Name: Charles Rogers Gillespie, Jr. g050p
Rank/Branch: Commander/US Navy
Unit: Fighter Squadron 151, Carrier Fighter Wing 15
USS Coral Sea (CVA-43)

Date of Birth: 24 February 1929
Home of Record: Meridian, MS
Date of Loss: 24 October 1967
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 212800N 1052600E (WJ448736)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Released POW

Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4B "Phantom II"
Other Personnel In Incident: Richard C. Clark (missing); Robert Frishmann and Earl G. Lewis (returned POWs)


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 24 October 1967, Cmdr. Charles R. Gillespie, pilot; and Lt. JG Richard C. "Dick" Clark, radar intercept officer (RIO); comprised the crew of the lead F4B (serial #150421) in a section of two that was conducting a MiGCAP (MiG Combat Air Patrol) mission over Vinh Phu Province, North Vietnam. Lt. JG Earl Lewis, pilot; and Lt. JG Robert "Bob" Frishmann, RIO; comprised the crew of the #2 aircraft (serial #150995) in this flight.

As the two Phantoms were conducting their mission northwest of Hanoi and west of Thud Ridge, several SA-2 surface-to-air (SAM) missiles were fired at their aircraft, and both Phantoms were hit within seconds of one another. Other pilots operating in the vicinity observed two fully deployed parachutes descending toward the ground, but were unable to identify from which aircraft the crewmen ejected. Further, they heard one emergency beeper signal and observed one unidentified crewmember moving around on the ground. Search and rescue (SAR) aircraft were notified of the loss and other aircraft in the area immediately initiated an electronic and visual search. When no voice contact could be established with any of the four downed crewmen and the single beeper stopped transmitting, the search effort was terminated and Charles Gillespie, Richard Clark, Earl Lewis and Robert Frishmann were listed Missing in Action.

The location where both Phantoms' were downed was on the southern side of Tam Dao Mountain, approximately 3 miles northeast of Song Lo River, 5 miles southwest of Highway 203, 7 miles southeast of Vinh Phuc, and 8 miles west of Thud Ridge The location was also 11 miles north of Viet Triv, 28 miles west-southwest of the Thai Nguyen steel plant and 36 miles northwest of Hanoi. The entire region was densely populated and heavily defended due to its strategic importance to North Vietnam's war effort.

Once on the ground Lt. JG Frishmann believed Lt. JG Lewis had died when their aircraft disintegrated in mid-air. However, after 4 hours of escaping detection, he located Earl Lewis who was also very much alive. Not long afterward both men were captured. Cmdr. Gillespie was also captured and all three men were transported separately to Hanoi for incarceration.

On the same day that these two aircraft were lost, the Vietnam News Agency reported that eight US aircraft were shot down that day in the Hanoi, Haiphong and Vinh Phuc area. While the news report proudly boasted about their skills in downing American aircraft and of capturing "a number of US pilots," there was no information of which specific aircraft were involved or of the actual fate of the aircrews.

When captured, Bob Frishmann had been seriously injured by missile fragments that tore into one arm and destroyed his elbow. For whatever reason, the Vietnamese chose to treat his severely damaged arm with surgery. They were able to save his shattered arm, but not his elbow. Further, the surgery left his arm nearly 8 inches shorter than the other.

On 4 July 1969, Bob Frishmann, along with two other American Prisoners of War, Doug Hegdahl and Wesley Rumble, were interviewed by Italian Journalist, Oriana Fallaci, for Look Magazine. During the interview Lt. JG Frishmann related details of his shoot down he recounted that "he wasn't even diving when they hit me. I was just flying. Bad luck!" He was also able to convey to the reporter that at the time of the interview, he had been held in solitary confinement for 18 months. On 4 August 1969, in a propaganda move the North Vietnamese released the three men to a peace committee lead by Rennie Davis, a top coordinator for the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam.

US intelligence personnel thoroughly debriefed all three men. Bob Frishmann and Doug Hegdahl, who accepted release with the permission of the senior American officers in the camp, were considered the "memory banks" carrying the list of names of other prisoners being held in the greater Hanoi prison camp system. They were able to confirm that Charles Gillespie and Earl Lewis were POWs. However, they were not able to provide the same confirmation for Dick Clark. In spite of that, the status of all three men was upgraded to Prisoners of War and their families notified accordingly.

On 2 September 1969 from the Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bob Frishmann and Doug Hegdahl gave a press conference outlining the severe torture endured by Americans held in Vietnamese prison camps. Ironically, this was the same day that Ho Chi Minh died. The information released publicly caused an outcry from the American people that resulted in improved treatment for the prisoners.

Charles Gillespie and Earl Lewis were held in various prison camps in and around Hanoi during their captivity. Both men were released to US control on 14 March 1973 during Operation Homecoming. In his debrief, Cmdr. Gillespie stated that after the missile hit, smoke filled the cockpit, and as the intercom system failed, he gave an emergency hand signal to his RIO to eject and he did not see Lt. Clark again.

Earl Lewis reported that after the lead aircraft was struck by the SAM, he observed Cmdr. Gillespie eject. He also stated that he maintained constant visual contact with the disabled Phantom; that he saw Lt. JG Clark slumped over in the back seat, that it caught fire and impacted the ground. However, during his debriefing in 1969, Bob Frishmann reported that he did not see Lead's crew eject, but did see two parachutes descending toward the ground.

Other returned POWs reported other information pertaining to the fate of Dick Clark. Claude Powers and Robert Stirm felt that he was live even though he "never showed in the prison system." C. P. Zuhoski provided information that Lt. JG Clark's name was on his roommate's memorized list of names of known POWs until at least the spring of 1968. After that timeframe, Dick Clark could not be located anywhere in the prison communication network.

In June 1973, DIA analysts reviewed information pertaining to Dick Clark. They determined that the weight of the evidence provided by all the returned POWs supported the position that Lt. JG Clark was "a Prisoner of War captured under hostile conditions" and known by members of the camp's communication system.

In September 1988, a US team traveled to Tam Dao Mountain to investigate this loss and interview witnesses concerning the capture of an unidentified pilot. Information provided to the team included the presence of People's Republic of China troops operating throughout the area at the time Cmdr. Gillespie and Lt. JG Clark were shot down. In December 1990, another team visited the mountain and located an F-4 crash site probably associated with this incident. Then in January 1991, the Vietnamese repatriated remains they identified as belonging to Lt. JG Clark along with fragments of parachute rigging and aircraft parts. The single bone fragment was transported to the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) were forensic test were run on it. The results of those tests proved inconclusive for identification.

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, 6 North Vietnamese radio messages were intercepted and correlated to this incident. The NSA synopsis states: "Note; loss attributed to a SAM. First . one pilot taken prisoner . two pilots taken prisoner. At least one of the pilots is probably Gillespie. The other could be (name deleted). DIA preliminary assessment; DIA concurs with the initial correlation for this case. The . one chute being sighted and the capture of a Major. This equates to Gillespie who was captured and returned to US control in 1973. This does not add anything new to Refno 0873 (Dick Clark)." Two additional radio intercepts were correlated to the loss of Bob Frishmann and Earl Lewis' aircraft. Those comments stated: "Note; loss attributed to a SAM. One F-4D shot down by SAMs. 1 chute seen. Either Refno 073 or 0874."

If Dick Clark died in the loss of his Phantom, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he successfully ejected and survived, he most certainly would have been captured and his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, 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 POWs remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews 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.