In Honor of Memorial Day, May 25, 2020
The Homecoming of Lewis Clark Walton
On May 3, 1971, Reconnaissance Team ASP was inserted into an area south of the A Shau Valley of South Vietnam, about 9 miles east of the Laotian border. The mission of the 8 man long range reconnaissance team was to observe and report on enemy activity along a tributary of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that entered South Vietnam at this point.
The team consisted of
Staff Sergeant Klaus J. Bingham, Wahiawa, Hawaii
Staff Sergeant James M. Luttrell, Fayetteville, North Carolina
Staff Sergeant Lewis C. Walton, Cranston, Rhode Island
and five Montagnard South Vietnamese troops, names unknown.
The insertion was successful, and apparently went undetected by the North Vietnamese. After an initial radio report the team proceeded under radio silence – and then disappeared.
On May 4, forward air controllers searched the area, but were unable to locate the team, or to establish radio contact. On May 5, aerial observers noted signal mirror flashes near the insertion point, and sighted two men in dark green fatigues placing signal panels. Although no radio contact was made with the team, helicopters with a rescue team were launched at 1500 hours, but could not make the insertion because of bad weather. Fixed wing Forward Air Controllers remained overhead until 1700 without contacting or sighting the team.
On May 6, weather again prohibited search attempts, and on May 7, hostile fire in the area prevented the insertion of a rescue team. Poor weather then set in, preventing insertion of a search team until May 14. The search team was extracted the same day without having seen or heard from the missing patrol.
Recon Team ASP was given up for lost, and the three Americans were recorded as Missing in Action. They were carried as Missing In Action until the Secretary of the Army finally approved Presumptive Findings of Death for the three American soldiers — Staff Sergeant Bingham on May 22, 1977, Staff Sergeant Luttrell on October 20, 1978, and Staff Sergeant Walton on Oct 12, 1978. Their remains were not recovered.
The Library of Congress made available documentation regarding US Prisoner of War/Missing in Action personnel. A search of the documentation regarding Recon Team ASP produced some information.
In 1993, a Joint Task Force-Full Accounting team visited the locale and interviewed long time residents, including several former Viet Cong militiamen who were involved in the fighting that destroyed Recon Team ASP.
In summary, a 45 man local Viet Cong militia force tracked down the team, killing the three Americans, and one Montagnard South Vietnamese soldier. On May 4, the remaining four Montagnard South Vietnamese soldiers were sighted trying to signal search aircraft. They were attacked, and killed. The Viet Cong militiamen said the bodies were left where they fell. None were buried. An initial exploration of the battle sites failed to locate them.
In 2003, a Joint Task Force-Full Accounting team returned to the village. Although initial searches and excavations recovered only limited personal effects the site was recommended for continued investigation.
In 2004, excavations recovered additional personal effects, including a distinctive Saint Christopher’s medal, and very fragmented remains, which were repatriated to the United States on October 19, 2004. On October 23, 2006, the remains were identified as those of Staff Sergeant Lewis Clark Walton.
Staff Sergeant Walton’s son, Sergeant First Class Lewis Clark Walton, Jr., a soldier of the 115th Military Police Company, Rhode Island National Guard, traveled to Hawaii to bring his father’s remains home. The younger SFC Walton, then a veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, was four years old when his father left for his second tour of duty in Vietnam.
A Mass of Christian Burial was held May 5, 2007 at Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church in Providence Rhode Island, followed by burial with full Military Honors in the Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery in Exeter, Rhode Island.