HERNDON ARRINGTON BIVENS
THE WALL: Panel 11W - ROW 005
Name: Herndon Arrington Bivens
Rank/Branch: E4/US Army
Unit: Security Platoon, 52nd Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group, 1st
Date of Birth: 01 January 1951 (Frankfort Germany)
Home City of Record: Jamaica NY
Date of Loss: 15 April 1970
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 145127N 1074126E (YB895442)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Other Personnel in Incident: Roger A. Miller (Released POW)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 July 1990 from one or more of the
raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with
POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews.
REMARKS: 730305 RELSD BY PRG - INJURED
Kontum, South Vietnam was in the heart of "Charlie country" --
enemy territory. The little town is along the Ia Drang River, some forty miles
north of the city of Pleiku. U.S. forces never had much control over the area.
In fact, the area to the north and east of Kontum was freefire zone where
anything and anyone was free game. The Kontum area was home base to what was
known as FOB2 (Forward Observation Base 2), a classified, long-term operations
of the Special Operations Group (SOG) that involved daily operations into Laos
and Cambodia. SOG teams operated out of Kontum, but staged out of Dak To.
On April 15, 1970, helicopters from the 170th Assault Helicopter Company
("Bikinis") flown by James E. Lake and Bill McDonald, were flying a routine FOB
mission when they got word that some of the unit's other helicopters were in
heavy action at Dak Seang. [Much of the following is extracted from Lake's
account of the incident found in "Life on the Line."]
Dak Seang was a Special
Forces camp about twenty miles north of Dak To, located in a valley surrounded
by high mountains, deep in Charlie country.
The helicopter unit had made a combat assault, carrying ARVN troops to the top
of a small hill just north of the camp. CPL Herndon A. Bivens, a pathfinder
with a security detachment, 52nd Aviation Battalion, was riding in the lead
helicopter as elements of the 52nd Aviation Battalion attempted to insert the
3rd Battalion, 42nd Regiment, Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) into the
area. CPL Bivens and another pathfinder, SGT Rosindo Montana and 6 ARVN
were successfully inserted by the lead helicopter without receiving fire.
In a common tactic used by the North Vietnamese, the first aircraft had been
allowed to land, drop its troops and depart the LZ. As soon as the second bird
neared the ground, the NVA fired at it from all sides and it crashed on the
landing zone. The second aircraft, UH1H (serial #68-16203) was flown by WO1
Roger A. Miller (only two weeks in-country), and aircraft commander WO Albert
L. Barthelme Jr.. Also onboard the aircraft were SP4 Vincent S. Davis, SP5
Donald C. Summers and 6 ARVN soldiers. Two of the ARVN died in the crash of the
aircraft. Miller was unhurt, as were Davis and Summers, the gunner and crew
chief. Barthelme crawled through the chin bubble to exit the aircraft, but was
then hit in the back and fell or was dragged into a bomb crater. They were
surrounded by NVA at a range of twenty meters in fortified positions.
When the second aircraft hit the LZ, Cpl. Bivens was near the landing zone. One
by one, other helicopters tried to get the survivors off the hill, but were
shot down. Three unsuccessful extraction attempts were made to rescue the
survivors of the second aircraft and the passengers of the first.
The Air Force had called on SAR helicopters, Jolly 27 and Jolly 29 accompanied
by four A1E Skyraiders (Sandys), to try and rescue the survivors of the two
helicopters. After some F4 fighters strafed the surrounding area, Jolly 27
started his approach, immediately receiving enemy fire. The aircraft was shot
down and crashed in the trees. Jolly 29 didn't get that close, but received
crippling enemy fire and returned to Pleiku.
Several hours passed before Lake and McDonald arrived in their helicopters to
do what they could to retrieve their friends. Monitoring the Air Force efforts,
they returned to Dak To and requested the assistance of what SOG called the
"Bright Light Team." This was an emergency response team consisting of select
Special Forces people who would respond in an extreme situation. They were very
tough, courageous, and they were often killed. The request was granted, and
the Bright Light team on McDonald's aircraft, Lake and McDonald returned to Dak
McDonald and Barthelme were high school friends that had grown up
together in St. Mary's County, Maryland. It was decided that McDonald would
make the first approach and Lake would cover him.
