Declassified and provided by U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office to Next of Kin.
Western Highlands Memories
by Lt. General Dang Vu Hiep,
People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) Publishing House, Hanoi, 2002
(translated from Vietnamese)
Aircraft Shoot-Down: During the battle of 15 November , the 7th Battalion [PAVN 66th Regiment] moved north through a clearing and was detected and attacked by enemy aircraft. Seeing his teammates busy looking for a spot to set up the heavy machine gun, the 1st Company's Bui Van (Tai) immediately set up a gun rack. The gun tube was hot and shell coverings were cast about, burning his clothing, but the comrade still clenched his teeth and tightly held the base of the gun, enabling his teammates to shoot down a U.S. A-1 aircraft...
[Feb-Mar 2000] Vuong Tuan Keit was a Commander, People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) General Staff and currently the Deputy Commander, B3 Front (Western Highlands Front) from 1965 to 1974. Mr. Keit confirmed that during the battle for Plei Me an aircraft was shot down (he thought it was a helicopter) and the body of the pilot was left unburied. He added that exposed human remains would be an easy source of food for the indigenous wildlife in the area which included tigers and giant flesh eating lizards.
[Feb-Mar 2000] A joint team interviewed three veterans of the PAVN 66th Regiment.
Requested witness Vu Dinh Tuoc recalled that on 15 Nov 1965, he observed a US aircraft crash in the Chu Prong area of the Ia Drang Valley. The fixed-wing aircraft suddenly crashed and exploded during its second bombing run approximately one kilometer north of his position. He did not observe a parachute. Following the battle, Mr. Tuoc met with his three platoon commanders. No one from his three platoons went to the crash site. Mr. Tuoc said retired Senior Colonel Cao Nguyen may have information about the incident since his reconnaissance unit operated in the vicinity of the crash site.
Mr. Cao Nguyen, a former reconnaissance officer with the 7th Battalion, 66th Regiment, recalled the shootdown and crash of an aircraft during the Ia Drang Valley battle in late 1965. Immediately after the shootdown, Mr. Nguyen and his unit went to investigate the crash site. The aircraft was intact and in flames. The dead pilot was still in the cockpit with his helmet on but engulfed in flames. The searched the site for usable material but found none of the pilot's personal effects. His unit left the area without burying the pilot. The team showed Mr. Nguyen a picture of an A-1E aircraft, and he confirmed that the downed aircraft was the same type. He did not know what became of the pilot's body. However, after the battle, Transportation Company 22, 66th Regiment, was responsible for searching the battlefield for bodies and usable equipment and weapons. He did not know any members of Company 22.
Nguyen Xuan Cam, former political officer, 9th Battalion, 66th Regiment, said the 9th Battalion was deployed of the 7th Battalion. Mr. Cam did not have information about an aircraft crash during the Ia Drang battle.
(Analyst Comment: Information provided by Tuoc and Nguyen most likely correlates to this case. However, US records state that a helicopter went to the crash site and verified Captain McClellan's death. The approach of enemy troops forced the helicopter to depart before recovering the body. The witnesses do not mention seeing a helicopter.)