All posts in “Vietnam”

Welcome Aboard to

The latest to join the milbog/aviation ‘verse  is – brought to you by a former Crusader/Corsair II naval aviator with 170 combat missions in the A-7 over Vietnam while flying off the USS Midway in the 1972-73 timeframe.  Consider one of the more recent posts:

All days come from one day, as the writer, the poet, the singer  says, so without attempting to channel Ernest Hemingway, this reflects basic remembrance of the day I and a lot of young men went off to war.  For me, it meant I would spend the 11thof April at sea – my one month wedding anniversary.  I left a beautiful young woman crying on the pier.  She drove from Alameda to the Golden Gate Bridge to watch MIDWAY change her life in ways completely unexpected a month earlier in the chapel at Point Mugu.  We weren’t following closely the day-day of the war nor privy to the back channel information of impending crisis in the war in Vietnam. Things had been rather quite there since the bombing halt up North in 1968 called by President Johnson after the Tet Offensive...

Looking forward to many more good reads over there — be sure to check it out (we’ve added it to the blogroll under “Naval Aviation”).

POW/MIA: Of “Thuds,” ROLLING THUNDER and an Airman From Red Wing – 1965

By 1965, the US participation in Vietnam was reaching a juncture where it could choose to disengage (and thus concede the loss of South Vietnam to the Communist juggernaut – which then would then sweep across the rest of the SE Asia landscape).  It could “stay the course,” with a limited ground role using advisers to the ARVN and provide tactical and strategic air support from remote airbases and carriers – not entirely acceptable because to date, that process hadn’t produced the results envisioned and if projected to a defeat of South Vietnamese forces, a subsequent loss of face and faith in America’s abilities to defend other friends and allies in the region (notably Thailand and by extension, South Korea, Japan and Australia).  A third choice involved a larger commitment of US forces – ground, naval and air to bring pressure on the North Vietnamese and compel their withdrawal from actions against the South.  Knowing full well the costs in dollars and personnel of committing a large ground force to the war, air power was looked upon as an area of particular advantage to the US with McGeorge Bundy (Johnson’s National Security adviser) noting “Yet measured against the costs of defeat in Vietnam, this program seems cheap. And even if it fails to turn the tide—as it may—the value of the effort seems to us to exceed its cost.” The measure of that endeavor would soon be taken, beginning in March 1965 with Operation Rolling Thunder… SJS

The official press release:

“Air Force Pilot Missing From Vietnam War Identified
   The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a serviceman, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
   Air Force Major Thomas E. Reitmann of Red Wing, Minn., will be buried on Sept. 8 in Arlington National Cemetery. In 1965, Reitmann was assigned to the 334th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed out of Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., to Takhli Air Base, Thailand. On Dec 1, 1965, he was flying a strike mission as the number three aircraft in a flight of four F-105D Thunderchiefs as part of Operation Rolling Thunder. His target was a railroad bridge located about 45 nautical miles northeast of Hanoi. As the aircrew approached the target area, they encountered extremely heavy and accurate anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). While attempting to acquire his target and release his ordnance, Reitmann received a direct AAA hit and crashed in Lang Son Province, North Vietnam. Other pilots in the flight observed no parachute, and no signals or emergency beepers were heard. Due to the intense enemy fire in the area a search-and-rescue team was not able to survey the site and a two-day electronic search found no sign of the aircraft or Reitmann.
   In 1988, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) repatriated remains to the United States believed to be those of Reitmann. The remains were later identified as those of another American pilot who went missing in the area on the same day as Reitmann.
   Between 1991 and 2009, joint U.S.-S.R.V. teams, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), analyzed numerous leads, interviewed villagers, and attempted to locate the aircraft. Although no evidence of the crash site was found, in 2009 and 2011 a local farmer turned over remains and a metal button he claimed to have found in his corn field.
   Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA – which matched that of his brother — in the identification of Reitmann’s remains.”

