The Official Press Release:
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
He is Lt. Cmdr. Ralph C. Bisz, U.S. Navy, of Miami Shores, Fla. His funeral arrangements are being set by his family.
On Aug. 4, 1967, Bisz took off in an A-4E Skyhawk from the USS Oriskany to bomb an enemy petroleum depot near Haiphong, Vietnam. As he neared the target, his aircraft was struck by an enemy surface-to-air missile and crashed near the town of Hai Duong in Hai Hung Province. No parachute was observed and no emergency beeper signal was received.
In 1988, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) repatriated to the United States human remains from Hai Hung Province, which they attributed to Bisz on the basis of their historical records of the shootdown as well as documentation of his burial.
Between 1988 and 2004, joint U.S./S.R.V. teams, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), conducted several investigations of the incident and surveyed the crash site. A team found aircraft wreckage at the site which was consistent with an A-4E Skyhawk. Teams also interviewed witnesses who recalled the crash and burial of the pilot in a nearby cemetery. Additionally, one witness indicated that he oversaw the exhumation of the American’s remains from the cemetery, and their turnover to district officials.
Between 1993 and 2004, 25 samples from the remains turned over in 1988 were submitted to several laboratories for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis, but yielded inconclusive results. In 2007, the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used refined DNA collection techniques and succeeded in obtaining verifiable mtDNA.
Using forensic identification tools, circumstantial evidence, mtDNA analysis and dental comparisons, scientists from JPAC identified the remains as those of Bisz.
And now, the rest of the story…
The 1967-68 combat cruise of the Oriskany and CVW-16 was one of extraordinary trial by fire. During Operation Rolling Thunder, Carrier Air Wing 16 suffered the highest loss rates of any unit in naval aviation during the Vietnam conflict. During 122 days of combat the USS Oriskany lost one-half the airplanes assigned to her and one-third of her pilots. Twenty aviators were killed or missing in action, seven taken prisoner of war, and thirty-nine aircraft lost. Within CVW-16, VA-163, flying the A-4E Skyhawk, suffered three POW and 5 KIA. This all came on te heels of the fire in October ’66. Some specifics:
- June 26, 1967: After Oriskany’s damages were repaired, the VA-163 Saints deployed with their A-4E Skyhawks for their fifth WestPac cruise and third Vietnam War combat deployment cruise (06-16-67 to 01-31-68) as part of Air Wing 16. This cruise provided heavy combat losses — between June and January Oriskany lost twenty pilots either MIA or KIA.
- July 12, 1967: A-4E Skyhawk BuNo. 150102 was lost in an operational accident. The pilot was recovered.
- July 17, 1967: Lieutenant Commander Marvin Reynolds earned the Navy Cross for leading and coordinating a dangerous, complex, and successful rescue of a pilot downed in North Vietnam.
- July 20, 1967: A-4E Skyhawk BuNo. 150097 AH 312 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire during a combat mission over North Vietnam. The pilot Lieutenant R. W. Kuhl successfully ejected and was recovered.
- July 25, 1967: A-4E Skyhawk BuNo. 149961 AH 304 was shot down by small arms fire during a combat mission over North Vietnam. The pilot Lieutenant Commander Donald V. Davis was Killed in Action.
- August 4, 1967: A-4E Skyhawk BuNo. 150052 AH 313 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) during a combat mission over North Vietnam. The pilot Lieutenant Junior Grade Ralph C. Bisz did not survive.
- August 31, 1967: A-4E Skyhawk BuNo. 152058 AH 315 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) during a combat mission over North Vietnam. The pilot Lieutenant Junior Grade David J. Carey successfully ejected and was captured and made Prisoner of War.
- August 31, 1967: A-4E Skyhawk BuNo. 149975 AH 310 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) during a combat mission over North Vietnam. The pilot Lieutenant Commander H. A. Stafford successfully ejected and was captured and made Prisoner of War.
- September 10, 1967: A-4E Skyhawk BuNo. 150047 was lost in an operational accident. The pilot was recovered.
- October 20, 1967: Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Denny Earl, with both legs shattered by North Vietnamese anti-aircraft fire, successfully lands his A-4 “Skyhawk” attack plane aboard the Oriskany in the Gulf of Tonkin. See the Photo Page.
- October 22, 1967: A-4E Skyhawk BuNo. 150116 AH 306 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) during a combat mission over North Vietnam. The pilot Lieutenant Junior Grade James E. Dooley was Killed in Action.
- October 24, 1967: A-4E Skyhawk BuNo. 149963 AH 311 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire during a combat mission over North Vietnam. The pilot Lieutenant Junior Grade R. A. Foulks successfully ejected and was recovered.
