Jon Michael SparksChief Warrant Officer
48TH AHC, 223RD AVN BN, 11TH AVN GRP, 1 AVN BDE
Army of the United States
24 February 1950 - 11 March 1976
Panel 04W Line 058
The database page for Jon Michael Sparks
After concluding my second SEA tour of duty in June '73, I was returned stateside for discharge. I soon became involved in the POW/MIA issue and was an outspoken critic of the war, especially regarding the accountability of MIA/POW's. When I learned that bracelets were being offered with the names of POW/MIA servicemen inscribed for sale, I sent in my $3.00. Shortly thereafter I received the bracelet of WO1 Jon Sparks. I wore his bracelet until the plate wore off and it turned my wrist green.
I learned that WO Sparks was a pilot in a Huey gunship, but little else. Information was very limited back then as the government was often reluctant to give it out. I was a Loadmaster on C-123s flying out of Da Nang and Phan Rang, and although I never met WO Sparks, I felt as though he wasn't a total stranger after all.
I've been to the Wall twice and visited a traveling Wall once. Each time, I've visited his panel and left a small memento as a token of respect. My VSM, my stripes and a Chieu Hoi leaflet.
He was reported MIA on March 19, 1971 during Operation Lam Son 719. I had never heard of Lam Son 719 (although now it is recognized as the largest airborne invasion of the war) until the Internet came along and the government finally declassified the information. His call sign was Joker 99 and his ship was one of ten shot down that day.
After more than 30 years, I still have his bracelet. I've never talked to anyone who knew him, never tried to contact a family member or an old Army buddy who served with him. It doesn't seem necessary to me that I validate or justify my connection with him. I'm betting that that's OK with him.
Larry R. Bitter
We were very proud of you and
From a friend,
I also wear a bracelet for Jon M Sparks. I found my mom's copper one with his name in her jewelry box in 1985 and got involved. Since then I turned my wrist green with that one, ordered a red aluminum one that wore out and broke in half after two or three years, and then ordered a stainless steel one that's lasted me until now. This last one has his name spelled as "John", but I've never really minded.
It never comes off, unless someone asks to see it.
A Note from The Virtual WallLAM SON 719 was a South Vietnamese effort to do what US generals had argued was necessary back in 1965: cut the Ho Minh Trail with ground forces and keep it cut. International political sensitivity to the "neutrality" of Laos caused the US government to use aircraft instead of infantrymen to cut the Trail, an effort which was doomed to be both expensive and far less than perfectly effective.
However, what would have been possible for US forces in 1966 was impossible for ARVN forces in 1971 - there simply were too many North Vietnamese soldiers in central Laos for the South Vietnamese to handle. LAM SON 719 envisioned an ARVN thrust along Highway 9 past Khe Sanh to Tchepone in Laos, with a possible extension onwards to the Mekong River. The South Vietnamese would provide the soldiers, and the US would provide most of the airpower.
LAM SON 719 fired off on 30 January 1971, with about 25,000 ARVN soldiers pitted against an NVA force consisting of a permanent logistical force of engineers, transportation, and anti-aircraft troops plus elements of five NVA combat divisions - 12 North Vietnamese infantry regiments, an NVA tank regiment, an NVA artillery regiment, and 19 NVA anti-aircraft battalions, all of whom could turn their attentions toward the ARVNs and the US aviators.
ARVN forces did reach Tchepone, but it was a replay of World War II's "A Bridge Too Far". The South Vietnamese Army simply did not have the ability to defend South Vietnam proper while conducting a major invasion of Laos, while the NVA forces located north and south of the Highway 9 centerline could - and did - wreak havoc on the extended ARVN lines of communications. LAM SON 719 did disrupt the NVA's infrastructure in the center part of the Trail and did result in heavy losses among the NVA troops engaged - but the cost to South Vietnam was just as high. About 10,000 of the ARVN troops who went into Laos did not come back out in March.
618 US helicopters were damaged, with 106 totally destroyed, between 30 Jan and 24 Mar 1971. Sixty-five US helo crewmen were killed in action, 818 were wounded, and 42 were missing in action.
One of these losses, on 19 March, involved a UH-1C gunship (tail number 65-09489, call sign JOKER 92) from the 48th Assault Helicopter Company. Although stories differ somewhat, it is clear that JOKER 92 was brought down by enemy fire, making an emergency landing in or near an ARVN position which was under heavy assault by NVA troops. The helo's gunner, a SP4 Langenour, was able to escape the aircraft and join the ARVN troops. Depending on the story, the remaining three Americans either were killed when 65-09489 was hit by a mortar shell immediately after landing or they successfully abandoned the Huey but were killed on the ground by the NVA.
In any case, SP4 Langenour walked out of Laos with his ARVN hosts, who evaded the NVA for 13 days before joining friendly forces in South Vietnam, but his three crewmates stayed in Laos.
The three were classed as Missing in Action, and were carried that way until the Secretary of the Army approved Presumptive Findings of Death on the dates shown below:
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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 12 Apr 2006
Last updated 08/10/2009