|Name:||Gary Lynn Thornton|
USS Enterprise (CVA (N)-64)
|Date of Birth:||03 December 1941 (Delano, CA)|
|Home of Record:||Porterville, CA|
|Date of Loss:||20 February 1967|
|Country of Loss:||North Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Returned Prisoner Of War|
|Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:||F4B "Phantom II"|
|Other Personnel in Incident:||Russell C. "Russ" Goodman (missing)|
REMARKS: POSS DIED IN CRASH
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.
In order to facilitate greater understanding and cooperation between the airwings of the various branches of service, a program was established wherein selected pilots would be assigned as a liaison officer from his unit to one with another branch of service.
On 20 February 1967, Major Russell C. Goodman, US Air Force, was assigned to US Navy Fighter Squadron 96 as the liaison officer to that squadron. In the late afternoon Maj. Goodman, pilot; and then Ensign Gary L. Thornton, bombardier/navigator; launched from the deck of the USS Enterprise on a bombing mission against a railroad siding approximately 8 miles due south of the major coast city of Thanh Hoa, North Vietnam and 6 miles inland from the shoreline.
After crossing the coastline at 1727 hours, the Phantom was struck by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) in the left front section of the aircraft. Gary Thornton tried to establish radio contact with Russ Goodman, but was unable to do so. He noted that Major Goodman was either unconscious or dead as his head was down and wobbling back and forth when the bombardier/navigator bailed out. Because the likelihood of survival was not considered possible, both Russ Goodman and Gary Thornton were listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
Later, US officials learned that Ensign Thornton had been captured by the North Vietnamese shortly after reaching the ground and was, in fact, a Prisoner of War. His status was changed accordingly when it was learned he was a prisoner and incarcerated in the Greater Hanoi Hilton (Hoa Lo) prison camp. He was repatriated to US control on 1 March 1973 during Operation Homecoming. During his debriefing, Gary Thornton reported that he believed that Major Goodman probably did not eject from their badly damaged jet. However, he did not know that for a fact.
While the fate of Russell Goodman is in little doubt, he has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different.
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.
Military men in Vietnam were called upon to fight 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.