Name: James Wayne Gates
Rank/Branch: O3/US Army
Unit: 20th Aviation Detachment (see note in text)
Date of Birth: 30 December 1933 (Bonita LA)
Home City of Record: Mer Rouge LA
Loss Date: 06 April 1966
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 161819N 1064116E (XD803033)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Category: 1
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: OV1A
Refno: 0297
Other Personnel In Incident: John W. Lafayette (missing); Harry Duensing;
Larry Johnson (on another OV1 - both rescued)
Source: Compiled 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.
SYSOPSIS:  On April 6, 1966, Capt. James W. Gates, pilot, and Capt. John W.
Lafayette, observer, departed Hue/Phu Bai airfield at 1540 hours in an OV1A
Mohawk (serial #63-1377) as number 2 aircraft on a visual reconnaissance
mission over Laos. Number one aircraft was an OV1A flown by Capt. Harry
Duensing and observer SP5 Larry Johnson.
At about 1648 hours, the U.S. Air Force airborne command post, Hillsborough,
received a mayday from the two OV1 aircraft, and dispatched two FAC in the area
for an immediate search for the two downed air crews. At 1730 hours, the air
crews were on the ground about 1 kilometer apart. One of the FAC's established
radio contact with both crews, who reported that they were all okay.
Duensing's aircraft had been hit by enemy ground fire, and Gates and Lafayette
began flying cover for the other crew. Gates' plane was hit immediately. All
four men safely ejected from their planes in the vicinity of 502-Charlie and
were in radio contact with air cover. Duensing and Johnson were evacuated
safely, and radio contact continued for 1 1/2 hours before contact was lost
with Gates and Lafayette. Their last transmission reported that they were being
surrounded by Viet Cong. It is believed that both men were captured.
The OV1A was outfitted with photo equipment for aerial photo reconnaissance.
The planes obtained aerial views of small targets - hill masses, road
junctions, or hamlets - in the kind of detail needed by ground commanders. The
planes were generally unarmed. The OV1's were especially useful in
reconnoitering the Ho Chi Minh trail.
When 591 American prisoners were released in 1973, Gates and Lafayette were not
among them. In fact, the Vietnamese deny any knowledge of the two. They are
among nearly 2500 Americans who did not come home from Southeast Asia at the
end of the war. Unlike the MIAs of other wars, many of these men can be
accounted for. Tragically, nearly 6000 reports of Americans still in captivity
in Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S., yet freedom for them seems
beyond our grasp.
Men like Gates and Lafayette went to Indochina in our name. What must they be
thinking of us now?
NOTE: The 20th Aviation Detachment existed until December 1966, at which time
it was reassigned as the 131st Aviation Company, 223rd Aviation Battalion
(Combat Support). The 131st Aviation Company had been assigned to I Corps
Aviation Battalion since June 1966, when it arrived in Vietnam. In August 1967,
the 131st Aviation Company was reassigned to the 212th Aviation Battalion where
it remained until July 1971, whereupon it transferred out of Vietnam.
There were a large number of pilots lost from this unit, including Thaddeus E.
Williams and James P. Schimberg (January 9, 1966); John M. Nash and Glenn D.
McElroy (March 15, 1966); James W. Gates and John W. Lafayette (April 6, 1966);
Robert G. Nopp and Marshall Kipina (July 14, 1966); Jimmy M. Brasher and Robert
E. Pittman (September 28, 1966); James M. Johnstone and James L. Whited
(November 19, 1966); Larry F. Lucas (December 20, 1966); and Jack W. Brunson
and Clinton A. Musil (May 31, 1971). Missing OV1 aircraft crew from the
20th/131st represent well over half of those lost on OV1 aircraft during the
U.S. Army records list both Nopp and Kipina as part of the "131st Aviation
Company, 14th Aviation Battalion", yet according to "Order of Battle" by Shelby
Stanton, a widely recognized military source, this company was never assigned
to the 14th Aviation Battalion. The 131st was known as "Nighthawks", and was a
surveillance aircraft company.
                              PROJECT X
                        SUMMARY SELECTION RATIONALE
RATIONALE FOR SELECTION: Search and rescue forces established radio
communications with both officers, who reported that they were all right,
although the enemy was closing in around them. No correlated reports have
been received subsequent to the incident date to indicate were either that
CPT Gates and CPT La Fayette were either captured or dead.
REFNO: 0297 22 Apr 76
1. On 6 April 1966, CPT James W. Gates, pilot, and CPT John La Fayette
observer, departed Phu Bai Airfield -RVN at 1540 hours local in an OV1 (
#63-13117), as number two in a flight of two aircraft on a reconnaissance
mission over Laos. At about 1648 hours the USAF Airborne Command Post
(Hillsborro). received a "Mayday" radio transmission from the two OV1's.
Two Forward Air Controllers (FAC) in the area began an immediate search for
the two downed aircrews. (Ref 1)
2. At about 1730 hours the two aircrews were seen on the ground about one
kilometer apart. One of the FAC's established radio contact with both crews
who reported that they were OK. While waiting the arrival of the rescue
helicopters the two FAC's began directing air strikes into the area to
suppress hostile fire. At about 1815 hours Capts Gates and La Fayette
radioed that the VC were closing in on them. Shortly after, radio contact
was lost. (Ref 1)
3. At 1850 hours the crew of the other OV1 was rescued and a visual search
of the last known location of CPT Gates and CPT La Fayette was made by a
rescue helicopter, but neither officer was seen. Both rescue helicopters
received extensive damage from enemy fire. Search and rescue efforts were
resumed the next day from 0638 hours to 1300 hours. They were unsuccessful
and were suspended. (Ref 1)
4. The location of the incident is given as grid coordinates XD 803 033.
(Ref 2)
5. During the existence of JCRC, the hostile threat in the area precluded
any visits to or ground inspections of the sites involved in this case.
This individual's name and identifying data were turned over to Four-Party
Joint Military Team with a request for any information available. No
response was forthcoming. CPT Gates is currently carried in the status of
Missing. CPT La Fayette is currently carried in the status of Dead, Remains
Not Recovered.
1. RPT (U), 20th ASTA Det, 12 Apr 66.
2. RPT (U), Adjutant General DD Form 1300 21 Aug 73.
                 * National Alliance of Families Home Page
Taps to sound for a missing hero
BASTROP Jean Blackard's final face-to-face conversation with her uncle is still clear in her mind more than 40 years later.

