Samuel Mackal Deichelmann – Major, United States Air Force

Name: Samuel Mackal “Sam” Deichelmann

  • Rank/Branch: Major/US Air Force
  • Unit: 56th Special Operations Wing Udorn Airfield, Thailand
  • Date of Birth: 24 September 1938
  • Home of Record: Montgomery, Alabama
  • Date of Loss: 06 September 1968
  • Country of Loss: South Vietnam
  • Status in 1973: Missing in Action
  • Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: O1F “Birddog”
  • Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing)


SYNOPSIS:  The low, slow and vulnerable Cessna O1F Birddog Forward Air Control (FAC) aircraft were inherited by the Air Force from the Army when the Army lost command of this fix-wing observation fleet during a transition period of the war in 1965. The aircraft itself usually only carried white phosphorous marker rockets that were mounted beneath the wings. The aircrews, however, carried their own personal weapons that added a limited degree of armament to this daring little aircraft. The Birddog was not only vulnerable to enemy ground fire, it was also at risk of being accidentally hit by friendly fire because its shape and speed helped it blend into its surroundings. Later in the war, the Birddog’s upper wing was painted white or orange to emphasize the slow-moving FAC’s position to friendly strike aircraft.

On 6 September 1968, then Captain Samuel M. “Sam” Deichelmann was the pilot of an O1F aircraft, call sign “Raven 45,” that departed Bien Hoa Airbase, Bien Hoa Province, South Vietnam on a classified single aircraft operational mission. The flight was to culminate with him ferrying his aircraft back to his home base of Udorn, Thailand.

Everything known about this flight is unusual. For example, Captain Deichelmann test flew this aircraft the day before specifically to check it out. He also made it a point to talk to his brother, who was also stationed in Vietnam, the day before his final mission. In retrospect, this call seemed odd to his brother. Since this was a classified mission, no normal flight plan was logged prior to takeoff. Once airborne, Sam Deichelmann established contact with the U.S. Army communications center at Bien Hoa Airbase to verbally file his flight plan. Further, it was abnormally vague even for a classified mission.

As he flew north along the coast of South Vietnam, Captain Deichelmann checked in with the communication centers at Tuy Hoa, Phan Thiet and Cam Ranh Bay. At 0810 to 0815 hours, approximately 15 minutes after departing Bien Hoa Airbase, the coastal center at Phan Thiet thought it heard a garbled transmission from Sam Deichelmann. Because of the confusion surrounding this classified mission with its built in secrecy, the lack of a standard filed flight plan outlining in detail the intended route, and no set schedule for radio check-ins, no search and rescue (SAR) operation was initiated until 1100 hours. An air search of the general region in which Sam disappeared, found no trace of the missing Bird Dog or its pilot.

The last known position of the Raven 45 placed it over a jungle covered mountain less than 1 mile north of Highway QL1, the primary east/west road running between the town of Xuan Loc and the coast. It was also approximately 8 miles due east of the village of Ap Rung La that was situated along side Highway QL1; 12 miles northwest of the coastline, 30 miles east-southeast of Xuan Loc and 66 miles due east of Saigon. Small hamlets dotted the jungle on both sides of the highway.

There has never been any indication if the Bird Dog vanished due to enemy action or mechanical failure. If Sam Deichelmann died as a result of his loss incident, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he survived, his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different.

Name: Samuel Mackall Deichelmann

  • Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
  • Unit: 56th Special Operations Wing, Udorn AF TH (RAVENS)
  • Date of Birth: 24 September 1938
  • Home City of Record: Montgomery, Alabama
  • Date of Loss: 06 September 1968
  • Country of Loss: South Vietnam
  • Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
  • Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: O1F
  • Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)
  • Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March1990 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 1998.

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”. On pages 60-63, this book includes the account of Capt. Samuel M. Deichelmann, who became Missing in Action on September 6, 1968: “One of two things happened to Ravens, as they logged an increasing number of combat missions and took their share of groundfire; they became either overcautious or reckless. The first merely made them  ineffective, but the second risked their lives. The inclination to duel with a gun in a fixed position, or settle a score after their aircraft had been peppered with ground fire, led them to take risk after risk. Sam Deichelmann became one of the worst offenders. [His commander] thought he was becoming too blase and had reached the point where he believed himself immortal. “…It was just one of those things. His plane took the Golden BB. [The Golden BB was part of pilot’s folklore — the ‘miracle’ shot that would kill them after countless times under heavy and close fire.] “…Deichelmann had flown his C-130 out of Vietnam over the Trail at night as a Blindbat pilot at ridiculously low altitudes and never taken a hit. Then, flying over Route 4, southeast of the Plain of Jars…[he] took a single round. The shell ripped through the plane, hit [his friend and backseater] Vong Chou…and missing Deichelmann’s head by a hairbreadth. “…Deichelmann was shattered by the experience. …He now entered a highly dangerous phase. He had cheated death and dodged the Golden BB, but it had wounded his friend, and he felt honor-bound to embark upon a course of reckless revenge. “…In the circumstances, the air attache’s office thought it wise to remove him temporarily from the picture. …In September he left for Bien Hoa, where his younger brother was stationed. He planned to spend a few days leave with him and then [return, bringing with him a new O1 for the unit]. “…Deichelmann reached Vietnam without incident, and the brothers enjoyed a pleasant reunion. He mentioned a desire to see the great Cambodian lake of Tonle Sap, an illegal but easy detour on the journey back. He boarded the new Bird Dog and took off from Bien Hoa and headed back toward Laos. He was never seen again.”

