JOHN ALAN WARE
Staff Sergeant, Combat Aviation Crew Chief
281st Assault Helicopter Company
From: Hermiston, Oregon
Born: February 3, 1949
Joined the 281st on August 21st, 1968
Lost on November 4th, 1969, in Khanh Hoa Province, South Vietnam,
while serving as a crew member on missing helicopter 67-19512;
the cause of loss remains unknown, but not due to hostile action.
Status changed from MIA to Presumed Dead on August 21, 1978.
John Alan Ware was born in Pendleton Oregon on February 13, 1949. He was the younger of two sons born to Cecil and Aileen Ware. John grew up in Oregon, attended elementary and junior high school at Stanfield School and graduated from Hermiston High School in 1967. John’s father, Cecil Ware, died in 1992.
John was an outgoing “happy go
lucky” guy who enjoyed life. He made friends easily and was
well liked by all. John lived and worked on a ranch during his
early life and enjoyed hunting and fishing with his father. John’s
mother remembers him this way:
We always enjoyed John being so creative and fearing nothing as he was growing up, for instance right after he got his 250 Scrambler Honda cycle, he took the motor off and put it on a go cart, pretty powerful for something that run so close to the ground. He and a friend took it out to try it on a country road; the friend followed him in his mustang at almost l00 miles an hour. They came home rather scared of their new venture. He would come home at night and wake us to tell us they had been chasing jackrabbits on their cycles in the meadows, very daring. He hunted with his Dad for pheasants, deer and elk, bought his own deer rifle while he was still in high school. He worked with his Dad on a big cattle and hay ranch and thought it was great to drive one of the big semi trucks loaded with baled hay to Portland. John loved life and had many friends; we never knew how many teenagers would be at our home, boys and girls. Had several girl friends but never serious relationships. Several wrote him after he went in the service." Aileen Ware, August 2000.
Following high school John worked for the Union Pacific Railroad Company until July of 1968 when he left his family and his new Camaro sports car and went into the service. John took basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington graduating September 13, 1968 as part of the first cycle of trainees using the new M-16 rifles. Following basic John was sent to Fort Eustis, VA for UH-1 Helicopter maintenance training. He graduated on December 4, 1968 and was assigned to the 281st Assault Helicopter Company on January 16, 1969. John joined the 281st AHC at Nha Trang, South Vietnam and was immediately assigned as a Crew Chief on a UH-1 helicopter. John was a highly skilled crew chief and quick learner. By mid-January John had been awarded his first Air Medal and had earned the respect and friendship of everyone who knew him. The pilots who flew with him remember that his aircraft, Number 512, was always ready and he had the reputation for having one of the best-maintained aircraft in the unit. He was quick to assist his fellow crewmembers and became a mentor and friend to the new members of the team. His youthful easy going personality carried over to his Army duty and made him a likable person to be around. John, recognized as a leader and a professional, was quickly promoted to the rank of Specialist Fourth Class.
While in the 281st AHC John wrote his parents faithfully and
always expressed his love for his job and his helicopter. He
looked forward to returning home in February of 1970 and being
reunited with his family, especially his two young nephews and his
older brother who shared John interest in cars.
In late October of 1969 John decided to ask for a transfer from the Second Platoon to the Gun Platoon. He also planned on remaining with the 281st for a few extra weeks so as to be eligible for immediate release upon his return to the states in February of 1970. John’s transfer was approved and his flight of November 4th, 1969 was to be his last with the second platoon.
The loss of the aircraft that cost John and his fellow crewmembers their lives can be attributed to several factors all of which are subject to interpretation. There appears to be little doubt that the crew was placed in harms way as a result of a decision to continue the support mission beyond the point in time that would have allowed them to safely return to their operating base. Certainly the weather in the pass was a contributing factor. However, the purpose of this document is to honor John Alan Ware and to insure that his memory is kept alive. On November the 4th of 1969 the Army, the 281st AHC, his friends and his family lost a true hero who was too young to die under any circumstances. John Alan Ware was 20 years old when he lost his life in the jungles of South Vietnam. He was an individual who loved life, his country, his family and his friends and a man who was truly above the best.
