Donald Vance Davis – Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy

Donald Vance Davis was born on October 8, 1934 and joined the Armed Forces while in Salisbury, North Carolina.

He served as an aviator in the United States Navy.  In 12 years of service, he attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

On July 25, 1967, at the age of 32, Donald Vance Davis perished in the service of our country in North Vietnam.

Meager War Remains Buried With Dignity

The respectful duty of preparing a smattering of body fragments for a full burial is no simple matter at Travis Air Force Base.

Just as if the deaths had happened yesterday, the remains dredged up from wars fought decades ago are flown back in flag-covered boxes and met with full honor guards at the base.

The next stop is the base mortuary, a flat, beige building where the body pieces are stored in a vault.

There, the family picks out a coffin of either brown poplar wood or gray metal.

Then comes the tricky part. None of the remains returned from the Vietnam War, Korean War or especially World War II are ever complete, so the tradition of dressing the body in full uniform is out of the question.

Instead, the body fragments – usually bones and teeth, the most durable – are wrapped in a green blanket that is safety-pinned shut.

Morticians prepare a uniform from the appropriate service branch, sewing on rank and name-tag patches and attaching medal ribbons. They then fold the uniform, lay it on the blanket and shut the casket.

One ribbon always pinned on: “The Purple Heart”, because the wounds don't come more serious than this,” Tara Sutherland, mortuary assistant, said solemnly.

Lieutenant Commander Donald Davis, whose remains were the most recently repatriated, had been missing-in-action since his jet crashed on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, July 25, 1967.

Searchers recovered only fragments of him.

These fragments were put into a poplar casket and covered by a dress Navy blue uniform carrying a Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with Bronze Star, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon Bar.

Finally, the casket is shipped to a hometown or to Arlington National Cemetery for full military burial.

Most, like Davis, go to Arlington.

Only rarely does a family vary from this routine.

On one occasion in this decade, a family wanted the two teeth that remained of their dead hero placed in an urn to take home. Another time, the family had the fragments cremated.

Two other bags of bones are still sitting in the Travis mortuary, unclaimed after 15 years.

Remains returned 1997 identified 04/01/98

Name: Donald Vance Davis
Rank/Branch: O4/US Navy
Unit: Attack Squadron 163, USS ORISKANY
Date of Birth: 08 November 1934
Home City of Record: Salisbury NC
Date of Loss: 25 July 1967
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 181259N 1055500E (WF828272)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A4E

Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 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.


SYNOPSIS: The USS ORISKANY was a World War II-era carrier on duty in Vietnam as early as 1964. The ORISKANY at one time carried the RF8A (number 144608) that Maj. John H. Glenn, the famous Marine astronaut (and later Senator), flew in his 1957 transcontinental flight. In October, 1966 the ORISKANY endured a tragic fire which killed 44 men onboard, but was soon back on station. In 1972, the ORISKANY had an at-sea accident which resulted in the loss of one of its aircraft elevators, and later lost a screw that put the carrier into drydock in Yokosuka, Japan for major repairs, thus delaying its involvement until the late months of the war.

The ORISKANY's 1966 tour was undoubtedly one of the most tragic deployments of the Vietnam conflict. This cruise saw eight VA 164 “Ghostriders” lost; four in the onboard fire, one in an aerial refueling mishap, and another three in the operational arena. However, the 1967 deployment, which began in June and ended on a chilly January morning as the ORISKANY anchored in San Francisco Bay, earned near legendary status by virtue of extensive losses suffered in the ship's squadrons, including among the Ghostriders of VA 164, and Saints of VA 163. One reason may have been that Navy aviators were, at this time, still forbidden to strike surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites which were increasing in number in North Vietnam.

On July 18, 1967, LCDR Richard D. Hartman's aircraft fell victim to anti-aircraft fire near Phu Ly in Nam Ha Province, North Vietnam. Hartman, from VA 164, ejected safely, but could not be rescued due to the hostile threat in the area. Others in the flight were in radio contact with him and resupplied him for about three days. He was on a karst hill in a difficult recovery area. Eventually the North Vietnamese moved in a lot of troops and AAA guns, making rescue almost impossible.

One of the rescue helicopters attempting to recover LCDR Hartman on the 19th was a Sikorsky SH3A helicopter flown by Navy LT Dennis W. Peterson. The crew onboard the aircraft included ENS Donald P. Frye and AX2 William B. Jackson and AX2 Donald P. McGrane. While attempting to rescue LCDR Hartman, this aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed killing all onboard. The remains of all but the pilot, Peterson, were returned by the Vietnamese on October 14, 1982. Peterson remains missing.

