Laurent Lee Gourley - KIA
Laurent Lee Gourley Laurent was born to Walter & Betty Gourley and grew up on a farm at Morton’s Mill, Iowa with his three siblings, Floyd “Butch”, Elzene, and Fred. He was active in football and baseball and was a member of the National Honor Society and graduated as Valedictorian from Villisca High School in 1962. Laurent graduated with Highest Honors from the US Air Force Academy with a major in Astronautics and was Commissioned as a 2nd Lt in the USAF in 1966; and got his Masters’ degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University in 1967. (1)
On Nov. 11, 1968, Lee began his assignment with the 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Tuy Hoa Airbase, South Vietnam. He was a jet fighter F-100 Super Sabre pilot, with the 31st tactical fighter wing, 7th Air Force” and was stationed at Bien Hoa Air Base.
“In the early morning of August 9, 1969, 1Lt. Jefferson S. Dotson, rear seat co-pilot, and Capt. Lee Gourley, pilot, departed Tuy Hoa Airbase located on the coast of central South Vietnam on a “Misty” Forward Air Control (FAC) mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in central Laos.
Lee Gourley had written home early that same day saying that all missions for that day had been scrubbed due to bad weather. He did not expect to have to fly that day – and he had time to write his family. Gourley had been working with Misty for some time as a volunteer. Misty FAC volunteers were chosen from among the best and most experienced pilots. He had delayed a trip to Hawaii for R & R until the Misty duties were complete in another week, knowing his time in the Vietnam arena would be short following his return. The FAC mission had come up unexpectedly.
The aircraft Dotson and Gourley flew, the F100 Super Sabre, had been specially modified a few years before to include a second crewman. The F model, introduced in 1965, had the latest technology in radar signal detectors. The initial shipment of F-100F’s were called “Wild Weasel I” and were an important element in several combat operations.
Gourley and Dotson were not on a Wild Weasel mission, however, and on the FAC mission this day, no bombs were loaded. They were to fly low and fast over their objective area and presumably analyze targets for future air strikes, or assess the potential need for further strikes. FAC reconnaissance missions in the traditional sense were often flown by light observation aircraft rather than fighter/bombers, but the necessary element for this mission was low altitude and high speed, as well as the ability to cover a large territory.
Although there was normally no scheduled air backup or escort on a FAC mission, and Gourley and Jefferson had none, other aircraft which happened to be in the area provide information as to what happened to Dotson and Gourley as they flew near Sepone in Savannakhet Province, Laos.
One passing aircraft intercepted a radio transmission from the F100F, “We’ve been hit, we’re going to try to get out.” Observers from the passing aircraft then saw the F-100 go up in flames, and observed one fully deployed parachute. (NOTE: The standard ejection called for the rear-seater, Gourley, to make the first ejection, then the pilot, and a fully deployed chute indicated the successful ejection of a crew member.)
Major Gourley was designated Missing In Action on 8/9/69 and designated “died while missing” on 11/29/78. He was promoted to Major on 12/9/77 while Missing In Action.”(1)
During 2001-2002, a joint U.S./Lao People’s Democratic Republic team excavated a plane crash site in Xepon District, Savannakhet Province, Laos. Major Gourley’s remains were found on 2/11/2001 and identified on 8/9/2002. (1)
Major Gourley is interred at the Villisca Cemetery, KS and he is honored on the Vietnam Memorial Wall 20W118.
- 11/11/1968-8/9/1969 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Tuy Hoa AB, Vietnam (F-100)
Awards & Decorations
Military & Civilian Education
- USAFA, BS/Astronautics
- 1962 Villisca High School
- 1967 MS/Aeronautical Engineering, Purdue University