Gatwood, Robin Fredrick

 

Name: Robin Frederick Gatwood
Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force
Unit: 30th Air Division
Date of Birth: 05 December 1946
Home City of Record: Hickory NC
Loss Date: 02 April 1972
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 165000N 1070100E (YD146612)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Category: 2
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: EB66E ("Bat 21")
Refno: 1811

Source: Compiled from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S.
Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families,
published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK in 1998.

Personnel in Incident: April 2: Robin F. Gatwood; Wayne L. Bolte; Anthony
Giannangeli; Charles A. Levis; Henry M. Serex; (all missing from the EB66).
LtCol. Iceal Hambleton (rescued after 12 days from EB66). Ronald P.
Paschall; Byron K. Kulland; John W. Frink (all missing from UH1H rescue
helicopter), Jose M. Astorga (captured and released in 1973 from UH1H).
April 3: William J. Henderson (captured and released in 1973 from OV10A
rescue craft); Mark Clark (rescued after 12 days from OV10A rescue craft).
April 6: James H. Alley; Allen J. Avery; Peter H. Chapman; John H. Call;
William R. Pearson; Roy D. Prater (all KIA/BNR from HH53C "Jolly 52" rescue
chopper). Also in very close proximity to "Bat 21"on April 3: Allen D.
Christensen; Douglas L. O'Neil; Edward W. Williams; Larry A. Zich (all
missing from UH1H).  April 7: Bruce Charles Walker (evaded 11 days); Larry
F. Potts (captured & died in POW camp) (both missing from OV10A).

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS: On the afternoon of April 2, 1972, two Thailand-based EB66
aircraft (Bat 21 and Bat 22), from the 30th Air Division, were flying
pathfinder escort for a cell of B52s bombing near the DMZ. Bat 21 took a
direct SAM hit and the plane went down. A single beeper signal was heard,
that of navigator Col. Iceal Hambleton. At this time it was assumed the rest
of the crew died in the crash. The crew included Maj. Wayne L. Bolte, pilot;
1Lt. Robin F. Gatwood, Lt Col. Anthony R. Giannangeli, LtCol. Charles A.
Levis, and Maj. Henry M. Serex, all crew members. It should be noted that
the lowest ranking man aboard this plane was Gatwood, a First Lieutenant.
This was not an ordinary crew, and its members, particularly Hambleton,
would be a prize capture for the enemy because of military knowledge they
possessed.
              
It became critical, therefore, that the U.S. locate Hambleton, and any other
surviving crew members before the Vietnamese did - and the Vietnamese were
trying hard to find them first.

An Army search and rescue team was nearby and dispatched two UH1H "slicks"
and two UH1B "Cobras". When they approached Hambleton's position just before
dark, at about 50 feet off the ground, with one of the AH1G Cobra gunships
flying at 300 feet for cover, two of the helicopters were shot down. One,
the Cobra (Blue Ghost 28) reached safety and the crew was picked up, without
having seen the other downed helicopter. The other, a UH1H from F Troop, 8th
Cavalry, 196th Brigade, had just flown over some huts into a clearing when
they encountered ground fire, and the helicopter exploded. Jose Astorga, the
gunner, was injured in the chest and knee by the gunfire. Astorga became
unconscious, and when he recovered, the helicopter was on the ground. He
found the pilot, 1Lt. Byron K. Kulland, lying outside the helicopter. WO
John W. Frink, the co-pilot, was strapped in his seat and conscious. The
crew chief, SP5 Ronald P. Paschall, was pinned by his leg in the helicopter,
but alive. WO Franks urged Astorga to leave them, and Astorga was captured.
He soon observed the aircraft to be hit by automatic weapons fire, and to
explode with the rest of the crew inside. He never saw the rest of the crew
again. Astorga was released by the North Vietnamese in 1973.

The following day, Nail 38, an OV10A equipped with electronic rescue gear
enabling its crew to get a rapid "fix" on its rescue target entered
Hambleton's area and was shot down. The crew, William J. Henderson and Mark
Clark, both parachuted out safely. Henderson was captured and released in
1973. Clark evaded for 12 days and was subsequently rescued.

On April 3, the day Nail 38 was shot down, a UH1H "slick" went down in the
same area carrying a crew of four enlisted Army personnel. They had no
direct connection to the rescue of Bat 21, but were very probably shot down
by the same SAM installations that downed Bat 21. The helicopter, from H/HQ,
37th Signal Battalion, 1st Signal Brigade, had left Marble Mountain
Airfield, Da Nang, on a standard resupply mission to signal units in and
around Quang Tri City. The crew, consisting of WO Douglas L. O'Neil, pilot;
CW2 Larry A. Zich, co-pilot; SP5 Allen D. Christensen, crew chief; and SP4
Edward W. Williams, gunner; remain missing in action.

On April 6, an attempt was made to pick up Clark and Hambleton which
resulted in an HH53C helicopter being shot down. The chopper was badly hit.
The helicopter landed on its side and continued to burn, consuming the
entire craft, and presumably, all 6 men aboard. The crew of this aircraft
consisted of James H. Alley; Allen J. Avery, John H. Call III, Peter H.
Chapman, William R. Pearson, and Roy D. Prater. Search and rescue noted no
signs of survivors, but it is felt that the Vietnamese probably know the
fate of this crew because of the close proximity of the downed aircraft to
enemy locations.

On April 7 another Air Force OV10A went down in the area with Larry Potts
and Bruce Walker aboard. Walker, the Air Force pilot of the aircraft, evaded
capture 11 days, while it is reported that Potts was captured and died in
Quang Binh prison. Potts, the observer, was a Marine Corps officer. Walker's
last radio transmission to search and rescue was for SAR not to make an
attempt to rescue, the enemy was closing in. Both men remain unaccounted
for.