John Alan Ware, 1969
[Photo by Brian Paine]
John Alan Ware was awarded the Air Medal with several Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Commendation Medal, the Military Service Medal, the Rifle and Machine Gun Award, the Auto Rifle Award, the Crew Chief Award with Crew Member Wings, the Good Conduct Medal, and the Purple Heart. John was promoted to Staff Sergeant after being declared missing on November 4, 1969. He was reclassified as “presumed killed in action” on August 19, 1978 and his body, along with those of his fellow crewmembers is still missing.
Biography prepared by:
John W. (Jack) Mayhew
"Intruder 6" 7/67-2/68
By: Michael Olson
281st AHC Crew Chief, 1969
281st Flight crew buddies,
Michael Olson and John Ware, 1969
November 1969. As President Nixon announced plans to the nation of
withdrawing U.S. ground combat forces from South Vietnam, John
Ware and I were making plans of our own. John and I were
crew chiefs on Hueys in an assault helicopter company assigned to
a Delta Project with the Special Forces. For several months
we had rotated between month long field operations in I and II
Corps and the 5th Special Forces Headquarters in Nha Trang.
John was the top crew chief of the second platoon, which I was
assigned to when I joined the unit. He soon became my mentor and
taught me not only the technical part of helicopter combat but
also helped condition my reaction time. While living in
tents on our field operations John devised a quasi hot potato
game, but instead of a potato we would ignite the end of a tracer
bullet and toss it to each other. This small burning hot
piece of lead kept our reflexes finely tuned and was always
accompanied by immense laughter and an occasional scream.
Like all combat units each of us in the second platoon was part of a team that depended on one another. We depended on each other's combat skills while in flight and camaraderie skills on the ground. John was a real buddy whom we all looked up to. He and I became fast friends.
Our company had three platoons, two "hole ship" platoons and one
gun ship platoon. A "hole ship" would fly into a landing
zone to drop off and extract our reconnaissance teams while two
gun ships, equipped with mini guns, 2.75” rockets and M60 machine
guns would fly our flanks to give us fire support when we needed
it. For a little variety John wanted to switch from our hole ship
platoon to the gun ship platoon for the remainder of his tour.
We were both getting "short." John was going to extend his
tour for a couple of months so he could get an "early out" when he
returned to the "World." I was a double-digit midget (less than
100 days on my tour of duty), scheduled to board a "Freedom Bird"
back to the "World" in mid-December with 147 days left on my
enlistment. Anyone returning from Nam with less than 150 days was
eligible for an "early out".
John had gone through all the proper channels and everything was approved for him to make the switch to gun ships. He would be leaving his Huey, tail number 512, the best "hole ship" in the 281st Assault Helicopter Company. I had been bouncing from one ship to another since I joined the special unit in April. I had worked my way up to crew chief and wanted 512 for my permanent ship. That also was approved and the date was set for the transfer to occur. November 4, we were at our base camp in Nha Trang mostly flying daily support missions to small, remote, hilltop encampments in the Central Highlands
The gentle hum of fans moving the hot humid air in our barracks was disrupted every morning at 0530 when we rolled out from our beds. November 4 began as every day began by us heading to the bulletin board that posted our missions and chopper assignments for the day. But there was a mistake. John was still assigned to #512 and scheduled for a mission to the Highlands. I was assigned to #360 and headed to the Highlands as well. I woke John up.
The plan was for him to have the day off to move from our barracks over to the gun ship platoon/ barracks. We woke up our assistant platoon sergeant, Ruiz and told him of the mess up. All three of us went next door to wake up our platoon sergeant and have him fix the mix up. He told us the duty officer must have forgotten to switch us that day and he would take care of it later. He told us to fly our posted missions and the transfer would take place the next day. At age 20 and being in the Army there wasn't much more we could do to change things. With rifles in hand we grumbled our way to the mess hall, grabbed a bite to eat and a couple cups of coffee then headed to the flight line as dawn began to color the eastern sky.
The ships had been fueled the night before and mechanics worked through the night on any repairs before the duty officer assigned them for a mission. It was the crew chief's responsibility to inspect the ship to make sure any repairs were completed while the door gunner mounted the M60 machine guns and loaded both ammo boxes. Our pilots also inspected the ship before we fired up.
