The only Marine tanker MIA/POW of the Vietnam War.
Graphic: Tim Matye.
On 3 July 1966, at approximately 1500 hours, Lance Corporal Robert H. Gage and another Marine assigned to Company A, 1st Anti-Tank Battalion, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division, left their platoon position to go to Hamlet II, Dien Ngoc formerly Thanh Thuy) Village, in the vicinity of grid coordinates (BT059649), Quang Nam, Danang Province, Vietnam, to find someone to do their laundry.
While the other Marine was bargaining, he noticed Corporal Gage talking to a Vietnamese girl outside a house in the hamlet. That was the last time he saw Corporal Gage. After completing his business, he started back to the platoon position without Corporal Gage. Approximately two hours later, he returned to the hamlet with two other Marines to look for Corporal Gage, but could not locate him. Upon returning to his platoon, he reported that Corporal Gage was missing. During the next several days, members of the platoon conducted a thorough search of the hamlet for Corporal Gage, but failed to locate any sign of the missing Marine. Lance Corporal Gage is unaccounted for.
On 4 July 1966, a Marine counterintelligence agent interrogated Miss Nguyen Thi Luong, a farmer and a small store owner, in Hamlet II, Than Thuy (now Dien Ngoc) Village. Miss Luong said that, at approximately 1430 hours (3 July 1966), two Americans approached her home for the purpose of having her do their laundry. As she conducted business with one of them, the other left her home and was seen talking with three Vietnamese girls, one of whom was Miss Hunh Thi Duoc. She said she did not know the identity of the other two Vietnamese girls. Miss Luong said she did not see the men again. Miss Luong added that the hamlet chief was a Viet Cong and that Viet Cong main force troops occupied the hamlet in the evening. She claimed the Viet Cong had killed her husband, a former government youth cadre, in 1964.A joint team interviewed Mrs. Nguyen Thi Luong, a farmer and a former store owner in May 1992.She recalled that two American soldiers came to her store. One soldier remained in the store. The other American, a skinny Caucasian about 1.8 meters tall, left the store with a Mrs. Hoan and Mrs. Huynh Thi Dan, both of whom were members of the Viet Cong militia. She said that 30 minutes later, she heard a gun shot and the soldier who had stayed in the store abruptly left. A couple of hours later, this soldier returned with others in his unit and searched the area for the missing soldier. Later that evening, the American unit returned and arrested her and her mother, Mrs. Huynh Thi Trung, and another woman, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Nghiep, and took them by helicopter to Danang for questioning. When she returned a couple of weeks later, Mrs. Hoan had already left the area. Mrs. Hoan was reportedly killed in District III, Danang City. According to Mrs. Luong, Mrs. Hyunh Thi Dan (possibly should be Hyunh Thi Hong), currently the Chief of the People Control Section, An Khe District, Gia Lai Province, may have information pertaining to the incident. Mrs. Luong reportedly heard from Mrs. Phuong Thi Tai, currently living in Dien Ngoc Village, that the body of the American soldier was buried near an irrigation canal near Mrs. Tai's house. According to Mrs. Luong, Mrs. Le Thi Lan, presently living in Hamlet II, Dien Ngoc Village, witnessed the burial. Mrs. Luong stated that Mrs. Huynh Thi Duoc (previously identified as one the girls Gage was last seen talking with) was helping her with the laundry at the time of the incident.Mrs. Le Thi Lan indicated she was part of a plan to capture an American soldier. She reported that she and Miss Huynh Thi Duoc talked with one of the soldiers and he followed them to Mrs. Diem's house. When the soldier saw the guerrillas waiting for him within the house, he pulled a pistol and attempted to escape. One of the guerrillas, Mr. Nguyen Huu Duoc, shot and killed the soldier. Mrs. Lan said that several local people temporarily hid the soldier's body in the banks Muong Suong ditch. According to Mrs. Lan, Mr. Huynh Hao allegedly buried the body in the "Dinh Ba" area. She said the three guerrillas who killed the soldier, Mr. Nguyen Huu Duoc, Mr. Nguyen Huu Hi and Mr. Huynh Vinh, were all subsequently killed in the war. The joint team interviewed Mr. Huynh Hao, a farmer during the war. Mr. Hao denied he buried the body of the American soldier. He said that one evening, he met four guerrillas who had just buried the soldier in the middle of a path through a local cemetery on a sand dune.He identified the guerrillas who allegedly participated in the burial as Mr. Tran Nguu, Mr. Nguyen Bai, Mr. Nguyen Tan, and Mr. Huynh No, all of whom were subsequently killed during the war. Mr. Hoa indicated the area where the four guerrillas allegedly buried the soldier's body was located on a sand dune in an area 10 meters wide by 20 meters long in the vicinity of grid coordinates BT05866531. According to Mr. Hao, remains buried in the cemetery are constantly working their way to the surface and are then reburied. According to Mr. Phan Kiet, the remains of the soldier came to the surface in 1987 and were reburied. Local villagers are allegedly unable to find the remains. In 1993 a joint team interviewed Mrs. Phong Thi Tai, longtime resident of Thanh Thuy (Dien Ngoc) village, stated she witnesses a U.S. service member being led by three women to Mr. Hai's house in Thanh Thuy in July, 1966 or 67. Around 1500 hrs that same day, she heard a gunshot coming from Mr. Hai's house. She heard that the American had been shot by Mr. Nguyen Huu Duoc, VillageMilitia Commander. Mrs. Tai identified Mrs. Hong, Mrs. Lan and Mrs. Hoan as the three women who escorted the American. Tai explained that the body was temporarily buried in a ditch and later moved to avoid detection by U.S. forces searching the area. Mrs. Tai did not observe the dead body or the burials. She also heard that Mrs. Phung Thi Long knows the burial location. The team also interviewed Mr. Huynh Duc Kha, a local villager, stated that an American was shot to death in Dien Ngoc and transported to Dien Van for burial. He claimed that he participant in transporting the American. Kha also stated that U.S. forces came on the scene and cleared the area encompassing the burial site using a bulldozer.Joint Teams have interviewed a total of nine witnesses, two of whom have provided firsthand eyewitness testimony concerning the shooting death of CPL. Gage. The remaining witnesses provided strong hearsay information concerning CPL. Gage's incident as well as firsthand observations of circumstances leading up to the time of his death. The testimony from the several witness interviewed during the field investigations is consistent and indicates that Corporal Gage was killed and his body buried in the local cemetery. However, the exact location of Corporal Gage's grave site is still not known. Therefore, further field activity is required to resolve this case.PERSONAL NOTE:
Robert H. Gage was a childhood school friend of the founder of the USMC Vietnam Tankers Association, Richard "Dick" Carey. Both were from Columbus, Ohio, and attended Weiland Park Elementary, Indianola Junior High and they both attended North High School until Gage dropped out of high school to enlist in the Marines. The summer before Gage went off to Boot Camp he and Carey hung out by riding around in his Gage's grandmother's '58 Ford.
Gage's father had passed away prior to his enlistment and his mother has since passed. Gage was listed as Missing In Action during the time Carey was going through Staging Battalion during July 1966, prior to being assign to West Pac. He did not discover the status of his childhood friend until his return from South Vietnam in April 1968.