Murray Lamar Wortham
26 May 1943 – 18 January 1977
On 30 December 1967, then 1st Lt. Murray L. Wortham, co-pilot; and then Major Smith Swords III, pilot; comprised the crew of an F4C, call sign “Flamingo 02,” that departed DaNang Airbase as the #2 aircraft in a flight of two. They were conducting a Steel Tiger strike mission against moving trucks at a road intersection located on the south side of a jungle covered valley on the north side of a mountain range.
This area of eastern Laos was considered a major artery of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. 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.
The target and loss location was approximately 61 miles northwest of Khe Sanh, South Vietnam; 4 miles north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), 26 miles southwest of the Lao/North Vietnamese border and 16 miles southwest of Ban Loboy, Khammouan Province, Laos.
Flamingo flight proceeded to the target area located in hilly jungle terrain. The weather was clear with 10 miles visibility. At 2000 hours there was no moon to provide illumination; however, the horizon was visible due to starlight. Flamingo 02 was cleared in for a rocket pass by the on site Forward Air Controller (FAC). Major Swords radioed that they were rolling in on an enemy target from the east. This was the first firing pass of the mission for either aircraft. At this time, the lead aircraft was north of the target at 12,000 feet when Flamingo 2 fired his rockets. The Lead aircrew watched as the rockets impacted the ground, then shortly thereafter, watched as Flamingo 02 impacted 1,000 to 1,500 feet beyond the rocket impact point. The resulting fireball then skipped about 2,000 feet before impacting again. The wreckage burned for approximately 15 minutes. Flamingo 01 did not see any defensive ground fire coming from the target area.
Lead circled the crash site for about 15 minutes, but heard no emergency beepers and made no voice contact with either crewman. Darkness prevented any visible acquisition of Flamingo 02 during his rocket pass. Likewise, no parachutes were sighted for the same reason. Due to fuel exhaustion, Lead was forced to break off their search effort. Flamingo 02’s dive angle in relation to the rockets appeared shallow enough for the crew to safely eject. The visual search effort was suspended due to inclement weather while the electronic search continued until 0530 hours the next morning when it was terminated. Because the area was under total enemy control, it was believed Major Swords and 1st Lt. Wortham would have had no opportunity to escape capture if they were able to successfully eject. Smith Swords and Murray Wortham were immediately declared Missing in Action.
Smith Swords and Murray Wortham 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.
1st Lt. Worhtam, while in MIA status, continued to advance in rank to Captain. He was given a presumptive date of death as of January 18, 1977.
Murray Lamar Wortham was born on 26 May 1946 in San Augustine, Texas. He graduated from Texas A&M University, and was married at the time he became MIA.