Like Jolly 27, McDonald started to receive heavy ground fire a quarter mile
from the LZ. Undaunted, he pressed on and landed next to the downed crew under
close-range fire from 360 degrees. The door gunner and crew chief were firing
back into the charging NVA soldiers, who were running within a few feet of the
aircraft. Tom Benne, McDonald's pilot, was shot through both legs by a round
that came through the armored seat. The door gunner and the crew chief from
Barthelm's aircraft, SP4 Davis and SP5 Summers, leaped on and were both shot
multiple times in the process. Miller also jumped on and then jumped off again,
saying he was going back for Barthelme.
When McDonald touched down on the LZ, he had 1,100 pounds of fuel. After 30
seconds on the ground, he reported that he had only 400 pounds left, that
everyone was hit and he was coming out.
Soon after liftoff he lost pedal
control. Fuel was pouring out of a huge hole in the fuel cells. He made a slow
turn to the south and made an approach to the wire at Dak Seang, landing just
inside the wire. There were hundreds of NVA just outside the wire, less than a
hundred meters away.
Lake's aircraft began to take ground fire on his approach to the wire at Dak
Seang, but he also landed safely a few seconds after McDonald. As he landed
facing McDonald's aircraft, bodies were falling out of the doors. Lake's gunner
and crew chief left their seats and ran to assist. John Kemper, an ex-Special
Forces E6 on his third tour of Vietnam, was Lake's pilot. He jumped out to
Ground fire was continuous, and bullets were smashing through the windscreen
and the instrument panel as they carried the wounded from McDonald's to Lake's
aircraft. Everyone except McDonald had been shot, most of them several times,
and blood was everywhere. Lake lifted off, believing he also had Barthelme
aboard, but he was wrong.
Summers and Davis reported that WO Barthelme was badly wounded, and that one of
the pathfinders was dead. Two ARVN survivors from the first helicopter were
to evade capture. Before they left the LZ that night, they asked CPL Bivens and
WO Miller to go with them, but the Americans chose to stay on the LZ and await
WO Miller was captured by the Viet Cong and eventually moved to Hanoi and was
released in Operation Homecoming in March 1973.
When he was released, he
reported that he and Bivens had spent the night on the LZ, and on the morning
of April 16 attempted to return to friendly lines. At an unknown location they
ambushed by two enemy squads. WO Miller saw that Bivens had been wounded in the
chest 5 or 6 times by small arms fire. After their capture they were separated
and given medical attention. The last Miller saw of Bivens was when he was
from the site of the ambush on a stretcher. At that time, Bivens was still
undergoing medical treatment.
About four days later, the camp commander where
Miller was being held told him that Bivens had died about 2 hours after
On April 29, 1970, a U.S. search and recovery team was able to examine the
crash site and recover the remains of WO Barthelme and Sgt. Montana. The only
identifiable thing about Barthelme was the green St. Mary's County t-shirt he
Herndon Bivens has been missing nearly 30 years, and there can be no question
that the Vietnamese know precisely what happened to him, but they deny any
knowledge of his fate. Further, even though WO Miller knew that Bivens had been
captured, Bivens is classified Missing in Action rather than the more
appropriate category of Prisoner of War.
His name did not appear on Henry
Kissinger's descrepancy case list at the end of the war.
There are nearly 2500 Americans still prisoner, missing or unaccounted for from
the war in Vietnam. Tragically, most experts agree, based on evidence received
in thousands of refugee reports, that many of them are still alive. Bivens
could be among them. What are we doing to bring these men home?
"All Biographical and loss information on POWs provided by Operation Just
Cause have been supplied by Chuck and Mary Schantag of POWNET. Please check
with POWNET regularly for updates."
South Vietnam, pre-1975:TABB, RE/Transmittal of Documents
COUNTRY: South Vietnam, pre-1975
NAME: Herndon A. Bivens
SUBJECTS: Missing; PW Camp; Binh Dinh; Live Sighting
COMMENTS: Includes message and Counterintelligence Information Report with sketches
TYPE OF DOCUMENT: Memorandum
DATE OF REPORT: 71 10 28
DATE OF INFORMATION: 70 04 15
CATEGORY: Army Files
Information above was supplied from POW / MIA Database
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