The POW/MIA (Prisoner of War/Missing in Action) program seeks the fullest accounting of those still listed as POW/MIA in Southeast Asia and anywhere else, regardless of the conflict from which they went missing or were captured. Currently Edmond Oklahoma has one MIA/POW...
His name is First Lieutenant Robert Wayne Burnes.
Robert Wayne Burnes was born on January 27, 1941, in Rush Springs, OK. He had enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, listing his home of record as Edmond Oklahoma. While serving in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War he attained the rank of First Lieutenant. 1LT Burnes was attached to 3rd Marine Amphibious Force, 1st MAW, Mag 11, VMFA 542. 1LT Burnes’ specialty with the Marines was FRD Basic EA 6A B Electronic Warfare Officer.
On 5 January 1970, 1LT Burnes was assigned as the radar intercept officer in a multi-aircraft flight. He and his pilot comprised the crew of the lead F4B (aircraft #152281). This was a strike mission over central Laos to attack an enemy position located along a primary artery of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. This mission took 1LT Burnes and his pilot over an area known as the Mu Gia Pass.
The Mu Gia Pass was considered a major gateway into the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail and ran in a generally southeasterly direction through eastern Laos and the South Vietnam border at a point approximately 13 miles west of Khe Sanh. When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam. It and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.
During the flight 1LT Burnes’ pilot notified other flight members he was rolling in to attack the assigned target. As the pilot pulled off his first run on a suspected enemy anti-aircraft gun position and was on downwind track, the TA4 observed and reported 37mm air burst in the target area. The F4 pilot acknowledged report and commenced his second run. As he rolled out for his attack an air burst was observed in the area of the F4’s left intake between the two cockpits and instant after the pilot had released his ordnance. The aircraft rolled 45 degrees to the right and maintained a descending right turn until ground impact, the F4 aircrew did not respond to repeated TA4 transmissions to eject. No apparent attempt to eject was observed on ground impact. The aircraft wreckage was located in a very rugged jungle covered and very narrow valley between two mountain ranges just east of the primary road. The area of loss was approximately 5 miles east-southeast of Ban Namm, 20 miles northwest of Muang Xepon, 30 miles west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border, and 63 miles south-southeast of the Mu Gia Pass, Savannakhet Province, Laos.
Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were initiated immediately. During the search no parachutes were seen, no emergency beepers heard, and no trace of either crewman found. Because of the heavy enemy presence in the area, no ground search was possible. Both 1LT Burnes and his pilot were immediately listed as Missing in Action/Body Not Recovered.
On 27 January 1970, US intelligence agencies intercepted at least three NVA radio messages pertaining to the shootdown of this F4 by the NVA's 14th Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) Battalion, Binh Tram (way station) 34. Unfortunately, none of these messages made reference to the fate of 1LT Burnes or his pilot, either alive or dead. The crash site was also located approximately 1 mile north of Binh Tram 34.
1LT Burnes and his pilot official status was changed in 1973 to Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
1LT Burnes remains have yet to be repatriated.
Citations Earned by 1LT Burnes include: Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation, Vietnam Gallantry Cross, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal.
He is memorialized at Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. His name is inscribed at the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall Memorial (Panel 15w, Line 128).
1LT Burnes and his pilot are among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Laotians admitted holding "tens of tens" of American Prisoners of War, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords which ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.
Fighter pilots in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.
Help us bring our brother home. Please take a moment to contact our elected representatives and ask them what they are doing to help.