The quiet morning stillness was shattered as our ship's turbines ignited and the increasing whine of the engines built. We all pulled on our helmets and went through radio checks. Thumbs up. John, in 512, was two bunkers away and as my chopper lifted straight up, I flashed a peace sign to him as we turned for the airstrip and received permission from the air controller to take off. With our chopper's nose pointing down we gained speed and altitude as we hit translational lift just over the concertina wire of our perimeter. The jungle below was still too dark to discern it's true color but the sky was glowing red and the air began to cool as we headed west towards Duc My Pass that lead into the Central Highlands.
By 0900 we had picked up Special Forces personnel and supplies in Ban Me Thuot and headed deeper into the Highlands to a hilltop A Camp near the Cambodian border. John and his crew on 512 were on a similar mission at another Green Beret camp in the Phu Khanh province just south of Ban Me Thuot.
The air in the Highlands was always much cooler than that of the coast. We always liked these missions to escape the intense humid heat. A weather front began building that afternoon and added freshness to the cool air. We finished our mission by early afternoon without ever being shot at all day. It was a good day. After refueling at Ban Me Thuot we headed home. The wind had picked up in the pass and our ship was tossed around a bit, nothing too serious. Our crew had flown through gale force winds during the Monsoon season earlier in the summer.
Back at base camp, I remember checking out my ship as the sun began to creep into the clouds that were building to the west. I was up checking out the rotor when one of the mechanics came up and said 512 had radioed they were in trouble. The last radio transmission was from a new pilot, Warrant Officer Cavender that said "Oh my god we're inverted!" and all went silent. We all knew UH-1H helicopters couldn’t fly inverted.
It was 1920 hours. They were somewhere near Duc My Pass and the storm and darkness were both building. First seat pilot, Warrant Officer One Terry Alford and the new in country WO1 Jim Cavender along with door gunner, Jim Klimo, and John were missing.
We hung around the radio control room listening, hoping, and praying. We wanted to go fire up our ships and head out to find them, but we knew we would have to wait until daylight. It was after 2200 when we headed to the EM Club to spread the word and have a couple of beers before turning in. The Enlisted Men's Club was our haven when we were at base camp. It was where we drank and found solace after defeating death each day. Drinking and laughing with buddies was strong therapy that helped blur the chaos and horrors of each day. On the evening of November 4 it was a gathering of concentrated hope for a positive outcome the next day when we flew out in search of our friends. I, for one, was full of hope when I finally turned in for the night.
Our whole platoon was up and ready to go before the first glimmer of the new day was apparent in the eastern sky. We had Green Beret "belly sergeants" for spotters; we had "sniffers" (mechanical devises that could smell smoke, fuel or even body odor). We had maps and assigned search areas. We had jungle hoists, rope ladders, and McGuire Rigs to pull them out of the tangled jungle vegetation. We had medics and above all that we had hope.
We searched, hoping the multi layers of jungle canopies had softened their crash and upon hearing our choppers they would pop a smoke grenade to lead us to them. We looked for signs of broken vegetation the chopper would have left as it crashed through the foliage. Nothing. All day we flew stopping only to refuel and then search some more. And still nothing. After the second day without any results I spoke with a couple of the Green Beret about going down on the ground to search below the jungle canopies. The request was denied. We searched for five long days without any sign and then the order came down, "search efforts suspended".
Our company had suffered losses like every combat company fighting in a war. We had zipped fallen comrades in body bags and carried wounded bleeding men to our choppers before. We were all too familiar with death and destruction. After several months of combat we became hardened by war, tempered by fear, and tuned by hope for survival. It was still possible the crew of 512 could be out there hurt, hungry and fleeing from the Cong. How could we suspend the search? Orders are orders, but every time we flew to the Highlands it took us a bit longer to get there because we would fly low, straining our eyes as we desperately sought for any sign of the ship and our fallen comrades. Life expectancy of a helicopter door gunner on a hole ship in a firefight averaged 7 seconds. Each of us lived every day to the fullest with that glum statistic looming about us. Being totally "in tune" with our senses was paramount to survival. Although each of us outwardly mourned each time we lost members of our company, deep down in secret recesses we were thankful it wasn't us that day. But the circumstances involved with John's disappearance cut deep within me.