But wait – there’s more…
In February, 1958 a dark-haired 28 year old reported to Greenville AFB, Mississippi as student officer in the Aviation Cadet program. Born in 1930 in Red Wing , Minnesota, a small city (pop. 10,000) hard on the banks of the Mississippi River, he’d graduated from Red Wing High in 1948 and enlisted in the Navy, and subsequently saw service during the Korean War in England and French Morocco. Leaving the Navy in 1952, he returned to Red Wing holding down a variety of jobs, but it wasn’t enough to keep him in Red Wing.  Joining the Air Force, and following his graduation from the flight program and receiving his wings, he eventually reported to the famous 334th Fighter Squadron in 1958, then flying the F-100 Super Saber. The 334th traced its lineage back to the dark days of early WWII where it was incorporated as No 71 Sqdn of the RAF – an Eagle squadron of American volunteers. Along with the 335th and 336th, it formed the core of the VII Fighter Command, 4th Group which was the first Army Air Force unit activated in the European Theater of Operations. Flying Spitfires, P-47 Thunderbolts and then, until the end of the war, the P-51 Mustang, 334th pilots were credited with 395 kills against the Luftwaffe. In Korea, they were credited with 142 kills and tallied six aces in their membership. Relocating from Korea in 1957, the 334th was home-based out of Seymour Johnson from which detachments would deploy to Incirlik, Turkey and other locations as required. In 1958 it was re-designated as the 334th Tactical Fighter Squadron and in keeping with the re-designation, in 1959, the 334th transitioned to the F-105 Thunderchief.

The F-105 (aka “Thud” – among several, less complimentary nicknames) the F-105 was designed to be a fast, low altitude fighter-bomber with a mission to deliver a nuclear weapon, concealed in an internal bomb-bay. It was a very clean design, and with lessons applied from the F-102 (notably the area-rule or “coke bottle” fuselage) and a huge (for the time) after-burning Pratt & Whitney J-75, the F-105 could flat out move on the deck — in 1959 an F-105B set a world record of 1,216.48 miles per hour (1,958 km/h) over a 62 miles (100 km) circuit. The F-105D that the 334th was flying was the latest and largest production batch, that had markedly improved avionics and an internal gun as well as provisions for carrying external stores. In fact, a single F-105 could haul up to 14,000 lbs of ordnance, from dumb bombs to AGM-12 Air-to-surface missiles and AIM-9 Sidewinders.

Republic F-105D-5-RE (S/N 59-1719) in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)(From a 1950's release) "A test pilot lines up with the Air Force's newest supersonic jet, the Republic F-105, and an assortment of the armamnet said to give the one man fighter-bomber as much destructive power as an entire big bomber formation of World War II. External stores displayed are (foreground) 2.75 in. rockets; Vulcan cannon (directly behind pilot) which can fire 6,000 rounds per minute of 20mm ammunition shown on either side. Boxes directly behind contain electronic equipment. Left side (L-R): first row: rocket launcher; air-to-air missiles with launcher; second row: fire bomb; chaff dispenser; 450 gallon wing fuel tank; "buddy" refueling tank; third row: fire bomb; two 750 pound bombs; 1000 pound bomb; bomb-carrying pylons; (extreme top left) flare dispenser. Right side next to plane (top to bottom) nuclear weapon bombing trainer; secret nuclear weapons; next vertical row: practice bombs; bomb bay fuel tank. (Note: all other items, including the pylons behind the practice bombs, are duplicates.) The F-105 carries nuclear wepons externally of internally. the "half shell" object to the left of the nose is the center fuselage nuclear bomb-carrying pylon." (U.S. Air Force photo) Republic F-105D-30-RE (S/N 62-4234) in flight with full bomb load. (U.S. Air Force photo)

From the start of ROLLING THUNDER it was apparent more aircraft were required – and not just to cover the mounting losses from AAA and a new threat, the SA-2 surface-to-air missile. The size of the target set was growing as the decision makers back in Washington planed a graduated and sustained air campaign to influence North Vietnam’s behavior. In September, after having traded their two-seat F-105Fs for single seat F-105Ds, the 334th departed its temporary location at Homestead (Seymour Johnson’s runway was being repaved) for Takhli Royal Thai AFB by way of Hickam AFB. Positioned in central Thailand, Takhli was equidistant to North and South Vietnam, but the F-105s were destined for sorties to the far more treacherous North. Arriving on September 2nd, the 334th would be assigned to the 355th TFW which was permanently re-located from McConnell AFB.