Sam Deichelmann’s disappearance was deeply mourned at Long Tieng. His comrades admired him as a first-rate pilot and FAC, but especially admired his humanity. They had seen him play with village children, and knew how he suffered when his friend Vong Chou had been wounded. He had been honest, good-hearted, open and warm. His friends would miss him greatly. Some refused to accept that he had died, and were convinced that he had been forced to make an emergency landing in Cambodia, and would reappear with yet another account of escaping death. But Sam Deichelmann never returned.

(NOTE: “The Ravens” continues, saying Sam’s younger brother was later killed in a midair collision in Vietnam. There is, however, only one Deichelmann listed on the Vietnam Memorial, so the accuracy of this portion of the account cannot be established.)

From – Mon Apr 10 13:05:06 2000
From: “Lee, Thomas E. – SAIC” <[email protected]>
Subject: Information correction

First I would like to establish my credentials with you, before I point out errors in the descriptive write-ups on approximately 20 entries in your data base.

I am a retired US Air Force Colonel who served in Laos covertly as part of DoD Project 404 from June 1968-June 1969. I was the intelligence officer in Savannakhet operating in “civilian” status working for the U.S. Embassy. I carried civilian documentation for presentation but also possessed my military ID card. We wore civilian clothes. One of my roles was to support the Raven forward air controllers (FAC), the US FACs operating from “in-country” bases in Laos. See my website at

The following is a paragraph from your description of the “Raven” Forward Air Controllers operating in Laos. We lost 21 of them from 1966-1973. “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.”
An error in the above description is that most of the US military personnel operating in Laos were NOT “sheep-dipped” as you described. We were in the “Black” in that we were technically not there, we were
assigned to out of country units and our in-country existence was generally classified for part of the 1964-1973 period. (The existence of these operations was revealed during Congressional Hearings in late 1969 or 1970). The Raven Program and the complementary DoD Project 404 both began in 1966. However, there was no mustering out of the service for the Ravens or the Project 404 personnel. To my knowledge the only program that was “sheep dipped” as you described was Project Heavy Green (the Air Force troops supporting Site 85 and the TACAN site support). That accounted for under 100 people. (13 were lost) There were military personnel operating within the Air America and CIA (CAS) operations that may have operated under different rules. Critically speaking the US devised the sheep dipping process. It was used across the US intelligence community.  The non-communist forces had virtually nothing to do with that process. They did play a role in accepting the US military members in “civilian” status by accepting our
presence and not “spilling the beans”. We were not deceiving the opposition because they knew we were military. Our deception was aimed at the World scene and the US population regarding our activities in contravention of the 1962 Geneva Accords.
This was a very unique period and very misunderstood period in our military history due to its classified nature. Fortunately, we are able to tell our story now. Those of us that served in Laos are trying to correct this mis-information and myth that has grown up around these activities so they are better understood in their real context.
Respectfully, Tom Lee  (Thomas E. Lee, Colonel USAF (Ret)) Savannakhet, Laos, 1968-1969


  • Date of Birth: 9/24/1938
  • Date of Casualty: 9/6/1968
  • Home of Record: MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA
  • Branch of Service: AIR FORCE
  • Rank: MAJOR
  • Casualty Country: SOUTH VIETNAM
  • Casualty Province: BIEN HOA
  • Status: MIA

E-Mail of 15 June 2009: Linda Wilcox

Major General Matthew Kent Deichelmann and wife Louise Mackal, Captain Stephen Travis Deichelmann (youngest son of Major General and Mrs. Deichelmann), all buried at Arlington National Cemetery Section 3 Site 4466 LH and linked on web site.

The oldest son,  Major Samuel Mackal Deichelmann has been MIA/KIA Vietnam since September 1968; body never recovered; memorial headstone at Arlington National Cemetery.  Sam was a Raven FAC pilot, call sign Raven 45.
Please link his information with/to the other family members.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

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