LUKENBACH, MAX DUANE

Name: Max Duane Lukenbach 
Rank/Branch: Commander/US Navy 
Unit: Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 13
USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) 

Date of Birth: 15 August 1932 (Letts, IA)
Home of Record: Tucson, AZ
Date of Loss: 22 December 1965 
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 205858N 1062400E (XJ455207)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: RA5C "Vigilante"
Other Personnel In Incident: Glenn H. Daigle (released POW) 

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  Though the RA5 Vigilante was a fast reconnaissance platform, it was not maneuverable, and visibility from the cockpit was not the greatest. MIGCAP F4s often escorted it for protection from enemy air attacks. Reconnaissance assets became so important in keeping track of NVA movements after the bombing halt of 1968 that the production line for the RA5 Vigilante was reopened, and an additional 40 aircraft produced.

The North Vietnamese railroad system consisted of nine segments, the most important parts of which were north of the 20th parallel. Almost 80% of the major targets were in this area laced together by the rail system. The most important contribution of the system was to move the main fighting weapons from China to redistribution centers at Kep, Hanoi, Haiphong, Nam Dinh and Thanh Hoa. These supplies were further distributed by truck and boats to designated collection points where porters carried the weapons, food and ammunition on their final leg into the war zone.

The most important segment of the rail system was the single-track northeast railroad line that ran some 82 nautical miles from the Chinese border through Kep and into the heart of Hanoi. Ironically, in spite of the sheer number of vital targets all along the length of the northeast railroad, only 10 to 22 miles of its total length, depending upon timeframe was declared accessible for attack according to our own self imposed rules of engagement. The rest of the railroad line lay within the 30-mile buffer zone south of the North Vietnamese/Chinese border and the protected zones surrounding Hanoi and Haiphong. Within that 10 to 22 mile section of railway, the communists constructed anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) batteries every 48 feet. They also positioned a heavy concentration of surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites around the tracts.

On 22 December 1965, then Lt. Cmdr. Max D. Lukenbach, pilot, and  Lt. JG Glenn H. Daigle, photo/navigator, comprised the crew of an RA5C aircraft that launched from the deck of the USS Kitty Hawk on a photo battle damage assessment (BDA) mission. The weather conditions that evening were overcast.

Approximately 5 miles from the designated area to be photographed, Lt. Cmdr. Lukenbach reported they were "going down below for the photos," and instructed the escort aircraft to "stay on top." At this time the pilot of the escort aircraft reported seeing medium anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) puffs and called "Heavy AA, keep jinxing!" Both escort aircraft stayed on top of the overcast and commenced evasive maneuvers.

At this time both the pilot and the radar operator of the escort aircraft viewed at least three missiles in flight coming straight toward them and closing rapidly. Just after the second missile detonated approximately 100 feet below the RA5C, both crewmen of the escort aircraft sighted a single parachute fully deployed. They also observed Lt. Cmdr. Lukenbach's aircraft going into a descending starboard turn, trailing either smoke or fuel. No radio transmissions were heard after the announcement of the intent to descend prior to initiating their photo pass, either during the evasive maneuvers or ultimate crash. Further, no radio emergency radio signals were received from either downed crewman.

The location of loss was less than 1 mile north of the primary east/west road running between Hai Dung and Haiphong; approximately 5 miles northeast of Hai Duong, 19 miles northwest of Haiphong, 27 miles south-southeast of Kep MiG base and 34 miles due east of Hanoi, Hai Hung Province, North Vietnam. Further, a single-track railroad line ran parallel to the south side of the road. The entire region was open, flat, densely populated and heavily defended. It was dotted with villages and rice fields as well as laced with rivers of all sizes. Because of the intense enemy presence in the area, no search and rescue (SAR) operation was possible. At the time of loss Max Lukenbach and Glenn Daigle were immediately listed Missing in Action.

Several years after the Vigilante's loss, US intelligence learned that Lt. JG Glenn Daigle had in fact been the pilot that ejected from his crippled aircraft and had been captured by the North Vietnamese as soon as he reached the ground. His status was immediately upgraded from Missing in Action to Prisoner of War. He returned to US control on 12 February 1973 during Operation Homecoming.

On 30 April 1969, the US Navy determined that Lt. Cmdr. Max Lukenbach did not survive the crash of his aircraft and subsequently changed his status from Missing in Action to Killed in Action under a Presumptive Finding of Death.

While there is little double that Max Lukenbach died in the loss of his aircraft, he has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he survived, there is no doubt he would also have been captured and his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way it is clear the Vietnamese have the answers and could return him or his remains any time they had the desire to do so.

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.