by Walter J. Boyne
Air Force Magazine
After 42 years, this token of Patrick Wynne’s academy days came home at last. First Lt. Patrick Wynne, a United States Air Force pilot, perished in 1966 in the Vietnam War. He had been flying on Aug. 8 in the backseat of an F-4C during a dangerous raid over North Vietnam. Wynne and the F-4’s pilot, Capt. Lawrence H. Golberg, were shot down north of Hanoi, near China.
Wynne, a 1963 graduate of the Air Force Academy, died wearing his class ring. Though his remains were returned in 1977, his ring was not. It was, in fact, missing and all but forgotten until last year. Then, in an astounding turn of events, it was handed over to a former Secretary of the Air Force—Michael W. Wynne, Patrick’s younger brother.
On that fateful day in 1966, 24-year-old Patrick Edward Wynne volunteered to fly one of the most hazardous missions yet assigned to the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, stationed at Ubon RTAB, Thailand.
Owl 08” – The Story of Capt. James Steadman, USAF • Capt. Robert Beutel, USAF, 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron “Nite Owls” – 8th Tactical Fighter Wing • Ubon RTAFB, Thailand, November 26, 1971
by Joseph Mortati
July 1, 2009
The purpose of this document is to provide the next-of-kin of Capt. James Steadman and Capt. Robert Beutel, USAF, MIA (Case 1781) a better understanding of what happened when their loved ones went missing on November 26, 1971. It is the result of over 500 hours of analysis of forensic and historical evidence uncovered by the Department of Defense’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC, formerly Joint Task Force-Full Accounting). It includes declassified documents, interviews with men who flew F-4s out of Ubon, Thailand in 1969-1971, as well as the author’s own flight experience in the F-4.
This document is neither a critique of, nor a commentary on, JPAC’s efforts. It simply attempts to translate a large volume of data into information understandable by someone without a military background. It is current as of the date below and all assumptions, analyses, recommendations, and conclusions are the author’s own and he could be wrong about any or all of them.
Writing this story would not been possible without the help of nearly a dozen people – the Steadman and Beutel Families, civilians, active and retired military, and Air Force Academy graduates – all of whom were gracious enough to give their time to help create this account.
The official Air Force record shows that Owl 08, an F-4D assigned to the 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron – “Nite Owls” – was lost on Friday, November 26, 1971 while on a singleship, night Forward Air Control mission over Laos. The fate of the crew and the location of the aircraft remain a mystery more than thirty-five years after the incident. Of the basic questions of history – who, what, when, where, why, how? – only the “who” and “when” are known and this document is an attempt to answer the others. To do so, it takes the approach of working from the known to the unknown by presenting the facts of this case, analyzing them, and then attempting to explain what might have happened to Owl 08. Nothing can be certain until JPAC resolves the case but this document is the author’s best guess based on the available information to date.
On January 3, 2012, Nadine S. Pearish wrote the following to friends of her father, James M. Beatty, Jr:
It is with a sadden heart that I am sending you this e-mail. I am writing to inform you of James M. Beatty’s Jr passing today, January 3, 2012. I found your addresses among my father’s belongings and felt that the closeness that was shared in life would be continued in his death. As the tears stream down my face there are many names that I remember from my childhood days and other names that I have heard my father speak fondly of. I know he will be missed by many.”
Joe Lee Burns wrote the following about his good friend and comrade in arms:
’66 - Ubon – Jim Beatty story - Does anybody remember when the Base Commander brought Robert Mitchum into the O’Club bright and early one morning and how we greeted him and what occurred after that? I do. As Mitchum entered the club one of our fearless leaders (I believe it was Bob Ashcraft) shouted out “lets say hello to Robert Mitchum“; to which we all replied (as taught to do by our elders) “hello Arz-hole,” then came the call to say hello to the ‘Arz- hole’ to which we all replied “hello Mitchum“. WE then asked him to please join us at our table which he did, excusing himself from the Base Commander by saying he wanted to get to know us a little better. This occurred at about 0830. From that point on until about 1100, we tried and successfully accomplished getting him thoroughly shiffassedon his favorite drink of gin and tonic. After several unsuccessful attempts by the Base Commander to rescue him, whichhe declined, we all ended up in front of the club having pictures taken with him. By that time his eyes, which are normally squinted, were barely slits. I remember being amazed as to how well-informed he was and his sincerity in talking to us. . He was a pretty much down to earth guy. Just another day in an otherwise dull combat tour for us!!