The days and missions continued as my time in country grew shorter and shorter. Since John's disappearance I had two blown out engines in flight; an auto rotation into a rice paddy after running out of fuel; both pilots wounded while extracting a team from a hot LZ; shrapnel from enemy artillery embedded in my ship; mortar fire striking the roof of a building I sat next to; a very near midair collision with a F-100 fighter jet; eight bullet holes within 12 inches of my head and four machine gun duels. It was time for me to return to the "World".
December 12, 1969 a big beautiful silver "Freedom Bird" full of fellow survivors fell completely silent as its jet engines roared down the runway and as the wheels lifted off from hell, aka Vietnam, the cabin exploded with cheers and tears. We were going home!
But home would never be the same. Christmas at home in Minnesota felt foreign. I was out of place. I was alive in the "world". And John, where was he? Where should I be rather than him? Without the focus of war that reality started digging, clawing, tearing at my very being. No amount of alcohol or drugs diverted the guilt. I ran across America, coast to coast, north to south from Canada through Mexico. I hid and I searched the depth of my soul while wandering in solitude in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I became invisible, an unknown wounded warrior in the bush of Alaska. Trying desperately to create my own healing therapy. I sought out intense experiences in life to layer over the guilt of being alive. Searching for a reason to live when so many around me had died.
Years passed. And on my life's journey I found a mountain woman that became my lover and a true friend I could confide in. We started a family together in an abandoned log cabin in interior Alaska and a time of healing began.
On a trip back to my childhood home in Minnesota I found John's home address in Oregon. We routed our way through Hermiston, Oregon on our way to catch the ferry back to Alaska in 1982.We pulled off the highway and I found Mr. & Mrs. Cecil Ware in the phone book. Judgment Day was at hand. I called the number and introduced myself as a friend and comrade of John's. I remember hoping with all my soul that a miracle had happened and the voice would say John's alive and well. That didn't happen and Aileen, John's mom, invited me to their home. John's Home. Aileen had called John's brother and nephew to come over and I met the whole family. brought pictures of John and myself to give them. After a while I drew up all the courage I could muster and told them the whole story. The story that changed all of our lives. It was a tragic story of a forgetful duty officer posting the wrong mission assignments twelve years before that caused them to loose their son. And it was the story of my daily struggles with that guilt. We all cried and then they reached out from the depth of their loss and touched my troubled soul. Their goodness, understanding, caring and forgiveness lifted an intensely heavy millstone from my neck. There is not a day that I live that I don't think of John and thank him for my life. I have made it a point to live as full and happy a life as possible in tribute to John.
Aileen was very active in the MIA movement. In January 1987 she received copies of documents from the Department of Defense Joint Casualty Resolution Center that shed the first light on John's disappearance.
A refugee fleeing Communist Vietnam was interviewed in Thailand by a JCRC officer. The refugee was an enlisted man in the South Vietnam Regular Army on patrol in the forested region of Tuy Hoa/Nha Trang in 1969. The report reads: His patrol came across the wreckage of a US Huey helicopter concealed from the air by thick jungle canopy. The aircraft had probably been shot down a "few weeks prior". They found the decaying bodies of four Americans amid the wreckage. He collected their four dog tags from the bodies as souvenirs before continuing on with their mission. The "source" stated he assumed the incident was reported and the US would recover the bodies. He himself did not report it. The report goes on about how the "source" was subjected to a reeducation camp somewhere in North Vietnam after the South fell and in 1979 he escaped. He eventually made his way to his sister's home in Thailand.
He stated he sent his brother to the crash site. His brother found the site still untouched and recovered the remains of all four Americans, and returned to hide them near his home somewhere in a hamlet near Nha Trang. This bizarre sounding report has many blacked out sections and is difficult to read, but reportedly there was only one helicopter incident in that area in 1969.To my knowledge no other contact was made with the source or his brother as no further news followed that document.
More than 2,000 Americans are still listed as Missing In Action in Vietnam. The families and friends of John Ware, Jim Klimo, Terry Alford and Jim Cavender have no physical remains to emotionally bury their losses. I for one, keep their memory alive. John personally helped guide me through my first six months of combat in Vietnam and he has helped guide me through my last 30 years. His death has helped me to understand the greater meaning of life.
