INVESTIGATIVE RESEARCH OF POW/MIAs
Although the title of this page with respect to POW/MIAs is plural, the majority of my research has been focused on one U.S. pilot who has been missing in Laos since 1969. During the course of my extensive research of his military service, and circumstances of the loss I encounter other cases of missing-in-action pilots, and prisoners-of-war. So, it is research that encompasses far more than a single person, but my primary interest is Colonel Carter P. Luna.
I am a self-titled “investigative researcher” due to a lack of having a formal description to define what I do. I investigate behind a computer, literally with my “boots on the ground” in Southeast Asia, and by making contact with individuals directly or indirectly related to the focus of my research. I research many archival sources, media sources, personal military records (which I am privileged to acquire with the approval of the family). I began my most intense research in about 2017, although through the years prior to that I did some cursory searching on the internet. Since the internet came into existence in 1993, I had very minimal capability of conducting what can often be described as “challenging” research before that.
Another “tool in my toolbox” is networking. I learned during my 25 year career that networking with others was invaluable in investigations. It also was helpful when the occasion presented itself to be able to put a “face to a name” rather than only speaking on the phone or by e-mail to someone. I have had the opportunity to attend organizational meetings where I am able to network with likeminded people, but also to gain an education into areas of research related to those servicemen who have not been repatriated.
There are numerous reasons why researching someone who went missing in a foreign country during a war over fifty years ago can be challenging. Since the war most documents have become declassified making them accessible for viewing. Imagine what it was like before “declassification”, it had to be very limited at best. While I personally do not believe every single document related to the war is declassified researchers work with what’s available. Documents take on many forms such as military service records, investigative reports by various U.S. government agencies, maps, photographs, analysis of other losses investigated by other researchers.
How did I begin my research, recordkeeping, documentation, archiving of information? In the beginning I wasn’t really looking “forward” to where my inquiries may lead me. My mindset was very shortsighted. I wanted to know about Colonel Carter Luna and casually searched the internet for information about him, possible family members, and the weapons systems officer flying with him Colonel Aldis Rutyna (Captain Rutyna at the time of rescue). I saved notes and printed information in manila file folders; very little of my research was saved in word document files on my computer. I also acquired information through a freedom of information request, commonly known as a “F.O.I.A.” (foy uh) the “Freedom of Information Act”. While a F.O.I.A. doesn’t provide everything that is archived from a government source, in this case the United States Air Force, it can provide a foundation for other directions to go in search of information. In addition to the obvious things such as an individual’s social security number, years later I would find that often times documents would contain much redacted information, i.e. names of individuals interviewed, locations of various events. Interestingly though if I were provided information from a government source with lots of redacted information, I have been able to find the same document through an on-line archival source with the identical information not redacted.
Fast forward to about 2017 when my research became more focused and intense so did my methods of storing information. I now have a vast library of documents from various sources, spreadsheets that I have made, maps and photographs stored on my computer. In addition, much of this information is also in a hard-copy format, and a back-up drive for my laptop. I have divided information into three ring binders based on the topic, i.e. intelligence, maps, military service records, search and rescue logs, and so on. These processes have made it much easier and more manageable to access information when I’m referring to it during my research, and when asking another researcher for information or assistance.
As I mentioned above I also gain knowledge by networking with other individuals and organizations. If I say there is much to be learned researching POW/MIA issues… it would be an understatement. By nature I am very inquisitive, and want to know the “why” of things. It would be best for me to itemize some of the topics that required me getting an “education” to understand the “why” of certain events related to the loss of Colonel Luna, and how they are instrumental to my research.
- historical military information: documents are full of abbreviations, acronyms, terminology unique to the military and even to the specific branch of service of interest the U.S. Air Force, protocols in situations, S.O.P.s (Standard Operating Procedures)
- military service records: obtaining records of a service member requires written authorization of the next-of-kin of a person who is missing-in-action (other classification likely at this point in time is K.I.A. [killed-in-action]). I was fortunate to receive this authorization from Colonel Luna’s wife, and have spent many hours becoming familiar with him through his air force personnel records.
- Vietnam War & the Secret War in Laos: I was 11 years old at the time of the loss of Colonel Luna. While I had heard of the Vietnam War I really didn’t know much about it. I knew of a couple people that I heard had gone to the war. Becoming a teenager I became familiar with the music that was popular at the time that I can now relate back to the war time. The Secret War in Laos was something that I have only in the past year or so educated myself on. I needed to understand what was underlying the fact that we (U.S.) had men flying across Laos from bases in Thailand, while our government was denying that “we” were there.
- military aircraft: this has been a complex area to research in part because there were so many aircraft deployed for use in the war effort. However, I mainly focused on the F-4D Phantom II as this was the aircraft that Colonel Luna was the aircraft commander (A/C) of on the date of loss. But, I also was interested to know what other aircrafts he had flown and that information became available through the F.O.I.A., and his air force personnel records.