Takhli RTAFB, ca. 1965
Following the model developed in WWII and employed in Korea, tactical air forces were assigned transportation infrastructure to target. Rail yards, transportation centers and key choke-points – like bridges, were prominently featured on the target list. Around Hanoi, there were several such vital rail bridges, one of the most (in)famous being the Paul Doumer bridge southwest of Hanoi. To the north lay the the bridge at Cao nung that served the rail line between North Vietnam and China. It like so many other key facilities in and around Hanoi was guarded by heavy AAA, including 37mm, 57mm, 85 and even 100mm weapons. In early 1965 it was estimated there were on the order of about a thousand in North Vietnam – by the end of the year it had grown to over 2,000 spread across 400 key sites and supported by SA-2s and MiG-17s. It was a lethal mix that the Thuds were headed into, given early testimony by the first two attacks on the Thanh Hoa bridge  and subsequent attacks against SAM sites in the Hanoi region were to prove. One of the earliest casualties for the 334th was the CO, LtCol Killian, shotdown by an SA-2 while on a strike against the road and railroad bridge at Ninh Binh on 30 Sep 1965. On December 1, 1965, just a few days shy of his 35th Birthday, Capt Ted Reitmann climbed aboard his F-105D-25-RE (s/n 61-0182) as part of a strike package set against the Cao nung railroad bridge. During the ingress to the target, his aircraft was struck by AAA causing it to go out of control and crash two miles from the target – about 50 miles NE of Hanoi. No ejection was noted.

The F-105, like the Navy’s A-4 Skyhawk, was a workhorse in the early air war over North Vietnam. Between the first loss (written off for damage incurred over Laos in Aug 1964) until the last loss (Sep 1970 over Laos), the F-105D suffered 335 total losses of which 283 were directly attributable to combat. The F-105F/G added an additional 47/37 respectively. Like the A-4, it had been designed for a different war, to be fought in a different manner but it and the crews that flew the Thud answered the call and gave their best. A tough aircraft it still brought a number of its crews home (the running joke was Republic had planned to build the Thud out of concrete – until it found that steel was heavier…), but as both the Air Force and Navy were learning, a modern, integrated air defense system, like the one emerging over the key areas of the North required different aircraft, different weapons, and different training and tactics.
It was a lesson that was being written daily in the sacrifices of those like Capt Reitmann.

Major Reitmann USAF will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery in his final resting place on 8 September 2011 – forty-six years after his arrival in Thailand. By all accounts, he is the last of Red Wing’s casualties from the conflict – a total of 14 altogether.   He is survived by his wife, Carol Reitmann Sumner of Honolulu, Hawaii; daughter Kimberly Lorigan of Apollo Beach, Fla.; son Thomas Reitmann II of Eugene, Ore.; son Michael Reitmann of Clayton, Calif.; daughter Karen Mutobe of Ewa Beach, Hawaii; brother, Ed Reitmann of Excelsior, Minn.; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Assigned to the 4th Operations Group, the 334th is today designated the 334th Expeditionary fighter Squadron flying the F-15E Strike Eagle flying missions in the CENTAF AOR.

Republic F-105D-5-RE (S/N 58-1173) in flight with full bomb load. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Godspeed Major Reitmann – and rest easy.  You are home now.

