FER, JOHN

Name: John Fer 
Rank/Branch: Major/US Air Force 
Unit: 41st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron 
Takhli Airbase, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 12 September 1937
Home of Record: Hemet, CA
Date of Loss: 04 February 1967 
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 221546N 1055300E (WK910620)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps

Status in 1973: Returned Prisoner of War 
Category:

Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: EB-66C "Destroyer"
Other Personnel In Incident: Woodrow H. Wilburn and Herb Doby (remains returned); Russell A. Poor (missing); John O. Davies and Jack W. Bomar (returned POWs) 

REMARKS:  730304 RELEASED BY DRV

SYNOPSIS:  In order to protect American aircraft from increasingly sophisticated enemy radar controlled anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) guns and surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites, the Air Force deployed EB-66 aircraft to Vietnam. The Douglas EB-66C, Destroyer, was an unarmed, twin-engine jet with a crew of six: pilot, navigator, and four electronic warfare officers (EWOs). The EB-66C was an electronic intelligence (ELINT) platform and the crew's mission was to locate the North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft artillery sites by monitoring the electronic emissions of the NVA's "Fan Song" and "Fire Can" radars. The EB-66E was an electronic countermeasures (ECM) platform with a crew of three (pilot, navigator and electronic warfare officer), whose mission was to jam the NVA's radar emissions to degrade the enemy anti-aircraft capabilities and help keep American air losses low.

On 4 February 1967,then Capt. John Fer, pilot; Major Jack W. Bomar, navigator; and electronic warfare officers (EWOs) Capt. Russell A. Poor, 1st Lt. John O. Davies, Capt. Herb Doby, and Major Woodrow H. Wilburn; comprised the crew of an EB-66C aircraft (serial #55-0387), call sign "Harpoon 01." The Destroyer departed Takhli Royal Thai Airbase at 1324 hours as the lead aircraft in a flight of two to conduct an active/passive electronic counter-measures mission in support of a strike against the Thai Nguyen Army Depot, which was located 32 miles northwest of the town of Thai Nguyen. The #2 aircraft in the flight, call sign "Harpoon 22," was also an EB-66C. Harpoon flight's fighter escort consisted of two F-4 Phantom II aircraft, call signs "Sword 01" and "Sword 02."

After rendezvousing with Sword flight, all aircraft proceeded to the target location. Weather conditions included scattered clouds with bases at 5,000 to 6,000 feet, haze to 10,000 feet, and visibility of 15 to 20 miles.

At 1447 hours, as the flight approached the target, Sword 02 observed two SAMs heading toward Harpoon 01, and shortly thereafter a third SAM was also launched at the lead Destroyer. The first missile detonated near the aft section of the aircraft causing possible damage. The second SAM detonated 1,000 feet to the rear and above Harpoon 01. The third missile detonated directly on Harpoon 01. Both Sword 01 and 02 saw a large ball of fire and the aircraft break into 2 flaming halves.

When the SAMs were fired, both Phantoms broke right and down in order to avoid them. After evading a fourth SAM, Sword 02 observed 1 deployed parachute descending toward the ground with a man in it. Then as he egressed the area, he saw two parachutes - one appeared to be all red and the other red and white.

Sword flight egressed to a point approximately 20 miles north of Yen Bai on a heading of 270 degrees. From that position, both aircrews observed the two parachutes to land on the east side of a ridgeline approximately 4 nautical miles north of the target area.

At the same time the crew of Harpoon 22 heard radio transmissions from Sword flight, but could not tell if they were aimed toward Harpoon 01. Harpoon 22 also saw explosions in the area where Harpoon 01 should have been. Due to taking their own evasive maneuvers, the crew of Harpoon 22 was unable to see the full chain of events. Harpoon 22 attempted to make radio contact with the flight leader, but was unable to do so. As they conducted an electronic search of the loss location, the crew of Harpoon 22 believed they heard more than one emergency radio beeper. Unfortunately, no voice contact could be established with the downed crewmen and their identities remained unknown.

The area of loss was approximately 200 meters west of the Song Phu Tan River, 300 meters east of Highway 3, a primary north/south road; and 8 miles north-northeast of the town of Bac Can, which was located along side Highway 3. A forested valley was located on the west side of that primary road and rolling hills covered in rice fields on the east side of it. The entire region was populated with civilians and military personnel, and heavily defended by anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) batteries and SAM sites. The loss location was also 14 miles northeast of the target, 46 miles due north of the town of Thai Nguyen, 74 miles northeast of Yen Bai and 81 miles due north of Hanoi.

Because the loss location was deep within enemy held territory, no search and rescue (SAR) operation was possible. Further, the families of the men aboard the Destroyer were given little hope that the four men who were not seen in parachutes could have survived their aircraft's loss. John Fer, Jack Bomar, Herb Doby, Russell Poor, Woodrow Wilburn and John Davies were immediately listed Missing in Action.

During Operation Homecoming John Davies was returned to US control on 18 February 1973. John Fer and Jack Bomar were returned to US control on 14 March 1973. 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 American Prisoners of War 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.

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 Herb Doby, 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 his remains, which were mostly a complete skeleton, were positively identified on 1 November 1977. Shortly thereafter his remains were turned over to his family for burial.

On 21 June 1989, the North Vietnamese unilaterally turned over 28 sets of skeletal remains along with a list of who those remains belong to, including those identified by the Vietnamese as being Woodrow H. Wilburn, to US representatives. All the remains were transported to CIL-HI for examination. The set of fairly complete remains with teeth that were identified as Major Wilburn was given processing number 0130-89. These remains were identified on 3 January 1990 and also 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, 1 North Vietnamese radio message was intercepted and correlated to this incident. The NSA synopsis states: "Shot down by SAM. SAM facility … shootdown of an RB-66 (sic) … shot down near Bac Kan and at least two pilots were captured."

While the families and friends of Herb Doby and Woodrow Wilburn 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 Russell Poor and 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.

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.