Yonan, Kenneth Joseph, MAJ

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Last Rank
Last Service Branch
Last Primary MOS
1542-Infantry Unit Commander
Last MOS Group
Infantry (Officer)
Primary Unit
1972-1979, POW/MIA
Service Years
1969 - 1979
Official/Unofficial US Army Certificates
Cold War Certificate



Eight Overseas Service Bars

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Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by Laura Gutz-Family to remember Yonan, Kenneth Joseph, MAJ.

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Casualty Info
Home Town
Last Address

Casualty Date
Aug 14, 1969
Hostile, Died while Captured
Unknown, Not Reported
Vietnam War
Location of Interment
U.S. Military Academy West Point Post Cemetery - West Point, New York
Wall/Plot Coordinates
01W 006

 Official Badges 

US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) Infantry Shoulder Cord

 Unofficial Badges 

Cold War Medal

 Military Associations and Other Affiliations
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  2013, Vietnam Veterans Memorial [Verified] - Assoc. Page

 Photo Album   (More...

 Ribbon Bar

Combat Infantryman 1st Award
Parachutist (Basic)
Republic of Vietnam - Ranger

 Enlisted/Officer Basic Training
  1965, US Military Academy (West Point, NY), A
 Unit Assignments/ Advancement Schools
3rd Armored Division1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Military Assistance Command Vietnam MACVPOW/MIA
  1969-1969, 1542, Basic Airborne Course (BAC) Airborne School
  1969-1971, 3rd Armored Division
  1969-1971, C Company, 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry
  1969-1971, 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry
  1971-1972, HHC, Military Assistance Command Vietnam MACV
  1971-1972, MACV Advisory Team 22 Kon Tum
  1972-1979, POW/MIA
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1971-1971 Vietnam War/Consolidation I Campaign (1971)
  1971-1972 Vietnam War/Consolidation II Campaign (1971-72)
  1972-1973 Vietnam War/Cease-Fire Campaign (1972-73)
 Colleges Attended 
United States Military Academy
  1965-1969, United States Military Academy
 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
Silver Star

The Silver Star Medal

MAJ Kenneth J. Yonan

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918 (amended by an act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Major (Infantry), [the Captain] Kenneth Joseph Yonan, United States Army, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Advisory Team 22, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, on 23 April 1972. His actions, without regard for his own safety, reflect great credit on himself and the Armed Forces of the United States. DAGO 30 March 11, 1980

Remains repatriated:     04/06/1988
Identified:      10/14/1988
Date of Loss: 24 April 1972
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 143913N 1074958E (ZB051218)
Click coordinates to view maps
Status in 1973: Prisoner of War
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Other Personnel In Incident: George W. Carter; Wade L. Ellen; James E. Hunsicker; Johnny M. Jones; Franklin Zollicoffer; Robert W. Brownlee (all missing);


SYNOPSIS: On 23 April 1972, Capt. Kenneth J. Yonan was a member of Advisory Team 22, MACV and assigned as an advisor to the ARVN 42nd Regiment, Tanh Canh Base Camp, Kontum Province, South Vietnam.

That evening Capt. Yonan accompanied his ARVN counterpart to a water tower located on the northwestern edge of the Tanh Canh Base Camp compound near Dak To. The water tower doubled as an observation post. The base camp had been alerted to a large NVA build up in the region and they were expecting to be attacked.

At approximately 0530 hours on 24 April, Capt. Yonan was still in the water tower when communist forces attacked the camp perimeter with everything they had, including tanks. Although the tanks fired at and hit the water tower, two other advisors spoke to Capt. Yonan afterward. He reported that he was not wounded, and planned to join the other advisors when it was safe to do so. Radio contact was maintained with Yonan until 0730 hours. At that time Tanh Canh Base Camp was deemed no longer defendable and the other US advisors began escape and evasion (E&E) operations from the beleaguered compound.

Helicopters from the 57th Aviation Company, 52nd Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group were dispatched to rescue as many of the base camp survivors as possible. The crew of one of these Huey helicopters (serial #69-15715) was comprised of Lt. James E. Hunsicker, pilot; WO Wade L. Ellen, co-pilot; SP4 Charles M. Lea, door gunner; and SP5 Ricky B. Bogle, crewchief. Also aboard the Huey was SP4 Franklin Zollicoffer, a medic from the US Army installation at Pleiku assigned to this flight to treat the wounded.

They were able to rescue Maj. George W. Carter, Maj. Julius G. Warmath and Capt. John P. Keller, who were all assigned to Advisory Team 22. They also rescued 1st Lt. Johnny M. Jones who was attached to the Advisory Team from the 57th Aviation Company, and Sgt. Walter H. Ward whose unit of assignment is unknown.