- October 25, 1967: A-4E Skyhawk BuNo. 150086 AH 315 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire during a combat mission over North Vietnam. The pilot Lieutenant J. M. Krommenhoek is Missing in Action.
- October 26, 1967: A-4E Skyhawk BuNo. 149959 AH 300 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) during a combat mission over North Vietnam. The pilot Lieutenant Commander John S. McCain III, successfully ejected and was made Prisoner of War.
- January 5, 1968: A-4E Skyhawk BuNo. 150131 AH 303 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire during a combat mission over North Vietnam. The pilot Lieutenant Junior Grade R. E. “Skip” Foulks was Killed in Action.
August 4, 1967, LTJG Ralph Bisz manned up VA-163 A-4E BuNo 150052 (Old Salt 313) for a mission into Haiphong against petroleum storage facilities. The facility was heavily protected by surface-to-air missiles (SA-2 Guidelines). At this point in the war, the ROE was such that the SAM sites could not be attacked. Thus protected, they, along with the heavy AAA fire were taking their toll of Navy and USAF aircraft over the North. Today would be no different.
Approximately a minute and a half from the target area, four surface-to-air missiles (SAM) were observed lifting from the area northeast of Haiphong. The flight maneuvered to avoid the SAMs, however, Bisz’ aircraft was observed as it was hit by a SAM by a wingman. Bisz’ aircraft exploded, burst into flames, and spun downward in a large ball of fire. Remnants of the aircraft were observed falling down in the large ball of fire until reaching an altitude estimated to be 5,000 feet and then appeared to almost completely burn out prior to reaching the ground. No parachute or ejection was observed. No emergency beeper or voice communications were received.
Bisz’ aircraft went down in a heavily populated area in Hai Duong Province,Vietnam. Information from an indigenous source which closely parallels his incident indicated that his remains were recovered from the wreckage and taken to Hanoi for burial. The U.S. Government listed Ralph Bisz as a Prisoner of War with certain knowledge that the Vietnamese know his fate.
Bisz was placed in a casualty status of Captured on August 4, 1967. The Navy now says that the possibility of Bisz ejecting was slim. If he had ejected, his capture would have taken place in a matter of seconds due tothe heavy population concentration in the area and that due to the lack of additional information it is believed that Bisz did not eject from his aircraft and that he was killed on impact of the SAM.
Classified information on Bisz’ case was presented to the Vietnamese by General Vessey in the fall of 1987 in hopes that the Vietnamese would be able to resolve the mystery of Bisz’ fate. His case is one of what are called “discrepancy” cases, which should be readily resolved. The Vietnamese have not been forthcoming with information on Ralph Bisz. (POWnetwork.org)
21 June 2008 (www.arlingtoncemetery.org)
A West Palm Beach woman finally has learned what had long been thought to be fact: The cousin with whom she grew up in Miami was shot down and killed in Vietnam more than 40 years ago. Diana Smith recently heard from the Defense Department’s Prisoner of War/Missing Persons Agency that remains returned to the United States decades ago were those of her cousin, Navy Lieutenant Commander Ralph “Skip” Bisz. “They were certain that these remains belonged to Skip,” said Smith, at 64 the pilot’s legal next of kin. Bisz was 25 on August 4, 1967, when he piloted his Skyhawk jet to its target: a petroleum depot near Haiphong. Almost at the depot, he was struck by a surface-to-air missile and crashed near the town of Hai Duong. Observers saw no parachute and no emergency signal was detected.
In 1988, the Vietnamese government returned to the United States remains it said were Bisz’s, based on records of the shootdown and the pilot’s burial. Over several years, joint U.S.-Vietnam teams investigated the incident and surveyed the crash site, determining that the wreckage there was that of a Navy Skyhawk. They also interviewed witnesses to the crash and later burial of the pilot in a nearby cemetery. From 1993 through 2004, DNA from 25 samples of the remains was tested in different laboratories, but results were inconclusive. In 2007, however, using more sophisticated techniques, the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory positively identified the remains as those of Bisz. In early May, Smith got a call from the military telling her that Bisz’s bones had been identified. “I’m sad, but I’m very joyous,” she said. “We didn’t realize the pain was still there, and how this closure is such an amazing thing.” Smith said she and Bisz spent many years together when both their families lived in Miami and Miami Shores. “I never remember a time he wasn’t around,” she said. “He was another brother.”
Bisz was an only child, and both his parents are dead, Smith said.
LCDR Bisz’s remains are in Hawaii at the laboratory of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. They will be escorted to Washington, D.C., for a full military burial at Arlington National Cemetery in October.
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
- Robert Louis Stevenson
(‘Requiem’ from Underwoods)
By the way, among the naval aviators in VA-163 who became POWs this deployment – one LCDR J.S. McCain.