Last Known Activity|
Loss Coordinates: 210400N 1060400E (XJ108927)
The USS Constellation provided air power to the US effort in Vietnam early in the war, having participated in strikes against Loc Chao and Hon Gai in North Vietnam during August 1964. One of the first American POWs of the war and certainly one of the best known, LTJG Everett Alerez, launched from her decks and was captured during this series of strikes in 1964. The Constellation was large and carried a full range of aircraft. Fighters from her air wing, CVW-14, earned the carrier the Meritorious Unit Commendation in 1968 during a particularly intense period of air attacks. VF-96, a premier fighter squadron awarded the Clifton Trophy two years straight, flew from the Constellation in October 1971. During this period, two of her pilots, Lt. Randall H. Cunningham and LTJG William "Willie" Driscoll became the first American aces of the Vietnam War, having shot down five Russian-made MiG enemy aircraft. The Constellation remained on station throughout most of the war.
One of the aircraft launched from the decks of the Constellation was the F4 Phantom. 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.
The contrast between fighter and attack squadrons in Vietnam was not as striking as in previous wars. Fighter pilots have long held the attention of aviation enthusiasts and the American public, a fondness dating back to the days of the dramatic exploits of the Red Baron in WW I. But attack pilots, except for brief moments of public glory -- the Korean War film, "The Bridges at Toko-Ri," is one notable example -- have been relegated to plodding unnoticed in the aviation trenches to conduct an unglamourized and relatively under-publicized air-to-mud business.
Vietnam, however, was an air-to-ground war. There were a considerable number of duels in the skies over North Vietnam and the exploits of MiG killers have been well-documented. But those aerial duels were just a thin slice of the air-war pie. The bulk of naval air activity consisted of various attack aircraft dropping bombs and firing rockets and bullets on the fields, factories and bridges of North Vietnam. While on Dixie Station off the coast of South Vietnam, aviators turned their attention to forward air control (FAC), close-air support, long-range strikes and general division tactics. Fighter pilots, not wanting their talents to go to waste, also flew air-to-mud.
LCDR Thomas W. Sitek was a fighter pilot assigned to Fighter Squadron 142 onboard the USS Constellation. On August 23, 1967, he and his Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), Ensign Patrick L. Ness, launched from the carrier on a flak suppression/strike mission against a rail yard ten miles east of Hanoi.During their initial approach to the target, several surface-to-air missiles (SAM) were launched against the strike force. Other aircraft saw Sitek's aircraft take a direct hit by a SAM, catch fire and fall to the ground. No one saw any ejections or parachutes. Search and rescue efforts were not feasible since the location was deep inside enemy territory. Both officers were presumed taken as POW.
Sitek was a veteran pilot. Ness, however, was on his first tour of Vietnam. Married shortly before he shipped out, Ness had joined the Navy in July 1965 and learned to fly. Before he was shot down on August 23, he had been shot down twice and rescued. The third time, was no the charm.
On April 10, 1986, the Vietnamese "discovered" the remains of Patrick Ness and returned them to US control. According to Ness' family, the remains of Sitek were located also, but no public announcement has been made that the remains have been positively indentified as being those of Sitek.
The Ness family, aware that misidentifications had been made in the past, considered carefully their acceptance of the group of human bones offered to them as the mortal remains of Patrick Ness. Ness was finally buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetary in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area where his family still resides.
Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing, prisoner or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia have been received by the US government. Many authorities who have examined this largely classified information are convinced that hundreds of Americans are still held captive today. These reports are the source of serious distress to many returned American prisoners. They had a code that no one could honorably return unless all of the prisoners returned. Not only that code of honor, but the honor of our country is at stake as long as even one man remains unjustly held. It's time we brought our men home.