The Huey departed the base camp to the northwest. It was apparently struck by enemy ground fire because it crashed and burned on a small island in the Dak Poko River. The distance the Huey traveled before crashing was only about 500 meters, which was also the distance from the end of the dock on the island to the runway. Because of the rolling terrain, personnel at the airfield did not see the aircraft impact the ground. A pilot flying over the wreckage reported that the helicopter was burning and that he could see no survivors. It was later discovered that at least five people did survive the crash when they made their own way to safety. The survivors were Julius Warmath, John Keller, Ricky Bogle, Walter Ward and Charles Lea. The survivors reported that James Hunsicker, Wade Ellen (the pilot and co-pilot respectively), Franklin Zollicoffer (the medic), Johnny Jones and George Carter (both passengers) all dead in the crash.

Then Lt. Col. Robert W. Brownlee, a senior district advisor, and Capt. Charles W. Creen, were assigned to Team 22. The two Americans, along with Sgt. Cao Ky Chi, their ARVN interpreter; were located in a bunker near the airstrip approximately 4 kilometers to the west of the base camp. This location was known as "Dak To II."

The three men were forced to withdraw from the bunker under heavy enemy attack. They proceeded south of the compound and swam across the Dak Poko River. As they were fording the river, Capt. Creen and Sgt. Chi were swept downstream and were temporarily separated from Lt. Col. Brownlee. Robert Brownlee safely reached the south bank of the river and began climbing a hill.

From the top of the hill, Sgt. Chi heard the enemy call out to someone in Vietnamese to halt and raise his hands. Sgt. Chi observed an ARVN soldier approximately 100 meters away raise his hands. Sgt. Chi had no personal knowledge of the fate of Lt. Col. Brownlee. Capt. Creen and Sgt. Chi evaded capture and eventually made their way to safety.

Capt. Yonan never caught up with the other advisors as they attempted to evade capture. For three days, helicopter searches were conducted in the area of Tanh Canh Base Camp without success. A ground search of the camp and surrounding area was not possible due to the hostile threat in the area. At the time the formal rescue operation was terminated, Robert Brownlee and Kenneth Yonan were listed Missing in Action while George Carter, Wade Ellen, James Hunsicker, Johnny Jones and Franklin Zollicoffer were listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

Later an ARVN soldier, who was captured and subsequently released, reported that he talked to another ARVN prisoner who claimed to have witnessed Lt. Col. Brownlee's death. He was told that Lt. Col. Brownlee killed himself with his own pistol when communist soldiers told him to raise his hands. Another ARVN soldier provided the same hearsay information of Robert Brownlee's suicide.

In addition to the reports regarding Lt. Col. Brownlee's death, a South Vietnamese soldier reported he observed the capture of one "big" American from the camp. Another report described the capture of an American Captain stationed at the camp. Those reports could only be correlated to Kenneth Yonan. Capt. Yonan's status was immediately upgraded from Missing in Action to Prisoner of War.

On 6 April 1988, the Vietnamese "discovered" the remains of Kenneth Yonan and returned them to the US representatives without explanation in a spirit of stepped-up cooperation on the POW/MIA issue. Those remains were identified on 19 October 1988 and subsequently returned to his family for burial. While Kenneth Yonan's fate is finally resolved, there are no answers to the questions of when and how he died.

As for George Carter, Wade Ellen, James Hunsicker, Johnny Jones and Franklin Zollicoffer, if these men are dead as reported by survivors of the helicopter crash, there is no question the Vietnamese could return their remains any time they had the desire to do so. Each one of them has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country.

If Robert Brownlee did commit suicide rather than surrender to the NVA, as the hearsay reports of his death indicate, the NVA absolutely can return his remains. However, if these reports of his death have no basis in fact, his fate like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different.

Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

American military men in Vietnam were call upon to fly and fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.

Ken and I were young Lt's together in 1st Bn 48th Inf, 2nd Bde, 3rd AD, Gelnhausen, Germany. Ken was also a Christian leader who organized the "God Squad" a take off on the Mode Squad a popular TV show at that time and ministered to the soldiers of the battalion. I was in Alpha Co and he served in Charlie Co. Ken was a fine upstanding man who could be counted on for anything. I knew him for about 7-8 months before shipped off to RVN. I followed him shortly thereafter. I recall hearing of his loss while in RVN while I was with D 1/7th Cav, 3rd Bde (Sep), 1st Cav Div. In Germany Ken lent me his dress blues and a white dress shirt once for a formal event, he had duty that day, we were both bachelors. Just a great Christian guy. Would do anything for anyone and commanded respect for his goodness and positive leadership. I miss you.
Posted by: Skip Williams
Relationship: We served together in Germany
Tuesday, December 10, 2002

I never knew you personally. However, I was there close by the night you had to hide in that water tower. We were within 1-2 klicks from you and formed up a small group to try and rescue you. The number of enemy and tanks were overwhelming so we were told to call it off. I was with a small contingent of men from [1st Cav. Div., 3rd. Bde. (separate), 1/12th Cav, D Co.] that had been OPCONed to SRAG (John Paul Vann)as a Quick Reaction Force, and then further divided into squads and fire teams. I have always wondered what happened to you and now I finally know. You are a very brave man. May you rest in peace. Note: Other data may be found at: www.thebattleofkontum.com
Posted by: William B. Page
Relationship: Was near when he was captured
Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Captain Kenneth Yonan

?CPT Kenneth Yonan, a 23-year-old West Pointer, who was a deputy regimental advisor, had climbed to the top of the water tower with his ARVN counterpart to call in jets
on the tanks.?

