In late March 1968, United States Army Sergeant First Class George “Ron” Brown of Holly Hill, Florida, Sergeant Alan Boyer of Missoula, Montana, and Sergeant Greg Huston of Shelby County, Ohio, along with six indigenous personnel – collectively known as “Spike Team Asp” – conducted a top-secret intelligence operation behind enemy lines approximately 12-miles northeast of Tchepone, Laos.
Assigned to the Military Assistance Command Vietnam/Studies and Observation Group (MACV/SOG) this team of elite Special Forces soldiers was tasked with setting Air Force wire-tapping equipment and sensors along the labyrinthine Ho Chi Minh trail system, the main north-south supply line for the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.
The men had been covertly inserted into the area after launching from Nakon Phanom, Thailand aboard a CH-3 from the Air Force’s 20th Helicopter Squadron call sign “Pony Express.”
More than 25 special forces soldiers and many indigenous troops had already been killed or gone missing in our deadly secret war in Laos.
At approximately 11:00am on the morning of March 28, the team reported that they were in contact with an enemy force and requested an immediate emergency extraction from the area.
A helicopter arrived in the area a short time later and quickly located the team on the ground.
Due to thick canopy jungle and rough terrain the pilot was unable to land so a rope ladder was dropped from the open doorway of the aircraft to the men below. Five of the six indigenous troops climbed the ladder and were safely taken into the helicopter.
As the sixth was going up, Sergeant Boyer was seen beginning his ascent at the bottom rung of the ladder.
Just as Boyer started climbing, one of the rope’s mounting brackets either broke free or was cut away by heavy enemy ground fire. Personnel on the helicopter reported observing the indigenous soldier and Sgt. Boyer falling to the ground.
According to reports, Sgt. Dave Mayberry, who served as the chase medic on the extraction helicopter, observed the Green Berets still very much alive and heroically returning fire and defending their position.
When Sgt. Mayberry turned to treat one of the wounded he lost sight of the men on the ground.
Brown, Huston and Boyer were never seen again.
Numerous air assets were diverted to the area and a rescue team was assembled, but the mission was called off later that afternoon when there were no further communications from the men.
On April 1, 1968, Special Forces Sergeant Chuck Feller, along with several indigenous soldiers, launched on a mission to locate the lost men of Spike Team Asp. After just six hours on the ground, Sgt. Feller and his team came into direct contact with the enemy and called for an emergency extraction.
Again, a rope ladder had to be dropped and one of the indigenous soldiers was forced to dangle from the rungs as the helicopter returned to the airbase in Thailand. Sgt. Feller later reported that his search found no evidence of Spike Team Asp.
Interestingly, after Al Boyer went missing in action, his best friend since childhood, Doug Hagen, was attending North Dakota State University when he heard the news. He decided he needed to find out what happened to his friend, and enlisted in the Army, ultimately joining the 5th Special Forces Group, just as Al had done.
On August 7, 1971, 1st Lieutenant Doug Hagen was killed during heavy fighting while leading a reconnaissance team – RT Kansas – on a secret mission deep within enemy controlled territory.
For his heroism, Doug received the Medal of Honor, the United States highest decoration for valor. He was the last United States Army soldier to earn the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam war.
In January 2000, a team from the former Joint POW/MIA Accounting Office conducted extensive excavations of the Laotian countryside near where Spike Team Asp was last seen.
During the latter part of the war, the Ho Chi Minh trail was heavily bombed leaving the earth deeply cratered and much of the topography completely different than it had been in 1968, making search and recovery efforts extremely difficult.
However, the archaeological excavation uncovered several personal artifacts attributable to U.S. military personnel, to include a metal boot insert and several uniform buttons.
In addition, a single human tooth was recovered at the site.
The tooth was later linked to Ron Brown through dental x-rays at the Department of Defense Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii.
In May 2003, Sergeant Brown’s daughter, Ronda Brown-Pitts, was notified by the Army that her father’s remains had been found in Laos. Unfortunately, dental records provided to her showed that her father’s tooth had a filling – and the tooth recovered did not.
Due to the confusion, Ronda demanded a DNA test, but it was refused based on the Army’s policy of “body desecration.” A DNA test would have destroyed “all of the remains.”
In 2006, a casket containing the remains of Master Sergeant George “Ron” Brown was delivered to his daughter and later interred with full military honors in Dayton, Texas.
Many years ago, I received a POW/MIA bracelet bearing Ron’s name.
When I was a young boy growing up during the Vietnam era, these bracelets were a fairly common sight, but not so much anymore. In the 1970’s many school children wore the bracelet as a means of ensuring that the POW/MIA issue remained a priority until they all came home.
For those whose adopted POW didn’t come home, the bracelet holder became the keeper of the eternal memory of one man’s sacrifice.
The silver band has become both a personal memorial, and a public reminder, that there are some debts of gratitude that cannot be repaid.
This small token has allowed me to learn about Ron’s military career and his incredible heroism; and I have had the honor of speaking with his friends and family, and to meet and correspond with some of the men he served with on Okinawa and in Vietnam.
He was a husband, a father, a former member of the U.S. Army Parachute Team “The Golden Knights,” and a professional soldier of incredible skill and dedication.
Even though Ron’s “remains” have been repatriated, I still wear his bracelet as a personal remembrance of one man’s sacrifice to the high cost of freedom – and in memory of Greg Huston, who remains missing.
Incredibly, the story of Spike Team Asp continues.
On March 7, 2016, one day before what would have been Sergeant Alan Boyer’s 70th birthday, United States Army and DOD officials presented his sister in Leesburg, Florida, with Alan’s military decorations, to include the Silver Star and Purple Heart.
During the visit, Judi Boyer Bouchard was notified that a single leg bone fragment had been located by the Defense Department POW/MIA Accounting Office. The bone shard was apparently purchased by a Laotian activist from Lao nationals described as “remains dealers,” and later positively identified through mitochondrial DNA analysis.
On June 22, 2016, Sergeant Alan Boyer was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 28.
He was laid to rest just 15-feet from his best friend, Doug Hagen.
Currently, there are 1,598 Americans who remain missing after the Vietnam War.
Overall, there are more than 82,000 missing personnel from past conflicts, including World War II, Korea, the Cold War and the Middle East.
On this Memorial Day, and every day, let us remember the extraordinary service of men like Ron Brown, Al Boyer and Greg Huston and Doug Hagen – and all those brave souls who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to our great nation.