When Herbert Kirk volunteered for a sensitive assignment called
Project Heavy Green, he had to sign a secrecy agreement. Kirk, an Air Force
man, was to be temporarily relieved of duty to take a civilian job with
Lockheed Aircraft. He would be running Lima 85, a radar base in Laos, whose
neutrality prohibited U.S. military presence. No one was to know.
Lima 85 was on a peak in the Annam Highlands near the village of Sam Neua on
a 5860 ft. mountain called Phou Pha Thi. The mountain was protected by sheer
cliffs on three sides, and guarded by 300 tribesmen working for CIA. Unarmed
US "civilians" operated the radar which swept across the Tonkin Delta to
For three months in early 1968, a steady stream of intelligence was received
which indicated that communist troops were about to launch a major attack on
Lima 85. Intelligence watched as enemy troops even built a road to the area
to facilitate moving heavy weapons, but the site was so important that
William H. Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Laos, made the decision to leave the
men in place. When the attack came March 11, some were rescued by
helicopter, but eleven men were missing. The President announced a halt in
the bombing of North Vietnam.
Donald Westbrook was flying one of 4 A1E's orbiting on standby to search for
survivors of the attack at Phou Pha Thi when his plane was shot down March
13. Westbrook was never found. Finding no survivors, the Air Force destroyed
Lima 85 to prevent the equipment from falling into the hands of the enemy.
In mid March, Kirk's family was notified that Lima Site 85 had been overrun
by enemy forces, and that he and the others who had not escaped had been
killed. Many years later, they learned that was not the whole truth.
Two separate reports indicate that all the men missing at Phou Pha Thi did
not die. One report suggests that at least one of the 11 was captured, and
another indicates that 6 were captured. Information has been hard to get.
The fact that Lima Site 85 existed was only declassified in 1983, and
finally the families could be believed when they said their men were missing
in Laos. Some of the men's files were shown to their families for the first
time in 1985.
The Lima 85 families have talked and compared notes. They still feel there
is a lot of information to be had. They think someone survived the attack on
Lima Site 85 that day in March 1968. They wonder if their country will bring
those men home.