’72 DaNang - Capt Jim Beatty gave me my ‘local checkout’ ride (~16 April ’72, I think) – supposed to be a milk-run close air support mission -but, we were diverted into NVN across the DMZ to Route Pack 1 to attack two (2) SAM sites well guarded with AAA!!!! Jim always says he snuffed out his Benson and Hedges cigarette in his palm when they said “the fingers lake area” – it was a known hot spot to avoid if you weren’t going to attack it!! They shot lots of AAA and an SA-2 at us!!! Jim (who was in my back seat) said I passed the ‘check-out’ “because we didn’t die”.
’72 DaNang May – Close Air Support – Troops in Contact with the enemy – (On about our 3rd bomb pass, I was a little too close behind Beatty on his pass, so I moved my aim point to a remaining hutch toward the north end of the line. As I am lining up for my run-in, I check #3 to see if he’s taking any ground fire. What I do see is one of Beatty’s 2 MK82s come off in “slick” configuration, i.e., the fins on one bomb did not open up and cause it to decelerate – it was sailing along pretty close to Jim’s F-4. I called “Beatty, pull up, bomb went slick.” He snatches the jet up and away from the frag pattern (I don’t think there was any damage to the jet).
’72 Korat 20 July - Jim was also my wingman when I ‘accidentally’ got shot down departing North Vietnam.”
Read Joe Lee Burns detailed description of the mission in which he was shot down, ejected and rescued by the Navy in the Gulf of Tonkin called “A Ridge to Far.”
Joe Moran wrote:
“We were in the 35 TFS TDY to Danang from Kunsan. Jim was #3. Rolled up and found 2 MiG 21s 4,000′ directly below him same direction. Barrel rolled back, stoked the AB’s and started across the circle. Claims he did not go supersonic. Unable to get AIM 9Js to growl. Closing fast went to guns. He was in an old E model (no pinkie switch). MiGs broke. He pulled pipper in front for high angle shot. KILL. Over g when he pulled up. Egressed at speed of stink. No truth to the rumor that airplane never flew again. Jim claims low altitude butter fly dart sorties in the FWIC syllabus prepared him for that shot. He always went down and away to get there the quickest (with the greatest angles). This was end of April 1972. First gun kill in an F-4E. Handley’s book claimed he was the first in May. I talked to Phil ’bout that and he concedes Jim was the first but his book was already out and ‘you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube’.“
Here is the obituary of Major James M. Beatty, Jr.
Maj. James M. Beatty Jr. was one of America’s unsung heroes. He flew 229 combat mission, 147 in North Vietnam, and during one of those missions got a confirmed gun kill on a MIG 21. Maj. Beatty earned the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 14 Air Medals among many other awards and decorations during his combat flying. He had 3,250 hours in the F-4 and F-15 aircraft. Maj. Beatty was a recognized expert in aerial combat, and culminated his Air Force career as the Air-To-Air Test Project Manager in the Fighter Weapons test Group, Nellis AFB, Nevada.
After leaving the active Air Force, he continued to serve his country as an F-15 academic and simulator instructor for more than 22 years at Tyndall AFB, Panama City, Fla. His service in the U.S. Air Force and his vast experience was essential in developing future Air Force warriors. As an instructor pilot and simulator instructor, he trained more than 1,000 F-15 pilots and air Battle Managers for the combat air forces during his time at Tyndall. His superior instructional skills enabled the 325th Fighter Wing to meet pilot and air battle manager production goals.
Maj. Beatty was born in Eau Claire, Pa., and had lived in Panama City since 1988. He was a graduate of Grove City College, and served in the USAF from 1963 to 1976.