When we look back on our time at West Point and think about our various classmates, it is easy to remember those who stood out either because of their athletic prowess, academic achievement, leadership ability, or, at the other end of the spectrum, their brashness, pomposity, or all-too-memorable faults of whatever stripe. When I think of Ken Yonan, what stands out is that, frankly, he did not stand out. I asked myself, ?How would Ken wish to be remembered?? The answer I got was, ?Honestly, for the person he really was.?

Ken Yonan was quiet and unassuming as a cadet. He considered himself a good, strong Christian and hoped he never offended any one. He was not a distinguished scholar or athlete. He was one of those people who, when there was much activity going on in the barracks, could be seen standing on the periphery, smiling quietly with a very knowing smile but really not taking part. It is as if that smile said, ?I know what I am all about. You can go about your business of dragging cannon to the top of the clock tower or rushing about the halls playing sophomoric pranks. I know why I am here, and I do not need to say or do anything outlandish to prove my own value to myself.?

As one of his tactical officers reported, ?He has his own mind?very mature. He can?t see acting silly by shouting and being boisterous. This, to him, is not mature or showing initiative. He has a point.? It is not that Ken Yonan was aloof, distant, or unfriendly. He could always be counted upon to do his part, pull his weight, and more. He was a rock of stability and calm. Many of us may have thought he was too quiet and calm, but that is because we really did not understand who or what Ken Yonan was.

In the melange of workaholics, overachievers, and driven people that West Point attracts and, somehow, turns into productive contributors to both the Army and society, we often forget that there is a very important place for the strong, silent types. The Long Gray Line is made up of a wide variety of people. We tend to focus on the MacArthurs and the Pattons among that number to whom the word ?modest? would never apply. We forget (or at least do not give sufficient credit to) those in that line who do not jump to the forefront. This group does their job quietly, confidently, and earnestly. They want no special recognition. For them, medals, glory, and the like are not very important. They know they are doing a good job. They are doing the job they want to do. They do not need the brass bands and the parades. They have something all too many lack. They have a strong sense of self-confidence and personal pride. Ken was the epitome of that type of person, that steadfast member who keeps the line straight.

He was always ready to help a friend, to do a bit more than his share, to help make sure the team succeeded. During Ranger School, one classmate remembers seeing Ken, who had observed a classmate in trouble during the forced march exercise, literally carry the classmate the last mile to the finish.

Born to Florence Marie Evans and Joseph Yonan in Chicago, Ken had always aspired to a military career. He attended St. John?s Military Academy in Delafield, WI, before coming to West Point. Upon graduation, he was commissioned into the Infantry and served with the 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry 3d Armored Division in Gelnhausen, Germany.

In 1971, he was assigned to MACV. Ken?s active duty, like his time as a cadet, was characterized by quiet, hard work and a strong sense of duty.

April 24, 1972
?By the time he [COL Phillip Kaplan] led his advisors to the Cobra parking place next to the minefield where he had told [John Paul] Vann to pick them up, two tanks had rolled in through the front of the compound, the NVA infantry were starting to follow, and a third tank had pulled up beneath a tall concrete water tower not far away at the west front corner, threatening their position. CPT Kenneth Yonan, a 23-year-old West Pointer, who was a deputy regimental advisor, had climbed to the top of the water tower with his ARVN counterpart to call in jets on the tanks. He hadn?t been able to do so because of the clouds and haze, and the tanks had then trapped him and the ARVN officer on the water tower. Yonan was never seen again.?

excerpt from: A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan, p. 773

Sixteen years later, on 6 Apr 1988, representatives of the Vietnamese Office for Seeking Missing Personnel released the remains of what was alleged to be an American serviceman killed in the conflict. On 20 Jun 1988, those remains were identified as MAJ Kenneth Joseph Yonan. We have no way of knowing what happened to Ken that fateful day so many years before. However, based on the characteristics he showed during his days as a cadet, we are sure that whatever happened, Ken acted with courage and quiet determination. For those of us who knew him, we lost a friend upon whom we could always count for the important, difficult tasks life brings.

He had achieved what he set out to do when he wrote in his application for West Point, ?My aim is to become an Army officer our country will be proud of.? The book from which the excerpt above is taken stirs memories of times and events many of us would just as soon forget. Nonetheless, in the case of Ken Yonan, it portrays a brief moment in a bright and shining life whose memory continues to enrich us all.

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