11/13/1969 —

SSGT Ron Ray and

SFC Randy Suber MIA

Decades Later an Chance Meeting Leads to Answers for Family

POW-MIA Flag — You Are Not Forgotten

By John Stryker Meyer
Originally published in the November 2019 Sentinel

In late October 1969, I returned to CCN, to RT Idaho where Lynne M. Black Jr., was the team leader (One-Zero). He assumed command of the team when I left in April and I found an improved SOG recon team with South Vietnamese men I utterly respected. The team was tighter, more experienced since it lost six men in May 1968. The bitter irony of SOG at that time: The team had improved but the NVA had kicked up its efforts against SOG recon teams during the deadly, eight-year top secret war fought in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam under the aegis of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group, or simply SOG.

That message was hammered home on November 3, 1969, when the three Green Berets assigned to RT Maryland were wiped out by NVA troops, possibly NVA sappers — the highly trained NVA recon hunter killer teams. With RT Maryland, the indigenous troops survived the attack, escaped and evaded east to the South Vietnam border where, sadly, one team member was killed by friendly fire. In 1968, during our pre-mission intel briefings, we were warned about NVA sapper teams trained to hunt and kill Americans — a feat for which they received a medal from communist leaders in Hanoi. On January 1, 1969, that rumor turned into cold fact when a CCN recon team had all of the Americans killed, while the indigenous troops managed to escape from Laos.

CCN Recon gate (Photo courtesy John S. Meyer)

Mike Taylor and the Prairie Fire AO

Just how rough the Prairie Fire AO had become is attested to by Mike Taylor, who served five years in Vietnam with SF. His first experience with the PF AO, was in the air and on the ground with RT Oregon in September 1969. Mike was being transferred from MACV-SOG Ground Studies Group (OP-35), to the SOG Launch Site in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. The launch site was under the operational control of OP-35 but it was administratively assigned to CCN. When Mike was in Da Nang in-processing to CCN, he flew his first Visual Reconnaissance (VR) flight with a Covey over Laos to scope out the CCN AO. His previous recon experience had been in Cambodia.

His reaction to the PF AO: “I was blown away by the size and scope of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the number of NVA troops in the AO and the amount of Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) that had been moved down from North Vietnam into the Prairie Fire AO. That night, at the CCN Club (not the Recon Club), I said to a friend, ‘I don’t know how you get people to run in that AO — it looked like New York City to me.’ I did not know the sorry excuse for a commander that CCN was cursed with at that time was standing behind me. He loudly proclaimed, ‘I am not having a coward at one of my launch sites.’ I replied, ‘It is not your launch site — it is OP-35’s launch site. I am not a coward and will go out with any team that will have me. Want to go with us?’ He said his duties wouldn’t permit that.”

Taylor then went down to the Recon Club where then-Sgt. Eldon Bargewell introduced him to Ron Ray, One-Zero of RT Oregon. “Ron said he never took ‘straphangers’, but if Randy Suber, the One-One on RT Oregon, would let me carry the radio I could go as the One-Two (radio operator). After a couple of days of Immediate Action (IA) drills all day and getting to know Ron and Randy through tennis, volleyball and beach time in the evenings, RT Oregon was inserted into Laos for a river watch of a ford on Route 23 over the Bang Xe Phai River. We were able to watch the ford for five days and reported quite a bit of NVA traffic on it, but Saigon never gave the OK to strike targets of opportunity. We were extracted without incident. It was a classic, successful recon mission.”

A week later, Taylor and RT Oregon were inserted into the A Shau Valley for an area recon. Midday on the second day, it became apparent they had trackers with dogs on the team’s trail and there were troop units maneuvering in the area. Ron Ray, quite rightly, got the team to a good, defensible LZ, declared a Tactical Emergency and requested an extraction. We took ground fire on the way out; everyone lived to run another day. Shortly after that mission, and taking the time to see, smell and feel the PF AO while on the ground with a respected CCN recon team, Taylor was shipped to his new duty station at NKP in Thailand.

