GATWOOD, ROBIN FREDERICK JR.
Hickory, NC




Name: Robin Frederick Gatwood, Jr.
Rank/Branch: 1st Lieutenant/US Air Force
Unit: 42nd Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron
388th Tactical Fighter Wing
Korat Airbase, Thailand
Date of Birth: 05 December 1946
Home of Record: Hickory, NC
Date of Loss: 02 April 1972
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 165000N 1070100E (YD146612)
Status in 1973: Missing in Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: EB66C "Destroyer"
Other Personnel In Incident: Henry M. Serex, Wayne L. Bolte, Anthony Giannangeli, Charles A. Levis (missing), Iceal Hambleton (rescued)

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS: In order to protect American aircraft from increasingly sophisticated enemy radar controlled anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) guns and surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites, the Air Force deployed EB-66 aircraft to Vietnam. The Douglas EB-66C, Destroyer, was an unarmed, twin-engine jet with a crew of six: pilot, navigator, and four electronic warfare officers (EWOs). The EB-66C was an electronic intelligence (ELINT) platform and the crew's mission was to locate the North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile (SAM) and antiaircraft artillery (AAA) sites by monitoring the electronic emissions of the NVA's "Fan Song" and "Fire Can" radars. The EB-66E was an electronic countermeasures (ECM) platform with a crew of three (pilot, navigator and electronic warfare officer), whose mission was to jam the NVA's radar emissions to degrade the enemy anti-aircraft capabilities and help keep American air losses low.

On 2 April 1972, Major Wayne Bolte, pilot; Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton, navigator; and electronic warfare officers (EWOs) Major Henry Serex, Lt. Col. Charles Levis, 1st Lt. Robin Gatwood, and Lt. Col. Anthony Giannangeli; comprised the crew of an EB-66C aircraft (serial #54-0466), call sign "Bat 21." It departed Korat Royal Thai Airbase at 1337 hours as the lead aircraft in a flight of two supporting a flight of three B-52s. The #2 aircraft in the flight, call sign "Bat 22," was an EB-66E. The men aboard Bat 21 comprised no ordinary crew. Five were field grade officers, who had access to sensitive information in their previous assignments, and four were highly trained electronic warfare specialists.

At approximately 1700 hours, the pilot of an F105 aircraft on a nearby arc light support mission in the same general area got a missile indicator warning in his cockpit. The aircraft commander saw the missile's contrail as it traveled skyward, then he saw the SAM explosion at about 26,000 feet. At the same time, he saw an aircraft diving in the vicinity of that explosion and thought it had evaded the SAM. The missile launch was from 1645N 10641E.

The F105 pilot saw flames trailing from each wing of the Destroyer before the aircraft broke into two major pieces and 2 smaller pieces at approximately 18,000 feet. The F105 pilot followed the burning wreckage to the ground. None of the other pilots and aircrews observed any of the Bat 21 crew eject the crippled aircraft; however, one member of the flight reported hearing an intermittent beeper on guard channel.

The location of loss was in a populated and hotly contested generally flat jungle approximately 1 mile north of Firebase Vandergrift, 2 miles north of Highway 9 and 5 miles west of Highway 1 with rugged mountains 4 miles to the west and open fields 2 miles to the east. It also placed the downed aircraft 6 miles northwest of Dong Ha, 12 miles south of the DMZ, 14 miles northwest of Quang Tri City and 20 miles northeast of Khe Sanh, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.

Bat 22, the number two aircraft in the flight, was in a SAM break maneuver at the same time and did not see the missile strike Bat 21. However, personnel aboard Bat 22 also reported hearing a short beeper and then another pilot request the downed crewman to "come up on voice." Shortly thereafter the crew of Bat 22 heard the pilot establish voice contact with Lt. Col. Hambleton. He reported he was okay and in good spirits.

Because this was no ordinary flight crew, and its members would be prize catches for the enemy because of the military knowledge and experience each possessed, it became critical to the US to locate and recover any survivors before the Vietnamese could. An extensive search and rescue (SAR) operation was immediately initiated and continued throughout the night, but these efforts were severely hampered by heavy enemy ground fire and poor weather conditions. At the time of shootdown, there were broken to overcast clouds with tops at 8,000 to 10,000 feet. In was further hampered by the massive invasion force of NVA troops and tanks pouring across the DMZ in what later became known as the communist's "Easter Offensive."

