Name: Charles M. Earnest 
Rank/Branch: Commander/US Navy 
Unit: Attack Squadron 75, Carrier Attack Wing 3 
USS Saratoga (CVA-60) 

Date of Birth: 8 October 1934
Home of Record: Opelika, AL
Date of Loss: 28 November 1972 
Country of Loss: North Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 172857N 1074856E (YE990350)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 5
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A6A "Intruder"
Other Personnel In Incident: G. L. Jackson (rescued). 


SYNOPSIS:  With the addition of the Grumman A6A Intruder to its inventory, US Navy 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 also 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' aircrews were among the most talented and most courageous to serve the United States.

On 28 November 1972, Cmdr. Charles M. Earnest, Attack Squadron 75's Commanding Officer and pilot; and Lt. Cmdr. G. L. Jackson, bombardier/navigator; comprised the crew of an A6A Intruder (serial number BUNO #155622) that launched from the deck of the USS Saratoga on a night armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. Shortly after its successful catapult launch, the aircraft was observed to pitch nose up, roll to the right and impact the water just forward of the ship. The location of impact was approximately 78 miles due east of the major port city of Dong Hoi, Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam.

Lt. Cmdr. Jackson successfully ejected as the aircraft rolled to the right and from its nose high attitude. While other members of the ship's company who were on the flight deck witnessed the bombardier/navigator's ejection, no one observed an ejection attempt by the Cmdr. Earnest.

An extensive search and rescue (SAR) effort by helicopter and surface vessels was immediately initiated, and resulted in the rescue of G. L. Jackson. Charles Earnest was not sighted at any time during the search operation, and the SAR effort was terminated at 1200 hours on 28 November. At that time, Cmdr. Earnest was declared Missing in Action.

On 6 December 1972, a Naval Board of Inquiry was convened aboard ship to evaluate all information pertaining to the loss of the Intruder and its pilot. After a thorough review all the facts and circumstances surrounding the loss, including the debriefing statements of Lt. Cmdr. Jackson, the men who were on the flight deck during the Intruder's launch and the SAR personnel who conducted the search operation; the Board of Inquiry determined that Cmdr. Earnest could not have survived his loss incident and his status was quickly changed to Killed in Action/Body not Recovered.

The hard reality is there is virtually no chance that Charles Earnest survived his loss incident or that his remains can ever by recovered. Above all else, he has the right not to be forgotten by the nation for which he gave his life.

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 American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews 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.