jungle covered valley through which major arteries of the Ho Chi Minh Trail ran. The communist stronghold in and around the town of Tchepone lay across the valley. As one of the F4D escort aircraft flew low over the burning wreckage, he was unable see any sign of survivors. However, several minutes later as he was departing the area he clearly heard multiple emergency beepers. Another AC130A gunship operating nearby, call sign "Spectre 10," and his F4 escort also heard the beeper signals. In the darkness, no parachutes were seen and no voice contact could be established with any of the downed aircrew. The wreckage of Prometheus was located in the jungle-covered mountains approximately 12 miles south of Ban Namm, 21 miles west of Tchepone, 56 miles east of the city of Savannakhet and 32 miles west of the Lao/Vietnamese border, Savannakhet Province, Laos; and 45 miles due west of Khe Sanh, South Vietnam.

At 0350 hours, a Forward Air Controller (FAC), call sign "Nail," arrived on station to cover the crash site area and control the search and rescue (SAR) efforts that were immediately initiated. Unfortunately, by the time he arrived on site, he was unable to hear the emergency beepers. Likewise, in the darkness he was unable to locate any signs of survivors. Formal electronic surveillance efforts continued both day and night. In addition, all aircraft flying near the loss area listened for possible signals or mayday's from the downed crew members. All SAR efforts were terminated at 1830 hours on 30 March 1972 when no trace of the downed crew was found. Because of the heavy enemy activity in the area including numerous anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and surface-to-air missile SAM sites, as well as a large concentration of NVA forces, it was believed any surviving crewmen would have undoubtedly been captured by then. All 14 crewmen were listed Missing in Action.

After the Incident

During the 1970s and early 1980s various reports pertaining to crew members of Spectre 13 were received by the US government. These reports ranged from crash site/grave site data to multiple live siting reports. One of these reports was provided by a communist rallier who stated his unit was at an outpost near "38th MIL station Savannakhet" when a NVA convoy of some 130 trucks moved through his area between 35th to 38th MIL stations. The convoy was attacked by one C130 aircraft and two F4 fighters. According to the source, he observed the aircraft making several passes on the convoy destroying parts of it on each pass. When the Americans made their fifth pass, the C130 was hit and crashed approximately 10 kilometers south of his location. Most of the personnel from the 38th station rushed to the crash site. When they returned, they told the source who stayed at the station, that nine of the American crewmen had been rescued by Laotian civilians living near the crash site.

In 1984, remains reportedly belonging to William Todd were provided by a Lao refugee to US officials. Those remains consisted of 5 small bone fragments that were forwarded to the Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii (CIL-HI) on 20 November 1984. Subsequently, they were determined to be portions from the distal portions of a radius or a fibula. These remains were insufficient in quantity to determine race, sex or identity. Along with the bone fragments, identification media data in the form of a dog tag bearing AFC Todd's name and information was also forwarded with the remains to the laboratory.

Also in 1984, Curtis Miller was the subject of a first-hand live sighting refugee report wherein "the prisoner with a ring on his finger" was still alive and held captive. That wedding ring became another piece of material evidence supporting the fact that some of the crew successfully bailed out of their crippled gunship. This ring, inscribed on the inside "Forever Sue," was returned to Capt. Miller's family by the reporter who recovered it while visiting Laos. Interestingly, the ring was not burned or damaged in any way. That fact strongly supports the belief he was one of the men who bailed out before it impacted the ground.

A May 1985 article appearing in a Thai newspaper stated that the bodies of Simmons and Wanzel were among 5 bodies brought to the base camp of Lao Liberation forces. The same article reported a group of 21 Americans still alive, held prisoner at a camp in Khammouane Province, Laos. At about this same time, Simmons' dog tag was mailed anonymously to the U.S. Embassy in Laos. FBI tests failed to show fire residue on the tag, proving to the Simmons family that Skeeter did not die in the explosion and go down in the fiery crash.

Excavation and Identification

The U.S. and Laos excavated this aircraft's crash site in February 1986. The teams recovered a limited number of human bone fragments, personal effects and large pieces of plane wreckage. It was later announced by the U.S. Government that the remains of Castillo, Halpin, Ramsower, Simmons, Todd, Paulson, Pearce, Wanzel and Smith had been positively identified from these bone fragments. Because of the identification problems of the first excavation, the families of the Savannakhet AC130 have carefully considered the information given them about their loved ones. That portion of recovered remains associated with Robert Simmons consisted of only the #14 tooth - the upper left first molar. According to his dental records, that tooth is the only one he had extracted before going to Vietnam! His family categorically rejects that tooth as Robert Simmons mortal remains. Likewise, only one tooth, along with a dog tag that was recovered in Thailand a year earlier, was identified as the total mortal remains of Edwin Pearce. His family also rejects the US government considering him to be remains returned based on one tooth.

In a previous excavation at Pakse, Laos in 1985, remains recovered were positively identified as the 13 crew members, although independent examiners later proved that only 2 of those identifications were scientifically possible. The U.S. Government has acknowledged the errors made in identification on two of the men, but these two individuals are still considered "accounted for".

In January 1991, a federal judge ruled that when the Simmons family collected death benefits for Skeeter, they lost the right to question whether he was dead. They have continued to fight a positive identification based on a single tooth. The Assistant U.S. Attorney, William H. Pease, added that the court has no jurisdiction over military identification of remains.


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.