© Copyright Michael Dan Kellum 2010
2ndLt. David Skibbe/Capt. LaVoy Don McVey
2ndLt. David Skibbe (Photos courtesy of William C. Skibbe
Capt. LaVoy Don McVey
(Photo courtesy of Mildred McVey Holmes)
Sgt. LaVoy Don McVey on his 100th
parachute jump as an enlisted Marine.
(Photo courtesy of Mildred McVey Holmes)
Original photo of David Skibbe and Georgine
Tortorella, David's fiancée in 1969. (Photo
courtesy of Georgine Tortorella Hembrough)
In Book II, American Heroes: Grunts, Pilots & "Docs" Chapters 4-7, I document how two
Marine officers, 2ndLt. David Skibbe, 23 of Des Plaines, Illinois, and Capt. LaVoy Don
"Mac" McVey, 32 of Lamar, Colorado, turned up missing-in-action in Vietnam.
I took a personal interest in their stories due to my having made friends with David
Skibbe at 2nd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment upon arriving in-country the latter part of
January 1970. As 2/26 began to stand down to return stateside, Marines with more time
left in-country were sent to other grunt units remaining into 1971. David followed our
former battalion commander, Lt.Col. "Will Bill" Drumright, to 1st Recon Battalion.
On March 2, 1970 David accompanied Team Thin Man, seven men altogether, on his first
Recon patrol in the Que Son Mountains. They ran into enemy troops on a ridgeline and
the patrol leader, Sgt. Larry Gifford, was seriously injured in the first burst of fire. As
David was pulling him off the exposed trail, he, too, was hit in the ankle almost severing
his foot. A firefight ensued with growing numbers of enemy troops joining the fight. Air
support drove the enemy troops off long enough to start medevac operations, followed by
the extraction of the remainder of the team.
Gifford was the worse injured man and was brought aboard the HMM-263 Peachbush
Sea Knight by a 150-foot cable hoist as he sat strapped to a jungle penetrator. The cable
was lowered a second time to lift David up as darkness began to envelop the
mountainous terrain. And that's when David fell off the end of the earth. His cable
snapped and he was sent plummeting to the ground unseen by his Recon team. Team
Thin Man was lifted out by flexible 120-foot aluminum ladder leaving David alone on the
ridgeline as darkness closed in. A miscommunication between the extract helicopter and
the radioman on the ground was one of the reasons given for abandoning David
Being that Marines don't leave Marines behind, a recovery mission was immediately
launched after the Recon team returned to its base. David's company commander, Capt.
McVey, took it upon himself to be the first to go down on yet another cable hoist
cable... and like David, his cable line snapped sending him to his death from 600 feet.
The mission was aborted after that by Lt.Col. Drumright as he felt he didn't have a way
to get his Recon Marines on the ground past the tall canopy.
I heard bits and pieces in Vietnam as to how David was lost on his first Recon mission.
One rumor floated around that no effort was made to recover him. That turned out not to
be true but at the time it ate away at me that David might have survived his fall and
wondered why Marines had left him behind. There was, indeed, a mission sent out to
recover both men and there was some speculation that David might have survived his 50
foot or less fall. For 30 some odd years David Skibbe was at the back of my mind as one
of many stories, mysteries, if you will, I wanted answers to in order to put David to rest in
The process of research involves lots of scouring of reports in archives, finding the right
people and pure blind luck. It's not what you know on occasion but who you know. An
editor at Vietnam magazine helped by passing an email along to Joe Galloway, former
United Press International war correspondent in Vietnam, asking about an unrelated
story I was working on. To help with that story he sent me to Richard Pyle, an Associated
Press bureau chief at one time and war correspondent for many years in Vietnam. In the
course of our exchange of emails he indicated he had recently finished a book co-
authored with Horst Faas, Lost Over Laos, about some friends of his in the combat
news/photography business--Larry Burrows, Henri Huet, Kent Potter and Keisaburo
Shimamoto--who had gone MIA in Vietnam. David's story immediately popped into my
head and I asked Pyle for some direction.
Having been there--done that, Pyle set me on the right track to research David's and
Capt. McVey's MIA status and gain more insight to their stories. What I found surprised
me and I'm not easily surprised. I will leave the outcome of the story for you to read in
Book II, American Heroes: Grunts, Pilots & "Docs." David was posthumously awarded the
Navy Cross for trying to save Gifford in the March 2 firefight and Capt. McVey was
posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his bravery in going after David alone in the
As the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, DPMO, notes below as of
August 10, 2010, David Skibbe and LaVoy Don McVey are two of 212 Marines still
unaccounted for in the Vietnam War. My prayer is that someday both men will be
returned home for a proper burial.