He is survived by his wife, Mary C. Beatty of Panama City; his children, Natalie L. Hauck and husband, Raymond, of Panama City, Nadie S. Pearish of Panama City, Lisa M. Campbell of Butler, Pa., and John W. Fecich III and wife, Patty, of South Hampton, N.J.; his grandchildren, Alecia N. Mills and husband, Jeremy, Thomas E. Hager III and wife, Julia, Samuel J. Hauck, Jacey L. Hauck, Jolene L. Eiler, Joseph M. Eiler, Troy S. Pearish, Kristopher R. Pearish, Christopher J. Campbell, Jacob F. Campbell and John W. Fecich IV; his great-grandchildren, Serenity A. Murphy, James J. Murphy, Lena M. Mills and Ayden C. Hager; his brother, Dean G. Beatty and wife, Carol, of Eau Claire, Pa.; his sisters, Gail Buzard and husband, Jack, of Eau Claire, Pa., and Faye Herman and husband, Ken, of Pittsburgh, Pa.; and numerous nieces and nephews.
No services will be held locally. Funeral arrangements in Pennsylvania will be handled by H. Jack Buzard Funeral Home, 201 S. Washington St., Eau Claire, PA 16030,
Most Americans do not realize that the men and women who serve in the U.S. military frequently risk their lives as a day to day part of their jobs. Many military jobs are no more dangerous than the jobs of most other Americans. Some military jobs, however, are inherently dangerous and sometimes can be deadly.
For example, when I was flying the F-4 Phantom supersonic fighter (1971 – 1976) I could not purchase commercial life insurance because my job was too risky. I actually saw three fighters (two F-4s and one T-38) crash in peace time during the five years I flew fighters in the United States Air Force. I knew many people who ejected from crippled fighters. When you throw your body at the ground in a 45 degree dive bomb at 450 knots or engage in mock aerial combat with other airplanes at supersonic speeds, things can happen.
Most of us have heard the term “freedom is not free.” When we hear that phrase, we usually think of U.S. military personnel dying for our country in war, but it also applies in peace time and to accidents that occur in war time.
American military personnel die all too frequently so that the American people can enjoy the fruits of freedom. We should always remember our fallen heroes and the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby who lost five sons in the Civil War. President Lincoln wrote “I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”
Lt. Phil Clark (father) & Lt. Terry Clark (son)
Phil Clark was a 1968 Annapolis graduate and Navy fighter pilot whose A-7 fighter bomber was shot down over North Vietnam on December 24, 1972. Phil was first declared missing in action and later reclassified to killed in action. When Phil was shot down, he was married and had a very young son, Terry, and a daughter.
A few years after Phil’s death, Phil’s young wife died and his two young children were raised in Phoenix, Arizona, by their grandparents, Phil and Freda Clark. The elder Phil is a retired USAF Colonel and former bomber pilot. Phil and Freda were best friends for years with my parents. My dad is a retired USAF Major.
Terry Clark graduated from Brophy College Preparatory high school in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1986, and the US Naval Academy in 1990, twenty-two years after his father’s graduation from the academy. Terry followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Navy fighter pilot. I remember Terry and his sister visited my office one day for a legal matter shortly after Terry had received his wings of gold.
On February 18, 1996, Lt. Terry Clark was killed in an F-14 training accident off the coast of San Diego. I’ll never forget Colonel Phil Clark, Sr., telling me how difficult it was for he and Freda to go to Arlington National Cemetery twice, once to bury Phil and again to bury Terry. As a father, I cannot begin to imagine the pain and anguish Phil and Freda must have felt to have raised a son and a grandson to go to the Naval Academy, Navy pilot training and then be killed while flying fighters in defense of the United States. The three generations of Clarks are true American heroes of the highest order. They served our country quietly with dignity, honor and pride.
Captain Thomas A. Amos and Captain Mason I. Burnham
Tom Amos (35th Tactical Fighter Squadron) and Mason Burnham (421st Tactical Fighter Squadron) were killed in action during an F-4D combat mission over Laos on April 20, 1972. They were escorting an AC-130 gunship as it struck targets on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The AC-130s (known as “Spectres”) carried a 20mm six barreled gatling gun and a 105mm Howitzer canon. The Spectres were extremely effective at destroying military targets on the trail.
The job of the F-4 was to drop bombs on any troops that fired anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) at the gunship. The F-4 rolled in to attack a gun on the ground. The crew of the AC-130 saw a fireball on the ground and were not able to contact Tom or his backseater on the radio. The term used by the intelligence personnel to describe the incident was “no chutes, no beepers.”
