Prendergast, Francis Sarsfield, CDR

 Service Photo   Service Details
87 kb
View Time Line
Last Rank
Last Primary NEC
131X-Unrestricted Line Officer - Pilot
Last Rating/NEC Group
Line Officer
Primary Unit
1968-1969, 139X, Fleet Aviation Specialized Operational Training Group (Faculty Staff)
Service Years
1964 - 1985
Official/Unofficial US Navy Certificates
Cold War
Neptune Subpoena
Panama Canal

 Last Photo   Personal Details 

14 kb

Home State
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by Bersley H. Thomas, Jr. (Tom), SMCS to remember Prendergast, Francis Sarsfield (Frank) (Navy Cross), CDR.

If you knew or served with this Sailor and have additional information or photos to support this Page, please leave a message for the Page Administrator(s) HERE.
Contact Info
Home Town
Last Address
Grosse, Michigan

Date of Passing
Jan 24, 1998
Location of Interment
Not Specified
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 

 Unofficial Badges 

Order of the Shellback Cold War Medal Order of the Golden Dragon Gulf of Tonkin Yacht Club

 Military Association Memberships
Military Order of Foreign Wars of the United StatesTailhook AssociationUSS Kitty Hawk (CVA/CV-63) Veterans AssociationAmerican Ex-POW Association
Military Order of the Purple HeartBlue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans AssociationVeterans of the Vietnam War
  1961, Military Order of Foreign Wars of the United States [Verified] - Assoc. Page
  1965, Tailhook Association
  1967, USS Kitty Hawk (CVA/CV-63) Veterans Association
  1967, American Ex-POW Association - Assoc. Page
  1967, Military Order of the Purple Heart - Assoc. Page
  1967, Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association [Verified]
  1967, Veterans of the Vietnam War

 Additional Information
Last Known Activity

Subject: Frank Prendergast....Escape from NVN
Subject: Re: Who is Francis S. Prendergast?

I was in CAG-11 with Frank. He was an RA-5C backseater from VAH-13 on board
Kitty Hawk during our 66-67 cruise. His pilot was the squadron CO, CDR
Charlie Putnam. They were shot down on 3/9/67 on the coast north of Thanh
Hoa. CO landed on beach and was last seen running with gooks in hot pursuit
(we on the ship assumed he was captured, but he was never in our system.
Remains returned in 1988). Frank landed about 200 yds offshore in shallows.
Two V came out and captured him. They took his standard issue .38 but
did not go through his survival vest -- in which Frank was carrying a .25
automatic. They gave him the hands up signal and started to force him toward
the beach. But every time the F-4 escort made a low pass one V would duck
under the water and the other would kind of duck and take his eyes off
Frank. Frank saw the rescue helo inbound and decided it was now or never.
One the next pass he pulled out the automatic and shot the first V
between the eyes -- as the second one surfaced he knocked him silly, took
his AK-47 and threw it away from them (he told me he didn't know why he
didn't shoot the V!). Frank then got up on a sandbar and started running
toward the chopper. The V recovered his weapon, was in hot pursuit about
a 100 yds behind, and began to shoot. Frank stopped, held up his hands, the
V stopped shooting, and Frank fired at him and then began to run again.
The same thing happened a second time before the chopper arrived, turned
broadside and machine gunned the V in pursuit. Frank was rescued and
returned to Kitty Hawk.

I am now curious: because he was captured, albeit for only 5 minutes or so,
does that make him our only escapee from NVN??

IRV [Williams]

From Mike McGrath

This poses an interesting question. If Prendergast was captured, does that
make him the only POW to escape from NVN? I think the answer is: In theory,
and for morale purposes, yes. But, technically, DOD must not have looked at
it that way. DOD lists the incident as Reference number 611. The CO, Cdr
Charles Putnam is listed in the DOD database. He was missing 3-9-67, remains
were negotiated and returned to US control Nov 3, 1988. Prendergast isn't
mentioned in the DOD Reference Document.

Mon Jan 26 1998

Al Agnew writes the below information.  He was the last  POW captured in
NVN.  His RA5C was shot down 12-28-72.  His  backseater, Michael Haifley was
killed.  That same day, at 0003 local time, the last B52 was shot down (the
10th downed in NVN).  The  other POWs captured that last day in NVN were:
Maj Jim Condon, Capt  Sam Cusimano, and E7 Jim Gough.
The next POW captured, and the last one captured in the DMZ, SVN,  was
NAM-POW member, Lcdr Phil Kientzler.  His pilot, Cdr Harley Hall was killed.

Later, other military pilots were killed in NVN and SVN, but no other POWs.

