Asheville, NC

Name: Larry Gene Lewis
Rank/Branch: O2/US Navy Reserves
Unit: Fighter Squadron 21, USS RANGER (CVA 61)
Date of Birth: 22 September 1945
Home City of Record: Asheville NC
Date of Loss: 27 February 1971
Country of Loss: South Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 085130N 1083347E (BK320800)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 5
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4J
Refno: 1710
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 May 1990 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 1998.


SYNOPSIS: The Phantom, used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings, served a multitude of functions including fighter-bomber and interceptor, photo and electronic surveillance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2), and had a long range (900 - 2300 miles, depending on stores and mission type). The F4 was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes. The F4 was selected for a number of state-of-the-art electronics conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.

LTJG Larry G. Lewis was an F4 pilot assigned to Fighter Squadron 21 onboard the USS RANGER positioned on Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin. (NOTE: Although Air Force records indicate that the RANGER was stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin [i.e. Yankee Station], Defense Department records list the area of loss as South Vietnam/Over Water. No reason for this discrepancy can be determined since the loss coordinates are unquestionably in the South China Sea [i.e. Dixie Station].)

The USS RANGER was a seasoned combat veteran, having been deployed to Vietnam for early Flaming Dart I operations. The carrier played a steady role throughout American involvement in the war. The first fighter jets to bomb Haiphong in Operation Rolling Thunder had come from her decks.

On February 27, 1971, Lewis was assigned a night mission with his Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) LTJG Jim Carroll. They manned their F4J and taxied into position for catapult launch. LTJG Lewis went to full power and signalled that he was fully ready for the launch. The catapult launch was initiated and as the aircraft traveled down the forward part of the flight deck, one of the two afterburners in the aircraft appeared to go out and Lewis was so advised on the radio by ship personnel.

The aircraft continued in flight about 100 feet and then started to descend. As the aircraft continued to lose altitude, Lewis initiated the ejection sequence approximately one mile in front of the ship. Crewmen from the RANGER saw two distinct ejection seats fire. The RANGER's rescue helicopter was on the scene within seconds, and LTJG Carroll was rescued almost immediately. Despite an extensive search by helicopters, destroyers and other aircraft that continued into the night and throughout the next day, no trace of LTJG Lewis was found.

Larry G. Lewis was initially placed in a Missing casualty status which was later changed to Reported Dead/Non Battle. During the period he was maintained missing, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.

Lewis is listed among the missing because his remains were never found to send home to the country he served. He died a tragically ironic death in the midst of war. But, for his family, the case seems clear that he died on that day. The fact that they have no body to bury with honor is not of great significance.

For other who are missing, however, the evidence leads not to death, but to survival. Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports received relating to Americans still held captive in Indochina have convinced experts that hundreds of men are still alive, waiting for their country to rescue them. The notion that Americans are dying without hope in the hands of a long-ago enemy belies the idea that we left Vietnam with honor. It also signals that tens of thousands of lost lives were a frivolous waste of our best men.

Source: POW Network