Saturday, May 24, 2008

Memorial Day 1961


30 May 1961 near Hmong Laos
Air America Charles Mateer Walter Wizbowski On 29 March 1961, Clarence J. Abadie led a flight of 16 UH-34s from Bangkok to Air America's new forward operating base at Udorn in northeastern Thailand, 40 miles sough of Vientiane. The helicopter forces soon became involved in supporting Hmong forces engaged in a fierce battle with the Pathet Lao at Pa Dong. On 30 May, the first Air America helicopter pilots died in Laos, when Charles Mateer and Walter Wizbowski crashed in bad weather while trying to land supplies to the besieged Hmong.

I wish it weren't so, but it was a day our small family will never forget. My first cousin, and CHS54 graduate, Charles Mateer was (probably) shot down in Laos. (I say probably because I've since corresponded with Richard Crafts, the pilot of the other helicopter who had just landed at the site where Charles' helicopter was attempting a landing. They were under artillery fire at the time. Crafts said he couldn't tell if the copter hit the top of a tree, or it was brought down by enemy fire, but Charles was killed instantly. Crafts brought his body back to the Air America base in Thailand.

This was at a time when the world wasn't aware that the US was fighting communists in Laos. That's the reason that Charles had been discharged from the Army early......and joined AIR AMERICA, which, in reality was the CIA.

My aunt Kathryn and Uncle Harry, Charles' parents, received their last letter from Charles the day after they were informed of his death. They actually found some comfort in it, since Charles seemed so happy and fulfilled with helping the Hmong people continue their fight for freedom.


"All gave some,

some gave all."