I will never forget hearing those words from time to time when I was attending intelligence briefings before flying combat missions over Vietnam. The phrase meant there was no word on the fate of a downed aircrewman because when the airplane went down, nobody saw any parachutes or heard any beepers from the emergency radios that all aircrewmen carried. When I flew combat missions over South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Laos in 1972, I actually carried two radios on my person plus a third radio in the survival kit contained in the ejection seat. USAF F-4s had an emergency radio in the survival kit that could be set to automatically transmit the emergency beeper sound on UHF frequency 343.0 (the emergency frequency monitored by USAF airplanes) when the ejection seat fired.
Tom was the only member of the 35th TFS (my squadron) from Kunsan, Air Base, Korea, killed in action when the 35th TFS deployed to DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, and Korat Air Base, Thailand, in 1972.
Tom Ballard and Ron Goodwin were killed flying an F-4 during a nuclear bomb delivery training mission over Korea on February 16, 1973. They were on a typical F-4 training mission. Tom and Ron were tasked to fly a low level route in their F-4D and deliver their first practice simulated nuclear bomb within 1,500 feet of the target plus or minus two minutes of a designated time over the target (TOT). One of the missions of the F-4 was nuclear bombing so F-4 crews frequently practiced the skills necessary to put a nuclear bomb on target within the designated TOT. In Korea, we usually flew a low level route 500 feet above the ground at 420 knots for about 30 minutes before reaching the target on the bombing range.
The F-4 had two ways to deliver a nuke bomb, the lay down method and the low angle drogue delivery (LADD) method. The lay down method is the simplest method. It involves merely flying straight and level over the target and releasing the nuke bomb at the proper time and place. The bomb falls away from the airplane, the nose of the bomb falls off to reveal a spike and the bomb floats to the ground in a parachute.
The LADD delivery method involves flying towards the target and at a predetermined distance the pilot pulls back on the stick and begins a steep climb approximating 45 degrees. At some point in the climb, the F-4′s Weapons Release Computer System releases the bomb. The nuke bomb then continues in an upward trajectory for a while before falling back to earth. The parachute on the bomb opens and the bomb then begins to float toward the ground.
The purpose of the LADD is to cause an air burst, i.e., a bomb that explodes above the ground, as opposed to a bomb that explodes on the ground. The nuke bomb contained a radar altimeter that detonates the bomb at a designated altitude above the ground. An air burst creates substantially more radioactivity than a ground burst of the same magnitude.
Tom and Ron flew a good low level mission to the Kuni bombing range on the west coast of Korea. When they flew over the target at 1,000 feet, their bomb did not release. The most common reason a bomb did not release was because the pilot failed to properly configure all of the switches necessary for the delivery. We called this a “switchology error,” which meant an error caused by improper setting of weapons switches. In the F-4 it was actually possible to select the switches in such a way that pressing the bomb release button caused the 20mm gatling gun on the centerline of the airplane to be released like a bomb. The powers that be were not happy when a pilot accidentally bombed off a gun that cost several hundred thousand dollars.
Tom began a 360 degree turn to make another bombing run so that he could release his bomb within two minutes of the designated TOT. The accident report speculated that while in the turn at low level (500 – 1,000 feet) the F-4 flew into the water. Tom was probably checking the switches in the cockpit trying to figure out why the bomb did not release and was momentarily distracted, which allowed the airplane hit the water. When you fly at high speeds (500 knots is 845 feet per second), there is not much room for error.
Duty, Honor, Country
Each of the above men exemplifies the concepts of Duty, Honor and Country, the foundations on which the U.S. military is built. I believe that the finest speech ever given is General Douglas MacArthur’s “Duty, Honor, Country” speech that he gave without notes to the West Point corps of cadets on May 12, 1962. In honor and remembrance of the six men named above and all of our fallen heroes of the U.S. military, I will close with excerpts from General MacArthur’s famous speech.
“Duty, Honor, Country — those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you want to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. . . . I regard [the U.S. soldier] now, as one of the world’s noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. . . . They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light.”
