Ban Mê Thuột East Air Field and Camp Coryell
PYRAMID: One of Our Own is MIA
Capt. Samuel O'Donnell, Jr.
by: Joe “Bozo” Urban
© 2005

Tales from Ban Me Thuot #7: Ban Me Thuot, RVN, Home of Pyramid

PYRAMID – One of Our Own is MIA

If my memory hasn’t failed me again, Lt. Samuel O’Donnell came to Pyramid in late 1966 or early 1967. He arrived as a 2nd Lt., the least senior of our 5 officers (at the time they were Major Mike “Iron Mike” Stefanko, Captain Wells, 1st Lt. Jerry Thiel, 1st Lt. Billie Lyles, and 2nd Lt. O’Donnell). Lt. O’Donnell  was about 23 years old and looked like he just came out of OCS. Lt. O’D is what we called him when we were being military and formal; when no one but the crew was around we just called him O’D. He was pretty quiet and shy. I don’t remember O’D ever commanding someone to do anything; instead he would almost apologetically ask you to do something. He was one of the boys and well liked.

I remember one incident involving Lt. O’D, when our team was pulling a night shift at the site which usually meant 6 PM till 6 AM as a minimum. O’D was the team leader, there were 4 other scope dopes, a radarman, radioman, powerpro and crypto; nine of us in all. It was  A1C Warren “Smitty” Smith’s crew. He was driving the crew truck; Lt. O’D was riding shotgun in the front seat. The rest of us squeezed into the back, where the truck was equipped with a wooden bench down each side and a canopy to help keep out some of the rain during monsoon season.

I was the last to climb aboard. I handed someone my ditty bag and M-16 and climbed over a couple of guys to take a seat toward the cab end of the truck. Smitty’s crew always had a couple of guys who liked to ride shotgun at the rear of the truck. They would sit at the end of one of the benches and hang one leg over the tailgate. Their job was to keep anyone from coming too close to the truck while we were underway. They would do this by pointing their M-16’s at the offender and saying "Dee-Dee" over and over until the offender got the message. This was just a deterrent to keep any package that goes boom from finding its’ way into the crew truck.

The ride to the site was pretty quiet. I don’t think anyone spoke. You could just smell BMT. You know the smell of burning wood, something mixed in like smoky pork fat and sweat. There was something else that night. Every now and then there was the smell of alcohol. Nobody was talking.

When we got to the site, I was the next to last to get out of the truck. The last one to get out was a guy I’ll call “Ruby” because I can’t remember his name but his face was always ruby red. Ruby was a SSgt who was always putting down some of the young guys when they talked about their plans and dreams for when they got back to “the World”. I didn’t like him and he did not like me. We had some heated conversations in the past.

Ruby literally fell out of the back of the crew truck. All his stuff went with him. He was crap-faced. He got up, picked up his stuff and staggered past me toward his duty section. Smitty and Lt. O’D were behind, just getting out from the cab. I glanced over toward Smitty, and as if synchronized we both looked toward O’D. O’D didn’t say anything, just headed for OPS. I looked at Smitty again. Smitty, did you see what happened? Yeah, he shrugged and said something like, I don’t know, shrugged again and walked into OPS. I went to my duty station to get briefed.

After the day-crew finished debriefing and left the site, I got a call from Smitty. He said, meet me in the Admin Shack. This was a small wooden shack directly across from OPS, almost door to door. When I got there, I asked Smitty, What’s up? I don’t know, O’D wants to see us here. Lt. O’D walked in and told us that he had a sick man and Smitty and I were going to have to take him back to the Darlac in BMT, make sure he was safely in his room, and bring out his replacement.

We did exactly what O’D said. No one ever said anything about the incident. I don’t really know till this day if anyone ever knew, including the replacement.

I guess that was Lt. O’D’s style, quiet and very low key.

Photo: Lt. O Donnell (W/O shirt) at Darlac 1966-1967, Picture supplied by J. Rapozo.Photo: Lt. O Donnell (W/O shirt) at Darlac 1966-1967, Picture supplied by J. Rapozo.

It wasn’t until October 2000, that I heard that Lt. O'Donnell was an MIA. You can read the attached  information that was found on the internet and decide for yourself.

J.T. Urban
Pyramid ‘66-’67


Bring our MIAs Home:
Samuel O’Donnell, Jr.

 Name:  Samuel O’Donnell, Jr.
 Rank/Branch:  O3/US Air Force
 Unit: Ubon AFB, Thailand
 Date of Birth: 28 January, 1943
 Home City of Record: Weatherly, PA
 Date of Loss: 12 July, 1972
 Country of Loss: North Vietnam
 Loss Coordinates: 174300N 1062900E (XE573593)
 Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
 Category: 4
 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: F4E
 Other Personnel in Incident: James L. Huard (missing)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project (919/527-8079) 01 April 1991 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews.

SYNOPSIS: The Phantom, used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings, served a multitude of functions including fighter-bomber and interceptor, photo and electronic surveillance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2), and had a long range (900 - 2300 miles, depending on stores and mission type). The F4 was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes. Most pilots
considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.

1 LT. James l. Huard was the pilot and aircraft commander of an F4 aircraft on a solo tactical mission when it was lost on July 12, 1972. His Weapons Systems Operator on the flight was Capt. Samuel
O'Donnell, Jr.. When the plane was about 17 miles NNW of Dong Hoi, it failed to make a progress check. During subsequent search and rescue, two Forward Air Controllers (FAC) reported hearing a faint
but definite emergency signal, but no radio contact could be established or ground search initiated because of heavy enemy force concentration in the area. Search continued until July 14, 1972. Later information showed that the plane went down in a reservoir. When it was drained, the wreckage of the plane was found, but there was no sign of either crewman, nor any evidence to indicate that they perished with the plane. The two were classified missing in action.

Nearly 2500 Americans did not return from the war in Vietnam. Thousands of reports have been received indicating that some hundreds remain alive in captivity. Whether Huard and O’Donnell are alive is not known. What is certain, however, is that Vietnam and her communist allies can tell us what happened to most of our men. And return those who are alive. James L. Huard was promoted to the rank of Captain during the period he was maintained Missing in Action.


Joe [not-so] “Bozo” Urban,
Pyramid 66-67