During September and October Ron Ray and Randy Suber had also earned the respect of RT Idaho One-Zero Lynne M. Black Jr., who wrote to the Suber family in December 2018: “I knew Ray and Suber very well and had a lot of respect for all the men on RT Oregon.” He went on to say that RTs Oregon and Idaho “were the most active, ran more missions that any other team at CCN.” During September RT Oregon and RT Idaho had “trained up, become proficient, on the equipment” to conduct a joint radio direction finding (RDF) mission to interdict truck convoys along the Ho Chi Minh Trail….each of us flew visual recons selecting insertion and extraction points. We were ready to go when Oregon got assigned the 13 November mission.”

Map of Vietnam showing the Prairie Fire Area (as per Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group)

RT Oregon — November 13

On November 13, CCN was rocked with the bad news of RT Oregon having five of six men killed by NVA in Laos. “I’ll never forget that day as long as I live,” said Dan Thompson, an experienced SOG recon man who ran missions with RT Rhode Island and was flying as the Covey Rider for the insertion of RT Oregon. “It was one of those typical days in SOG, in the Prairie Fire AO,” Thompson said. “We were supposed to insert the team earlier in the day, but the insertion kept getting pushed back due to weather issues over the target area and getting asset coordination in place….we did a double insert. On the first LZ, the choppers went in on a dummy insertion, placing one of those “Nightingale” devices on the ground, which exploded in a sequential order making it sound like a firefight, with the chopper leaving the LZ, hoping to make it appear to the enemy the team left the LZ. We inserted RT Oregon on the second LZ, a long finger of mountain, high up about 15 miles inside Saravane Province in Laos. To be honest, I was a little nervous about the LZ because the vegetation was not jungle canopy, it was thin. But, the team went in, gave us a Team OK. We kept all assets nearby the target until we all got low on fuel and had to return to South Vietnam to refuel.

“Much to my absolute horror, no more than five minutes after the choppers and Covey headed east, we received the first radio beeper and call declaring a Prairie Fire Emergency, around 1600 hours. I was sick to my stomach,” Thompson said.

According to the top secret After Action Report, the six-man RT Oregon team was hit by NVA at approximately 1600 hours, attacking first from the west, with AK-47s blazing. Then NVA soldiers attacked from the northwest and southwest. During those initial fusillades of withering enemy gunfire, RT Oregon indigenous team member Vai was gunned down. During those adrenalin-pumping milliseconds, team members Nha and Thanh were killed when a claymore mine in one of their rucksacks exploded, killing them instantly.

Nguyen Van Bon, the only RT Oregon team member to survive the attack, later told debriefers, that as Ray returned fire he was felled by enemy gunfire while Suber was trying to make radio contact with any aircraft in the area. Efforts on his URC-10 ultra-high frequency emergency radio failed to make contact, Bon said. He observed Ray fall to the ground, groan and “become silent.” He shook the young staff sergeant, but Ray was unresponsive, his chest was covered with blood. Bon said he turned to Suber’s position when he noticed four enemy soldiers advancing toward the young sergeant. Suber picked up his weapon, pointed it toward the enemy only to experience weapon failure. He was instantly struck by enemy fire. Bon fired upon those enemy soldiers and called Suber’s name several times. Bon later told S-2 staff and polygraph experts that the brave Green Beret from Missouri neither moved nor answered his calls.

Bon then escaped from the deadly battle site by running down hill and into the darkened jungle to escape enemy soldiers. During the subsequent time, he heard sporadic shots fired and shouting to the north and west throughout the following day, according to the findings by the MIA Board of Proceedings conducted November 29, chaired by CCN Executive Officer Bill Angel, Capt. Robert Blatherwick Jr., and Capt. Michael D. O’Byrne. Also, during that time, Air Force personnel picked up at least five beepers alerts from an URC-10, which they assumed was a ploy by the NVA to draw in another team