JOHN CAMDEN SOPER
Private First Class, Combat Aviation Door Gunner
281st Assault Helicopter Company
From: Staten Island, New York
Born: March 13, 1947
Tour of duty began on September 28, 1966.
Killed in action on August 6, 1967, as the result of
an unsuccessful attempt by the U.S. Air Force to rescue
he and his crewmates, following the crash of their helicopter.
John Camden Soper was born in Hampton, Virginia. His parents were Asa John Soper who was originally from Michigan, and Virginia Vernal Camden who was born and raised in Richmond Virginia. At an early age John's parents moved to 195 Kensington Avenue, Staten Island, New York where John grew up. He attended local Staten Island schools and graduated from New Dorp High School in June of 1965. While in high school John worked for the New York City Park System and following high school, he was employed by a local supermarket. Following his death John's parents relocated to Richmond Virginia where in 1977 at age 65, his mother died and his father passed away a year later at age 73.
John enlisted in the army on 15 March 1966 and was in-processed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and transferred to Fort Gordon, Georgia for basic combat infantry training. He completed basic and advance individual training and in August of 1966 was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia for basic airborne training. John's next assignment was with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, Republic of South Vietnam. His military occupation specialty was 11C1P, Ammo Bearer. Upon completion of his tour John returned to the states and on March 28, 1967 he returned to Vietnam and was assigned to the 281st Assault Helicopter Company as an 11B20, Door Gunner.
In early August of 1967, PFC John Camden Soper was the door gunner for a 281st AHC Project Delta support team under the command of Captain Bob Moberg, operating out of An Hoa South Vietnam under Special Forces Operational Order 7-67, Operation Samurai. On August 6, 1967, the crew of UH-1D 65-09919 was under the command of WO Gary Omdahl. WO Daryl Miller was the co-pilot, and PFC Michael Goffredo was the Crew chief. The 281st flight, supported by the Wolfpack gun platoon was in the process of extracting a reconnaissance team in a recovery area covered by tall trees with sparse foliage. The recon team was in sight with no reported enemy activity. However, the recovery site was located on a steep grassy finger, and the extreme slope of the site along with the high grass made the approach difficult.
WO Gary Omdahl recalls that he brought the aircraft to a hover over the pickup point and was in the process of maneuvering the helicopter backwards toward the slope with the crew chief and gunner checking the tail rotor for clearance. As he moved the helicopter close to the pickup point it suddenly dropped straight down and he recalls that it felt as though it tumbled end over end before coming to a stop down the hill from the pickup point. The crew exited the aircraft and at about the same time it burst into flames. At that point the only injury was to a member of the recon team who was hit by a skid when the helicopter initially lost power. Gary recalls that the injured member of the recon team was the first to be evacuated from the site.
Captain Moberg directed the crew to move back to the original pickup location and set the recovery plan in to effect. He then returned to the base camp for fuel and while refueling he was informed that a USAF CH-53 rescue helicopter was en route to the site to recover the crew and the recon team. At this point a Wolfpack gun platoon section, under the command of Captain Fred Mentzer, had refueled and was on site to provide fire support for the recovery operation. The USAF CH 53 arrived on site and begin recovering the injured individual and at least one other member of the recon team. Following their recovery WO Omdahl placed his three crew members on the hoist for pickup while he remained on the ground. As the pickup of the 281st crew got under way the pilot of the CH 53 reported that he was taking fire and almost immediately thereafter reported that he had an engine fire light. Distracted by these events he maneuvered the aircraft away from the pick up point with the cable holding the 281st crew extended and in so doing the three crew members struck a tree, causing the hoist to swing and lag behind the rescue helicopter. The Ch-53 continued in flight and the cable holding the crew was severed dropping the 281st crew to the ground.
Captain Mentzer marked the crew's location and a 281st recovery aircraft approached and hovered over the site allowing MSGT Joe Singh of Project Delta to jump into the area to assist the downed crew members. The remaining members of the Project Delta recon team rushed to the location and reported that all three crew members were dead. The 281st recovered their fellow crew members and the remaining members of the recon team without incident.
On 0700 hours on August 8, 1967 the members of the 281st AHC gathered at the Chapel of The Green Berets to remember Michael and his fallen comrades.
Warrant Officer Daryl L. Miller
12 November 1942 - 6 August 1967
Private First Class Michael A. Goffredo
7 October 1946 - 6 August 1967
Private First Class John C. Soper
13 March - 6 August 1967
281st Assault Helicopter Company
MAJOR ALLEN L. JUNKO
||8 August 1967
24 August 1967
Major Allen Junko
28lst Assault Helicopter Co.
Dear Major Junko:
During the conduct of OPERATION SAMURAI over the period 15 July 1967 through 18 August 1967 we, the Delta / 281st Team, exacted a heavy toll from the enemy. Today, our combat team enjoys a reputation never approached before and one which my be hard to exceed in future operations.
It is very clear that our successes are directly attributable to the supreme efforts of men such as Warrant Officer Daryl L. Miller, Private First Class Soper and Private First Class Goffredo who lost their lives in aggressive pursuit of their highly dangerous and demanding jobs.
