Thursday, August 28, 2014

Shot down Over Cambodia

On 19 December 1971, Warrant Officer Thomas William Skiles was piloting a Hughes Cayuse Observation (OH-6) helicopter on a bomb damage assessment run southeast of Dambe, Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia. The aircraft received intense automatic weapons fire and burst into flames and crashed. WO Skiles' remains were not recovered. His name is inscribed on the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu memorial.

The Honolulu Memorial is located within the National Memorial of the
Pacific. On either side of the grand stairs leading to the memorial are eight
Courts of the Missing on which are inscribed the names of those missing
from World War II, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam; photograph
courtesy of members Harold and Wanda Blackwell

WO Skiles served with the Air Cavalry Troop, 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, known as the "Blackhorse Regiment." At a Blackhorse reunion some years ago, Brig Gen Terry L Tucker, who was a colonel with the regiment during Vietnam, gave a speech about his work on the Joint Task Force "Full Accounting." In that speech he spoke about WO Skiles:

For the past 2 years, I have been privileged to command Joint Task Force "Full Accounting." In that assignment I led 160 outstanding men and women from all services on a mission to achieve the fullest possible accounting of Americans still unaccounted for as a result of the war in Southeast Asia. We conducted over 1,000 investigations and 125 recovery operations and brought home 67 Americans to their families in that 2 years. Let me tell you about one case that I shared with my brother Blackhorse troopers at the July reunion.

In January 1998, we investigated the site of a 19 December 1971 OH-6 helicopter crash in central Cambodia. In March 1999, we excavated that crash site. The recovery team did not find remains of the crew. However, they did find several items of personal effects. Found were a military identification card and part of another card with an unidentified sticker on it. The recovery team could clearly identify the photograph and name on the identification card, but could not identify the sticker on the second card. Upon my arrival, several possible explanations were offered as to what the sticker might be. After listening to their speculation, I opened my wallet, removed my Blackhorse Association Membership Card, and showed them the exact symbol they were trying to figure out. It was a Blackhorse patch.

The crew of that OH-6 was 1st Lt Peter Forame and WO Thomas Skiles, Air Cavalry Troop, 11 ACR, two of the last Blackhorse troopers to die in Southeast Asia. They were piloting an OH-6A scout helicopter on a bomb damage assessment mission southeast of Dambe, Cambodia. They were hit by .51 caliber and .30 caliber machine gun fire and crashed into a tree line. The helicopter exploded upon impact and was completely destroyed by fire in a short time. Two other helicopters attempted to recover Lt Forame and WO Skiles, but were driven off by heavy automatic weapon fire and rocket propelled grenades. With one helicopter suffering extensive damage. After helicopter gunships arrived to suppress the enemy fire, it was verified that the helicopter was destroyed and that there were no survivors. Further attempts to recover the pilots were unsuccessful despite numerous airstrikes on known and suspected enemy positions.

Thomas William Skiles; source of photograph

Thomas William Skiles, my sixth cousin, would have been 65 years old on 31 August had he survived the war in Southeast Asia.

Thomas William Skiles was my 6th cousin. His great grandmother was a Beard. He was born on 31 August 1949 in El Paso, Texas, to William and Dorothy Lou (Warriner) Skiles. On 3 May 1971 he was drafted into the U.S. Army and was killed in action on 19 December 1971 in Cambodia. He was married and left a wife and at least one son to mourn his death, likely two. One son has left a lovely memorial to him on

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