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.
Air Force Maj. Russell C. Goodman of Salt Lake City, Utah, will be honored this week at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., home of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbird demonstration team. At the time of his loss, Goodman was assigned to the Thunderbirds and was flying with the U.S. Navy on an exchange program. He will be buried in Alaska at a date determined by his family.
On Feb. 20, 1967, Goodman and Navy Lt. Gary L. Thornton took off in their F-4B Phantom from the USS Enterprise for a bombing mission against a railroad yard in Thanh Hoa Province, North Vietnam. They were struck by enemy antiaircraft fire and their plane exploded. Thornton was able to eject at just 250 feet altitude, but Goodman did not escape. Thornton survived and was held captive until his release in 1973. Search and rescue attempts were curtailed because of heavy anti-aircraft and automatic weapons fire in the area of the crash.
But wait, there’s more…
20 Feb 1967. Operation ROLLING THUNDER has been underway for almost two years now. Today, USS Enterprise (CVAN 65), part of Task Force 77 operating on Yankee Station, is launching elements of Air Wing NINE on a strike to attack a railyard near the city of Tanh Hoa, in North Vietnam’s Tahn Hoa province. In the strike package is an F-4B (NG 614/BuNo 150413) from VF-96. Piloting “Showtime 614” was Maj Russell Goodman, on an exchange tour from the Air Force and a member of the 1964-65 Thunderbirds demonstration team. Flying with him was his RIO (Radar Intercept Officer), ENS Gary L. Thorton, USN.
In North Vietnam, the leadership determined that since gaining air superiority over U.S. forces was out of the question, it would instead implement a policy of air deniability. At the beginning of the Rolling Thunder, North Vietnam possessed approximately 1,500 anti-aircraft weapons, most of which were of the light 37 and 57mm variety. Within one year, however, the U.S. estimated that the number had grown to over 5,000 guns, including 85 and 100mm radar-directed weapons. That estimate was later revised downward from a high of 7,000 in early 1967 to less than a thousand by 1972. Additionally, North Vietnam’s deployment of SAMs was such that by 1967, North Vietnam had formed an estimated 25 SAM battalions (with six missile launchers each) which rotated among approximately 150 sites. With the assistance of the Soviet Union, the North Vietnamese had also quickly integrated an early warning radar system of more than 200 facilities which covered the entire country, tracking incoming U.S. raids, and then coordinating SAMs, anti-aircraft batteries, and MiGs to attack them.
During 1967 U.S. losses totaled 248 aircraft (145 Air Force, 102 Navy, and one Marine Corps).
Somewhere south of the city of Tahn Hoa, an S-75 Dvina (NATO designation: SA-2 GUIDELINE) surface to air missile is launched and approaches its target at speeds nearing Mach 3. Near the target, its proximity fuse detonates the 430 lb fragmentation warhead, blowing debris in a lethal radius up to 150 ft. Onboard Showtime 614, the aircraft is rocked by the blast, just off the portside and slightly below the wingline. With communications lost to the pilot and the aircraft disintegrating around him, ENS Thorton ejects, his last image of Maj Goodman leaving him with the impression he was either dead or unconcscious because his head was down and wobbling back and forth. Captured almost immediately by the North Vietnamese, ENS Thorton remained a POW until 4 March 1973 when he was reapatrioted along with the other American POWs as part of Operation Homecoming. During his debriefing, ENS Thorton expressed his belief that Maj. Goodman did not eject.
Without confirmation though, Goodman would remain classified as MIA. Back home, Maj Goodman left behind his wife of 12 years, June, two daughters and a son.
Between October 1993 and March 2008, joint U.S.-Vietnamese teams led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) investigated the crash site twice and conducted two excavations, recovering human remains and pilot equipment. The aircraft debris recovered correlates with the type of aircraft the men were flying. Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA – which matched two of his maternal relatives — in the identification of Goodman’s remains.
The family learned their father’s remains had been identified about a week after their mother died Nov. 10 in Alaska, daughter Sue Stein told KTUU-TV in Anchorage. Later this year, the children hope to spread their parents’ ashes on an Alaskan mountain. Before that though, the Thunderbirds will host a welcoming/remembrance ceremony at their homebase, Nellis AFB, tomorrow (13 January).
Rest easy Maj Goodman, and welcome home – may you find eternal peace and rest with your loved ones.
Note: this is my 1,000th post since beginning this blog some four years ago. While it has covered a wide range of topics during that time, I can think of no better way to mark this milestone than the resolution of another MIA case by those wizards at the Joint POW Accounting Command. – SJS
Article Series - MIAs Return Home
- Home is the Sailor…
- Airmen Missing In Vietnam War Are Identified: Spectre 13
- Navy Aviator Missing In Action From the Vietnam War Identified
- Memorial Day Remembrance – Ploesti Raid Aircrewman Returns Home
- Naval Aviator Missing In Action From the Vietnam War Identified
- Airmen Missing in Action from Vietnam War Identified
- Navy Crew MIA From Vietnam War is Identified
- Pilot Missing From the Vietnam War is Identified
- Missing WWII Airmen are Identified
- Flightdeck Friday: MIA Edition – Vietnam War Era Pilot Identified
- Pilot Missing In Action From The Korean War Is Identified
- Flightdeck Friday (II) – MIA Edition
- Flightdeck Friday: MIA Edition – Missing WWII Airman Returns Home
- Flightdeck Friday: USMC WWII MIA Return Edition
- Flightdeck Friday: MIA Edition – Missing WWII Airman Returns Home (UPDATE)
- August 25, 1944 – Black Friday and the 474th FG
- Air Force Pilot Missing In Action From Vietnam War Is Identified
- POW/MIA: “Prometheus” Unbound, The Last One Comes Home
- Seven Missing WWII Airmen Identified
- Overseas RFI: 474th Fighter Group (WWII)
- POW/MIA: Of “Thuds,” ROLLING THUNDER and an Airman From Red Wing – 1965