Remains Recovered 11 April 1968; Identified 12 April 1968
Name: John Charles Hardy
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Air Force 
Unit: 11th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron                       
Udorn Airfield, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 07 March 1939 
Home of Record: Troy, MO
Date of Loss: 03 April 1968 
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 171206N 1073644E (YD450950)
Click corrdinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Remains Recovered 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: RF4C "Phantom II"
Other Personnel in Incident: Ronald R. Rexroad (missing)


SYNOPSIS:   The McDonnell F4 Phantom used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings served a multitude of functions including fighter/bomber, interceptor, photo/electronic surveillance, and reconnaissance. 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. It 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 RF4 version of the Phantom II is a reconnaissance aircraft outfitted for photographic and electronic reconnaissance missions. Other RF4s were equipped with infrared and side-looking radar which helped advance the technology of reconnaissance during the war. They were also used to fly target detection and bomb damage assessment missions throughout Southeast Asia.

In the afternoon of 3 April 1968, then Capt. Ronald R. Rexroad, pilot, and Capt. John C. Hardy, navigator, departed Udorn Airfield on a single aircraft photo reconnaissance mission for 2 road strips in the rugged, jungle covered mountains southwest of the major communist port city of Dong Hoi, North Vietnam. Their call sign was "Lemming" and their mission identifier was "Steel Tiger."

This area of eastern Laos was considered a major artery of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

Weather conditions in the target area consisted of visibility of 200 to 1,000 feet; scattered to broken clouds with 3,000 to 5,000-foot multiple scattered layers (MSL) and tops of a haze layer at 14,000 feet MSL. In addition, there were a few scattered cloud build ups to 20,000 feet MSL and tops to 25,000 feet MSL.

Capt. Rexroad made radio contact with "Hillsboro," the airborne command and control aircraft notifying him "they were 4 minutes out and approaching the target area on their ingress heading." Hillsboro acknowledged Lemming's transmission assigning them an in-flight Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) mission to photograph those sections of the Ho Chi Minh Trail being struck by another aircraft.

After completing their photo runs, Lemming flight again contacted Hillsboro. They were vectored to egress the target area by their pre-assigned route to the east over North Vietnam and out over the Gulf of Tonkin. At 1509 hours, as the Phantom egressed over North Vietnam, and before it reached the coastline near Vinh Linh, all radio and radar contact with aircraft stopped. Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were immediately initiated by both the Air Force and Navy, and continued until darkness force them to be terminated. They were resumed at first light and continued over the next several days.

On 11 April 1968, the remains of John Hardy were found and recovered by Navy personnel approximately 10 miles off shore in the Gulf of Tonkin. They were positively identified the next day and returned to his family. No trace of Ronald Rexroad or his aircraft was found during the extensive SAR. At the time those efforts were terminated, Capt. Rexroad was listed Missing in Action.

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 America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Fighter pilots in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly 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.