TUCCI, ROBERT LEON

Name: Robert Leon Tucci
Rank/Branch: Major/US Air Force
Unit: 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron 
Udorn Airfield, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 29 July 1942
Home of Record: Detroit, MI
Date of Loss: 12 November 1969
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 172100N 1054200E (WE735183)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D "Phantom II"
Other Personnel in Incident: James E. Dennany (missing)

REMARKS:

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.

On 12 November 1969, then Capt. Robert L. Tucci, pilot, and Major James E. Dennany, navigator, comprised the crew of an F4D, call sign "Vespa 03." They departed Udorn Airfield as the #2 aircraft in a flight of 3 on a night escort/strike mission. Their mission identifier was "Steel Tiger," and the aircraft they were escorting was a C130 gunship. The target area was approximately 10 miles south of Ban Phan Hop, Khammouan Province, Laos.

This area of Laos was considered a major along 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.

After Vespa flight rendezvoused with the gunship, the pilot of the C130 instructed them to attack two burning trucks in the target area and for them to make their bombing pass runs from north to south. At 0040 hours, Capt. Tucci radioed the other flight members that he was "in" on his attack run, then answered an instruction from the C130 within seconds of his "in" call. As Vespa 03 proceeded with its pass, the crew of the C130 saw 6 rounds of 37mm anti-aircraft artillery fire directed at the F4D followed by Vespa 03's CBUs (Cluster Bomb Units) detonating in the target area. An explosion and large fire were also observed about 500 to 1000 meters north of the target on level terrain.

Even though it was a clear night with stars clearly visible and the outline of the ground terrain could be seen, the crew of the C130 did not see Capt. Tucci's attack run and did not see the aircraft impact the ground. The C130 continued to orbit the area until 0100 hours, but could not establish contact with either of the downed crewmen. No formal search and recovery operation was initiated because of the lack of a valid target. Both Robert Tucci and James Dennany were immediately listed Missing in Action.

Robert Tucci and James Dennany are among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Laotians admitted holding "tens of tens" of American Prisoners of War, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords which ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

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.

Robert L. Tucci graduated from the University of Texas. He was on his second tour of duty in Southeast Asia. During his first tour, Capt. Tucci flew 181 combat missions from DaNang Airfield, South Vietnam.