Charles Ervin SheltonColonel
15TH TRS, 18TH TFW, 13TH AF
United States Air Force
29 April 1932 - 14 Sep 1994
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The database page for Charles Ervin Shelton
Notes from The Virtual WallSome of what happened to then-Captain Charles Shelton is uncontroversial - but as Paul Harvey would say "There's the rest of the story."
On 29 April 1965 Captain Shelton departed Udorn RTAFB in RF-101C tail number 56-0190 for a photo recon mission over Laos. Since his primary target was socked in he and his wingman went on to the secondary target near Sam Neua, which was the headquarters location of the Pathet Lao. Captain Shelton's Voodoo was hit be ground fire and he was forced to eject. He arrived safely on the ground and was in contact with search and rescue forces, but deteriorating weather precluded an immediate pickup attempt. By 02 May the weather had improved to the point that SAR efforts could begin, but an unprecedented 148 sorties and the insertion of a Hmong ground team failed to locate Shelton.
At this point the controversy begins. There seems to be little doubt that Shelton had been captured by the Pathet Lao and the concensus is that he was held prisoner in the area of Sam Neua (in company with another American pilot, Captain David L. Hrdlicka who had been shot down on 18 May 1965) for at least several years. There are reports that he made several escape attempts and to have killed three of his captors; there also are reports that four separate rescue efforts were mounted. In one of these efforts the Hmong rescue team is said to have freed Shelton and Hrdlicka, only to have to turn them over to a North Vietnamese Army unit. Shelton is reported to have been held near Tchepone, Laos, between 1981 to 1985, before being taken to North Vietnam. The fact of the matter is that there is no hard information on what became of Shelton - or for that matter, of Hrdlicka.
The US government did class both Shelton and Hrdlicka as prisoners of war, and promoted both while in that status, but while the Secretary of the Air Force approved a Presumptive Finding of Death for LtCol Hrdlicka on 21 November 1977 LtCol Shelton was continued as a POW. This was a symbolic gesture rather than one founded on knowledge that he was still alive. Colonel Shelton finally was presumed dead on 14 Sep 1994 at the request of his family.
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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Last updated 08/10/2009