Looking back to when Laurel welcomed home first Southeast Asia POW (Lawrence Bailey)

The specially modified, intelligence-gathering C-47 plane lifted off from Vientiane, the capital of Laos, March 23, 1961, and headed north toward Xieng Khouangville, a Communist-held area. The experienced Air Force crew was accompanied by Army Maj. Lawrence R. Bailey, a Laurel resident serving as the assistant Army attache in Vientiane. Bailey always wore a parachute when he flew.

His habit would save his life that day, and lead him into a prisoner of war experience that was reported in detail in the News Leader after his return as a hometown hero.

The crew’s objective that day was to determine the frequencies used by Soviet pilots to locate a jungle airfield hidden under a dense fog. Anti-aircraft fire suddenly burst all around the plane.

As the rest of the crew scrambled to don parachutes, one of the wings was sheared off by the intense fire. Bailey was the only crew member able to jump from the burning plane, which plummeted in a tailspin.

Throughout the 1950s, U.S. involvement in the Vietnam Conflict consisted mostly of military advisers. It was in 1961 that the escalation of troops started in earnest. From 1961 to 1962, U.S. troops in Vietnam increased from just over 3,000 to more than 11,000.

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