It took place just before Capt. James Gates was shipped out for Vietnam, where he arrived in October 1965.

Don't worry about me," Gates told his niece that day. "I feel this is the place I have to be because of my country, my family and my kids. "I know why I'm going. I might not come home. I'm ready."

By then, Gates had outgrown the kid patriot who joined the U.S. Army as a private at the age of 20 in 1954. His loyalty to his service was a mature, almost fatalistic one. And those final words to his niece proved prescient.

Less than a year later, on April 6, 1966, the pilot was shot down over Laos. In his last radio transmission, he said he was surrounded by Viet Cong soldiers. He and the observer who flew with him were deemed MIA Missing In Action.

Today, his family will create a place to honor Gates' memory, even though no body will rest beneath the headstone. A full military ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. in the Mer Rouge Cemetery.

It will mark a conclusion to 42 years of alternating doubt, hope and grief that began with the news that Gates' plane had been shot down over Laos.


Like a brother

Close in age to his sister's children, Gates was raised almost as their brother. Born in 1933, he was one of 13 children. After his mother died when he was a child, Gates went to live with his sister, Lanee Dawson, and her family.

"He was a real jovial, fun-loving person," said Ann Patterson, Blackard's sister and Gates' niece. "Everybody liked him. He got along with everyone and never met a stranger."

His chatterbox tendencies earned him the nickname "Gabby," a moniker inscribed on the soldier's memorial outside the courthouse in Bastrop.

In Gates, the quick humor matched an intense drive. He learned to send telegraphs while working with a railroad because he enjoyed the skill.

Records indicate he joined the Army in 1954. Though he had no college education, Gates eventually became an officer and reached his goal of becoming a pilot.

