Luther Albert Lono
Lieutenant Colonel, United States Marine Corps
Name: LUTHER ALBERT LONO
Wall Name: LUTHER A LONO
Date of Birth: 6/12/1931
Date of Casualty: 9/29/1969
Home of Record: TACOMA
Branch of Service: MARINE CORPS
Casualty Country: LAOS
Casualty Province: LZ
Name: Luther Albert Lono
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant Colonel/US Marine Corps
Unit: VMA 242, Marine Air Group 11, 1st Marine Air Wing
DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam
Date of Birth: 12 June 1931 (Tacoma, WA)
Home of Record: Alpena, Michigan
Date of Loss: 29 September 1969
Country of Loss: Laos
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A6A "Intruder"
Other Personnel In Incident: Patrick R. Curran (missing)
With the addition of the Grumman A6A Intruder to its inventory, the 1st Marine Air Wing (MAW) had the finest two-man, all-weather, low-altitude attack/bombing aircraft in the world. It displayed great versatility and lived up to the expectations of those who pushed for its development after the Korean War. At the time it was the only operational aircraft that had a self-contained all-weather bombing capacity including a moving target indicator mode. In this role it usually carried a bomb load of 14,000 pounds and was used rather extensively in the monsoon season not only in South Vietnam, but also in Laos and over the heavily defended areas of North Vietnam. The Intruder was credited with successfully completing some of the most difficult single-plane strikes in the war, and its' aircrews were among the most talented and most courageous to serve the United States.
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, 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.
Oscar Eight was the code name given to a sector of eastern Laos located in rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 25 miles northwest of the infamous A Shau Valley, Saravane Province, Laos. The area encompassed the junction of Highway 92, which was a primary north-south artery of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and Highway 922, which branched off and ran directly east where it crossed into South Vietnam at a strategic point near the northern edge of the A Shau Valley. Oscar Eight was also located at the southeastern end of a large and narrow jungle covered valley that had two primary roads running through it, one on each side of the valley. Highway 92 ran along the west side and Highway 919 along the east. A power line ran parallel to Highway 92 and sometimes crossed it. In addition to the roads and power line, the Hoi An River also flowed through the valley passing the road junction roughly 1 mile west of it.
More American aircraft were downed in the vicinity of the junction of Highways 92 and 922 than any other place in Laos. This was because burrowed deep in the hills of Oscar Eight and located just to the east of the road junction was North Vietnamese General Vo Bam's 559th Transportation Group's forward headquarters. It was also the Ho Chi Minh Trail's control center as well as containing the largest NVA storage facility outside of North Vietnam. Oscar Eight was defended by consecutive belts of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) guns of all sizes that were not only stationed on the ground, but also mounted on platforms in the trees. All of these AAA batteries were expertly camouflaged.
On 29 September, 1969, Major Luther A. Lono, pilot, and then Firt Lieutenant Patrick R. Curran, bombardier/navigator, comprised the crew of an A6A conducting a night armed reconnaissance mission in support of Seventh Air Force operations over Laos. Their target area was a heavily defended enemy area sanctuary in the vicinity of the Hoi An River, approximately 27 miles southwest of Khe Sanh and 39 miles due west of the northern edge of the A Shau Valley, South Vietnam; Savannakhet Province, Laos. Weather conditions at the time were clear with 7 to 15 miles visibility.
Because this was an inter-service strike operation, the Marine aircraft participating in it came under the operational control of an Air Force Airborne Command and Control aircraft. Throughout the mission the airborne controller directed the various Air Force and Marine aircraft against a number of enemy targets throughout Oscar Eight. The combined mission proceeded without incident until 2050 hours when the Marine Intruder vanished from the airborne controller's radar.
Repeated attempts to establish radio contact with Major Lono and Lieutenant Curran on all frequencies, including the Guard emergency channel, were unsuccessful. At 2230 hours, which was the estimated time the Intruder's fuel supply would have been consumed, the Commander of Marine Air Group 11 declared the aircraft overdue.
Airborne search and rescue (SAR) operations were immediately initiated in the target area for Major Lono and Lieutenant Curran. At 0248 hours on 30 September, the Tactical Air Control aircraft received a short signal from an emergency beeper. However, because the signal lasted for only a few seconds, there was no way to establish who sent the signal. Likewise, there was no way to fix the position of the signal. Subsequent attempts to contact the crew were unsuccessful.
The visual and electronic search continued on 30 September, but was hampered by enemy ground fire. During the SAR effort, no parachutes were seen, no other beeper signals were heard and no trace of the aircraft or crew was found. Because of the heavy concentration of enemy troops in the area, no ground search was possible. At the time the formal SAR was terminated, Patrick Curran and Luther Lono were listed Missing in Action.
Luther Lono and Patrick Curran 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 that ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.
In early 1999, a crash site believed to be that of Luther Lono and Patrick Curran was located in sloping terrain in double canopy jungle. The site was densely vegetated before being cleared for excavation during the JF99-4L. The first excavation was conducted in August/September 1999 by a joint US/Lao team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA). Before the actual excavation began, a well-defined aircraft impact crater was visible. Team members located a shallow trench that transected the west-southwestern wall of the crater and terminated a short distance beyond it. A small stream ran at the base of the incline roughly 150 meters southwest of the impact crater, which provided a water source for wet screening activities.
The second excavation immediately followed the first in October/November 1999. In January/February 2000, the third and last JTFFA team returned to the site to finish the excavation. By the time the site was closed, the team had excavated to a depth of over 12 feet. In addition to recovering a wide variety of aircraft pieces that positively identified it as an A6A Intruder, the team recovered two ejection seats, a life preserver unit and other aircraft life support equipment. They also recovered personal items including boots/boot insoles, pieces of socks, a t-shirt, pieces of flight suits, pieces of G-suits, and a kit bag bearing the partial rank and name of Major Lono.
At the time the site was closed, all possible human remains were transported to Hanoi where they were turned over to US authorities for transfer to the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI). The remains recovered included 1 molar and in excess of 100 very small, badly fragmented bones that were too damaged and small for DNA testing. The molar could not be conclusively identified as being from either crewman because no dental records could be found for Patrick Curran and the only x-rays available for Luther Lono were from 1953; some 16 years before his loss, which rendered them unusable for the purpose of tooth identification.
The families of Major Lono and Lieutenant Curran finally have the peace of mind of knowing that everything possible was done to find and recover their loved ones. The co-mingled group-identified remains were buried in a single grave with a headstone bearing both men's name.