Many sources were used in preparing this post, but the most noteworthy were Find a Grave, Together We Served (of which YHS is a member on the Navy side), the always helpful Virtual Wall and POW NET and the National Museum of the Air Force, source of most of the photos (mouse over for source citation)

POW/MIA: “Prometheus” Unbound, The Last One Comes Home

"Prometheus" an AC-130A tail number 55-0044

In May 2008, I wrote of the final identification and return of the remains of two of the Prometheus’ crew, Maj Barclay B. Young and Sr. Master Sgt James K. Caniford, two of a crew of 14 lost one dark March night, 38 years ago. At the time, all but one MIA had been identified, that being (then) Capt Curtis Daniel Miller.
Today, closure has come for the crew of the Prometheus (c/s “Spectre 13”):

Air Force Pilot MIA From Vietnam War is Identified

The Department of Defense 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.

Air Force Maj. Curtis Daniel Miller of Palacios, Texas, will be buried on March 29 in the Dallas-Ft. Worth National Cemetery. Miller was part of a 14-man aircrew, all of which are now accounted-for. Remains that could not be individually identified are included in a group that will be buried together in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.  On March 29, 1972, 14 men were aboard an AC-130A Spectre gunship that took off from Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, on an armed reconnaissance mission over southern Laos. The aircraft was struck by an enemy surface-to-air missile and crashed. Search and rescue efforts were stopped after a few days due to heavy enemy activity in the area.
In 1986, joint U.S.- Lao People’s Democratic Republic teams, lead by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), surveyed and excavated the crash site in Savannakhet Province, Laos. The team recovered human remains and other evidence including two identification tags, life support items and aircraft wreckage. From 1986 to 1988, the remains were identified as those of nine men from this crew.

Welcome home — and may all of you now rest in peace…

This Date in Naval Aviation History: Vietnam Cease-fire Takes Effect (27 Jan 1973)

27 Jan 1973: The Vietnam cease-fire, announced four days earlier, came into effect and the carriers Oriskany, America, Enterprise and Ranger, on Yankee Station, cancelled all combat sorties into North and South Vietnam.

The cost of this endeavor in terms of lives and treasure was indeed dear.  From 1961 t0 1973 the Navy lost 896 aircraft in theater during this time — 523 fixed-wing aircraft and 8 helicopters to hostile action:

Operation Homecoming, the repatriation of U.S. POWs between 27 January and 1 April, began and NVN and the Viet Cong released 591 POWs. Of the 591 POWs released during Operation Homecoming, there were 566 military personnel and 145 were Navy personnel. Naval Aviation personnel accounted for 144 of the 145 Navy personnel.

Aircraft Total Losses Combat Losses
A-1 Skyraider 65 48
A-3 Skywarrior 7 2
A-4 Skyhawk 282 195
A-6 Intruder 62 51
A-7 Corsair II 100 55
C-1 Trader 4 0
C-2 Greyhound 1 0
E-1 Tracer 3 0
E-2 Hawkeye 2 0
EKA-3 Skywarrior 2 0
EA-1 Skyraider 4 1
F-4 Phantom II 138 75
F-8 Crusader 118 57
KA-3 Skywarrior 2 0
RA-5C Vigilante 27 18
RF-8 Crusader 29 19
S-2 Tracker 4 2
C-47 Skytrain 1
OV-10 Bronco 7
P-2 Neptune 4
P-3 Orion 2
SH-2/UH-2 Sea Sprite 12 0
SH-3 Sea King 20 8

Flightdeck Friday: 23 October 1972 and The End of Linebacker I

vf96 55_9

23 October: The U.S. ended all tactical air sorties into NVN above the 20th parallel and brought to a close Linebacker I operations. This gesture of good will in terminating the bombing in Squallphoto1NVN above the 20th parallel was designed to help promote the peace negotiations being held in Paris. During May through October the Navy flew a total of 23,652 tactical air attack sorties into NVN. U.S. tactical air sorties during Linebacker I operations helped to stem the flow of supplies into NVN, thereby, limiting the operating capabilities of North Vietnam’s invading army. The carriers involved in Linebacker I operations were Enterprise, Constellation, Coral Sea, Hancock, Kitty Hawk, Midway, Saratoga, Oriskany and America.

