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Samuel Blackmar Cornelius was a Captain in the United States Air Force when he went Missing in Action in Cambodia on 16 June 1973. Cornelius was born on 02 April 1943, and his home city of record is Lubbock, Texas.



The Phantom

The Phantom, used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings, served a multitude of functions including fighter-bomber and interceptor, photo and electronic surveillance. The two-man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2), and had a long range (900 - 2300 miles, depending on stores and mission type). The F4 was very maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes. The F4 was selected for a number of state-of-the-art electronics conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.

The Incident

CAPT Samuel B. Cornelius was the pilot of an F4E Phantom assigned a strike mission in Cambodia on June 16, 1973. His electronic weapons officer on the flight was CAPT John J. Smallwood. Over the target area, the F4 was hit by hostile fire and crashed. No parachutes were seen, and no emergency beeper signals were heard indicating that the crew ejected safely. The official word was that their survival was unlikely.

Few American planes were shot down in Cambodia during this time period. Peace documents had been signed in Paris ending hostilities in Vietnam in January of that year, but strikes in Cambodia continued. Another F-4 piloted by Douglas Martin and with backseater Samuel L. James had been shot down April 18. One of the crew of an HH53C helicopter, MSGT David V. McLeod, Jr., went missing on June 14, 1973. These were the only Americans missing during the spring and summer of 1973 in Cambodia.

In July 1973, a South Vietnamese agent reported talking to a refugee who had seen three Americans dressed in flight uniforms in captivity near Kompong Barey Hamlet in Prey Veng Province. (Note that all events described are occurring AFTER the war with Vietnam "ended" and 591 American POWs were released from Vietnam.) The agent was able to make contact with a Communist cadre who said the three were airmen who had been downed in July 1973. The cadre went on to say that they were being taken to Loc Ninh (South Vietnam) to be held for exchange at a later date. No exchange ever occurred. It is assumed, since these three aircraft are the only ones missing in Cambodia, that this report pertains to three of the five Americans involved. Nothing has been heard of the five since.

The United States did not bargain or negotiate with Cambodia for any prisoners held there. U.S. bombing of Cambodia continued until August 1973. Any who were lucky enough to return had earlier been moved from the border areas of Cambodia into Vietnam and released from Vietnam. Evidence points to many Americans being moved to Vietnam from Laos and Cambodia and held beyond the end of the war.

Because of the genocide perpetrated upon Cambodia by Pol Pot in the mid-70's, the chances of survival are decreased significantly for anyone still held prisoner of war in Cambodia. However, we owe our best efforts to those men lost in Cambodia, and in all of Southeast Asia to seek their release if alive, and determine their fates if deceased.


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.