On 2,3,4 and 5 April, voice contact with Lt. Col. Hambleton continued while an elaborate rescue plan was devised and implemented. This plan included Iceal Hambleton walking from the area he was hiding in to a location where his rescue could be accomplished. Voice contact continued with him throughout the SAR effort, and he was successfully rescued on 13 April 1972 - a process that took 12 days to accomplish with unparalleled cooperation from all branches of the service and with rescue and support personnel coming from many different bases.

During this time no voice contact was established with any other member of Bat 21. For this reason, the US intelligence personnel believed that Iceal Hambleton was probably the sole survivor. At the time formal SAR operations were terminated, Wayne Bolte, Henry Serex, Robin Gatwood, Anthony Giannangeli and Charles Levis were listed Missing in Action.

In the course of this rescue mission, other aircraft were lost. They were:

2 April: US Army UH1H rescue helicopter was shot down later that day with the door gunner being wounded, captured and released during Operation Homecoming; and 3 crew members Missing in Action. Their remains were returned to US control in 1993 and identified in 1994.

3 April: US Air Force OV-10A shot down with one man rescued after 12 days of escaping and evading capture, and the other captured and released during Operation Homecoming.

6 April: US Air Force HH53C helicopter badly hit by ground fire, crashed and burned with the loss of all 6 crewmen on board. Their remains were recovered during a joint crash site excavation in 1992 and were identified in 1997.

On the same day of loss, and shortly after the Destroyer was shot down, US intelligence personnel intercepted a Vietnam People's Army (NVA) unit message in which it reported "three missiles had been fired and 'struck' a target." It went on to state that "orange parachutes were reported." That was followed by a Vietnamese radio broadcast that said "the NVA had fired missiles and hit a B-52 in the Vinh Linh Special Zone area and other aircraft had fled." Another report from Hanoi in English three days later, on 5 April, reported the aircraft had burst into flames and exploded.

In July 1986, Henry Serex's daughter discovered that one week after all search and rescue efforts ceased for the rest of the Bat 21 crew, another mission was mounted to recover "another downed crew member" from that aircraft. She does not know if they were going after her father or someone else, but based on that additional rescue attempt, there is no doubt that at least one other man from the Destroyer was alive on the ground and fighting to regain his freedom.

In 1992, a National Security Agency (NSA) correlation study of all communist radio intercepts pertaining to missing Americans, which was presented to the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in a classified format, was finally declassified and made public. According to this document, 4 North Vietnamese radio messages, including those already cited, were intercepted and correlated to this incident. The NSA synopsis states: "Note; shot down by SAM's. The EB-66 operating over northern Quang Tri Province was down….by SAMs. An OV-10 operating….south of the DMZ was shot down…the 2-man crew bailed out successfully and radio contact was established immediately, however, contact with the pilot was subsequently lost. ….capture of one US pilot that had been shot down earlier."

Since 1973 US satellites photographed what are believed by many, including noted experts, to be multiple names and authenticator codes of American Prisoners of War at POW camps throughout Vietnam and Laos. Of significant importance, one of the satellite photographs taken in June 1992 is of the Dong Mang prison camp located near Haiphong, (North) Vietnam where the initials "S-E-R-E-X" were etched into the dirt of a field just outside the prison. Just below those initials can be seen "72 TA 88". That was the year Henry Serex was downed, and T and A were authenticator codes for that year. Other authenticator codes were photographed in June 1992 at another POW camp not far away from this one. These codes also have been confirmed to belong to other POW/MIAs, but not other crewmembers of Bat 21.

If Wayne Bolte, Henry Serex, Robin Gatwood, Anthony Giannangeli and Charles Levis died in the loss of their aircraft, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. In addition to the state of the art US satellite intelligence photographs taken since the end of the Vietnam War, well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Military personnel in Vietnam were called upon to fly and fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.

Source: Task Force Omega, Inc.


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