It began over six months ago, on a late-April morning with Operation Pocket Money – launching from the flightdeck of USS Coral Sea (CVA-43), three A-6A Intruders of VMA-224 and six A-7Es (VA-22 and VA-94) headed for Haiphong harbor with a load of Mk 52-2 mines.  In response to what the west was calling the “Easter Offensive” by the North Vietnamese army, a concentrated air offensive against the north – the first since 1968, began with the seeding of mines in the critical ports and harbors of North Vietnam.  Overland, the USAF Seventh Air Force and the Navy’s 7172a6vma224Task Force 77 would send thousands of sorties feet dry in the quest of achieving the four objectives of LINEBACKER:

  • Isolate North Vietnam from its outside sources of supply by destroying railroad bridges and rolling stock in and around Hanoi and northeastward toward the Chinese frontier;
  • Target primary storage areas and marshalling yards;
  • Destroy storage and transshipment points; and finally,
  • Eliminate (or at least damage) the north’s air defense system

For the Navy, this meant that no less than nine of its carriers with their embarked airwings would be committed to the fight.  Beginning on 10 May, LINEBACKER demonstrated a new level of commitment of air power — 120 sorties by the USAF and 224 by the Navy on the first day.  It was also the day that saw the heaviest air-to-air engagements of the war, finishing with 11 MiGs shot down to the loss of 2 USAF F-4s in aerial engagements and 2 Navy aircraft to the heavy AAA and SAM action inland (over 100 SAMs fired alone that day).  The offensive marked the first engagements since the Navy began intense post-graduate type dogfight training at its new fighter weapons school (‘TOPGUN’), and the effect was immediate.  Navy fighters quickly built a 6:1 kill:loss ratio over the North Vietnamese MiGs (before it had hovered around 1:1) and Randy Cunningham and Willie Driscoll became the war’s first US aces when they downed three MiGs that day before being hit by an SA-2 and bailing out over water.  In the meantime, the USAF, lacking similar training, remained close to the 1:1 ratio (in fact, during one 12-day period in late May/early June, the USAF lost 7 aircraft to MiGs without shooting any down).  By August, however, with improved AEW and increased aircrew training and experience, the ratio climbed to an eventual 4:1.  The new air offensive also saw the employment of TV- and laser -guided bombs for the first time.  From April to the end of June, the number of sorties flown throughout the SEA theater climbed to 27,745 and included everything from A-7s to B-52s.  The impact was soon felt by the North Vietnamese army which, in its official history, noted that almost 70% of supplies bound for forward deployed units were destroyed enroute.

b-52-linebacker-iiBy fall, it was apparent to the North Vietnamese leadership that the campaign was deeply affecting not only the offensive in the South, but even at77a7va94 home with critical imports down by 30-50% and daily bombing of transportation and other critical infrastructure. Returning to negotiations with the US, the diplomatic impasse, and offensive broken, President Nixon ordered the suspension of bombing above the 20th parallel to commence 23 October 1972, bringing the first LINEBACKER to a close.  The US had lost 134 aircraft to combat or operational losses over the course of 39,420 sorties.  Navy losses numbered 43 (1 MiG, 2 induced, 13 SAM, 27 AAA) while Air Force’s totaled 51 (22 to MiGs, 5 induced losse s, 20 to AAA, 4 to SAMs).

Air Force General Robert N. Ginsburgh, in tallying the effect of LINEBACKER compared to earlier efforts, noted that LINEBACKER had “a greater impact in its first four months of operation than ROLLING THUNDER had in three and one-half years.”