The decision was made to leave Hartman before more men were killed trying to rescue him. It was not an easy decision, and one squadron mate said, “To this day, I can remember his voice pleading, ‘Please don't leave me.' We had to, and it was a heartbreaker.” Hartman was captured and news returned home that he was in a POW camp. However, he was not released in 1973. The Vietnamese finally returned his remains on March 5, 1974. Hartman had died in captivity from unknown causes.

In July 1967, LCDR Donald V. Davis was one of the Saints of VA 163 onboard the ORISKANY. Davis was an aggressive pilot. On the night of July 25, 1967, Davis was assigned a mission over North Vietnam. The procedure for these night attacks was to drop flares over a suspected target and then fly beneath them to attack the target in the light of the flares. Davis and another pilot were conducting the mission about 10 miles south of Ha Tinh when Davis radioed that he had spotted a couple of trucks. He dropped the flares and went in. On his strafing run, he drove his Skyhawk straight into the ground and was killed immediately. Davis is listed among the missing because his remains were never recovered.

LTJG Ralph C. Bisz was also assigned to Attack Squadron 163. On August 4, 1967, Bisz launched on a strike mission against a petroleum storage area near Haiphong. Approximately a minute and a half from the target area, four surface-to-air missiles (SAM) were observed lifting from the area northeast of Haiphong. The flight maneuvered to avoid the SAMs, however, Bisz' aircraft was observed as it was hit by a SAM by a wingman. Bisz' aircraft exploded, burst into flames, and spun downward in a large ball of fire. Remnants of the aircraft were observed falling down in the large ball of fire until reaching an altitude estimated to be 5,000 feet and then appeared to almost completely burn out prior to reaching the ground. No parachute or ejection was observed. No emergency beeper or voice communications were received.

Bisz' aircraft went down in a heavily populated area in Hai Duong Province, Vietnam. Information from an indigenous source which closely parallels his incident indicated that his remains were recovered from the wreckage and taken to Hanoi for burial. The U.S. Government listed Ralph Bisz as a Prisoner of War with certain knowledge that the Vietnamese know his fate. Bisz was placed in a casualty status of Captured on August 4, 1967.

The Navy now says that the possibility of Bisz ejecting was slim. If he had ejected, his capture would have taken place in a matter of seconds due to the heavy population concentration in the area and that due to the lack of additional information it is believed that Bisz did not eject from his aircraft and that he was killed on impact of the SAM.

Classified information on Bisz' case was presented to the Vietnamese by General Vessey in the fall of 1987 in hopes that the Vietnamese would be able to resolve the mystery of Bisz' fate. His case is one of what are called “discrepancy” cases, which should be readily resolved. The Vietnamese have not been forthcoming with information on Ralph Bisz.

On August 31, three pilots from the ORISKANY were shot down on a particularly wild raid over Haiphong. The Air Wing had been conducting strikes on Haiphong for two consecutive days. On this, the third day, ten aircraft launched in three flights; four from VA 164 (call sign Ghostrider), four from VA 163 (call sign Old Salt) and two from VA 163. As the flight turned to go into Haiphong, one of the section leaders spotted two SAMs lifting off from north of Haiphong. They were headed towards the Saints section leader and the Ghostrider section leader, LCDR Richard C. Perry.

The Saints section leader and his wingman pitched up and to the right, while Old Salt 3 (LCDR Hugh A. Stafford) turned down, his wingman, LTJG David J. Carey close behind him. Carey, an Air Force Academy graduate, was on his first operational mission. The missile detonated right in front of them and aircraft pieces went everywhere.

The other SAM headed towards Perry's section, and he had frozen in the cockpit. All three planes in the division pulled away, and he continued straight and level. His helpless flightmates watched as the missile came right up and hit the aircraft. The aircraft was generally whole and heading for open water.

Old Salt Three and Old Salt Four, Stafford and Carey, had by that time ejected from their ruined planes and were heading towards the ground. Both were okay, but Stafford had landed in a tree near a village, making rescue impossible. Stafford and Carey were captured and held in various prisoner of war camps until their release in Operation Homecoming on March 14, 1973.

Richard Perry had also ejected and was over open water. But as Perry entered the water, his parachute went flat and he did not come up. A helicopter was on scene within minutes, and a crewman went into the water after Perry. He had suffered massive chest wounds, either in the aircraft or during descent in his parachute and was dead. To recover his body was too dangerous because the North Vietnamese were mortaring the helicopter. The helicopter left the area. Richard Perry's remains were recovered by the Vietnamese and held until February 1987, at which time they were returned to U.S. control.

Flight members were outraged that they had lost three pilots to SAMs that they were forbidden to attack. Policy was soon changed to allow the pilots to strike the sites, although never to the extent that they were disabled completely.

