Column: Shue missing in action no more
Donald Shue, for many years listed as missing in action in Vietnam, will be laid to rest in Concord this weekend. John C. Owens served with Shue in Vietnam and wrote the piece below for a college class in 1973. He has given the speech many times through the years and had it published in military magazines. ěI sent you my story,î Owens says, ěonly to show you how strong the bond is of all who serve and the families who wait for their return.î
By John C. Owens
Special to the Salisbury Post
Losing a close friend in combat is a traumatic experience that can haunt you forever. For myself, the loss of my friend, Specialist 4 Donald M. Shue, was an experience that became a double haunting.
Don and I were in Recon Company, Command and Control North, Studies and Observation Group (SOG) in Da Nang, South Vietnam.
Our unitís mission was top secret, strategic ground reconnaissance along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia. The soldiers for this unit and similar units came from the 5th Special Forces Group. The Recon team Don was in, Recon Team Maryland, had two other Special Forces soldiers and six Vietnamese Montagnards.
On Nov. 3, 1969, Recon Team Maryland was inserted by helicopter into Laos for a mission. The team was dropped off and moved into the jungle and made radio contact that all was well. That was the last time anything was heard from Recon Team Maryland.
Some days later, three of the Montagnard soldiers of the team walked into the U.S. Base at Khe Sanh, South Vietnam. They were immediately sent to Da Nang for interrogation.
A few weeks later, all the members of Recon Company were called into the Headquarters Office and were told about the fate of Recon Team Maryland.
We were told that after the recon team was inserted on the ground and made radio contact, the team started conducting their recon mission. For some unknown reason, the teamís Americans were together in the middle of the patrol when the team was ambushed by the enemy. The Americans were in the main firing zone of the ambush. After the initial volley of fire, the Americans were lying motionless and didnít respond to the calls from the three survivors. The three Montagnards then escaped and evaded capture.
Some days later, a recovery team went to the ambush site and only found parts of field equipment. Don and the other two Special Forces soldiers were classified as Missing In Action.
When Don and I had last spoken, it was just days before his fatal last mission. I took his loss really hard but realized I had to get it behind me and survive the war. Months later I completed my tour and was reassigned to Ft. Bragg. In six months, I finished my enlistment and started college in Charlotte.
One day during my first semester, I was reading the morning copy of the Charlotte Observer newspaper and saw an article about two local area women and the grief they had concerning their loved ones in Vietnam.
The first story concerned the wife of a pilot who was a POW in Hanoi, North Vietnam, and how she was coping with the limited contact she had with him.
The other story was about the mother of a soldier in Vietnam who was missing in action and the trouble she had in getting information from the Defense Department. Her son was my friend, Donald M. Shue.
I was devastated after reading the article. I wanted to call Donís mother and tell her everything I knew about his tragic mission. I wanted to comfort her and tell her about our last conversation before we parted, never to see each other again, but I couldnít do any of this. It was 1971, the war was winding down, many of our military units were returning home but the SOG teams were still operating over there.
In SOG they make sure you understand the consequences if you talked to someone about those top secret missions. You could be risking the lives of those men in the ongoing operations. Contacting her could do more harm than good. I swallowed my heart and decided to accept the burden of silence along with the loss of my friend.
This is what I mean about this experience being a double haunting.
Some years later I learned that Donís mother had passed away.
On June 15, 1995, exactly 25 years to the day that I left Vietnam, I went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., to look for Donís name on the Wall. When I found his name, I noticed that it had a cross after it, indicating that Don is still listed as Missing In Action.
I pray that closure will come to Don and the other MIAs on the Wall.
Retired Master Sgt. John C. Owens lives in Pensacola, Fla.