Name:James Howard Ackley
Rank/Branch: Civilian/Air America
Date of Birth: 04 January 1920
Home City of Record:
Date of Loss: 07 March 1973
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 195145N 1010900E (QB230980)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Other Personnel In Incident: Clarence N. Driver (missing)
Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 October 1990 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S.
Government agency sources,correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews.
SYNOPSIS: During the Vietnam war, Air America contracted
with CIA to fly in Laos transporting a variety of
supplies. Because the United States "was not at war" in Laos, some AA activities were secret. CIA
considered its work important enough to deceive the U.S. Congress, and obtained a large portion of its
funding through AID dollars that Congress believed were for civilian help. Although Air America openly
spoke of its humanitarian drops of rice, blankets and medicine, they also conducted many "hard rice" drops -
ammunition, grenades, bombs and weapons to the secret CIA directed indigenous army.
Many Air America pilots were
crack pilots from World War II and Korea who just were not ready to quit
in the challenging arena of war. Some took the job because they believed that in doing so, they could help
fight communism. Laos was a tough assignment. Not only were maps antiquated, forcing the pilots to
"eyeball" their way through the countryside, but the weather and terrain could also be quite unpredictable.
Refugees created by the war depended on Air America,
whose planes could alter weeks of starvation, when
the wounded suffered without medical supplies, in a single drop. Enough food and supplies could be
dropped in a single morning to supply and feed five thousand people for a month. The secret army
depended on the AA materiel drops to such an extent that they sometimes resorted to trickery to make sure
they occurred. On one occasion, a pilot observed the windsock at a village strip hanging straight down, but
when he landed found the wind dangerously strong. An amiable native explained, "We know plane not land
when sock flies, so we put rocks in sock."
At the foot of any runway, an
AA pilot could encounter armed communist troops intent on preventing him
ever flying again. Many planes returned to base peppered with bullet holes, and some were destroyed.
Others were downed and their crews captured.
On March 7, 1973, a C123K flown by Clarence Driver
on which James Ackley was a crewmember was sent on
a mission over Laos. The C123K differed from other C123 models in that it had the addition of auxiliary
turbojet engines mounted in underwing pods. While this addition did little to increase the speed of
the "Provider," it added greater power for quicker climbing on takeoff and power for maintaining altitude.
Driver's aircraft crashed in Louangphrabang Province, Laos, about 25 miles north of the Laos/Thailand
border near the city of Pak Beng. Ackley and Driver were classified Missing In Action.
As late as 1984, reports were
being received that at least Driver was alive, in good health, and being
a group of 8 American prisoners. Four of the original 12 prisoners had died of dysentary, and two who were
still resisting had rings in their noses and were treated like beasts of burden. A private, unauthorized
rescue plan was formulated to attempt to free him in 1984. The attempt was unsuccessful.
Over 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing in
Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S.
Government since 1975. A Pentagon panel concluded in 1986 that there were at least 100 men still alive.
Ackley and Driver are two of nearly 600 Americans lost in Laos. Although the Pathet Lao publicly stated that
they held "tens of tens" of Americans, NOT ONE MAN returned that had been held in Laos. The U.S. has yet
to negotiate their release.
Clarence Driver's daughter Sharon
describes the agony of their uncertainty, "Imagine yourself on a
telephone and ther person says 'hold on, I'll be right back,' and they never come back...you just keep holding
on." How much longer must these men wait for their country to bring them home?