- tactical military operations: for many years there were daily missions flown by our air force personnel from bases in Thailand and South Vietnam. Depending on the nature of the mission such as bombing, fighting, reconnaissance there is an amazing amount of information to digest. Depending on the type of case a researcher is investigating some of this information is more significant than others. For me, since the loss of Colonel Luna did not involve a crash while he was in the aircraft, or an unknown crash site it has been a little easier for me to focus my efforts on what happened once he ejected and landed safely on the ground in enemy territory in Laos.
- search and rescue logs: these documents were in one respect very hard to come by, but the manner in which I came by them was actually easy. Networking… that’s how I got my hands on the logs that document minute by minute rescue efforts on 10 MAR 69. I had not been able to find these logs through any of my known investigative sources on-line. But, simply inquiring about where they may be hiding to a fellow researcher resulted in him telling me that he had them! They contained dates of interest to him on a case he was researching within the dates of interest in my case. Secondly, I had to transpose all the contents of the logs into an Excel spreadsheet. While it may seem easy enough to take the information and put it into another format, it was not. A lot of the wording was unreadable, many abbreviations that I had to research to know what they mean. Context of some log entries I had to make an educated guess in summarizing their meaning. This effort has been one of my most intense and time consuming of all my research. AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE IS AN ACTUAL PAGE FROM A SEARCH & RESCUE LOG FROM THE MISSION ON 10 MAR 69 involving Colonel Luna.
- locating individuals who may have firsthand or other knowledge: again, networking is very important. However, during the last few years of my research I have had a few individuals contact me before I even knew they existed, and found others through different avenues.
For example, the crew chief who prepared the F-4D that Colonel Luna flew on 10 MAR 69 was doing a Google search of him. He told me that he occasionally did these searches to find out if there was any new information or even a recovery of the colonel. During a Google search he found this website which at the time only had the page “Honoring a Vietnam War pilot” as a reference to Colonel Luna. The crew chief contacted me by e-mail, and we had phone conversations afterwards. He also provided me with photographs that he had taken while assigned to Ubon RTAFB (Royal Thai Air Force Base) in Thailand; where Colonel Luna was based.
- the pilot who led the SAR (search and rescue) mission and rescue of Captain Rutyna on 10 MAR 69. I had purchased his book “Cheating Death: Combat Air Rescue in Vietnam and Laos” as the result of a Google search that revealed there was a reference to Colonel Luna in the book. I read the chapter that documents the author Captain George Marrett’s recollection of that day, and followed up with him by phone calls, and occasional e-mails.
- networking with other researchers who have a vast a amount of knowledge sometimes based on having military backgrounds, and experience with researching cases of missing men during the Vietnam War.
- pilots who served in the war over Laos who I found through social media or other sources. Everyone I’ve had contact with had something to offer either in a significant or minor way in my research.
- personal contacts who served in the military, or specifically in the Vietnam War.
- finally, but most importantly in a personal way was becoming acquainted with Pat Luna the wife of Colonel Luna. Actually, it’s a story of it’s own of how I found out that she was his next-of-kin. The insight she has provided to me about Colonel Luna on a personal, and a professional level is deeply meaningful to me. The friendship we have formed is like no other that I’ve had especially because we have never met!
- reports prepared by U.S. government organizations: D.P.A.A. (Defense POW MIA Accounting Agency) is part of the D.O.D. (Department of Defense) who is responsible for conducting investigations, interviews, field missions, recovery missions, identification, and repatriation of unaccounted servicemembers from all wars. Understandably they produce a tremendous amount of written documentation and have (also through their predecessor agency) for over 50 years. I have reviewed a great amount of J.F.A.s (Joint Field Activities) reports authored by them for REF NO (reference no) 1405. 1405 is the number assigned to the incident on 10 MAR 69 when F-4D serial number 65-0722, call sign “Papaya 02” (A- Lt. Col. Carter Luna, and B- Capt. Aldis Rutyna) was shot down in Savannakhet Laos by enemy fire. Both airmen ejected successfully after the aircraft was hit, and they landed safely on the ground.
- archive sources: the most common source I use is the Library of Congress where there are lots of documents related to the Vietnam War.
- map sources: There are various sources available for maps of Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Mapping locations of incidents, i.e. last known position (of a pilot), crash sites, burial sites is one of the most challenging aspects of my research. There are different “versions” of maps over the years, and different methods of identifying locations, i.e. latitude and longitude, MGRS (Military Grid Reference System), TPCs (Tactical Pilot Charts).
SEARCH & RESCUE LOG (S.A.R.) PAGE 10 MAR 69
MAP OF AREA OF COLONEL LUNA’S LAST KNOWN POSITION
17.0257 N 105.5758 E