JB Stone played a significant role at Robin’s Memorial Service. He delivered one of the eulogies at the U.S. Air Force Academy Chapel. He told of the first time he meet Col. Olds, who as the new Wing Commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing called a meeting of all the pilots. At the time JB had about 60 or 70 missions North, had an engine shot out from under him and several bullet holes here and there on some pretty hairy missions.
Robin told the pilots, “I’m your new boss. I’ll be flying your wing for a couple of weeks and at the end of that time, I’ll be better than any of you.”
JB muttered under his breath, “We’ll see.”
It came out a little louder than JB intended. Robin heard it and immediately fixed JB with those steely eyes, and repeated his statement forcefully again. And JB said: “Robin did exactly as he had said he would. “ He was a warrior who would fearlessly go where others feared to tread.
And JB was later picked to help Robin plan and execute Operation Bolo, wherein F-4s masqueraded as bomb laden, F-105s to lure MiGs to come up and attack them. Seven MiGs went down in flames. The Military Channel has run the episode several times titled as “Ambush” in the Dogfight series.
Robin’s oldest daughter, Susan lead off the remembrances with stories of being a teenager living at the Academy while Robin was Commandant of Cadets for 3 years. Robin taught her to drive on the Academy grounds and ride horses at the equestrian center. It was okay to date more than one cadet at a time because no one would dare do anything untoward with the Commandant’s daughter.
General Ralph Eberhart was a senior Cadet Wing Commander when Robin took over. He told the famous incident of Robin’s first meeting with the Cadet Corps. Robin had been directed to lose the handlebar mustache – his trademark as leader of the “Wolfpack.” On a given signal at the end of Robin’s speech, 4,000 cadets whipped out and donned black-paper handlebar mustaches and began stomping and shouting, Olds, Olds, OLDS!!! Robin rose to his full height, jaws clenched eyes blazing – then extended his long middle finger and flipped them all a big sweeping bird – with a huge grin on his face.
Brigadier General Bob “Earthquake” Titus spoke of how Robin transformed the 8th Wing into The “Wolfpack.” Where the “Go get them, men” from the previous leadership was replaced by “FOLLOW ME!” Deadwood were sent home, and tactics changed. Base services were available 24/7 to the men he was sending into combat 24/7. No more shutting off the hot water at midnight, or closing the bar.
He told of a pilot, I believe named Conway, who while gleefully celebrating a successful mission proceed to rearrange or destroy some of the O’Club furnishings. He was ordered to report to Col. Olds’ office at 0800 hours. He was there promptly. Robin however was dreading the chewing out he was going to have to administer for something he himself had been guilty of many times. He braced himself, put on his sternest visage and entered his office at 0815 to find Conway standing at attention. Conway saluted smartly and said, “Sir, you’re late.” That cracked Robin up. The damage to the Club got paid somehow and another tale was added to the lore of Robin Olds.
Captain Jack McEncroe, USMC, told of his close friendship with Robin living near in Steamboat Springs. 30 years of watching Robin’s God-Awful backswing on the golf course, 30 years of skiing through the trees in fresh powder up to their knees, 30 years of listening to Robin telling the Cross-Eyed Bull story.
Verne Lundquist, Hall of Fame Sportscaster tried to demonstrate Robin’s backswing, which featured a couple of contorted pauses on the way up, then a mighty downswing. On one occasion the ball carried to the green, bounced a couple of times and went into the cup. “You just got a hole in one! It went into the cup,” shouted Verne. “Well, that’s the point isn’t it,” said Robin.
When Robin was selected for induction into the College football Hall of Fame as an All American on offense and defense at West Point, he asked Verne, “Is this a big deal? Do I have to go?” Verne told him yes. Robin went and made a gracious acceptance speech.
On another occasion he and Robin were being harassed by some obnoxious guy who wanted to pick a fight with Robin. Robin stood up, squared his shoulders and said, “I’ve killed more people than you will ever know, for less reason than you are giving me right now! Now sit down and SHUT UP !
