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Eugene Lunsford Clay was a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force when he was killed in Laos on 09 November 1967. Clay was born on 20 February 1939, and his home city of record is Arlington, Texas. Clay's remains have not been returned.



The Incident

At 1505 hours on 8 November 1967, two Air Force HH3H helicopters (call signs "Jolly Green 26" and "Jolly Green 29") were scrambled from the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam for an emergency extraction of a 12-man Special Forces road-watch reconnaissance team. The team had suffered heavy casualties while operating deep in a denied area along the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and was under intense and relentless attack by the communists. This recovery effort would be recorded by the 37th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron as one of the largest and most hazardous on record.

The Special Forces team members were assigned to MACV-SOG. Military Assistance Command Vietnam - Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG) was a joint service unconventional warfare task force engaged in highly classified operations throughout Southeast Asia. The 5th Special Forces channeled personnel into MACV-SOG through Special Operations Augmentation (SOA) that provided their "cover" while under secret orders to MACV-SOG. These teams performed highly classified, deep penetration missions of strategic reconnaissance and interdiction that were called, depending on the location and time frame, "Shining Brass," "Salem House," "Daniel Boone" or "Prairie Fire" missions

This area of Laos was known to be a major artery of the 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.

The two Air Force rescue helicopters were advised by the on site Forward Air Controller (FAC) to remain in the holding area while three Army UH1B gunships softened the area with rockets and machine gun fire. Meanwhile, an Air Force C130 gunship provided flare support for the operation. During this time 2 helicopters - 1 American UH1B and 1 ARVN H34 - were shot down by automatic weapons fire very near the road watch team approximately 45 kilometers east-southeast of Muang Nong and 5 kilometers southwest of Achiang, Salavan Province, Laos.

At 0030 hours on 9 November, Jolly Green 29 successfully extracted three indigenous personnel before being severely damaged and driven off by heavy enemy automatic weapons fire. It departed the area and made an emergency landing at Khe Sanh, South Vietnam.

The crew of the second rescue helicopter, Jolly Green 26, was comprised of Capt. Gerald O. Young, aircraft commander, Captain Ralph Brower, co-pilot, SSgt. Eugene Clay, flight engineer, and Sgt. Larry Maysey, pararescueman.

As he was departing the area, the pilot of the damaged SAR helicopter advised Capt. Young that the endangered team was positioned on the side of a steep slope which would require unusual airmanship on the part of Capt. Young to effect pickup. He further advised that any additional rescue attempts be abandoned because it was not possible to suppress the concentrated fire from those weapons.

20 minutes later, and with full knowledge of the danger involved and that the supporting helicopter gunships were low on fuel and ordnance, Capt. Young hovered under intense enemy fire until Sgt. George Kusick and MSgt. Bruce Baxter, who were both wounded, were aboard. As he maneuvered the aircraft for takeoff, the enemy appeared at point-blank range and raked it with automatic weapons fire. The Jolly Green Giant crashed inverted in flames. Capt. Young escaped through a window of the burning aircraft. Disregarding his own serious burns, Capt. Young aided one of the wounded men and attempted to lead the hostile forces away from that man's position.

The number of US and allied personnel on the ground and under attack was now 12 men from the Special Forces road-watch team, 4 US crewmen from the UH1B, 3 ARVN from the ARVN H34 and 4 US crewmen from the HH3H.

Between 0900 hours and 1700 hours on 9 November, 17 of the 23 embattled men were rescued. Those 6 men still on the ground included 2 trail-watch team members, 1 UH1B crewman and 3 HH3H crewmen. Later, when another rescue attempt by air was planned, Capt. Young declined to bring the aircraft in because he had observed hostile forces setting up automatic weapons positions to entrap any rescue aircraft.

By late afternoon a strike team was landed some distance away to rescue the remaining Americans, but had difficulty making contact with the survivors. When they did link up, it was impossible to inspect the wreckage for survivors or remains because of fading light.

On 10 November, over 17 hours after the HH3H was shot down, the remaining survivors were evacuated by rescue helicopter. Capt. Gerald O. Young, the pilot of Jolly Green Giant 26, was awarded this nation's highest decoration, The Congressional Medal of Honor, for his extraordinary heroism both in the air and on the ground during this mission.

Later the wreckage of the Jolly Green Giant was searched. Three charred remains were found, two of them had identification tags which identified them as members of the aircrew. The third set of remains had no tags, but was identified as Sgt. Kusick, the reconnaissance team radio operator, as the long antenna from his PRC-25 radio were found on his body. Approximately 34 meters downhill from the wreckage, another set of remains was found. It was readily identified as MSgt. Baxter by his facial features. Even though the area was well searched, no trace of the third crewman was found, either alive or dead.

The remains found in the helicopter were removed from the aircraft and placed with MSgt. Baxter's remains so they could be hoisted as one lift into a hovering helicopter. The identification tags of the crewmembers were placed with the remains. Weather conditions on 9 November were clear with 7 miles visibility and light to variable winds. By 10 November there was a 1000-foot overcast of clouds with only 3 miles of visibility and light rain. During the next 2 days, weather conditions and enemy action would not permit helicopters to extract the remains of the dead. Ultimately the strike team was forced to leave the remains where they had been placed, and depart the crash site area. On 13 November 1967, George Kusick, Bruce Baxter; Ralph Brower; Eugene Clay and Larry Maysey were all declared Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

For every insertion like this one that was detected and stopped, dozens of others safely slipped past NVA lines to strike a wide range of targets and collect vital information. The number of MACV-SOG missions conducted with Special Forces reconnaissance teams into Laos and Cambodia was 452 in 1969. It was the most sustained American campaign of raiding, sabotage and intelligence-gathering waged on foreign soil in US military history. MACV-SOG's teams earned a global reputation as one of the most combat effective deep-penetration forces ever raised.


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.