PATTERSON, JAMES KELLY

Name:  James Kelly Patterson
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant Commander/US Navy 
Unit:  Attack Squadron 35, 
USS ENTERPRISE (CVAN-65) 

Date of Birth: 14 July 1940 (Long Beach, CA)
Home of Record: Long Beach, Los Angeles, CA
Date of Loss: 19 May 1967 
Country of Loss:  North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates:  204537N 1052539E (WH445955)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Prisoner of War
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:  A6A "Intruder"
Other Personnel in Incident: Eugene McDaniel (released POW)

REMARKS:  PROB CAPTURED WITH BROKEN LEG

SYNOPSIS:   With the addition of the Grumman A6A Intruder to its inventory, the Naval Air Wing had the finest two-man, all-weather, low-altitude attack/bombing aircraft in the world. It displayed great versatility and lived up to the expectations of those who pushed for its development after the Korean War. At the time it was the only operational aircraft that had a self-contained all-weather bombing capacity including a moving target indicator mode. In this role it usually carried a bomb load of 14,000 pounds and was used rather extensively in the monsoon season not only in South Vietnam, but in Laos and over the heavily defended areas of North Vietnam. The Intruder was credited with successfully completing some of the most difficult single-plane strikes in the war, and its' air crews were among the most talented and most courageous to serve the United States.

On 19 May 1967, Lt. Cmdr. Eugene "Red" McDaniel, pilot, and then Lt. James "Kelly" Patterson, bombardier/navigator, launched from the deck for the USS Enterprise in an A6A, call sign "Raygun 502." They were on a deep strike mission to attack a NVA truck repair facility located in the Van Dien District of down town Hanoi, North Vietnam. This area was commonly referred to by US pilots as "Little Detroit." The weather conditions included scattered clouds and visibility of 10 miles.

At 1112 hours, as the Intruder flew deep over enemy held territory, it was struck by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) forcing Lt. Cmdr. McDaniel and Lt. Patterson to eject. Both men landed roughly a mile apart in a U-shaped valley containing villages and numerous truck-passable roads, and nearly a mile from the wreckage of their aircraft. A short time later, squadron mates Nick Carpenter and Richard Slaasted crossed over the burning wreckage and had no difficulty in visually locating the downed crew in an area approximately 30 miles southwest of Hanoi and 11 miles southeast of Hao Binh, Hao Binh Province, North Vietnam.

Both men immediately established radio contact with the crew of another Intruder reporting they were injured - Red McDaniel damaged his back upon landing and Kelly Patterson had sustained a badly broken left leg. The next morning the same Intruder aircrew who first located the burning wreckage and both Red McDaniel and Kelly Patterson alive on the ground, again found Lt. Patterson without difficulty. They not only spoke with him over his survival radio, but they saw him alive and free. On the morning of the third day, Nick Carpenter returned to the area of loss in the backseat of an Air Force F4 to pinpoint the downed bombardier/navigator's position for Air Force rescue personnel, and again, they found Kelly Patterson in the same location. And as in previous flights, they were able to see him and talk with him before dropping a Fulton Extraction kit for him to use during a planned extraction. That night and before dawn two other F4 aircrews located him. Unfortunately, they learned during that radio contact that the Vietnamese captured the extraction equipment before Lt. Patterson could reach it. During the day of 22 May - his fourth day on the ground deep in enemy territory - all efforts to locate Kelly Patterson by Navy and Air Force personnel proved fruitless. All rescue efforts were terminated at that time based on the firm belief he had been captured, and accordingly, James Kelly Patterson was listed as a Prisoner of War.

Lt. Cmdr. McDaniel was captured early the morning of 20 May. He was transported by his captors to Hanoi where he remained imprisoned until his repatriation on 4 March 1973. While a Prisoner of War, Red McDaniel was told in 1967 by a prison guard, known as Onizz, that his bombardier/navigator had recovered from his injury and was well. Other POWs who returned during Operation Homecoming saw evidence that Lt. Patterson was also a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. Dewey Smith saw an interrogation questionnaire with Kelly Patterson's name written on the top of it in the fall of 1967 and Ronald Mastin believes he saw a photo of Kelly Patterson's ID card in a Vietnamese newspaper during the same year. Further, Bobby Jo Keesee reported seeing Kelly Patterson's name scratched into a cell wall in a prison camp near the Chinese border known to the POWs as "Briarpatch."

During a meeting in Hanoi, from 13-16 November 1985, the Vietnamese turned over Lt. Patterson's ID card and Geneva Convention card in good condition to a Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) delegation. These documents were among the first 19 pieces of material evidence provided by the Vietnamese government to our government on any missing Americans. Later, to lend credence to one of their reports regarding the fate of Kelly Patterson, the Vietnamese attached a photocopy of his Geneva Convention card to it; however, the card they copied was a phony since the information contained in it did not match the data on the real card now in his family's possession.

