Name:  Curtis Abbot Eaton
Rank/Branch: Colonel/US Air Force 
Unit:  357th Tactical Fighter Squadron 
Takhli Airbase, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 21 July 1924
Home of Record: Wakefield, RI
Date of Loss: 14 August 1966
Country of Loss:  North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates:  214200N  1053200E  (WJ 551 995) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:  F105D
Other Personnel in Incident:  (none missing)

SYNOPSIS::The principle Air Force tactical strike aircraft during the Vietnam War was the Republic F105 Thunderchief, nicknamed a “Thud.”  It was the first supersonic tactical fighter-bomber designed from scratch and the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history.  Easily recognized by its large bomb bay and unique swept-forward engine inlets located in the wing roots, it was mass-produced after the Korean War.  The first Thud to exceed the speed of sound did so on 22 October 1955 in spite of its underpowered Pratt & Whitney J57 stop-gap engine.  Production of the F-105 finished in 1965 with the tandem-seat F model, which was designed as a Wild-Weasel Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) attack aircraft.  The F-105 served throughout Southeast Asia, particularly during Rolling Thunder operations.

On 14 August 1966, then Major Curtis A. Eaton departed Takhli Airbase as the #4 aircraft (serial # 59-1763) in a flight of four that was participating in a major afternoon strike package against the Thai Nguyen Petroleum/Oil/Lubricant (POL) storage sites located around the town approximately 30 miles due north of Hanoi.  The strike package was comprised of several flights of 4 aircraft each that originated from Korat and Takhli Airbases.  Major Eaton’s flight was the second flight in the strike package.

Once in the target area, each flight leader checked in with the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control (ABCCC) aircraft who provided each flight with current target information.  The first flight was directed onto its target at roughly 1500 hours.  20 minutes later Major Eaton’s flight was cleared in to attack its designated POL site.

As the flight pulled off target, Major Eaton climbed for altitude as he established radio contact with the flight leader reporting he had been hit by anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire and was on fire.  Shortly thereafter he radioed again stating he was ejecting from his crippled aircraft.  Other flight members noted that the Thunderchief was last seen descending in a gradual right turn.  In the chaos of aerial combat, none of the other pilots saw Curtis Eaton eject his aircraft nor did they spot a parachute in the air.  Likewise, none of them observed the aircraft impact the ground.

The location of loss was over a forested and populated sector of north-central North Vietnam on the southern edge of rugged mountains with a valley covered in rice fields just to the south. The Song Deo Voi River ran west through the valley just south of where Major Eaton was downed. The location was also 1 mile north of Highway 13A, 22 miles northwest of Thai Nguyen and 47 miles northwest of Hanoi.

A visual and electronic search was immediately coordinated by the ABCCC utilizing aircraft already in the area.  However, none of the pilots saw any sign of Major Eaton nor did they hear an emergency beeper emanating from the forest below.  Because the area of loss was under total enemy control, no formal search and rescue (SAR) operation was possible.  At the time the aerial search effort was terminated, Curtis Eaton was declared Missing in Action.

If Curtis Eaton died as a result of his loss, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country.  However, if he survived, he most certainly could have been captured by enemy forces operating throughout that region and his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different.  Either way, there is no question the Vietnamese know what happened and could return him or his remains any time they had the desire to do so.

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.

Pilots in Vietnam were called upon to fight 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 they so proudly served.