On October 7, 1967, VA 164 pilot LT David L. Hodges was killed when his Skyhawk was hit by a SAM about twelve miles southwest of Hanoi. His remains were never recovered and he is listed among those missing in Vietnam.

On October 18, 1967, VA 164 pilot LCDR John F. Barr was killed when his Skyhawk was hit by enemy fire and slammed into the ground while on a strike mission at Haiphong. Barr's remains were not recovered.

On November 2, 1967, VA 164 pilot LTJG Frederic Knapp launched as the lead of a flight of two aircraft on an armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. The wingman reported that during an attack run, the aircraft appeared to have been hit by anti-aircraft fire. The wingman saw Knapp's aircraft impact the ground and did not see the canopy separate from the aircraft. There was no parachute sighted or emergency radio beeper heard. The aircraft crashed about 9 kilometers west-southwest of Cho Giat, near route 116, in Nghe An Province.

A source later reported that people from his village had removed the remains of a dead pilot from his aircraft and buried the remains nearby. These remains are believed to be those of Knapp. On October 14, 1982, Vietnamese officials turned over to U.S. authorities a Geneva Convention card belonging to Ltjg. Knapp. To date, no remains have been repatriated.

Six of the thirteen pilots and crewmen lost in 1967 off the decks of the ORISKANY remain prisoner, missing, or otherwise unaccounted for in Vietnam. Disturbing testimony was given to Congress in 1980 that the Vietnamese “stockpiled” the remains of Americans to return at politically advantageous times. Could any of these six be in a casket, awaiting just such a moment?

Even more disturbing are the nearly 10,000 reports received by the U.S. relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia. Many authorities who have examined this information (largely classified), have reluctantly come to the conclusion that many Americans are still alive in Southeast Asia. Could any of these six be among them?

Perhaps the most compelling questions when remains are returned are, “Is it really who they say it is?”, and “How — and when — did he die?” As long as reports continue to be received which indicate Americans are still alive in Indochina, we can only regard the return of remains as a politically expedient way to show “progress” on accounting for American POW/MIAs. As long as reports continue to be received, we must wonder how many are alive.

As long as even one American remains alive, held against his will, we must do everything possible to bring him home — alive.

Defense POW/MIA Weekly Update
April 1, 1998


The remains of three Americans previously unaccounted-for from Southeast Asia have been identified and will be returned to their families for burial in the United States. One is identified as U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Donald V. Davis, of Salisbury, N.C. The other is Captain Carey A. Cunningham, U.S. Air Force, of Collinsville, Ala. The name of a U.S. civilian lost in Laos will not be released at the request of his family.

On July 25, 1967, LCDR Davis left the USS Oriskany, flying an A4-E aircraft, on an armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. His wingman observed LCDR Davis' aircraft crash as it was attacking a truck convoy. The wingman reported there was no chance for survival. No search and rescue was initiated.

In 1988 and 1996, a joint U. S./Socialist Republic of Vietnam team visited the probable location of LCDR Davis' crashsite and interviewed local villagers for information on this loss incident. Witnesses reported finding a crashsite and burying the remains of a pilot found within the wreckage. Analysis of aircraft wreckage determined it to be from an A-4 aircraft.

In 1997, a joint U.S./Vietnamese team excavated a possible burial site identified by the villagers. The team recovered human remains, life support equipment, and aircraft wreckage. The remains were repatriated to the U.S. Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii for analysis and subsequently identified as those of LCDR Davis.

On August 2, 1967, Capt. Cunningham and his crewmember were flying a daylight photographic reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. Their wingman stated that Capt. Cunningham's RF-4C Phantom banked into a hard right turn and crashed. No parachutes were seen exiting the aircraft before it crashed.

In 1989, the Vietnamese government repatriated two boxes of remains, one of which they claimed belonged to Capt. Cunningham's crewmate. In 1992 and 1994, a joint U.S./Vietnamese team interviewed villagers about a 1967 crash of an
American aircraft in which both pilots died. The villagers reported that the remains of the pilots were turned over to central authorities.

Personal effects belonging to the Americans were examined in two Vietnamese military museums. The remains repatriated in 1989 were subsequently identified as those of Capt. Cunningham. His crewmember is still unaccounted- for.

NOTE: After 31 years, my brother's remains were returned and buried at Arlington National Cemetary on May 19, 1998. His name was Lieuenant Commander Donald Vance Davis.

If someone wore a bracelet or had a license tag for him, I would like to write them a note. Fondly, Carolyn Davis
P.O. Box 5609Pinehurst, NC 28374

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