Michael Olson Crew Chief
By Jeff Murray
I flew in 512 with John, and Les White was the AC. It was in January 1969, I think. We were flying out of Phu Hiep and supporting the ROKs, and we flew a lot of sorties for this ROK Colonel, who kept us past our release time by promising lunch. We talked it over and figured what the heck, even a ROK Colonel gets good chow, so we kept on flying. When we finished he asked us to shut down and come eat, so we did. He looked a bit surprised that we brought the crew with us, and I could tell he was a bit taken aback but he smiled and invited us in his GP medium. He then pulled out a case of C's and told us to help ourselves. Shoot, we had those in the aircraft. I distinctly remember SP5 (that's what he was then) Ware glaring at us for making him eat the same stuff he had on board because we passed up a stop at the Qui Nhon PX snack bar. I told him it was his fault because we Warrants did all the work and the Colonel never intended to feed the lowly crew and it was only through my good graces that he wasn't eating his own food. But he must have liked it because when we deployed up to Phu Bai we stopped at some refueling spot for gas and there sat a pallet of C-Rations with one, lone guard. Some Crew Chief (let's just say it was John) asked him what he was waiting for, and he replied "The helicopters." Whereupon the CE said, "Here we are" and grabbed about 10 cases, loaded them on his own bird and said "We'll be back for the rest later." The guard probably got an Article 15 for that one, but we ate well. Jeff
MOTHERS PAIN: NOT KNOWING IS THE HARDEST PART
Published in the November 1995 issue of Ruralife, Forest Grove, Oregon.
Aileen Ware with the telegram
informing her of her son's fate
By Jean Conklin
Nine stressful years had passed; officially, the ordeal was finished. Aileen Ware had experienced all the stages of coping with death and dying: denial, anger, bargaining, self-pity, depression, grief and acceptance. Like many who confront challenges greater than themselves, the roots of Aileen's personal faith became deep and strong.
Aileen remembers February 1972. Her son John's birth[day ] had just passed. She wore a new, stainless steel POW/MIA bracelet - a reminder to her and others to pray for [the] safe return of the missing Soldiers.
"I had been praying," Aileen remembers. "I heard something snap, and I looked down and found the bracelet had split in two, and fell off my wrist. I felt different. My heavy heart seemed to be gone, and instead, I felt peace. I soon realized that God had performed a miracle. The broken bracelet was a sign from God that he had delivered me from relief in that instant.” Aileen continues to hope for John's safe return, but her hope is without the anguish and heartache of a grieving mother. "I know that John is in God's hands," she shares freely. The only lead discovered during subsequent investigations involved a person in Dac Lac Province who is allegedly holding remains and a dog tag possibly associated John's case. The case has been recommended for reinvestigation.
The remains of 2,163 Vietnam veterans are unaccounted; 42 are Oregonians.
Some 9 million men and women were in uniform between 1965 and 1975; 1.3 million are believed to have seen combat. Nearly 300,000 men were wounded in the war-75,000 of them disabled by their wounds. There is no final count on the number of other casualties-the ones who returned with scars heir psyches or deadly toxins in their blood. At the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., 58,175 deceased veterans names are etched in stone. Vietnam memorials dot our nation’s countryside. Generations pass by the walls some too young to have known the war, others too old to have fought it. Uniformed men and women come; some salute, some just stare. Tourists come; some snap pictures, some stand silently off to one side, drifting back into memory.
A Personal Note:
We were fortunate to develop a wonderful relationship with John's Mother. Mrs. Ware was a gracious lady who was driven by her goal to keep John's memory alive and to bring him home. She was subjected to unthinkable situations, including contacts by imposters trying to make money using fake photos of John. As the war closed, and the memories of the missing dimmed, Aileen remained a driving force for keeping John and all the MIAs alive in the hearts and minds of all of us. I still miss our phone calls with reports of her winnings in the weekly poker games, at the assisted living home where she spent her last years. Like John, she was an Intruder, and we all loved her. In her honor, we will keep the search for John, and the other Nine Missing Intruders, open and active, until we bring them home. Jack Mayhew, February 19, 2018.
The Official Report and maps are posted on
CWO Terry Alford’s Web page.
Biography prepared by:
John W. (Jack) Mayhew
A MAN IS NOT DEAD UNTIL HE IS FORGOTTEN
ONCE AN INTRUDER ... ALWAYS AN INTRUDER