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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 Aviation Brigade
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
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1H
Other Personnel in Incident: Roger A. Miller (Released POW)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 July 1990 from one or more of the following:
raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews.



Kontum, South Vietnam was in the heart of "Charlie country" -- hostile 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 soldiers 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 with the Bright Light team on McDonald's aircraft, Lake and McDonald returned to Dak Seang.

    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 heavy 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 help. 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 able 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 rescue. 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 were 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 taken 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 capture.

    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 wore.

    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
REEL: 260
PAGE: 8-18
DATE OF REPORT: 71 10 28
CATEGORY: Army Files

Information above was supplied from POW / MIA Database



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