Verne told of another experience with Robin. They were touring Germany and stopped at a tavern where there were some pictures of Luftwaffe aircraft on the wall. When they asked the proprietor about them he said he had been a pilot, but had been shot down. He and Robin started comparing notes on location, time of day cloud formation, tactics, etc., and after several drinks they were convinced that indeed, it was Robin who had shot him down. A few months later, Verne and Robin were watching some of Robin’s gun camera film being shown on TV and Robin suddenly exclaimed, “That’s the GUY!” As Verne said, “If it’s not true, it should be.”
When Robin’s health started failing last February, his daughter Chris quit her job and moved to Steamboat to take care of her Dad. She took Robin on long drives through the mountains with a picnic lunch to share at some scenic spot.
Robin’s grand-daughter Jennifer told of her grandfather helping her as a young child, to set out a bowl of salad to feed Santa’s reindeer. Sure enough, the next morning the salad was gone and reindeer tracks were in the snow all over the porch. A long time later, she came across some wooden reindeer feet that Robin had carved to make those tracks.
Christina said that it was only in his last week or so that Robin started to get really tired. He still would tell those who called that he was just fine, just getting old. She was with him when he drifted off to sleep peacefully and after a few minutes, drew his last breath.
Chris orchestrated every detail of the funeral service, the flyby, the graveside service, of course with help from Robin’s friends and splendid cooperation and coordination from the Academy Staff and the hotel where the reception and following Fighter Pilot Wake was held.
The flyby consisted of aircraft in trail at 30 second intervals. First a T-33, second another T-33, third a P-51 Mustang, fourth a MiG 17, fifth a flight of four F-16 from the Colorado Air National Guard, and sixth a flight of four F-4’s. The F-4’s, one from Tyndall and three from Holloman, are actually drones to be used in weapons testing. But for this occasion, they were flown by pilots and led by Lt. Col. “ET” Murphy of Tyndall. “ET” is also a member of our “Aspenosium” group of active duty and retired fighter pilots who get together for skiing, partying and presentations by those involved in fighter development, weapons, and tactics.
The Missing Man formation was slightly modified for this special event. As the F-4’s approached the cemetery in wingtip formation, “ET” was flying Lead as WOLF ONE [Robin’s call sign] and initiated a sharp pull-up out of formation so WOLF ONE was heading straight up . . flew vertically into a pin point. It was spectacular and precisely executed, directly over Robin’s gravesite.
One final note reinforces the fact that Christina is without a doubt her father’s daughter. It involved the presentation of the flag to Robin’s survivors : Susan, Chris and Jennifer. The 1st flag was presented to the eldest, Susan. The 2nd to Jennifer, the youngest. The 3rd was destined for Chris. But she chose to direct her flag to be presented to Robin’s comrade-in-arms. Col. J.B. Stone. This unselfish and completely unexpected act, deeply touched JB and all of us who understood the bond between these two men. The kind of thing Robin would’ve done.
Today May 30th, is the date originally intended to be Memorial Day. The idea behind this popular holiday is that we are supposed to remember those servicemen that have died in service to our nation safeguarding the liberties we hold dear. In 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans organization, designated this date as “Decoration Day” when the graves of their fallen comrades would be decorated with flowers. Later, the name of the celebration was changed to Memorial Day and when Congress passed the Monday’s Holiday Bill in the early 1970s, the significance of the actual date was lost.
On June 3rd 1970, I was among 745 young men to graduate from the United States Air Force Academy. We had endured four tough years of military training, academics, character building, and athletics to qualify for our degree and a commission as a second lieutenant. We were poised and ready to strike out and conquer the world. Most of us headed off to flight school where we would “slip the surly bonds of earth.”
Within a couple of years, nine of our number had died in the skies over Southeast Asia. They are pictured here as the young men they will forever be — I don’t know that any of them reached their 25th birthday. Let me tell you about my classmates.
Of the nine, I knew “Rocky” Rovito the least. I believe he was a Catholic kid from Pennsylvania. He died in the summer of 1973 (all of the others died in 1972 during the last full year of the war) in a helicopter crash in northwestern Cambodia. The second paragraph of a poem by his name in our 1970 Polaris yearbook is prophetic: “I came to serve my country; to fight the enemy; to die the death – Old soldiers fade.”