It is difficult to fill the void created by their absences with words of condolence; however, for the lack of any approach more effective, my men and I offer our most profound sympathy.
Charles A. Allen
The account of this incident is based on US Army records of the operation and incident provided by COL Bob Mitchell, Historian, 281st AHC Association and the on site observations of the following individuals:
With the help of the above individuals this document was
COL John W. Mayhew, USA Ret.
JOHN WAS A PERSON WHO WAS ALWAYS GIVING TO HIS FELLOW MAN. JOHN YOUR ALWAYS IN MY THOUGHTS. GOD BLESS YOU MAC
Saturday, February 19, 2000
John Camden Soper
March 13, 1947 - August 6, 1967
"Johnny" Soper was a person that once you met him, you could never forget him. Even now after 35 years I remember his face clearly. He was the type of person when he walked into a room, everyone would pay attention. You would just feel good being around him. He was the "All American Boy". He was young, very handsome, kind, thoughtful and extremely pleasant.
He was the only child of Asa Soper and Vern Camden Soper. I was their next door neighbor and only ten years old when Johnny died in Vietnam. Johnny loved the Beatles and the Beach Boys. He had a Collie named Skippy but changed the dogs name to Ringo. Mr. Soper (Johnny's father) told me that Johnny had actually met the Beatles when they arrived in New York. After he met them, he changed his dogs name to Ringo. Johnny was a lifeguard in Midland Beach. I remember him polishing his surfboard in the yard while the latest tunes were being played on the radio. He was engaged to Jean Marie Leone and they made a picture perfect looking couple.
My last memory of Johnny was when he was on leave from the Army just before he was to go back to Vietnam. My mother had just brought my newborn sister from the hospital. My sister was over 10 pounds and 22 inches long. Johnny picked her up before my mother could even bring her into the house and was amazed how tall and healthy she was and how she had a full head of hair. He told my Mom what a beautiful baby she was and then brought my sister to his home. When his mother (Mrs. Soper) answered the door, he told her "Mom, look what I got" and his mother almost fainted thinking the baby was his. Johnny was just so enthusiastic about life and the world. He was amazing.
Mr. and Mrs. Soper had planted a Christmas tree in their yard while Johnny was away and said that they would celebrate Christmas when he comes home together. There was a huge storm and the tree was struck. The next week I saw some representatives from the Army come to the Soper's house. It was informing them of Johnny's Death. Mr. Soper, who served in the Navy during WWII, took it very well. His wife was devastated. She had lost her brother in WWII. They often wondered if that tree being struck in their yard was an omen.
Johnny is buried in the Moravian Cemetery in Staten Island. His parents are buried beside him. When Johnny was a young boy he would go for long rides with his Dad. They once passed the Moravian Cemetery in Staten Island and Johnny told his father "you know, I wouldn't mind being buried here".
Believe it or not, a positive thing came after Johnny death. Mr. Soper had left home in 1921 when he was sixteen years old and never had contact with his family. After Johnny's death, he went back to Michigan to see if he could locate his family. To his surprise, his mother was still alive and in good health. She was over 100 years old at the time. She was delighted that her son came home because everyone didn't think he was still alive. Mr. Soper was reunited with his siblings and his Mom. She came over a few months later to Staten Island to see his home and Johnny's grave. I met her. She was a strong and delightful woman who was so happy to have her son back.
Also, our family became extremely close with the Sopers. My Mom had asked me to go and keep Mr. Soper company after Johnny death. He was retired and his wife was still working. I was on summer vacation from school and had a lot of free time. At first, I didn't know what to say to Mr. Soper so we just started playing Chess and Mr. Soper started talking to me about Johnny.
After a while, my sisters and me were all hanging out in the Soper's yard after school. The other neighborhood children who we hung out with also joined in. Mr. Soper didn't mind at all. He used to make us Pink Lemonade and other snacks. Mr. Soper would take me and my sister on long drives along the Island where we would have picnics and pick flowers. Mr. Soper taught my mother to drive. After she got her license, he gave her the car she learned to drive in for $150 which covered the cost of the new tires he had just put on the car. Mr. Soper taught me how to play chess and helped us with our homework since our parents were from Eastern Europe and couldn't help us with our studies as well due to a language barrier.
Johnny was a great guy but he also had two of the best parents anyone could have.
I would like to point out on the Memorial for Johnny that it was said that he moved from Virginia at an early age directly to 195 Kensington Avenue. Although originally he lived only a few blocks from his last address of Kensington Avenue, he originally lived on Pearsall Street in Staten Island before moving to Kensington Avenue in either late 1963 or early 1964.
Also, I would like to mention that he came from a wonderful patriotic family. His father served in the Navy in WWII. His parents met during that time at a USO. Johnny was very proud to serve his country.
The webmaster copied this photo from the Veteran's Memorial Park sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 421, and located on Staten Island, NYC. Our member and Staten
Island resident Jack Interstein sponsored the upper brick; a local resident sponsored the lower brick in memory John's prior service in the 101st.
VVA Chapter 421
A MAN IS NOT DEAD UNTIL HE IS FORGOTTEN
ONCE AN INTRUDER ... ALWAYS AN INTRUDER