Here's Al's note:

Frank Pendergrast was a RAN in RVAH 13 when he was shot down in NVN.  He was
flying with the XO (who was killed).  Frank in fact carried a derringer and
killed one of his captors.  They were in the surf, not in a boat, and as the
Spads made strafing passes the V would duck under water...... this gave
Frank the chance he needed as the helos arrived; he killed the V as the V
resurfaced.  He did get the Navy Cross and later (68-69) went back through
pilot training. Jerry Coffee, Glen Daigle and a couple of others know more
about this since they were in RVAH 13 with him.........I didn't join the
squadron until a few years later ('71).


Tue Jan 27 1998

I was on the flight that Prendergast got shot down.  He was the back seater
to CDR Charlie Putnam, CO of ??13 on the Kitty Hawk.  Charlie was apparently
killed by his captors on the scene.

The story goes:  They had finished a recce mission and while waiting for
their Charlie-time, they decided to go down and see what those sticks in the
mud were for.

Those sticks were people farming in the shallows.  They were shot down by
small arms fire some distance from the beach.  Both captured immediately.
Wingman radioed for SAR chopper.  Came in, swooped down to pickup
Prendergast first.  He had an extra pistol under his survival gear. Pulled
it out and put one between the eyes of one of the V.  Chopper picked him up
and brought him back to the Kitty Hawk.  They were unable to rescue Charlie

The Navy Cross is real.  They gave it to him and  shipped him back to the
states on the next COD.

Jack Rollins

Mon Apr 13 1998

We have some 18 POWs held in NVN that made escape attempts.  Whether or not
they were successuful is not the issue.  They at least all make the attempt
to escape our captors.  Most escapes were short lived.  One of Ernie Brace's
four escape attempts lasted all of five minutes. Arlo Gay, a civilian
captured 4-30-75 in SVN and moved to NVN, escaped and evaded for 30 days
before giving up due to starvation. Ben Purcell and John Dramesi escaped
twice each.  Bud Day made it to within two miles of a US/ARVN base on the
south side of the DMZ before he was recaptured.  He could see the base.  In
short, 16 military and one civilian gave it their all, but were recaptured
in NVN.

There is one untold story of a heroic escape from NVN.  On March 9th, 1967,
CDR Charlie Putnam,  squadron commander of RVAH-13 aboard the U.S.S.
Kittyhawk took off on a routine recce mission over NVN.  LT Frank
Prendergast was the BN in the back seat.  Their RA5C was hit at 1648 local
time at 19-58-00N, 106-05-00E, very near the heavily defended city of Thanh
Hoa.  The RA5C barely made the coast- line before Charlie and Frank ejected.
They couldn't squeeze even a few more  yards out of the bird.  Charlie
landed on the beach, stripped off his gear and was last seen running up the
beach just north of Thanh Hoa.  The V were seen chasing him in hot pursuit.
Frank landed some 200 yards offshore in the shallow surf. He was standing
waist deep in the water when two armed soldiers waded out to capture him.
Each had a rifle trained on Frank.  One soldier took Frank's  standard issue
Smith& Wesson .38  but they failed to find the .25 automatic he had in a
pocket of his survival vest.

The V gave Frank the hands up signal and started to force him toward the
beach.  But each time the F4 escort, and by one report the newly arrived
Sandys, made a low pass toward the beach, the soldiers  would duck under the
water while holding their weapons above the water.  Frank saw the rescue
helo inbound and he made his decision--it was now or never.  On the next
pass Frank pulled out his automatic and snatched one rifle away from the
soldier's hands. The soldier aimed at Frank and  pulled the trigger on
Frank's pistol.  Frank always left the first two chambers of his pistol
empty.  As the pistol clicked on the empty chamber, Frank shot the soldier
between the eyes. As the second soldier surfaced Frank knocked him silly
with a blow to the head, took his AK-47 and threw it it away in the surf (he
later told Irv Williams that he didn't know why he didn't just shoot the

Frank then got up on a sandbar and started running toward the inbound
chopper.  The soldier recovered his weapon, was about 100 yds behind, and
began to shoot.  Frank stopped, held up his hands.  The V stopped shooting.
Frank saved a few valuable seconds as the helo pressed in. Frank fired again
and began to run.  The same thing happened a second time before the chopper
arrived, turned broadside and machine gunned the soldier.  Frank was rescued
and returned to Kitty Hawk.

Epilog:  Charlie Putnam's end is still unknown.  He was presumed to be
killed on the beach.  His negotiated remains were returned to the US on
November 3, 1988.  He was never listed as a prisoner of the V.  Frank
Prendergast was never listed by DOD as a prisoner because of the sort
duration of his capture.  He was reurned to the US and later awarded a Navy
Cross for his bravery. He requested flight training and was granted that
request by the USN. He served honorably and achieved the rank of Commander.
His obituary was recently published in the Los Angeles Times.

