Top: U.S. Marines head into combat after being airlifted to Calu by the C-123 Provider aircraft of the
311th Air Commando Squadron. On this airlift in 1968, 13 C-123s delivered 475 troops and over
12,000 pounds of equipment in 90 minutes. Above: Three members of the 311th Air Commando
Squadron, Phan Rang Air Base, watch as the cargo which they have just parachuted from their
C-123 Provider aircraft floats down to the Marine defenders of embattled Khe Sanh in 1968.
WBM september 2019
The crew of Provider 55-4537
joined some 1,800 American souls
lost and listed as Missing in Action in
Southeast Asia in 1966.
In Wilmington, Maj. Brown’s
family had received remarkably little
information from the Air Force, and
could only hope that he was still alive.
The A Shau Valley lies in Thura
Thien province, which abuts Quang
Tri Province to the north, Da Nang
to the south, and the border of Laos
to the west. Covered with tall jungle
grass and flanked by two densely for-ested
mountain ridges, it runs north
and south for some 25 miles. The A
Shau Valley was thought to contain
an estimated 20,000 Communist
troops and a massive store of war sup-plies.
Its underground bunkers and
tunnels were defended by powerful 37
mm anti-aircraft cannons. The North
Vietnamese Army (NVA) used the
steep mountainous terrain surround-ing
the valley for cover to launch
battles against every major allied
position. Its location and description
roughly corresponds with the descrip-tion
of the suspected crash site of
Maj. Brown’s aircraft.
But why would a supply plane fly
in such an area?
To monitor the suspected buildup
of enemy forces in the A Shau Valley
and the bisecting NVA supply route
from Laos known as the Ho Chi
Minh Trail, flight units such as Maj.
Brown’s 315th Air Commando Group
routinely conducted reconnaissance
flights there. Their mission would
have been to observe and report the
coordinates of NVA troops and anti-aircraft
emplacements. When those
missions were successful, airstrikes
could then be launched against
enemy positions prior to the advance
of infantry forces, saving lives on the
The C-123, having completed
its airlift support task, was most
likely sent on such a reconnaissance