Article Series - Centenary of Naval Aviation (1911-2011)

  1. Flightdeck Friday: Smoke and the Battle of Midway
  2. Flightdeck Friday: RF-8 Crusaders and BLUE MOON
  3. Flightdeck Friday: Midway POV – Wade McClusky
  4. Flightdeck Friday: 23 October 1972 and The End of Linebacker I
  5. Former VFP-62 CO and DFC Recipient, CAPT William Ecker, USN-Ret Passes Away
  6. CAPT John E. “Jack” Taylor, USN-Ret.
  7. Flightdeck Friday: USS MACON Added to National Register of Historical Places
  8. Tailhook Association and Association of Naval Aviation
  9. Flightdeck Friday: Speed and Seaplanes – The Curtiss CR-3 and R3C-2
  10. Flightdeck Friday: A Family Remembers a Father, Naval Officer and Former Vigilante B/N
  11. Out of the Box Thinking and Execution 68 Years Ago: The Doolittle Raid
  12. The ENTERPRISE Petition – A Gentle Reminder
  13. USS Enterprise (CVAN/CVN-65) At Fifty
  14. A Golden Anniversary: The Hawkeye At 50
  15. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy
  16. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part II)
  17. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part III)
  18. Reflections on the E-2 Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary
  19. An Open Letter to “The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation”
  20. U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years
  21. Doolittle’s Raiders: Last Surviving Bomber Pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, Dies at 93
  22. More Naval Aviation Heritage Aircraft (But Still No Hawkeye)
  23. Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)
  24. Naval Aviation Centennial: One Astronaut, A Future Astronaut and Reaching for New Heights
  25. Flightdeck Friday Special Edition: The Space Shuttle – Thirty Years of Dreams, Sweat and Tears
  26. Flightdeck Friday – Postings from the Naval Aviation Museum
  27. Saturday Matinee: US Naval Aviation – the First 100 Years
  28. National Museum of Naval Aviation – Some Thoughts and A Call to Action
  29. Flightdeck Friday – 100 Years of Naval Aviation and the USCG
  30. Guest Post: THE U.S. NAVY’S FLEET PROBLEMS OF THE THIRTIES — A Dive Bomber Pilot’s Perspective
  31. This Date in Naval Aviaiton History: Sept 18, 1962 – Changing Designators
  32. Centennial Of Naval Aviation – The Shadow Warriors

Flightdeck Friday: MIA Edition – Vietnam War Era Pilot Identified

435th TFS

First, the official release:

Pilot Missing in Action From The Vietnam War is Identified

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 Capt. Lorenza Conner, U.S. Air Force, of Cartersville, Ga. He will be buried Oct. 25 in Cartersville.
On Oct. 27, 1967, Conner and his copilot flew an F-4D Phantom II fighter jet in a flight of four on a combat air patrol mission over North Vietnam where the plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Tuyen Quang Province, North Vietnam. The copilot ejected safely, was captured and later released by Vietnamese forces, but Conner could not eject from the aircraft before it crashed.
In 1992, Vietnamese citizens told U.S. officials that they had information concerning the remains of missing U.S. servicemen and they turned over Conner’s identification tag.
Between 1992 and 2003, several joint U.S./Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) teams, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), investigated this incident, interviewed witnesses and surveyed the crash site. At the crash site, teams found aircrew-related equipment and aircraft wreckage consistent with an F-4 Phantom II.
In 2007, another joint team excavated the site and recovered human remains.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC also used dental comparisons in the identification of Conner’s remains.

And the rest of the story:

8th TFW F-4D

1967.  The air war over North Vietnam is heating up and the squadrons of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, based at Ubon, Thailand are in the thick of it.  Led by the legendary Robin Olds, their presence was already being felt in the skies over the North.  Earlier that year, in a masterful piece of operational deception,(Operation BOLO) Olds had lured the North Vietnamese into a trap, resulting in 7 air-to-air kills in one day alone.  But air-to-air wasn’t their only skill in trade — using the latest version of the F-4, the F-4D, received that summer which substantially improved the F-4’s ground attack capability.  One of those aircraft, s/n 7531, was equipped with the Westinghouse AN/ASQ-152(V)-2 Pave Spike laser target designator .  The  Pave Spike laser designator pod was mounted inside one of the Sparrow missile wells on the fuselage underside and used TV optics, which made it daylight-capable only, but included the ability to launch the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile.

