Harold Kahler was from Lincoln, Nebraska, and he was born on January 27, 1923. When I met “Pappy” in the spring of 1968 he was a forty-five year old Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, and a career Air Force pilot.
The Sea Survival course at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida was mandatory for all Air Force aircrews going to Vietnam and Pappy was the ranking officer in my class. He was older than most F-105 pilots, and that’s why everyone called him “Pappy”. With his graying hair and the grizzled five-o’clock shadow he had at the end of each day, the nickname was very appropriate.
If my memory serves me right, he was from an Air Force Reserve unit that had been activated by President Johnson.
In April 1969 Pappy’s sister, Linda Bohac, was preparing for her wedding and waiting for her older brother Harold’s return so he could give her away. But everything changed when a blue Air Force car drove up to her door.
The people who got out of that car told Linda Bohac and her family that Harold Kahler had been shot down in an F-105 over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.
It was a “No chutes, no beeper” situation. Kahler’s wingman on that mission had not seen a parachute, which would indicate that Pappy had ejected, and neither he nor anyone else had heard the sound of the electronic beeper that would have activated the instant the chute deployed.
Kahler’s wingman had also flown over the crash site but because of intense anti-aircraft fire, he couldn’t determine if Pappy had ejected or gone in with the aircraft.
When the peace agreement was signed in 1973, Pappy’s family waited long into the night hoping for a phone call from the Pentagon to tell them that Pappy’s name was on the list. They knew that the list of the prisoners of war held by the North Vietnamese was going to be released. But at 3 a.m., they received a phone call from the Pentagon to tell them that Pappy’s name was not on the POW list.
Pappy Kahler’s family never gave up hope. In 1979, Pappy’s family obtained information that led them to believe that Pappy had survived the crash and become a prisoner of war.
They obtained a copy of a document from the Pathet Lao (the Laotian communists forces allied with the North Vietnamese, which stated that a pilot who had gone down in the same area that Pappy had gone down in, and around the same time that Pappy had been shot down, “had been subsequently punished”.
The document did not define what ”subsequently punished” meant.
Pappy was shot down in Laos on April 14, 1969. He was listed as Missing in Action until August 17, 1979 when his status was changed to Died While Missing.
Pappy’s name is on Panel 27W – Line 47 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.