Smith J. Swords III
17 July 1929 – 17 August 1979
On 30 December 1967, then Major Smith Swords III, pilot; and 1st Lt. Murray L. Wortham, co-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.
Major Swords while in MIA status continued to advance in rank to Colonel. He was given a presumptive date of death as of August 18, 1978.
AWARDS AND DECORATIONS:
Air Force Senior Aviator Wings with Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Air Medal with 5 Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Force Commendations Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal with Star, Korea Service Medal, United Nation’s Expeditionary Medal-Korea, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Smith Swords III was born in Los Angeles, California and lived in Glendale. He was the son of a Bank of America executive. His father was the Chief Operating Officer of the Los Angeles Operation. He attended schools in Glendale, California and the family moved to Lancaster, California, where he attended high school and graduated in 1947 from Antelope Valley High School. After high school, he attended California Polytechnic College in San Luis Obispo, California were he majored in aeronautical engineering.
During his junior year in 1950, he accepted an appointment to be an Air Force Cadet and entered the Air Force Flight Program being assigned to flight school at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo. There he met his wife, Mary Sawyer Pearson. She was the daughter of a West Texas Utilities Sales Manager for the San Angelo area. They met at a coke party sponsored by her sorority. Mrs. Swords stated his proposal consisted of the phrase “Marry him and she could travel the world.” They married in 1951 in San Angelo after his graduation and commissioning as a 2nd Lieutenant.
After flight school, he attended advanced pilot training at Vance Air Base in Oklahoma. He was assigned to Witchita Air Force Base, Kansas. The base had been reactivated following its closure after World War II and Lt. Swords and his wife were among the first junior officers to arrive at the reconstituted base. The base was renamed McConnell Air Force Base in 1954. While at Wichita, their two oldest children were born, Smith Swords IV in 1952 and a year later in 1953, their daughter, Lynda, was born.
He completed a combat tour in Korea and was then assigned to attend training for the T-28, T-33, F-84E, F-86E and B-25J, all annotated as J-model airplanes, with special test gear in a six month course at Edwards Air Force Base, Calfornia in 1956. After the six month course the family was assigned to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio where their youngest daughter, Luann was born.
He then returned to Korea for a 13 month tour and he was then assigned to Itkasuke AFB, Japan, where his family joined him. While in Japan, he was sent TDY to Vietnam in March 1962 to serve with the Vietnamese Air Force under directions of the Military Assistance Advisory Group. This act had been directed by Secretary of the Defense Robert McNamara to aid the South Vietnamese Air Force and to supplement their lack of pilots until they could train new personnel. The group of pilots who arrived under these orders came to be known as the “Dirty Thirty.” They were among the first American combatants in Vietnam. They flew under the control of Ly Cao Ky, who was the commander of the South Vietnamese Air Force and later Vice President of South Vietnam. These pilots were to fly co-pilot with Vietnamese personnel on C-47 aircraft. They were based at Tans Sa Knut Air Force Base in Saigon.
After being in the Far East for almost four years with a TDY tour in Vietnam, then Captain Swords was assigned as the Flight Maintenance Chief at Webb Air Force Base in Big Spring in 1963. While at Webb, their children attended Big Spring schools. Smith Swords IV was attending Goliad and the younger girls, Lynda and Luann were students at St. Mary’s Episcople School. Mrs. Swords became very active in the community serving with the Officer’s Wive’s Club at Webb and was responsible for reactivating a Art Club in Big Spring.
Captain Swords was promoted to Major in December 1966 and earned his B.S. degree from the University of Omaha.
He promply received orders for Vietnam. He was sent TDY to MacDill AFB in Florida for flight training on the F-4D in January 1967. He departed for Vietnam in July 1967 and the family set up housekeeping in Big Spring off base. The children continued in their activities and sports. The children all were honor students and actively involved in sports and extracurricular activities.
Major Swords was reported Missing in Action in December 30, 1967. His wife was visiting her brother in Lubbock when she got the news. She continued to remain in Big Spring through the years following his MIA status. She was also very active in the community. The children all advanced through school and sports and were recognized as outstanding students, athletes and community members.
Smith Swords IV graduated from Big Spring High School in 1970 and Lynda in 1971. Mrs. Swords continued to be active in the community and the League of MIA Families. She enrolled and completed major college hours at Howard College. In 1972, Smith IV and Mrs. Swords had both completed their two year programs at Howard College and had earned their Associate Degrees and Lynda had completed her freshman year at Howard College as well. At that juncture, the family moved to Lubbock in order that Mrs. Swords, Smitty and Lynda could continue their education at Texas Tech. Luann transferred to Lubbock Monterey High School. Mrs. Swords, Smitty and Luann Swords completed their college degrees at Texas Tech, Lynda completed her degree at Stephen F. Austin University. Mrs. Swords remains active in MIA affairs and continues to hope that some day Colonel Swords remains can be located. She continues to live in Lubbock.