Unit: Observation Squadron 67
Date of Loss: 27 February 1968
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 170458N 1060758E (XD116889)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Personnel in Incident: Paul L. Milius (missing)
HARTZHEIM, JOHN FRANCIS Remains Identified 03/17/99
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project October 15, 1990 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 1998.
SYNOPSIS: The Lockheed P2 "Neptune" was originally designed for submarine searching, using magnetic detection gear or acoustic buoys. Besides flying maritime reconnaissance, the aircraft served as an experimental night attack craft in the attempt to interdict the movement of enemy truck convoys. Another model, the OP2E, dropped electronic sensors to detect truck movements along the supply route through Laos known as the "Ho Chi Minh Trail."
The Ho Chi Minh Trail was used by the North Vietnamese for transporting weapons, supplies and troops. Hundreds of American pilots were shot down trying to stop this communist traffic to South Vietnam. Fortunately, search and rescue teams in Vietnam were extremely successful and the recovery rate was high.
Still there were nearly 600 who were not rescued. Many of them went down along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the passes through the border mountains between Laos and Vietnam. Many were alive on the ground and in radio contact with search and rescue and other planes; some were known to have been captured. Hanoi's communist allies in Laos, the Pathet Lao, publicly spoke of American prisoners they held, but when peace agreements were negotiated, Laos was not included, and not a single American was released that had been held in Laos.
On February 27, 1968, Navy Capt. Paul L. Milius departed his base at Nakhon Phanom, Thailand (NKP) in an OP2E Neptune on an armed reconnaissance mission over Laos. Aboard were eight crew members assigned to Observation Squadron 67, plus Milius, the pilot.
The Neptune had precise navigational equipment and accurate optical bombsight. Radar was housed in a well on the nose underside of the aircraft, and radar technicians felt especially vulnerable working in this "glass bubble" nosed aircraft. It was believed that the aircraft could place the seismic or acoustic device within a few yards of the desired point, but to do this, the OP2E had to fly low and level, making it an easy target for the enemy's anti-aircraft guns that were increasing in number along the Trail. Milius was over his assigned target in Khammouane Province, Laos, about 15 miles southwest of the Ban Karai Pass, and was delivering ordnance on the target when the aircraft was struck by suspected anti-aircraft artillery. A projectile struck the underside of the aircraft and exploded in the radar well. Petty Officer John F. Hartzheim, an Avionics Technician assigned to the aircraft, was struck by fragments of the projectile and began bleeding profusely. The radar well burst into flames, filling the flight deck area of the aircraft with dense, acrid smoke.
The aircraft commander ordered the crew to bail out. Hartzheim was carried to the after station by the Tactical Coordinator. Upon arriving in the after station, Hartzheim stated that he could not go any farther, and collapsed. Other crew members later stated they believed Hartzheim died at this time, as his eyes were wide open and rolled to an upwards position and there was no movement. Milius was at this time still seated at the controls of the aircraft.
Seven crewmembers safely exited the aircraft, and were subsequently rescued by Search and Rescue forces. The area of the crashed aircraft was observed, and it was felt that no identifiable remains would be found. Hartzheim was not believed to exit the aircraft, and was believed to be dead. He was listed Killed, Body Not Recovered. It cannot be determined whether the enemy had knowledge of his ultimate fate.
The pilot, Paul Milius was not rescued. The Bombardier/Third Pilot, who was rescued, indicated that Milius was sitting at the after-station hatch and bailed out just prior to his own departure to the aircraft, but SAR efforts had failed to located and rescue him. Milius was listed Missing in Action. The Defense Intelligence Agency further expanded Milius' classification to include an enemy knowledge ranking of 2. Category 2 indicates "suspect knowledge" and includes personnel who may have been lost in areas or under conditions that they may reasonably be expected to be known by the enemy.
The family of John Hartzheim has little doubt that he died the day his aircraft went down. They can take pride in his service, although they have no grave to visit. For the Milius family, as well as thousands of others, however, solutions are not so easy. Were it not for the thousands of reports concerning Americans still held captive in Southeast Asia, these families might be able to close this tragic chapter of their lives. But as long as Americans are alive, being held captive, one of them could be Paul Milius. It's time we brought these men home.
In January 1985 a unilateral turnover from a Laotian source to the Joint Casualty Resolution Center Liaison Office in Bangkok consisted of several bone fragments, a compass and a plastic E-and-E (Escape and Evasion) map. The source indicated that the items were recovered near a 1968 crash site of an U.S. aircraft in Khammouan Province.
In October and December 1994 joint U.S./Lao teams traveled to the Khammouan Province to interview several villagers with information about the crash. While surveying the crash site the team found aircraft wreckage, a fragment of a possible knife sheath and human remains. Successive visits in 1995 and 1996 recovered more remains, life support equipment and other crew-related items.
Anthropological analysis of the remains and other evidence by the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii confirmed the identification of Hartzheim.