Son 719 was a large-scale offensive against enemy communications lines
which was conducted in that part of Laos adjacent to the two northern
provinces of South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese would provide and
command ground forces, while U.S. forces would furnish airlift and
Phase I, renamed Operation Dewey Canyon II,
involved an armored attack by the U.S. from Vandegrift base camp toward
Khe Sanh, while the ARVN moved into position for the attack across the
Laotian border. Phase II began with an ARVN helicopter assault and
armored brigade thrust along Route 9 into Laos. ARVN ground troops were
transported by American helicopters, while U.S. Air Force provided
cover strikes around the landing zones.
During one of these maneuvers, CW2 Frederick
L. Cristman was flying a UH1C helicopter (serial #65-9489) with a crew
of three - SP4 Paul A. Langenour, door gunner, WO1 Jon M. Sparks,
co-pilot, and SP5 Ricardo M. Garcia, crew chief - covering a downed
U.S. helicopter during a rescue effort. Cristman's aircraft flew as the
trail ship in a flight of two UH1s on the armed escort mission.
The landing zone (LZ) was under fire, and the
pilot of the downed craft was a buddy of Fred's. He worked the area
with his mini-gun while another helicopter successfully extracted the
Cristman and his crew continued to work the
hot LZ while other helicopters came in. His gun ship was hit by enemy
gunfire. Cristman radioed in to the flight leader that his transmission
oil pressure caution light was on, and that he was making an emergency
landing on the LZ. This was verified by the lead aircraft, who made
several passes over the downed helicopter. Cristman's aircraft crashed
into the ARVN perimeter, and was hit on the roof by a mortar round just
as the crew jumped out. Cristman, his copilot and the crew chief were
thrown to the ground, while the door gunner, SP4 Langenour, was able to
exit the aircraft and join a nearby ARVN unit which returned to a U.S.
military controlled area. The others remained with the chopper,
although this was not immediately apparent from the air. The flight
leader's aircraft was also battle-damaged, and he had to leave the
Another helicopter arrived, and although
enemy ground fire was received, made it into the landing zone. Intense
enemy fire necessitated a hasty departure, and only two Vietnamese
troops were picked up. During the initial rescue attempt by the rescue
helicopter, no American crewmen were seen on the downed aircraft, and
no radio contact was established.
SP Langenour later stated that after landing,
the aircraft received numerous rounds of mortar fire and he departed
the area. He last saw all the other crew members alive. Due to enemy
activity in the area, no ground search of the site was conducted. Jon
Sparks' rank at the time he was lost was W1.
He was promoted to CWO (W2) while missing.
of the deaths of Cristman, Sparks and Garcia was never found. No
remains came home; none was released from prison camp. They were not
blown up, nor did they sink to the bottom of the ocean. Someone knows
what happened to them.
Were it not for thousands of reports relating
to Americans still held captive in Southeast Asia today, the families
of the UH1C helicopter crew might be able to believe their men died
with their aircraft. But until proof exists that they died, or they are
brought home alive, they will wonder and wait.
What if he belonged to you? -- think that over really
How long must they wait
bring our men home?