Thanks to Ev Southwick, Irv Williams and Jack Rollins for helping me piece
together this story.  They knew Frank before they themselves were captured.
Jack was on the same flight that Frank and Charlie got shot down.  Irv, Ev
and Jack were in the same airwing as Charlie and Frank on board Kittyhawk.

Other Comments:

Francis Prendergast grew up in Brock, Canada, and attended Loyola University of New Orleans and St. Bonaventure in Olean, New York, before entering military service. During the Vietnam War he was interned as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam after he was shot down on March 9, 1967. He was not listed on any USG documentation as a Prisoner of War. His capture, escape, and rescue came to light only after his death in 1998.

Awards and Citations

    Navy Cross


    Awarded for actions during the Vietnam War

    The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant, Junior Grade Francis Sarsfield Prendergast (NSN: 0-6987429), United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism on 9 March 1967, as a naval Flight Officer serving with Reconnaissance Attack Squadron THIRTEEN (RVAH-13) embarked in U.S.S. KITTY HAWK (CVA-53), on a combat mission over North Vietnam. After being shot down, pursued, and captured by a group of enemy militiamen and soldiers in the shallow, coastal waters off North Vietnam, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Prendergast calmly and accurately assessed his dire situation and cunningly conserved his strength for a bold and extraordinarily heroic escape. Demonstrating the courage and alertness of a disciplined and well-trained fighting man, he seized upon a most dramatic escape opportunity which presented itself for, at the most, a few fleeting seconds. By his exceptionally prompt, daring and heroic action at this moment he succeeded in eluding his captors and was, shortly thereafter, picked up by a rescue helicopter. Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Prendergast's keen foresight, sound judgment and courageous conduct in the face of an armed enemy, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

    General Orders: Authority: Navy Department Board of Decorations and Medals

    Action Date: 9-Mar-67

    Service: Naval Reserve

    Rank: Lieutenant Junior Grade

    Company: Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 13 (RVAH-13)

    Division: U.S.S. Kitty Hawk (CVA-63)

 Photo Album   (More...

 Ribbon Bar
Naval Aviator Wings
Naval Flight Officer Wings

 Enlisted/Officer Basic Training
  1964, Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS) (Pensacola, FL), 20
 Duty Stations
Commander Navy Reserve Forces Command (COMNAVRESFORCOM)Professional Schools and CoursesNaval Aviation Preflight Indoctrination (API), NAS Pensacola, FLNaval Education and Training Command (NETC) (Faculty Staff)
Fleet Aviation Specialized Operational Training Group (Faculty Staff)/FASOTRAGRUPAC (Faculty Staff)Pensacola (Faculty Staff)/Navy Photo Schools (Faculty Staff)RVAH-13 BatsCarrier Air Group 11 (CVG-11)
USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63)CTF 77COMSEVENTHFLTCommander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMNAVAIRPAC)/Commander Fleet Air Western Pacific (COMFAIRWESTPAC)
Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT)/Commander Pacific Fleet (COMPACFLT)Advanced Flight Training, NAS Meridian, Mississippi.
  1964-1964, 110X, Commander Navy Reserve Forces Command (COMNAVRESFORCOM)
  1964-1965, 110X, Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS) (Student)
  1965-1965, 137X, Naval Aviation Preflight Indoctrination (API), NAS Pensacola, FL
  1965-1965, 137X, Meridian (Faculty Staff)
  1965-1966, 137X, FASOTRAGRUPAC (Faculty Staff)/Det Miramar (Faculty Staff)
  1966-1966, 132X, Pensacola (Faculty Staff)/Navy Photo Schools (Faculty Staff)
  1966-1967, 132X, RVAH-13 Bats
  1966-1967, 132X, Carrier Air Group 11 (CVG-11)
  1966-1967, 132X, USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63)
  1966-1967, 132X, CTF 77
  1966-1967, 132X, COMSEVENTHFLT
  1966-1967, 132X, Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMNAVAIRPAC)/Commander Fleet Air Western Pacific (COMFAIRWESTPAC)
  1967-1967, 132X, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT)/Commander Pacific Fleet (COMPACFLT)
  1968-1968, 139X, Advanced Flight Training, NAS Meridian, Mississippi.
  1968-1969, 139X, Fleet Aviation Specialized Operational Training Group (Faculty Staff)
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1966-1966 Yankee Station, North Vietnam
  1966-1967 Operation Rolling Thunder/Operation Rolling Thunder IV
  1967-1967 Yankee Station, North Vietnam
  1967-1967 Operation Rolling Thunder/Operation Rolling Thunder V
 Colleges Attended 
Loyola University, New OrleansSaint Bonaventure University
  1960-1962, Loyola University, New Orleans
  1962-1964, Saint Bonaventure University
Copyright Inc 2003-2011