Name: Joseph Castleman Morrison
Rank/Branch: Colonel/US Air Force
Unit: 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron 
Udorn Airfield, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 13 November 1930
Home of Record: Lexington, KY
Date of Loss: 25 November 1968
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 172000N 1061200E (XE270185)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D "Phantom II"
Other Personnel in Incident: San Dewayne Francisco (missing)


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.

The Ban Karai Pass was considered a major gateway into the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail and was located on the border between North Vietnam and Laos in rugged jungle covered mountains.  When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before.  This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains.  US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

On 25 November 1968, then Major Joseph C. Morrison, pilot, and 1st Lieutenant San D. Francisco, co-pilot, comprised the crew of an F4D, call sign “Grommet 2,” that was the number 2 aircraft in a flight of two.  Grommet flight’s mission was to provide fighter escort for an unarmed RF4C aircraft on a photo reconnaissance mission against NVA forces preparing to transport war material through the Ban Karai Pass, then down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The intended target was Route 137, the primary road running from the major North Vietnamese port city of Dong Hoi, Bo Trach District, Quang Binh Province, to the North Vietnamese/Lao border and through the Ban Karai Pass.

At 1241 hours, the flight leader reported they crossed into North Vietnam just north of the Ban Karai Pass.  At 1242 hours, Grommet 2 reported they were at 1720N 10612E, heading of 13 degrees, at an altitude of 1000 feet, traveling 540 knots and “We’ve taken a hit.”  He further reported both crewmen were uninjured and were ejecting from their crippled Phantom.  Joseph Morrison and San Francisco landed on the ground approximately 3 miles east of the border and 4 miles north of the pass itself, in extreme western Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam.

The reconnaissance pilot immediately broke off his photo run and climbed to altitude in order to remain in the vicinity to provide any assistance he could.  Grommet Lead heard a steady beeper and notified Crown 6, the Airborne Command and Control aircraft, that his wingman was down and gave their location by coordinates and proximity to a delta reference point.  Further. Grommet Lead and the crew of the reconnaissance aircraft spotted the wreckage of Grommet 2 and both parachutes within 700 meters of an enemy encampment on the west side of the primary road running through the pass.  On the east side of the road they also saw numerous enemy personnel and trucks preparing to enter the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Misty 41, the Forward Air Controller in the area, relayed the information to Invert Control, the ground control center, and proceeded to the area where he sighted the aircraft wreckage.  The pilot of Misty 41, who was now the onsite control aircraft for all search and rescue (SAR) efforts to recover Joseph Morrison and San Francisco, established voice and visual contact immediately with Major Morrison.

A short time later, at 1315 hours, the FAC was also able to establish probable contact with 1st Lt. Francisco.  The voice reply that Misty 41 received was extremely garbled; however, a review of the taped conversation convinced both the pilot and observer they had in fact made contact with Grommet 2’s co-pilot.  It was believed that San Francisco landed in very close proximity to enemy personnel and was “detained” shortly after the initial radio contact with him was established.

Major Morrison managed to evade capture during the rest of that day and night.  The next morning voice contact was re-established at 0555 hours, 26 November, by the new FAC on station, Misty 11.  The FAC pilot also noted that the parachutes, which had been visible on the 25th, were no longer visible on 26 November.  Also on 26 November 1968, the Vietnam People’s Army published news that referenced the shoot down of an American aircraft and the capture of the two pilots although the article did not specifically mention either crewman by name.

Once communication was established with Major Morrison, SAR aircraft were called in.  Unfortunately, because of very poor weather conditions, no attempt to pick up the pilot was possible.  The last known contact with Major Morrison was at 0723 hours by Misty 21.  At that time he confirmed he was still okay.

