In the mail today:

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).

Click on thumbnail to enlarge image

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).

Maj. Richard Goodman (from left), U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron; Chaplain (Capt.) David Horton, 99th Air Base Wing; and members of the Goodman family salute as the remains of Maj. Russell C. Goodman are transferred Jan. 12, 2010, from an aircraft to a hearse at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

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


  1. I remember seeing MAJ Goodman’s name in the cruisebook for this cruise. I figured it was an exchange pilot, but always assumed it was a Marine, for no particular reason.

    Welcome Home, Major.

  2. chuck mccullough

    I chuck mccullough personaly new gary thornton.He and i have had two unplanned personal contacts in our lives.
    I was as gary was in the navel air reserve 6 by 6 naval air program, i was not aware of gary during basic traning in Mempis Tenn in aug 1964.But august of 1964 we were both sheduled for aviation electrican in Jacksonvile Florida. I lasted until october of 64 and then cross trained to be an aviation jet mechic in alameda calif my home base.
    To make a long story short. In november of the same year,we were given opportunity to go home. I jumped on the chance to get back home this was at 8 a.m. we had to be cleared out by noon, i made it the day before thanks giving.In my rush to go home and clearing out my locker Gsry was laying on his bunk and i said gary why arn’t you packing to go home, his response was. I just got accepted to flight school in pensicola fld. I siad man you are crazy we’ve got a war going on.My next encounter was the day after he was released as a pow in oakland calif.I was was with my brother inlaw at hallmark card store, just a few blocks away from from the old oaknoll military hospital. I was waiting for my brother inlaw to look over the store he was thinking of buying it.I was in the front of the store just waiting and looking around and in the back of the store this young man came in. I looked once at him and i thought i think i konw him and so i gradully moved to the back of the store. Then once i made it just across from him. I stared at him not to get his attention just to make sure i kenw him
    once i realized who he was. i said to him I know you and i’m sure we were in aviation electrician shcool together in august 1964 and your name is ary thorton Hi are you and my name is Chuck McCullough and he remembered me.So i said so what you been doing for th last 7 years and he said until yesterday i was a P.O.W in Viet Nam for the last 7 years. I was shocked and amazed. my next encounter with Gary was the day after he got married to i believe he married a plaboy bunny did not see him in person but red the article in the san francisco chronical.Then another encounter was when i decided to try and find out more about Gary,just out of curiosity i was interested in his pow capture and i found his story about how he became a pow and it was quite interesting how it all happened.But if this story gets Gary. I want to let him know, I’m prowd of his service to our cuntry and i heard he was retired and in the upper ranks and i think of him on occasion why him i don’t know i guess because He just keeps showing up. But if this letter gets to him’ just let him know. I told you so in that barricks in november of 64 get out while you can. The guy must be dedicated.

    From Chuck McCullough Reno Nevada

  3. Rich

    Congratulations on your 1000th post.
    I agree this was a fitting story to mark the occasion.
    It’s a real pleasure to be able to read such a fine blog
    and I’m praying you’ll be doing it for a long time to come.

    Rest in Peace, Maj Goodman, you’re home now.

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