Park George Bunker

Park George Bunker

Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Unit: 432nd Combat Support Group, Udorn AF TH under secret
Assignment to 56th Special Operations Wing, Udorn (RAVENS)
Date of Birth: 10 December 1940
Home City of Record: Homewood IL
Date of Loss: 30 December 1970
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 193100N 1031300E (UG129588)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: O1F
Refno: 1686
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 1990 with the assistance of one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2020.           


SYNOPSIS: The Steve Canyon program was a highly classified FAC (forward air control) operation covering the military regions of Laos. U.S. military operations in Laos were severely restricted during the Vietnam War era because Laos had been declared neutral by the Geneva Accords.

The non-communist forces in Laos, however, had a critical need for military support in order to defend territory used by Lao and North Vietnamese communist forces. The U.S., in conjunction with non-communist forces in Laos, devised a system whereby U.S. military personnel could be “in the black” or “sheep-dipped” (clandestine; mustered out of the military to perform military duties as a civilian) to operate in Laos under supervision of the U.S. Ambassador to Laos.

RAVEN was the radio call sign which identified the flyers of the Steve Canyon Program. Men recruited for the program were rated Air Force officers with at least six months experience in Vietnam. They tended to be the very best of pilots, but by definition, this meant that they were also mavericks, and considered a bit wild by the mainstream military establishment.

The Ravens came under the formal command of CINCPAC and the 7/13th Air Force 56th Special Operations Wing at Nakhon Phanom, but their pay records were maintained at Udorn with Detachment 1. Officially, they were on loan to the U.S. Air Attache at Vientiane. Unofficially, they were sent to outposts like Long Tieng, where their field commanders were the CIA, the Meo Generals, and the U.S. Ambassador. Once on duty, they flew FAC missions which controlled all U.S. air strikes over Laos.

All tactical strike aircraft had to be under the control of a FAC, who was intimately familiar with the locale, the populous, and the tactical
situation. The FAC would find the target, order up U.S. fighter/bombers from an airborne command and control center, mark the target accurately with white phosphorus (Willy Pete) rockets, and control the operation throughout the time the planes remained on station. After the fighters had departed, the FAC stayed over the target to make a bomb damage assessment (BDA).

The FAC also had to ensure that there were no attacks on civilians, a complex problem in a war where there were no front lines and any hamlet could suddenly become part of the combat zone. A FAC needed a fighter pilot’s mentality, but but was obliged to fly slow and low in such unarmed and vulnerable aircraft as the Cessna O1 Bird Dog, and the Cessna O2. Consequently, aircraft used by the Ravens were continually peppered with ground fire. A strong fabric tape was simply slapped over the bullet holes until the aircraft could no longer fly.

Ravens were hopelessly overworked by the war. The need for secrecy kept their numbers low (never more than 22 at one time), and the critical need of the Meo sometimes demanded each pilot fly 10 and 12 hour days. Some Ravens completed their tour of approximately 6 months with a total of over 500 combat missions.

The Ravens in at Long Tieng in Military Region II, had, for several years,the most difficult area in Laos. The base, just on the southern edge of the Plain of Jars, was also the headquarters for the CIA-funded Meo army commanded by General Vang Pao. An interesting account of this group can be read in Christopher Robbins’ book, “The Ravens”. The following account of Capt. Park George Bunker, lost on December 30, 1970, is found in this book:

“..Bunker [was] a tall, reserved man who kept his distance. A senior captain in his early thirties with a receding hairline–and married, with two children–he was looked upon as ancient by his companions.

“Despite his reserve on the ground, Bunker [seemed indifferent] to enemy fire and held the current record among his group for the most bullet holes in his O-1. Just before the new year he flew out to the northern edge of the Plain of Jars, near Roadrunner Lake, to verify a recorded sighting of enemy tanks. Sure enough, he spotted the front of a tank protruding from a group of trees and dropped low for a better look. A rapid-fire 14.5 mm antiaircraft gun–deadly to a height of 4,500 feet–opened up at close range and nailed the engine.

“Bunker put out a Mayday call before managing to [maneuver] the O-1 onto a flat area in the middle of a horseshoe formed by a bend in a small river.  Then Bunker climbed out of the cockpit he found himself in open country….  He lowered himself into…a small gully choked with brush…. Unknown to him, a large group of NVA soldiers were bivouacked along the bank of a distant treeline that followed the curve in the river. He was surrounded on three sides.

“Four Ravens heard the distress call and headed toward the downed plane.  Bunker said he was hiding in a gully by the side of the O-1 and was being shot at from three sides. Gunfire could be heard over the radio. It seemed to…grow louder until Bunker announced he was going to make a run for it.

“…the Ravens raced toward the crash site, listening helplessly to [Bunker’s} desperate transmissions. When Bunker next came on the radio, he was out of breath. ‘They’re all shooting at me! I’ve been hit! I’m hit! I’ve been hit twice–God, I’ve been shot five times. I’m not going to make it.  I’m as good as dead.'”

When the first Raven arrived on the scene, Bunker could not be found. One of the Ravens, Chuck Engle, took his plane almost to ground level for a closer look, braving enemy fire. He did see something under a tree, but his aircraft was so badly shot up, he had to return to Long Tieng. A Skyraider pilot volunteered to look, but was met with the same withering fire as Engle had encountered. He confirmed that there was a body under a tree wearing a blood-covered survival vest. “The Ravens” continues:

“The description certainly sounded like Bunker, who always flew to war in a chocolate-colored walking suit and a green survival vest, while most of the other Ravens draped theirs over their seats. The growing dark made it impossible to check, and when the Ravens returned the following morning the body had been removed.”

Bunker had only 30 days to run before the end of his tour. Ironically, the Ravens, wishing to spare his family the grief of uncertainty, declared him dead. It was a matter of honor with them that they either got their men out or determined positively they were dead. The Ravens began a ritual after Bunker died that they continue to this day — reading a list of those Ravens who are no longer among them, drinking to their memories, and then shattering the drink glasses.