Over the next several hours numerous unsuccessful attempts were made to contact both Joseph Morrison and San Francisco.  Finally all search and recovery efforts were terminated at 1727 hours when no further voice or beeper signals could be established with either downed crewman.  At the time formal SAR efforts were terminated, Joseph Morrison and San Francisco were both listed Missing in Action.  In the years after the war’s end, the status of both men was acknowledged to be Prisoner of War rather than merely missing.

On 9 August 1989, a team from the Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) traveled to Quang Binh Province to conduct an investigation into the loss of Grommet 02 and they successfully located the crash site of the Phantom.  In addition to finding the wreckage, the team interviewed local residents of the area and received hearsay information that one or two crewmen were buried in the area.

In April 1991 the US government released a list of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action who were known to be alive in enemy hands and for whom there is no evidence that he or she died in captivity.  This list, commonly referred to today as the USG’s “Last Known Alive” list, included both San Francisco and Joseph Morrison.

In July and August 1991, JCRC personnel were provided documents from Bo Trach District, Quang Binh Province that identified both crewmen as casualties.  There was also an indication that US wartime remains had already been recovered from the area, but the team members were not given anything of substance to support that claim.  During this same trip, JCRC personnel visited the museum of the 280th Air Defense Regiment that contained wartime memorabilia.  Items found included Major Morrison’s US Air Force issued revolver and a data plate from their aircraft with a description that credited the 105th Air Defense Battalion, 280th Regiment, with the shoot down.

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, 3 North Vietnamese radio messages were intercepted and correlated to this incident.  The NSA synopsis states: “Note; downed in immediate vicinity of enemy encampment.  Initial voice contact established with both crewmen.  Two aircraft shot down, an RA-5C with one crewman dead (Thum) and one crewman captured (Stamm), and an F-4D with one crewman “pick up” (captured), (Francisco or ……….).  The US aircraft that was …. In the Do Lung (1845N 10518E) area was shot down by a missile … there were two pilots, one had died and the other had been picked up.  Another aircraft had been shot down at Quang Binh (1730N 10620E) and the pilot had also been picked up.  Further discussion involved the possible use of an AN-2 to transport the two pilots from Vinh to Hanoi.  An AN-2 conducted a round-trip flight between Bai Thuong and Vinh on 26 November.  Possibly involves the proposed transfer of the two US pilot POWs north from Vinh.  DIA preliminary assessment, DIA concurs with the initial correlation for this case.  The …. Indicates at least one of the two crew from this aircraft was rescued.  DIA had this information in their files and both individuals were listed by DIA as POWs at homecoming based on that info.  This latest review … did not add anything new to Refno 1329.”

In late 1992, a large number of photographs from the North Vietnamese Central Army Museum in Hanoi were turned over to the United States.  In these black and white pictures were five pertaining to the pilot and copilot of Grommet 2.  Two of the photos show Major Morrison lying dead on the ground.  The nametag on his flight suit is easily readable and confirms his identity.  One is a full body photo and the other is a head and shoulders view.

The other three photos show a variety of gear and aircraft wreckage carefully laid out.  That gear includes: Both men’s ID cards, 2 pistols and gun belts, 1 helmet, 1 survival knife, 2 survival radios, 1 watch, both Geneva Convention cards, Joseph Morrison’s drivers license, a small gear bag bearing the insignia of their squadron, both life preserver inspection cards, a portion of a shot record belonging to one of the men, a $20.00 bill, a film cartridge from the aircraft, and wreckage to include one of the engines and the tail section.

The evaluation of these photos by US government personnel concluded Joseph Morrison died in a shoot-out with the North Vietnamese, and that he probably made the decision he was not going down without a fight and/or he was not going to allow himself to be captured.

Likewise, these photographs prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the North Vietnamese killed Joseph Morrison and all the years of claiming they have no knowledge of his fate or whereabouts is a sham.  There is no question the communists have his remains and know exactly where they were buried or warehoused.

The bottom line is quite simple, Major Joseph Morrison has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country he so proudly served.  For other Americans, including 1st Lt. San Francisco who most certainly had been captured, 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 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.