United States Air Force Aircrew – 19 December 1971

Date of Birth: 6/12/1946
Date of Casualty: 12/19/1971
Home of Record: ENID, OKLAHOMA
Branch of Service: AIR FORCE
Rank: CAPT
Casualty Country: LAOS
Casualty Province: LZ
Status: MIA

Date of Birth: 12/24/1940
Date of Casualty: 12/19/1971
Branch of Service: AIR FORCE
Rank: CAPT
Casualty Country: LAOS
Casualty Province: LZ
Status: MIA


Remains Identified 06/27/95
Name: Leo Tarlton Thomas Jr.
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 24 December 1940
Home City of Record: Georgetown KY
Date of Loss: 19 December 1971
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 193106N 1031738E (UG176587)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D
Refno: 1786

Other Personnel in Incident: Daniel R. Poynor (missing)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 30 June 1995 from 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 1998.


Throughout the Vietnam War, the Plain of Jars region of Laos was a contested area between Lao tribesmen and Vietnam’s communist allies, the Pathet Lao. The area was long controlled by the Pathet Lao and a continual effort had been made by the secret CIA-directed force of some 30,000 indigenous tribesmen to strengthen anti-communist strongholds there. The U.S. committed hundreds of millions of dollars to the war effort in Laos. Details of this secret operation were not released until August 1971.

Captain Leo  T. Thomas Jr. was an F4 Phantom pilot sent on a mission over the Plain of Jars in Laos on December 19, 1971. His bombardier/navigator on the flight was 1LT Daniel R. Poynor. At a point about five miles north of the city of Ban Na Mai, Thomas’ aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed. It was not believed that either crewmember survived. Both were listed Killed/Body Not Recovered. However, it was believed that the enemy could probably provide further information about the two.

Because Laos was “neutral,” and because the U.S. continued to state they were not at war with Laos (although we were regularly bombing North Vietnamese traffic along the border and conducted assaults against communist strongholds thoughout the country at the behest of the anti-communist government of Laos), and did not recognize the Pathet Lao as a government entity, not one of the nearly 600 Americans lost in Laos was ever released.

The Pathet Lao stated that they would release the “tens of tens” of American prisoners they held only from Laos. At war’s end, no American held in Laos was released – or negotiated for.

The U.S. Government labels the return of an increasing number of American remains as progress towards “high levels of cooperation” on the POW/MIA issue. Although over 10,000 reports regarding Americans in captivity in Southeast Asia have been received, convincing many experts that hundreds remain alive there, the U.S. is content to gauge success on the return of remains. How many will die waiting for the country they proudly served to
come to their defense?

Leo T. Thomas Jr. graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1963.

NOTE: From Coshocton Tribune, Ohio, 06/30/95

Kay McKinney’s husband was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War. Now, 23 years later, his remains finally are back on American soil.

The remains of Air Force Capt. Leo Thomas Jr, who was shot down on Dec. 19, 1971, arrived Wednesday night at Travis Air Force Base in California. Thomas and his navigator will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on July 19.

For McKinney, the village’s clerk, the past 23 years have been emotionally trying.

Stationed in Thailand, Thomas had been on his second tour of duty. Although he was declared killed in action 10 days after his plane was shot down, the crash site could not be found.

Over the years, the Air Force would call and say Thomas’ remains had possibly been found. But each time the reports did not pan out.

In March 1992, the Laotian government turned over to U.S. representatives some remains and artifacts from a site believed linked to the crash of Thomas’ plane.

Flooding prevented further excavation of the site until the Spring of 1994, when further evidence was found. The military was finally able to confirm that the remains were those of Thomas earlier this month.

Captian Daniel R. Poyner
United States Air Force

Captain Leo T. Thomas
United States Air Force

They are buried in section 34 of Arlington National Cemetery


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