Donald K. Springsteadah, TSgt – Millville, New Jersey MIA – Laos, March 11, 1968
Donald Kenneth Springsteadah was born on October 23, 1932 and called Millville, New Jersey his home of record. He was married to Flora Springsteadah, and based on limited records, had at least one son before entering the United States Air Force and shipping out to serve his nation in Vietnam.
Springsteadah volunteered for a sensitive assignment called Project Heavy Green which included manning Lima 85 – a radar base in Laos. It was located on a peak in the Annam Highlands near the village of Sam Neua on a 5,860 ft. mountain called Phou Pha Thi. The mountain was protected by sheer cliffs on three sides and guarded by 300 tribesmen working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The assignment was so secret that the men and their wives were required to sign secrecy agreements. Absolutely no one was to know about the assignment since Laos was a neutral country and as such, U.S. military presence was internationally prohibited. The Air Force personnel were ‘sheep-dipped’ (stripping a soldier of his military uniform and identification so he can pose as a civilian during a covert mission) to make them appear to be civilian contractors. They assumed the identity of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation personnel. Springsteadah was to be temporarily relieved of duty to take a civilian job with Lockheed Aircraft.
He would be on the team running Lima 85. No one was to know.
By the end of 1967, Lima Site 85 had become absolutely vital to the U.S. operation within the country, and it directed over 50% of all bombing done against North Vietnam. Because of the success of the installation, it was attracting the interest of the North Vietnamese forces, who began to show ominous signs that they were preparing to launch an attack. Paved roads were constructed to take them closer to the mountain, and the person responsible for site security, Major Richard Secord, requested that all USAF personnel be evacuated or armed to avoid loss of life.
For three months in early 1968, a steady stream of intelligence was received which indicated that communist troops were about to launch a major attack on Lima 85. Intelligence watched as enemy troops even built a road to the area to facilitate moving heavy weapons, but the site was so important that William H. Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Laos, made the decision to leave the men in place.
When the attack finally came March 11, some were rescued by helicopter, but eleven men were missing. By noon time thoughts had turned to destroying the radar so that the enemy could not use it, and between the 12th and the 18th 95 sorties were flown to obliterate any intelligence the North Vietnamese could gather – but it also had the grim repercussion of completely destroying any American remains that were left on the ridge.
The fall of Lima Site 85 did not come about because of a lack of intelligence, but a lack of intelligent leadership. At no point during its existence or battle were the forces on the ground responsible for their own defenses, nor could the Americans use their own men to defend their facility – and it was a loss that marked the beginning of the end for non-communist forces in the country.
The President announced a halt in the bombing of North Vietnam immediately thereafter. Springsteadah was registered as “Missing” on March 11, 1968, at the age of 36.
In mid-March, Flora Springsteadah was notified that Lima Site 85 had been overrun by enemy forces, and that her husband and the others who had not escaped had been killed.
It was reported by a number of sources that several of the family members of the victims of Lima 85 learned that was not the whole truth. Two separate reports indicate that all the men missing at Phou Pha Thi did not die. One report suggests that at least one of the 11 was captured, and another indicates that 3 were captured; another that 6 were captured. Information has been hard to get. The fact that Lima Site 85 existed was only declassified in 1983, and finally the wives could be believed when they said their husbands were missing in Laos.
It was reported by a number of sources that files of several of the victims of Lima 85 were finally shown to their families for the first time in 1985. It was also reported that family members of Lima 85’s Missing said that “they were convinced that there was a lot of information to be had”, and that “they believed that someone survived the attack on Lima Site 85 that day in March 1968”.
Some family to this day wonder if their country will ever bring those men – including Donald Springsteadah – home.
With your help, maybe, we can finally bring him home.