Three of the dead were FACs or forward air controllers. They flew light, propeller-driven aircraft to direct fighters in close air support missions. Because their aircraft flew low and slow, they had a dangerous mission. Dick Christy was an Ohio farm boy, excellent athlete and natural leader. If he had survived, his career would have been marked by great distinction. I didn’t know John Haselton very well. He was from Vermont and another excellent athlete. Art Hardy was a married man. I’m not sure if his wife had a baby before Art was lost. My most enduring memory of Hardy was that I was once assigned to guard him in an intramural basketball game – I “held“him to 35 points. He wiped the floor with me. Art planned to become a test pilot — he would have made a good one.
Two of the fellows were in the same fighter squadron flying the A-37 Dragonfly from Bien Hoa. Steve Gravrock was killed in July. He was a quiet, introspective fellow as I recall. Two months earlier, Mike Blassie had been lost. His jet crashed behind enemy lines and his remains were unrecovered … or so we thought. Mike was from St. Louis, a great athlete, and another natural leader. The sky was the limit for this guy.
In a solemn 1984 ceremony, the remains of a Vietnam veteran were interred at Arlington in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. More than a decade later, Mike’s family learned there was a good chance that the remains in that tomb were those of their son and brother. The family waged a long and difficult fight with the Defense Department and Veterans Administration to have the remains exhumed and tested using mitochondrial DNA. When this happened in 1998, the tests proved they belonged to Mike. Today, he is buried in the National Cemetery at Jefferson Barracks near his hometown.
After graduation, I attended navigator training near Sacramento with the last three. Fran Townsend, Bud Hargrove, and Mike Turose were among about seventy students in Class 71-19. We were together in Nav School from August 1970 until May 1971. Fran was a Texan and his graduation assignment was in the reconnaissance version (RF-4C) of the Phantom. He was shot down over Bat Lake, North Vietnam in August 1972. His pilot, Bill Gauntt survived but Fran did not. I do not believe his body has ever been recovered.
Of all these fine fellows, I knew Bud Hargrove and Mike Turose the best. We were among 19 members of D section in Class 71-19. Bud was an easy going fellow from Harlingen, TX and a natural leader. We both took Phantoms for our next assignment and trained together in the first F-4 class at Luke AFB just west of Phoenix. His next assignment was to the famed Triple Nickel (555 TFS) at Udorn, Thailand where he scored two MiG kills before being lost in November returning from a combat mission.
Mike Turose was one of my closest friends at the Academy. He was a fun loving guy from the Cleveland area and smart as a whip. His major was electrical engineering and I swear, he never cracked a book – he aced everything he looked at. He loved muscle cars and baseball. We were both Eagle Scouts and were part of a team that welcomed new Eagles from the Colorado Springs area into the fraternity.
Mike wasn’t married so at Nav School, he was a frequent visitor at our apartment sampling Linda’s cooking. Mike stayed at Mather after Nav School to attend electronic warfare officer training – a natural progression for an electrical engineer. After training in the F-105G Thunderchief, he was off to Korat AB, Thailand. I joined him in June 1972 when my squadron came to Korat, and we resumed our old friendship.
I can still recall the time, place, moment on September 17, 1972 when Mike’s aircraft was reported missing over North Vietnam. Although I had just returned from flying myself, I quickly joined a group planning a rescue mission. The planning hadn’t gone very far when we learned that Navy divers had found the bodies of Turose and Zorn just offshore and confirmed they were dead. Fire from shore batteries prevented the recovery of their bodies. It broke my heart … still does.
These guys are part of my life experience, and I am a better man because I knew them. They are my heroes.
A video about plans to create a Veterans Memorial Center on the Mall near the Vietnam Wall to memorialize the Americans who died in the Vietnam war. The center will educate people about the sacrifices made by Americans who gave everything in all U.S. wars. People will be able to see items left at the Wall including photos, letters and messages. The goal is to tell the story of every American who died for freedom in the Vietnam War. To contributions to the fund, go the the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
If you watch the ten minute video at this link you will see what a wonderful museum they plan to build and want to contribute to the building fund.
As you watch the videos ask yourself what does it say about our leaders today who can waste billions of taxpayer dollars on boondoggles, but can’t spend the money to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that the people of the United States can be free?