1967.  He was young and talented – and a study in contrasts.  A star quarterback for the Cartersville, GA football team, he also had a penchant for reading, voraciously.  At one time he strck up a deal with the school librarian to set aside the new issues of Time and Saturday Evening Post so he could read them first.  A graduate of Tuskeegee he was in the thick of the air war as a pilot on the 435th TFS, part of the legendary 8th TFW, the Wolf Pack  – adding to the legacy of his Red Tail forebears.

And so, now, a late October morning in 1967 finds 1Lt Conner and his backseater, Capt John Black as part of a flight of four F-4Ds (c/s FORD) over the Hanoi Railroad and Highway Bridge in the Tuyen Quang province, hunting for MiGs.  The mission was a ROLLING THUNDER mission and part of the campaign against NVAF airfelds.  Hunting was good – yesterday, October 26th racked up four more MiGs on the 8th’s talley board and with this vital bridge over the Red River as a target, prospects were good they’d have company.

Down below NVA gunners watched and tracked the flight of four.  Opening up with deadly 57mm AAA (single and the mobile ZSU-57-2 twin 57mm) the sky was suddenly filled with deadly AAA fire.  Jinking madly to throw the gunner’s am off, FORD 04 with Conner at the controls is hit in the left engine and a catastrophic fire results.  At this low altitude, time is precious and measured in micro-seconds.  Ejection sequence is initiated and the back-seater is out, but before he can eject, the mortally wounded Phantom crashes through the forest below.  No parachute seen – no survivor witnessed on the ground.   Black is capture and taken as a POW.

Now the long wait begins for family and friends back home.  Since the crash occured deep in enemy territory, there is no chance to go to the site of the wreck and try to recover remains.  The wholly unsatisfying determination of missing, presumed dead is listed as Lorenza’s status.

“We still had hope that maybe one day, you know, he would find his way back home,” said one of Conner’s cousins, Terri Durrah, in Cartersville

Fifteen years later, Vietnamese officials contact the US government with word that they had information on the crash, passing Lorenza’s dog tags.  Recovery teams form the US and Vietnam visit the site twice in an attempt to locate any remains, any identifying items that could be used to determine the final status.

In the tropics, nothing stays in stasis – vegetation growth is relentless and what was once a smoking, cratered clearing is closed over by dirt, mud and vegetation.  Lots of vegetation.  Buttry as it might, the jungle can’t hide everything.  Despite the violence of the crash remains and artifacts are found – fortunately enough to ascertain through 21st Century DNA techniques that this was indeed the site of Lorenza’s last flight – and now he was coming home.

“He was a smart young man,” said a childhood friend and classmate, Mary Alice Johnson. “He was always neatly dressed. And just memorable.”

Johnson and another Summer Hill H.S. graduate, Calvin Cooley, are involved in the Summer Hill Heritage Association, and help maintain a small museum at the location of the school. Locked inside the glass and wooden cabinets, among the yearbooks and sports trophies, they proudly display the Distinguished Flying Cross and citation that Conner was awarded posthumously, for his actions saving American lives during an air battle two days before he was killed.

“He was humble,” Johnson said. “If he had made it back from Vietnam, he would have done something for this community. Definitely so.”

And she’s sure Conner would have come back to Cartersville.

“Yes he would have, because he loved Cartersville.”

“I’m just waiting to see all the people come out and say, ‘Welcome home, Hero, you’re back on American soil, now.’ He died for our country.”

Indeed, welcome home and rest in peace, 1Lt Lorenza Conner, USAF.

Navy Pilot Missing In Action From the Vietnam War is Identified

LTJG Bisz VA-163 Saints

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. (

21 June 2008 (

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)

a-4 sunset

By the way, among the naval aviators in VA-163 who became POWs this deployment – one LCDR J.S. McCain.

