KETTERER, JAMES ALAN

Name: James Alan Ketterer 
Rank/Branch: Major/US Air Force 
Unit: 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron
DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 18 December 1942
Home of Record: Milwaukee, WI
Date of Loss: 20 January 1968 
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 174000N 1062900E (XE573537)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4C "Phantom II"
Other Personnel In Incident: Tilden S. Holley (missing) 

REMARKS:  DEAD/CS-317-09142-72

SYNOPSIS:  The McDonnell F4 Phantom was flown by Air Force, Navy and Marine air wings  served a multitude of functions including, fighter/bomber, interceptor, photo/electronic surveillance and reconnaissance. This two-man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2) and had a long range, 900 to 2300 miles depending on stores and type of mission. The F4 was also extremely maneuverable, and handled well at all altitudes. It was selected for a number of state-of-the-art electronic conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.

On 20 January 1968,  Capt. Tilden Holley, pilot, and then 1st Lt. James Ketterer, co-pilot, comprised the crew of an F4C, call sign "Outlaw 01", that was the lead aircraft in a flight of two conducting a night armed reconnaissance mission. At 2202 hours, Outlaw flight departed DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam to work the coastal region of North Vietnam between the 17th and 18th parallels, Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam. The mission area was also known as "Talley Ho" and included the major port city of Dong Hoi.

Their Forward Air Controller (FAC) in command of this operation was an OV1C Army Mohawk, call sign "Spud 15," that had special capabilities to observe a moving vehicle by electronic means regardless of weather.

When Spud 15 and Outlaw flight were working the coastal region approximately 15 miles northwest of Dong Hoi, they spotted a moving target through the 3,000-foot cloud cover. The FAC confirmed the target and authorized Outlaw flight to attack it. As Outlaw 02 was pulling off target, both crewmen observed heavy automatic weapons tracers rising up on their left and 37mm anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) tracers from the right passing 100 feet below their aircraft. Outlaw 01 told Outlaw 02 to enter a holding pattern over the water while he took a look at the target before their flares burned out.

After roughly a minute, Outlaw 02 established radio contact with Outlaw 01 asking if they were okay? Capt. Holley replied, "yes." While Outlaw 02 remained above the clouds at 9,000 feet and approximately 5 miles north-northeast of the target and heading in a generally southerly direction, the pilot of Outlaw 2 saw a large orange glow that formed in a very rapid streak through the undercast of clouds. At first he thought the light could have been another flare. He again radioed the flight leader to ask if they had put out another flare? This time there was no response from either crewman of the Lead aircraft. It became apparent to Outlaw 02 that it was not a flare he observed, but most probably Outlaw 01's aircraft striking the ground.

At the time of Outlaw O1's disappearance, the Phantom's estimated position was 14.5 miles on a bearing of 322 degrees of Dong Hoi. The hills to the north of the road rise up to a height of approximately 700 feet. At 2237 hours, 35 minutes into the mission and within 30 seconds of seeing the orange glow, Outlaw 02 heard a 2 to 3 seconds of tone emanating from an emergency beeper. According to the crew of Outlaw 02, the tones were clipped off so that only a small part of the undulation was heard. In the darkness and cloud cover, no parachutes were seen and no voice contact was established with either Capt. Holley or 1st Lt. Ketterer.

The area of loss was in the densely populated and heavily defended coastal plain located less then 2 miles west of Highway 1A, 3 miles west of the coastline, 18 miles north-northwest of Dong Hoi and 31 miles northeast of the Ban Karai Pass, which was one of the two primary ports of entry onto the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. Three hills rose up from the coastal plain with a maximum height of 200 feet just to the north, northwest and northeast of the suspected crash site. Small villages were located within a quarter-mile to the west and south of it.

The entire sector was laced with roads, footpaths, storage depots, repair facilities and a railroad line all used for the collection of men and material in preparation for their transportation down the Ho Chi Minh Trail and into the acknowledged war zones in South Vietnam.

Crown, the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control (ABCCC) aircraft, immediately assumed command and overall responsibility to coordinate search and rescue (SAR) operations for James Ketterer and Tilden Holley. Additional fighter aircraft - first Alleycat flight, then Jason flight - came in to assist in the search for the downed aircrew while the recovery helicopter maintained a safe distance out to sea and away from the enemy gunners.

Outlaw 02 finally departed the area at 2310 hours due to being low on fuel. Spud 15 remained on station monitoring the search operation for another hour after Outlaw 02's departure. At that time the FAC's fuel supply was nearly depleted. The formal aerial visual and electronic search continued into the next day, but was terminated after no trace of the downed aircrew could be found. At that time Tilden Holley and James Ketterer were listed Missing in Action.

If 1st Lt. Ketterer and Capt. Holley died is the loss of their Phantom, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived there is no chance they could have escaped capture and their 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 America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Fighter pilots 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.