Ronnie Brown and fellow pilots at 331st Fighter Squadron, Webb Air Force Base, Big Spring, Texas.
New Hanover High School yearbook reveals he was in the
English, Government and Spanish clubs and in ROTC with the
Sergeant’s Club. After graduation, he entered UNC at Chapel
Hill where he graduated in 1958 and soon after went to Air
Force flight school. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in
1960 at Greenville Air Force Base in Greenville, Mississippi, and
trained at the 331st Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Webb Air
Force Base in Big Spring, Texas.
He married Bette Cannon Woodbury from Wilmington on
March 22, 1960, and they had two daughters, Kathy and Susan.
Always the consummate pilot, Ronnie Brown loved flying and
he loved teaching young pilots to fly. Brown was the kind of flight
officer who always did more than what was expected of him.
“In 1966, I was in the Navy and Ronnie was on active duty as
an Air Force instructor pilot,” says Max Woodbury, Brown’s close
friend and former brother-in-law. “Even though the Vietnam
War was at a peak, it was just his nature to volunteer for combat
duty there. He was always fun with a friendly, outgoing spirit,
and I cannot tell you how many wonderful times we had at the
Brown reported for duty Jan. 28, 1966, at the Air Force 315th
Air Commando Group at Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam.
He had only been in Vietnam for seven days when on Feb.
3 he received orders as lead pilot of a Fairchild Provider C-123
aircraft, tail number 55-4537, for an airlift supply mission
from Da Nang to the beleaguered Khe Sanh Marine Base in
Quang Tri Province. The Provider was an Air Force military
transport aircraft used for supply, medical evacuation, and
reconnaissance. With him that day were Col. James L. Carter,
flight commander; Chief Master Sgt. Edward M. Parsley,
loadmaster; and Chief Master Sgt. Therman M. Waller, flight
mechanic. The aircraft departed Da Nang that afternoon on a
multiple-stop supply route that included the Khe Sanh Marine
Base and the Dong Ha Combat Base, both in Quang Tri
Having completed the supply mission, the transport then flew
southwest along the border of Laos. It was there radio contact
was lost. When contact could not be re-established, search-and-rescue
The area where the Provider was believed to have gone down
was initially searched by air, but no trace of the aircraft or its
crew was sighted in the extremely dense, mountainous jungle.
Searches were suspended on Feb. 10, 1966. The C-123’s last
known location was described as being on the north side of a
rugged mountain ridge with a long, narrow jungle-covered valley
northeast of Khe Sanh.
Had the transport crashed? Had the crew perished? Had they
parachuted to safety? Were they captured and now prisoners of
war? Those questions would remain unanswered for some 37 years
because the powers who controlled the battlefields of Vietnam and
Laos would not allow American teams to search on the ground for
the missing soldiers.
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