Navy Crew MIA From Vietnam War is Identified

Received in the mail the other day:

October 26, 2007
Navy Crew MIA From Vietnam War is Identified
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of five U.S. servicemen, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been accounted-for and will be returned to their families for burial with full military honors.
They are Lt. j.g. Norman L. Roggow, of Aurelia, Iowa; Lt. j.g. Donald F. Wolfe, of Hardin, Mont.; Lt. j.g. Andrew G. Zissu, of Bronx, N.Y.; Chief Petty Officer Roland R. Pineau, of Berkley, Mich.; and Petty Officer 3rd Class Raul A. Guerra, of Los Angeles, Calif.; all U.S. Navy. Pineau was buried on Oct. 8 in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. The dates and locations of the funerals for the other servicemen are being set by their families.
On Oct. 8, 1967, Zissu and Roggow were the pilots of an E-1B Tracer en route from Chu Lai Air Base, Vietnam, back to the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany. Also on board were Wolfe, Pineau and Guerra. Radar contact with the aircraft was lost approximately 10 miles northwest of Da Nang, Vietnam. Adverse weather hampered immediate search efforts, but three days later, a search helicopter spotted the wreckage of the aircraft on the face of a steep mountain in Da Nang Province. The location, terrain and hostile forces in the area precluded a ground recovery.
In 1993 and 1994, human remains were repatriated to the United States by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) with information that linked the remains to unassociated losses in the same geographical area as this incident. Between 1993 and 2004, U.S/S.R.V. teams, all led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), investigated the incident more than 15 times in Da Nang city and Thua Thien-Hue Province.
Between 2004 and 2005, the joint teams surveyed and excavated the crash site where they recovered human remains and crew-related items. During the excavation in 2005, the on-site team learned that human remains may have been removed previously from the site. S.R.V. officials concluded that two Vietnamese citizens found and collected remains at the crash site, and possibly buried them near their residence in Hoi Mit village in Thua Thein-Hue Province. In 2006, another joint U.S./S.R.V. team excavated the suspected burial site in Hoi Mit village, but found no additional remains. In 2007, more remains associated with this incident were repatriated to the United States by S.R.V. officials.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA and dental comparisons in the identification of the remains.

But wait – there’s more:

Continue Reading…

Air Force Pilot Missing From Vietnam War is Identified


In the mail today:

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing from the Vietnam War, have been identified and returned to his family for burial with full military honors.   He is Maj. Robert G. Lapham, U.S. Air Force, of Marshall, Mich. He will be buried Friday in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.  On Feb. 8, 1968, Lapham was flying the lead A-1G Skyraider in a flight of two in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam. The aircraft were alerted to join an airborne forward air controller to destroy enemy tanks that had overrun the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp. After completing one pass on the tanks, Lapham was nearing his target on the second pass when he crashed. The crew of the other aircraft involved in the mission reported seeing no parachute.

But wait, there’s more…

Continue Reading…

Airmen Missing in Action from Vietnam War Identified

(from the DoD press release):

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of two U.S. servicemen, missing in action from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to their families for burial with full military honors.
They are Lt. Col. James H. Ayres, of Pampa, Texas, and Lt. Col. Charles W. Stratton, of Dallas, Texas, both U.S.Air Force.
On Jan. 3, 1971, these men crewed an F-4E Phantom II aircraft departing Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base on a nighttime strike mission of enemy targets in Savannakhet Province, Laos.Shortly after Ayres initiated a target run, the crew of other aircraft in the flight observed a large explosion.No one witnessed an ejection or heard beeper signals, and communication was lost with the aircraft.Hostile activity in the area prevented search and rescue attempts.
In 2001, a joint U.S./Lao People’s Democratic Republic (L.P.D.R.) team, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), traveled to Savannakhet Province and interviewed Laotian citizens about their knowledge of aircraft crash sites. One of the men led the team to what was believed to be the Ayres and Stratton crash site.
Later that year, another U.S./L.P.D.R team began excavating the site.The team recovered human remains and aircrew-related items.Between 2002 and 2005, joint teams visited the site six more times to complete the excavation, recovering more human remains and crew-related items.
Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA in the identification of the remains.
Of course, there is much more – so here is the rest of the story: