The untold story of CWO Richard Wright and Lt. Fred Miller
I, Richard L. Kloppenburg, Captain, Vietnam, 1966 and 1967, attended an airshow in Olympia, Washington, with my U. S. Air force 0-2 airplane (FAC or forward air controller aircraft). The date was September of 2004. During that airshow, a Mr. James Miller of Bremerton came to my airplane and told me that his son, a Lt. Fred Miller, was killed in an airplane like my airplane. Jim Miller told me that the only details that he was given, about his son’s death, was that he died in an airplane crash in Khe Sanh, in February of 1967. I was a Army pilot in Vietnam during 1967. Miller wanted to know some more details about his son’s death. I told Miller that I could probably find out what happened to the pilot, and thus that same fate would have been the fate of Lt. Fred Miller.
I found that most U. S. Army records were destroyed because of a fire in St. Louis, at the U. S. Army record center. Consequently, most details of crash details are no longer available. Last year I became familiar with the Pow/Mia agency in Hawaii. It is now called JPAC. I called my source in JPAC and asked if they could be of some help in my search for answers. The only thing that I had to go on, was that the crash was in Khe Sahn in 1967. There could not be many pilots killed in a crash in the month of February, 1967. My source indicated that he would do his best to get details.
When the details were obtained by JPAC, my source called me and told me that the Pilot’s name was WO (warrant officer) Richard Wright. The crash site was in Phan Thiet, not Khe Sanh. I almost dropped the telephone. I was there that day. Now I had the day and place in Vietnam. I could then fill in the details. I was very involved in the search and rescue (SAR). I could now report the details to Mr. James Miller. Final closure is now due.
The Pilot was a Warrant Officer named Richard Wright. He was initially an Army Caribou pilot. The Army transferred the Caribou’s to the Air Force and Wright was subsequently transferred to the 183 Aviation Company (0-1 airplane company). I was already assigned to Phan Thiet when Wright was assigned to our 2nd Platoon. Wright was then given temporary duty and assigned to the 101 Airborne, which was operating in our area. Wright had not been in Phan Thiet more than a month.
The passenger in the rear seat was named 1st Lt. Fred Miller, who was an intelligence officer in the 101st Airborne. Miller had volunteered to fly with the pilot, because he was to report any enemy activity directly to the 101st Airborne. The 101st would then search for the Viet Cong. They were conducting visual reconnance, looking for any enemy activity, in an area West of Phan Thiet. Phan Thiet is flat from the South China Sea to the mountains. There are many rice patties in the area. It is about 30 miles from the ocean to the beginning of the mountains. I can still see the mountains in the distance from Phan Thiet.
The weather that day was clear. Wright was flying due West into the direction of the mountains. He flew gradually into the mountain area. He flew into a box canyon. He therefore found that he must turn 180 degrees to avoid crashing into the impending mountain. During the turn he hit a down draft which forced the 0-1 into the side of the mountain. The aircraft crashed at maximum speed, with the fuel not shut off. The aircraft burned upon contact. Both people in the aircraft were killed upon contact. The aircraft then burned and therefore destroyed most of the airplane.
Wright’s visual recon mission did not return to Phan Thiet airfield. All pilots were then directed to conduct a search mission. WO Wright did not give a distress call. We only knew the approximate vicinity of the flight. The crash site was found because of smoke coming from the crash site. The jungle was extremely dense in the mountains. The airplane would have been very difficult to see from the air because of the dense jungle. The pilot and passenger were extracted by helicopter and the next day the Air Force conducted an air strike to destroy the airplane. The airplane was destroyed because the radios needed to be destroyed so that the Viet Cong would not be able to use the radios.
So as to authenticate this report, I contacted my commanding officer, a Major Alvin Solomon. Major Solomon is currently retired and living near Ft. Rucker, Alabama. He personally visited the crash site to view the crashed airplane. Major Solomon had breakfast with WO Wright the morning of the crash. Lt. Miller was identified because of his OCS (officer candidate school) class ring. This report has also been authenticated by the Public Affairs Office, Hickam Air Force Base, in Honolulu, Hawaii. The agency is the Joint POW/MIA accounting command (JPAC).
Mr. James Miller was a WW11 crew member in a B-17. He was a tail gunner. His airplane was shot down in 1944 over Northern Germany. He was captured and interned in a prisoner of war camp for one year.
Wright had a passenger named 1st Lt. Fred Miller, who was an intelligence officer in the 101st Airborne. Miller was in the back seat. They were conducting visual reconnaissance, for any enemy activity, in an area West of Phan Thiet.
The weather that day was clear. Wright was flying West into the mountains. He flew into a box canyon. He, therefore, found that he must turn 180 degrees to avoid crashing into the impending mountain. During the turn, he hit a downdraft which forced the 0-1 into the side of the mountain. The aircraft crashed at maximum speed, with the fuel not shut off. The aircraft burned upon contact. Wright did not return to Phan Thiet airfield and thus we were all directed to conduct a search mission. The crash site was found because of smoke coming from the crash site. The bodies were extracted and the next day the Air Force conducted an airstrike on the airplane. The airplane was destroyed because the radios needed to be destroyed so that the Vietcong would not be able to use the radios.
James Miller contacted me at an airshow in Olympia, Wa. in September 2003. He indicated that his son was KIA in an airplane like mine. He indicated that it was never reported what caused the crash. He was only told that his son was KIA in an aircraft accident. Wright was initially an Army Caribou pilot. The Army transferred the Caribou’s to the Air Force and Wright was subsequently transferred to the 183 Aviation Company (0-1 airplane company). Wright's father is Johnny J. Wright with an address from Alabama (1967). He was a Pan American pilot. Captain Gerald Carson (also a member of the 183rd Aviation Company and a Pan American pilot) was flying with Wright senior in the 1980s. They flew over Viet Nam and Wright indicated that his son was KIA in Viet Nam and was never told any details about the airplane accident.
REPORT FROM THE PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE: HICKAM AFB IN HONOLULU, HAWAII: Date: December 2003 Agency: Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) This is a picture of my M16 next to CWO Wright’s M16. His M16 was recovered from the wreck of his 0-1 Birddog. The fire from the aviation gas was so intense that it melted everything except the steel in the M16.
Above is the view from Phan Thiet, looking West toward the mountains. The white puff in the picture was the smoke from an airstrike. Wright’s airplane crashed part of the way to the top of the mountains. From the crest of the mountains, it would be another 30-minute flight to Bao Loc.
Final Closure was written by me several years ago and published in the Warbird magazine. Also, I recently read an article published in AOPA about canyon turns. This is exactly what happened to CWO Wright. We were never taught this maneuver. See this article below.