| Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs:
Smith 324 Compelling Cases - Over Water
Senator SMITH's 324 Compelling Cases
Charles W. Marik
On June 25, 1966, Lieutenant JG Marik and Lieutenant Commander Richard M. Weber, pilot, were the crew of an A-6A from the U.S.S. Constellation on a combat mission against the Hoi Thuong Barracks, a coastal target in northern Vietnam. Their aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire in the tail section during a bombing run on the target and the pilot found the aircraft was not responding to control. Both crewmen bailed out and the pilot was in contact with Lieutenant Marik while descending but did not observe him actually land in the water. The pilot landed in the water approximately 3-5 miles from the beach in the South China Sea. After landing he shouted for Lieutenant JG Marik and fired his weapon into the air but never received a response. An airborne SAR force rescued Commander Weber but was unable to locate any trace of Marik after a four hour search.
Lieutenant JG Marik was declared missing in action. Returning U.S. POWs had no information on his precise fate. In May 1973 he was declared killed in action, body not recovered, based on a presumptive finding of death.
James A. Beene
On October 5, 1966, Lieutenant JG Beene was the flight leader and pilot of an A-1 section aircraft from the U.S.S. Oriskany on an armed reconnaissance mission over the coastal area of North Vietnam between Cape Mui Ron and Thanh Hoa. While in an area 15 miles south of Hon Mat Island, Lieutenant Beene entered the base of thick cumulus clouds and never emerged. An oil slick was later sighted on the ocean which might have come from submerged leaking fuel tanks but no aircraft debris was located.
A SAR effort was unable to locate any specific trace of Lieutenant Beene, and he was declared missing. His name was provided to Vietnamese officials in Paris in October 1971, but no information was received in return.
Returning U.S. POWs were unable to provide any information about his precise fate. In February 1976 he was declared killed in action, body not recovered.
Stephen H. Adams
On October 18, 1966, a HU-16B aircraft disappeared while on a search and rescue patrol north of the Demilitarized Zone. It was last known returning to its home base at Da Nang while located 35 miles off the coast of North Vietnam. It never arrived at Da Nang, and the crew was declared missing. In October 1975 this case was concluded to be a non-recoverable case and the crew was declared dead, body not recoverable.
Donald M. Cramer
On January 5, 1971, Chief Warrant Officer Cramer and Specialist Fourth Class Ronnie V. Rogers departed from the Hue/Phu Bai Air Field to conduct a test of CWO Cramer's AH-1G Cobra helicopter aircraft armament system. He had been cleared to test his weapons in a free fire zone south southeast of Fire Support Base Normandy. He was last reported in a coastal area of Thua Thien Province approximately 20 kilometers east of the air field. Flying weather at the time was judged to be poor and there was no radio communications with him after takeoff. He did not return from the weapon's system test and both crewmen were declared missing.
On January 8, 1971, the body of Specialist Rogers were located on the beach in the general area where the AH-1G was last known to be operating. An autopsy determined the cause of his death was due to drowning.
Returning U.S. POWs had no information about the fate of CW2 Cramer. In June 1973 he was declared dead/body not recovered, based on a presumptive finding of death.
Frederick L. Holmes
On December 30, 1971, Lieutenant Commander Holmes and his co-pilot, Lieutenant Burton, were the lead A-6 aircraft in a strike mission over North Vietnam. Their aircraft was observed to take a direct hit from a surface to air missile. Lieutenant Burton was wounded, blown clear of the aircraft and his parachute deployed successfully. Another aircraft on the scene reported seeing two good chutes deploy, but this report was later viewed as not confirmed. A search and rescue aircraft then reported both pilots in sight and in the water off Hon Nieu Island. Lieutenant Burton was rescued by U.S. forces. SAR forces located a pilot's ejection seat and life raft possibly belonging to Lieutenant Commander Holmes but were unable to locate either him or his chute in an area with a large number of North Vietnamese sampans.
A Radio Hanoi broadcast referenced this incident, one of several U.S. aircraft losses on the same date in the southern part of North Vietnam. While some pilots were reported captured alive, Lieutenant Commander Holmes' name was not identified among those captured. One returning POW recognized Lieutenant Commander Holmes' name but no returning POWs ever reported him alive in the northern Vietnamese prison system.
In April 1975 Lieutenant Commander Holmes case was submitted for a casualty review at the request of his next of kin. He was declared dead/body not recovered.
Donald L. Gerstel
On September 8, 1972, Lieutenant Commander Gerstel was the pilot of an A-7B and flight leader of a flight of two aircraft from the U.S.S. Midway on a night surveillance mission against merchant shipping in the area of the island of Hon Nieu of the coast of central Vietnam. Commander Gerstel's IFF identification equipment was not functioning and his wingman's IFF marker was being used to monitor the flight as it was being vectored toward a North Vietnamese boat anchorage at Hon Hieu.
Commander Gerstel descended into the target area through severe turbulence and lighting in order to determine the cloud base. During this maneuver his aircraft was struck by lighting and he radioed that he was "Ok" and there was "just a lot of sparks." This was the last contact with him in an area between the islands of Hon Nieu and Hon Mat, approximately ten kilometers of the coast of Vietnam along the boundary of Nghe An and Ha Tinh Provinces.
Commander Gerstel was declared missing. An extensive search of the ocean and island failed to disclose any sign of either him or his aircraft. Returning U.S. POWs had no information on his precise fate. In November 1978 he was declared killed in action, body not recovered, based on a presumptive finding of death.
Verne G. Donelly
On September 17, 1972, Commander Donelly and Lieutenant Commander Buell were the crew in an A-6A on a planned air strike in northern North Vietnam. The last contact with them was at 0150 hours local time. Seven minutes later, other airmen in the area observed an explosion along Commander Donelly's aircraft's flight path in Hai Hung Province, south of the port city of Hai Phong, Hai Phong Province. The two crewmen were declared missing in action.
On September 17, 1972, Radio Hanoi reported that its forces in Hai Hung downed an A-6 aircraft. In a separate report, a North Vietnamese unit radioed to Hai Phong that it had captured one pilot on the morning of September 17, 1972. In a third report, North Vietnam reported its forces in Hai Phong and other areas had shot down hostile aircraft during the period 15-17 September. Due to the similarity in date of loss and loss location, these reports were believed to possibly correlate to those involved in this loss incident.
Returning U.S. POWs had no information on the precise fate of this aircrew. After Operation Homecoming they were declared dead/body not recovered, based on a presumptive finding of death.
Harry E. Mitchell
On the morning of May 6, 1968, Seamen Mitchell and Kustigian did not report for an assigned worked detail on board the U.S.S. Long Beach. The Long Beach was at the time an estimated 40 miles off the coast of Central Vietnam in the South China Sea and heading into the Gulf of Tonkin. An on-board investigation failed to disclose any cogent reason for the disappearance of the two seamen and they were reported missing. Both had been confirmed on board the ship the previous evening when the ship was well at to sea. However, a later U.S. Navy review board classified the two men as deserters and they were not listed as Southeast Asia casualties due to the Defense Department's policy of excluding deserters from casualty reports.
In 1979 the U.S. Navy reviewed its previous findings in the case of Mitchell and Kustigian. Upon review, both seamen were declared missing non-hostile and then declared dead/body not recovered, based on a presumptive finding of death.
After their initial disappearance, a Stars and Stripes article erroneously reported them as having been located. Another report offered information that Harry Mitchell was seen later in the United States but this was never confirmed and neither seaman has ever been confirmed alive since the night of May 5th/6th, 1968 and the precise circumstances of their disappearance and fate have never been definitely established.