Estes, Walter "O" "Walt" JR.

Name: Walter "O" "Walt" Estes, Jr. 
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant Commander/US Naval Reserve 
Unit: Fighter Squadron 151, Carrier Fighter Wing 15
USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) 

Date of Birth: 10 June 1939 (Williamston, MI)
Home of Record: Williamston, MI 
Date of Loss: 19 November 1967 
Country of Loss: North Vietnam 
Loss Coordinates: 204400N 1063900 (XH683896)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Prisoner of War/Died in Captivity 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4B "Phantom II" 
Other Personnel In Incident: Claude D. Clower (Returned Prisoner of War) 

REMARKS:  770930 REMAINS RETURNED BY SRV

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 19 November 1967,  Lt. Cmdr. Claude D. Clower, pilot; and then Lt. JG Walter O. "Walt" Estes, radar intercept officer; comprised the crew of the lead aircraft (tail #NL-110, serial #150997) in a section of two that launched from the deck of the USS Coral Sea.. Lt. JG James E. "Jim" Teague, pilot; and Lt. JG Theodore G. "Ted" Stier, radar intercept officer; comprised the crew of the #2 aircraft (tail #NL-115, serial #152304). The Phantoms were conducting a late morning MiGCAP mission for strike aircraft from the USS Intrepid (CVA-11) whose target was in the vicinity of Haiphong, North Vietnam.

At 1140 hours, both Phantoms were in the target area southwest of Haiphong when they were attacked by MiG-17s. The #2 aircraft was struck first forcing Lt. JG Stier and Lt. JG Teague to immediately initiate a course change towards the coast. The #2 aircraft was intact except for small fires burning around the radome and air conditioning. Lt. Cmdr. Clower saw Ted Stier safely eject. Because Claude Clower and Walt Estes were also engaged in aerial combat with a MiG-17, Lt. Cmdr. Clower did not see Jim Teague eject and did not notice if the front canopy was still on the aircraft. Shortly afterward the lead Phantom was struck by enemy fire in the same location as his wingman. Their aircraft began to disintegrate forcing Lt. Cmdr. Clower and Lt. JG Estes to immediately eject.

None of the strike aircraft heard emergency beepers or could establish voice contact with either downed aircrew. Because the loss location was deep within enemy held territory, no search and rescue (SAR) operation was possible. At the time of loss, Jim Teague, Ted Stier, Claude Clower and Walt Estes were immediately listed Missing in Action.

The downed aircrews landed close together on the open, flat coastal plain covered in rice fields on the south side of a northwest to southeast running primary road that paralleled a small river located just to its north. The area was laced with rivers and roads of all sizes running through the densely populated and heavily defended site approximately 4 miles east-southeast of Cuu Doi, 11 miles southwest of Haiphong and 52 miles east-southeast of Hanoi. The region in which the aircrews landed was also 7 miles due south of Kien An Airfield and 10 miles southwest of Cat Bi Airfield.

Within days of the loss, Radio Hanoi and Radio Havana boasted that MiG-17's had shot down two American aircraft and captured the four crewman. Over the next few months additional information was collected pertaining to the fate Lt. Cmdr. Clower, Lt. JG Estes, Lt. JG Teague and Lt. JG Stier including propaganda photographs of all four men's military ID cards with information stating they were "captured in Haiphong." On 28 March 1968, Claude Clower's status was upgraded from Missing in Action to Prisoner of War.

On 14 March 1973, Claude Clower and Ted Stier returned to US control during Operation Homecoming. Each man reported that he had been captured as soon as he reached the ground. They were transported separately to Hanoi where they were incarcerated with other American POWs.

Sometimes during the years of captivity they were held alone or in solitary confinement. At other times they were held in the same cell with other American prisoners. Further, depending on the timeframe, prison camp and the disposition of the guards, the treatment of the POWs ranged from brutal and barbaric to reasonable. There was rarely enough food and water to sustain them, and as a result, the Americans suffered from a wide variety of illnesses in addition to their injuries and wounds.

Over the five years, Ted Stier and Claude Clower were moved between several camps in the North Vietnamese prison system. They both heard that Walt Estes and Jim Teague were included in the list of Americans known to be in captivity. However, while their names were heard, none of the returned POWs physically saw Lt. JG Estes or Lt. JG Teague while in captivity.

On 30 September 1977, the North Vietnamese repatriated 22 sets of skeletal remains and a list of who those remains belonged to, including those of Walt Estes and Jim Teague, to US representatives led by Frank Sieverts and Fred Brown from the State Department. The remains were transported to the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) where both men's remains were positively identified on 25 October 1977. Shortly thereafter each man's remains were turned over to his family for burial.

In 1992, a National Security Agency (NSA) correlation study of all communist radio intercepts pertaining to missing Americans, which was presented to the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in a classified format, was finally declassified and made public. According to this document, 2 North Vietnamese radio messages were intercepted and correlated to this incident. The NSA synopsis states: "Loss attributed to AAA. Preliminary information received on 22 Nov 67 reflects the following flight crew personnel reported captured within North Vietnam…USN Claude Douglas Clover (sic), LtCmdr…USN Walter O. Estes, LTJG…"

For the crew of the #2 aircraft, the NSA correlation study remarks state: "Loss attributed to MiG's. Preliminary information received on 22 Nov 67 reflects the following flight crew personnel reportedly captured within North Vietnam…USAF Theodore Gerhard Steer (sic) Ltjg…USN James E. Teague, Ltjg…Shot down by MiG-17's. …, one aircraft is shot down. No reflection of aircrew status."

While the families and friends of Walt Estes and Jim Teague have the peace of mind of knowing where their loved ones lie, there are no answers to the questions of when and how each man died beyond the fact that they died in captivity under the direct control of the communists.

For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fates 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 American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Fighter pilots in Vietnam 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.