In December 1990, in an attempt to satisfy questions asked about the fate of Kelly Patterson, the Vietnamese brought before US investigators four "witnesses" who claimed to have been militiamen involved in the search for the Intruder's crew. They claimed they found and captured the Fulton gear; then found the injured lieutenant, shot him and buried him on the spot. They claimed they killed him in spite of standing orders to capture, not kill, Americans. When asked what happened to his body, they said it disappeared because it was: 1) bombed by US planes; 2) eaten by wild animals; and/or 3) washed away by a nearby stream. The Vietnamese claimed grave site was pointed out by these witnesses on a ridgeline about midway down its three-mile length running south from the top of Nui Doi Thoi, the highest mountain in the area, and miles away from the U-shaped valley. This site was thoroughly excavated by a joint US/Vietnamese field team in May 1992. The results of that excavation found no trace of remains. In fact, it proved conclusively that the soil strata itself in this location had never been disturbed by man.

In early 1992, the Patterson family obtained a photograph of Kelly Patterson's aircraft exploding on impact with the ground. They provided that photo to US investigators who had satellite imagery experts examine it in the fall of 1993. Those experts positively matched terrain features shown in the photo with those in satellite map imagery of the area of loss. By doing so, they pinpointed the actual crash site at "WH401844" - in Ky Son District, Hao Binh Province, roughly 7 miles south-southwest of the official loss location and 2 ¼ miles west of the Vietnamese ridgeline grave site. When the photo is oriented to the map, the trail of smoke left by the Intruder shows it was traveling northward along its planned flight path. Likewise, within a mile of the wreckage, several hamlets and roads are plainly visible into the many truck accessible areas. The ridgeline running south from Nui Doi Thoi is a major terrain feature that marks the border between Kim Boi District to the east and Ky Son District to the west. The four witnesses came from a village miles east of the ridgeline. Since the crash site was on the west side of that ridgeline, that same ridgeline blocked their view making it impossible for those villagers to witness any part of the Intruder shootdown/crash. There were no roads or trails traversing Nui Doi Thoi from the villages on the east side to those on the west. Likewise, there was not communication between the villages on either side of the mountain making it impractical for those witnesses to have participated in the search which the communists immediately initiated for the downed Intruder aircrew or the recovery the Fulton gear.

In 1991, Yuri Pankov, a respected Russian investigative reporter, researched the premise of American Prisoners of War being transferred from Southeast Asia to the Soviet Union. In an article published in the highly regarded Moscow newspaper Kommersant, he wrote that a US "second pilot" shot down over North Vietnam on 19 May 1967 was taken overland through China to Saryshagansk, in the then Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, in the fall of 1967. Kelly Patterson is the only American lost on that date whose case matches Mr. Pankov's criteria and who's fate has not been resolved. Further, Kelly Patterson was an expert is his aircraft's state-of-the-art electronics used to defeat Vietnam's Russian-made missile defense system, and Saryshagansk was where the Soviet missile research facility was located. The knowledge of weapons systems possessed by Lt. Patterson was exactly the type of information the Soviets desperately wanted, and the North Vietnamese would have been more than willing to barter him to their ally in payment/exchange for the Soviets' continued support.

In February 1997, a professor from Almaofta, Kolamesk, Kazakhstan reported in a foreign publication that he personally possessed information about Lt. Patterson. This report originated in Hong Kong and carried in the media for only one day. In it the professor said that Kelly Patterson went from Almaofta to Saryshagansk, then added: "I have proof that James Kelly Patterson by name and two other Americans were working in a secret arms camp at Lake Balash, Saryshagansk." The Foreign Broadcasting Information Service (FBIS) is a CIA sponsored group that monitors broadcasts from all over the world. Their documentation of this report was made available to Kelly Patterson's family. After receiving this report, Lt. Patterson's brother wrote to 63 professors in the former USSR asking if any of them had information about him. He received 3 responses. In October 1997, his brother traveled to Kazakhstan to pursue these new leads. The trip was funded by classmates of Kelly Patterson's from Annapolis who believe as strongly as his family does that Kelly is alive and there is every reality he is in the former Soviet Union today. While in Kazakhstan, his brother made an appeal over the radio for anyone who knew or had information about him to please call in. The original broadcast said that an American was in Kazakhstan looking for his brother who had been shot down in Vietnam. Within a short time, a woman from Lugansk, Ukraine, called the station and told the radio correspondent she knew a Patterson in Priozersk in the 60's, that he had given her a teddybear and that she would never forget his face. The entire program was tape recorded including the woman's call. A week later when the lady was questioned for more details about Kelly Patterson, she changed her story claiming she had been mistaken, that the man she knew was a Soviet Officer who was a graduate of an advanced radio/engineering academy in Kiev in 1963. Patterson is listed in a book of common and uncommon Soviet names. In checking further, the investigators found no record of a Patterson, or a variation of that name, attending or graduating that academy from 1960 to 1964. Likewise, there is no record of a Patterson having been a Soviet Officer assigned to Priozersk in the 1960s. Kelly's brother did not know why she changed her story, but he firmly believes someone coerced her into doing so. Who that someone is and why it was done could not be established.

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.

Other reports document American POWs being transferred to other communist countries in payment for their support during the war. Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and each was prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country so proudly served

James Kelly Patterson, who was shot down on Ho Chi Minh's birthday, graduated from Annapolis in 1963