The Captain Roger Sawyer/Sam Phillips(CIA) story


On Mar 9, 2011, at 1:36 PM, Captain John Fischer wrote: I have identified everyone in the picture, but now I am questioning my identification of the guy standing in the middle between Lee Solomon and Woody. I originally thought him to be Jerry Carson, but on closer examination, I’m not sure.

Back Row, standing left to right: Tony Cardillo, Lee Solomon, person I am questioning, Woody, and you

Front row left to right: Frank Perrin, Pat Feeley, Ron Allen, Thomas Williams

Do you know the guy in the middle of the back row?

Yes, it is Captain Roger Sawyer. After Captain Chock was KIA in Bao Loc, I was transferred to Phan Thiet. Captain Roger Sawyer was a new replacement to the 183rd Aviation Company. He took my place in Bao Loc.

Captain John Fischer,

The person in the picture is Captain Roger Sawyer. He was a graduate of the New Mexico Military Academy. He was KIA Bao Loc in about October 1967, just after we came home. He was my replacement in Bao Loc. After Captain Chock was KIA in Bao Loc, I asked for a transfer to Phan Thiet. At this point WO Allen was the Army pilot in Bao Loc. Captain Roger Sawyer was a replacement pilot and was assigned to Bao Loc after I transferred to Phan Thiet. Sawyer was KIA along with my CIA friend Sam Phillips, who was in the back seat. Phillips was a CIA guy, who never wore a uniform.

Captain Sawyer was KIA as a result of the "golden BB". They were conducting a VR along the side of a mountain near Bao Loc looking for suspected VC in the area. Phillips found the intel and recommended the mission. This was the typical fatal mistake of getting too close to the suspected area, because they were lower than the elevation of the mountain and too close to the suspected area. Sawyer took a lucky round (the golden BB) thru the side of his flack vest. Probably a heart shot. Phillips was a licensed pilot.

Consequently, the L-19 crashed in a clearing on the side of the mountain. You could see the MACV in Bao Loc from this mountain. The headquarters from the MACV sent one American advisor to the crash site. Sgt. Gaetche made the trek to the crash site, and consequently found Sawyer and Phillips dead in the airplane. He had a radio and subsequently called the MACV with the crash site details. He asked for a helicopter pickup, because he heard the VC coming up the hill to his location. He was subsequently picked up, but before the helicopter came he ignited a smoke grenade. He threw the grenade in the grass near the airplane. The Sgt. did not know that there was AVGAS on the ground. The fire that started burned both bodies beyond recognition, while still strapped in the airplane.

My source for this information was from Major Joe Mucelli. Mucelli was an American adviser in Bao Loc. I used to visit with him from time to time in San Francisco.

Richard L. Kloppenburg
8050 84th Avenue Southeast
Mercer Island, WA 98040



There is a window in the New Mexico Military Academy or NMMI Chapel honoring "Buzz", and also a scholarship in his name. The person who knows the most about the crash is Sgt. Frank Gaetche (unsure of the spelling.) The last time I saw him was probably about 6 months after the incident, at which time I went to dinner at the Playboy Club with them in NJ, which is where they lived at the time. Frank as you may recall, had is arm broken by a bullet on a solo mission, but I don't remember if that was before or after Buzz and Sam were killed. Hamby and I were at the Dai Lao bridge, where we spent the night at the RF company outpost. We monitored the call telling about the shoot down and burned rubber getting back to in to Bao Loc. We also radioed to get the security squad saddled up and to find a slick to take us there. When we got back we and were amazed to find that Frank had convinced a slick pilot to drop him off at the crash site. Therefore he was on the top off mountain south of Bao Loc. The mountain was out of artillery range. I saddled up the security squad with Sgt. Hamby and then flew out to join Gaetche. We actually had the chopper circle for a few minutes, while I talked to Gaetche. he said that when he arrived Sam and Buzz were both dead. It appeared that Buzz had been hit in the chest, and Sam was hanging over his shoulder with a field dressing in his hand. I believe Sam was the person who called in the Mayday. The rear stick was in place, but we'll never know if Sam put it in at the start of the mission or after the aircraft was hit. Sam was a licensed civilian pilot. After ascertaining that they were both dead, he moved away from the aircraft and popped a smoke grenade. Fuel had run down hill and was ignited by the smoke grenade. Not many people are aware that colored smokes get instantly red hot. People have gotten third degree burns by holding on to them. I used to tell young soldiers that the solution to having frag grenades thrown back out of bunkers was to throw a smoke in first. If they pick it up their hand will get fried, and even if they kick it into a grenade sump. Frank left, pretty emotionally shook up and a second lift arrived, after a turnaround with Colonel Paul J Mueller, the Province Senior Advisor, Lt. George Grandison, and Sp4 Giordano. An Air force rescue ship, equipped with a jungle penetrator came out and we manhandled the bodies out. I found the 45 that Sam always carried. It was given to him by his father who packed it on D-Day, 1944. It was red hot and discolored and all the cartridges had gone off in the magazine and chamber. I wrapped it in some leaves and threw it into the forest. We then realized that we had to get out of the area as we could hear Viet Cong movement coming our way. It would have been crazy to wait at the crash site so we started out to the west and down some really steep terrain. We heard movement following us. It was shocking when we came to a near vertical cliff about fifty feet high! It was the greatest luck than I had 75 feet of parachute cord that I carried to cross some of the raging highland streams and rivers. We tied it to a sturdy tree and then body rappelled down. With no gloves, no snap links our hand and back looked like raw meat, It took me over a hear to get rid of the scars. A few people had scraps of clothing that helped protect them. The M60 machine gun broke loose and broke the arm of the young soldier trying to stabilize the cord from below. We found ourselves in a strange small plateau with numerous termite nests. We called the lift ship after we found we could get a small group of people out. As I recall by the second extraction we could all but two people out. Colonel Mueller wanted to stay with Hamby and I, but I finally convinced him otherwise. It took me years after the war to resolve to call the families of Sawyer and Phillips. I promised Sawyer’s wife that I would come down to New Mexico to tell his kids about their father, but I never did. I just knew that emotionally I couldn't handle it. I did get a beautiful letter about Roger Sawyer the husband and father as opposed to our narrow view of a courageous friend and great soldier. I will cherish it always. As for Sam, I drove up to Idaho (Nampa). and after talking to his sister. After arriving unannounced I found out that she was briefly out of town and never did connect personally. I did visit Sam's grave site, and was annoyed to find out that the 525 Military Intelligence never honored him with a medal. I was also shocked to see how much these rural communities gave up in WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam, all out of proportion to their populations. I did connect with Sam's father, who was living in Soap Lake, Washington. He had opened the coffin and seeing the charred remains, declared that it was not his son. I convinced him otherwise, and mentioned the 45 that he himself carried on Omaha Beach, but was a discolored piece of red hot metal when I took it off of Sam's body. So there it rests.

Joe Mucelli.

Tam Biet in Vietnamese, means, bye bye

Major Joe Mucelli was an American adviser for MACV in Bao Loc, Vietnam

Sam Phillips was with the CIA. He always wore civilian clothes.

Colonel Paul J Mueller, the Province Senior Advisor, Bao Loc

SGT. Frank Gaetche, advisor MACV Bao Loc

SGT. Hamby, advisor MACV Bao Loc