Hugh Leslie "Buzz" Sherburn
February 5, 1969
KIA in Laos
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|Name: Hugh Leslie "Buzz" Sherburn
Rank/Branch: E5/US Air Force
Unit: 6994th Security Squadron
Date of Birth: 21 December 1939 (Weston OR)
Home City of Record: Vancouver WA
Date of Loss: 05 February 1969
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 152600N 1064700E (approx)
Status (in 1973): Killed In Action
Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: EC47
Other Personnel in Incident: Robert E. Olson; Louis J. Clever; Harry T.
Niggle; Clarence L. McNeill; Homer M. Lynn Jr.; Walter F. Burke; James V.
Dorsey Jr.; Rodney H. Gott; Wilton N. Hatton (all reported KIA)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 September 1990 from one or more
of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources,
correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews.
Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 1998.
REMARKS: ** NOT ON MISSING LISTS **
SYNOPSIS: The Douglas C47 was designed as a transport, gunship, and
electronic or regular reconnaissance aircraft, depending on the
configuration. The aircraft served in World War II and served French forces
in Indochina in the 1950's, and returned to Vietnam at the outset of
American involvement there.
On February 5, 1969, an EC47 (electronic surveillance) departed Pleiku
Airbase, Republic of Vietnam on a tactical reconnaissance mission over Laos.
The aircraft crew included LtCol. Harry T. Niggle, Capt. Walter F. Burke,
Major Robert E. Olson, Major Homer M. Lynn Jr., MSgt. Wilton N. Hatton,
SSgt. Rodney H. Gott, TSgt. Louis J. Clever, SSgt. James V. Dorsey Jr.,
SSgt. Hugh L. Sherburn (radio operator on the aircraft), and Sgt. Clarence
L. McNeill. The last radio contact with the aircraft was at 8:10 a.m. at
which time it was located about 21 miles west-northwest of the city of
Chavane in Saravane Province, Laos.
When the aircraft failed to make a scheduled stop at Phu Bai Airport near
Hue shortly before noon, search efforts were initiated to locate the
aircraft. During the remainder of the day and for six succeeding days,
extensive communication and ramp checks were made, as well as a visual
search of the area from the last known position of the aircraft through its
intended flight path. Because no information was forthcoming which would
reveal the whereabouts of the missing aircraft and crew, the search was then
In the fall of 1969, the wreckage of an EC47 was located in a jungle-covered
mountainous area in the approximate last known location of Sherburn's
aircraft. The wreckage site was searched, and remains and a number of items
were recovered. These items were later correlated to Sherburn's aircraft.
The Department of the Air Force believes that the aircraft was faced with a
sudden airborne emergency since the right wing of the aircraft was found
some 500 meters from the main wreckage site. It was believed that the engine
caught fire causing the wing to separate from the fuselage while the
aircraft was still in the air. Further, the Air Force states that although
the crew members had parachutes, it is unlikely that the apparent suddenness
of the emergency would have permitted anyone to abandon the aircraft. The
absence of emergency radio signals further diminished the hope that any of
the crew members could have survived.
At this time, the Air Force declared the ten men onboard the aircraft to be
dead, and so notified the families. The remains found at the crash site were
interred in a single grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St.
Louis. Military officials told eight of the families that the remains of
only two individuals had been identified, but would not reveal those
identities to them. (It is assumed that the families of the two individuals
identified were informed.)
In February 1970, the Sherburn family was informed that the remains found at
the crash site were skeletal and commingled, and that Air Force
identification specialists were unable to determine that they had a
composite of ten individuals -- and were unable to establish the identity of
any of the remains.
About the same time the crew of the EC47 was being interred in St. Louis,
another mass burial was conducted, containing 18 USMC and Navy personnel. On
January 28, 1973, PFC Ronald Ridgeway, one of those 18 "dead and buried"
servicemen, was released alive from a POW camp in Hanoi. The U.S. had not
known that he was a prisoner of war.
Although the relatives found little hope in Ridgeway's return, some thought
it entirely possible that others might have escaped with Ridgeway. How many
others, some family members wondered, had been captured without the U.S.
If such a thing could happen to the Marine and Navy group, what about the
EC47 lost in Laos? Unfortunately, when the war ended, no American held in
Laos was released. The U.S. has not negotiated the freedom of a single man
the Pathet Lao asserted they held prisoner in Laos.
The U.S. Government has never changed its position on the Marines, Navy and
Air Force personnel interred in mass graves in St. Louis, and has continued
to state unequivocally that they were killed in action because the families
could not produce proof otherwise. Although the government lacked positive
evidence that most of these men were dead, its assumption that they were
dead overruled any assumption that they might be alive. The Marine Corps has
admitted that some of those "buried" men could have been captured, but that
it is doubtful. Even though considerable doubt surrounds the identification
of the men buried in St. Louis, and, indeed, some of them might have
survived, official status change has been denied.
Since the war ended, over 10,000 reports of Americans prisoner, missing or
unaccounted for in Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S. Government.
It would not be erroneous to speculate that if the U.S. received a
first-hand, live sighting report on the men "buried" in St. Louis, that
report would be debunked because they are all "dead."
Although many experts who have reviewed the largely-classified information
relating to Americans still missing in Southeast Asia have concluded that
hundreds of them are still alive in captivity, the USG cannot seem to make
up its mind. Meanwhile, how many wait for their country to come for them?
Who will look for these men?
The crew of the EC47 was in a Missing in Action classification from February
until October, 1969.
Hugh L. Sherburn had been in the Air Force eleven years and was nearing the
end of his third tour of Vietnam when his aircraft went down. He was awarded
the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster; the Air Medal with
fifth Oak Leaf Cluster, and Purple Heart following his loss incident.
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