Hambleton and Clark were rescued after 12 incredible days. Hambleton
continually changed positions and reported on enemy activity as he went,
even to the extent of calling in close air strikes near his position. He was
tracked by a code he devised relating to the length and lie direction of
various golf holes he knew well. Another 20 or so Americans were not so
fortunate.

In July 1986, the daughter of Henry Serex learned that, one week after all
search and rescue had been "called off" for Bat 21, another mission was
mounted to recover "another downed crewmember" from Bat 21. She doesn't know
whether or not it is her father or another man on the EB66 aircraft. No
additional information has been released. When the movie "Bat 21" was
released, she was horrified to learn that virtually no mention of the rest
of the crew, including her father, was made.

In Vietnam, to most fighting men, the man that fought beside them, whether
in the air or on the ground, was worth dying for. Each understood that the
other would die for him if necessary. Thus, also considering the critical
knowledge possessed by Col. Hambleton and some of the others, the seemingly
uncanny means taken to recover Clark and Hambleton are not so unusual at
all.

What defies logic and explanation, however, is that the government that
sent these men to battle can distort or withhold information to their
families, and knowingly abandon hundreds of men known or strongly suspected
to be in enemy hands.

Thousands of reports have been received by the U.S. Government indicating
that Americans are still alive, in captivity in Southeast Asia. It has been
17 years for those who may have survived the 1972 Easter crashes and rescue
attempts. How much longer must they wait for their country to bring "peace
with honor" to them and bring them home?

=====================

 

On 02 Apr 1972 two EB-66 electronic warfare aircraft departed Korat RTAFB

in Thailand to provide EW support to B-52 bombers operating south of the

DMZ. BAT 21 was lead with BAT 22 as number two. The "Easter Offensive" had

just begun and very large North Vietnamese forces were moving south through

the DMZ. Although numerous SA-2 missiles were fired at the B-52s, there were

no hits ... until BAT 21 was hit while turning south to vacate the target

area. The stricken EB-66 broke up at about 18,000 feet, but only one

crewman - navigator Lt Col Iceal Hambleton - was able to parachute to safety

on the ground. The safety was illusory, though, since Hambleton landed in the

midst of the south-bound NVA forces. SAR and strike aircraft supported

Hambleton as he moved south toward a pick-up point, but it soon became

apparent that the area was simply too "hot" for SAR helicopter operations.

After 11 days of travel by night, Hambleton was able to join up with a

South Vietnamese SEAL team led by US Navy Lieutenant Tom Norris and was

successfully rescued.

 

=====================

 

The downing of BAT 21 and the subsequent SAR efforts were costly in terms of aircraft and aircrews:

2 Apr: BAT 21, EB-66C tail number 54-0466, 42nd TEWS:

The remains of BAT 21's crew have not been repatriated.

 

2 Apr: Army UH-1H tail number 67-17801, F Troop, 8th Cav Rgt

  • 1LT Byron Kent Kulland, pilot, MIA

  • WO1 John Wesley Frink, pilot, MIA

  • SP5 Ronald Page Paschall, crew chief, MIA

  • SP4 Jose M. Astorga, gunner, POW, repatriated 05 Mar 73

The remains of Kulland, Frink, and Paschall were repatriated in 1993

and identified in 1994.
 

2 Apr: Army AH-1G tail number 68-17033, F Troop, 8th Cav Rgt
Aircraft destroyed; no losses.

 

3 Apr: USAF OV-10A tail number 68-3789, 23rd TASS

  • 1st Lt William J. Henderson, POW, repatriated 27 Mar 73

  • 1st Lt Mark N. Clark, picked up

3 Apr: Army UH-1H tail number 68-16330, 37th Signal Bn

  • CW2 Larry A. Zich, pilot, MIA

  • WO Douglas L. O'Neill, pilot, MIA

  • SP5 Allen D. Christensen, crewman, MIA

  • SP4 Edward W. Williams, crewman, MIA

This loss was not directly associated with the BAT 21 incident, but occurred

in the same area. Their remains have not been recovered.

 

6 Apr: USAF HH-53C tail number 68-10365, 37th ARRS

  • Capt John Henry Call, pilot

  • 1st Lt Peter Hayden Chapman, pilot

  • TSgt Allen Jones Avery, crewman

  • TSgt Roy Dewitt Prater, crewman

  • Sgt William Roy Pearson, crewman

  • Sgt James Harold Alley, combat photographer, 601st Photo Flight

The HH-53 was hit by ground fire as it approached Hambleton's position, rolled inverted, and exploded and burned on ground impact. The crewmen's remains were repatriated and identified on 25 Sep 1997.

 

7 Apr: USAF OV-10A tail number 68-3820, 23rd TASS

  • Captain Bruce C. Walker, USAF, pilot

  • Captain Larry F. Potts, USMC, observer, 1st ANGLICO

Walker evaded capture for 11 days; his last radio transmission to SAR forces was to not to make a rescue attempt as the enemy was closing in. There are reports that Potts was captured and died in Quang Binh prison. Both men remain unaccounted for.

 

All told, 26 US air crewmen were on the ground. Four were rescued: Hambleton, Clark, and the two AH-1G crewmen. Two were repatriated when the POWs returned: Henderson and Astorga. Twenty died or disappeared. Of those men, nine have come home. Eleven have not. Robin Gatwood is among these eleven men.

 

 

 

 

 

return to top

Sources:
The POW Network, Hobson's "Vietnam Air Losses", The Virtual Wall, and the US DoD POW/MIA Office.