"He wanted to fly," Blackard said. "He did whatever he wanted to do, if he was determined. That's the kind of person he was."

While stationed in Italy, he married an Italian woman and had a son and daughter. When he went to Vietnam in October 1965, she moved back to Italy and still lives there today, as do his children.

Gates, who would receive a posthumous promotion to lieutenant colonel, flew an OV1A Mohawk, a reconnaissance plane.

He wound up at the Phu Bai (Vietnam) airfield, where he would fly missions into Laos. Technically a neutral territory, the United States' presence in Laos was highly classified.


'Never thought of him as dead'

War has many scary concepts, but little is more dreadful to the family of a soldier than Missing In Action.

"When we heard it, there was that big hope that he was alive," Blackard said. "That just kept us going for years ..."

Patterson said the family held strongly to the hope that Gates would make it home. But more worrisome, "in the biggest part of our minds, we hoped he didn't suffer."

The end of the war brought more anxiety, as the weeks and months passed with no word from their loved one.

"Until that time, I guess we never thought of him as being dead," Blackard said. "Then we began to realize that he might not be coming home."

The volumes of paper his family collected through the years chronicled not only the search for Gates, but also their painful array of emotions as all their efforts turned up no certain evidence regarding Gates' fate.

Dawson saved all the documentation on her brother. It dates from the month he disappeared until her death in 2003.

She wrote to military commanders, men who served with Gates, even Vietnamese ambassadors.

It didn't help that Gates' mission in Laos was classified, which proved a barrier for his family early on as it sought details of what happened to him.

Blackard said though her mother continued to search for information, hope dimmed as time passed. The army declared Gates dead in October 1977.


'You're on fire. We're hit.'

According to records maintained by former military personnel who served in the area, Gates likely flew for a task force engaged in unconventional warfare, including reconnaissance across enemy lines.

On the afternoon of April 6, 1966, Gates was one of four men chosen to fly an unscheduled mission into Laos after U.S. personnel received word of enemy presence in the area, according to Specialist Larry Johnson, who was on one of the two aircraft sent out that day.

Mohawks typically held two men a pilot and an observer.

Johnson and his pilot, Capt. Harry Duensing, flew the lead airplane out that afternoon. Gates and observer Capt. John Lafayette were in the hind aircraft, tasked with providing cover for the first Mohawk.

Johnson's plane was struck first, underneath and in the left engine.

"When we were hit, it actually sounded like you took a huge rubber and snapped it on a tin can," Johnson said this week from his home in Utah.

He remembers a radio exchange with Gates, in which he said, "Yeah, Harry. You're on fire. We're hit."

Johnson never saw Gates or Lafayette again. He and Duensing made their way into a clearing and holed up. They were rescued several hours later.

Though initially silent about the incident because of its classified status, Johnson eventually compiled records of the day's events. He said two different scenarios exist.

It is known that Gates and Lafayette made a final transmission from the ground, indicating they were among North Vietnamese soldiers. According to Johnson, they either died in a firefight on the scene or were killed a short time later trying to escape.

Johnson believes they may have been buried in a shallow grave in the area or their bodies simply covered with dirt.

Though Johnson did not know Gates socially, he has long maintained the deep respect for him.

"I was drafted," Johnson wrote in a letter to Dawson dated 1973. "Most non-coms and officers demanded respect. But those pilots, including your brother, earned my respect because of their skill and character."


Laying a memory to rest

Even after Gates' family began to accept that he was gone, they were never prepared to lay his memory to rest. Blackard's mother held out hope his remains would be found, even sending in a DNA sample in 1998 for the government to keep on file.

But after their parents died, the siblings realized it was time to pay tribute to him.

"My mother had always hoped we would have remains to bury," Patterson said. "My mother died in 2003, and then my dad died in 2006, so we just felt like it was something we needed to do for them."

Gates' plaque will be placed next to Dawson's, but they still want to put his body there, too.

"This still doesn't close anything," Blackard said, "because I still hope some day they would find something, so we would know."


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Never again shall one generation of veterans abandon another. Houma, Louisiana