Name: Peter (NMN) Mongilardi, Jr.
Rank/Branch: Commander/US Navy
Unit: Attack Carrier Air Wing 15 
USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) 

Date of Birth: 01 July 1925 (Haledon, NJ)
Home of Record: Passaic, NJ
Date of Loss: 25 June 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 195358N 1053557E (WH628002)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A4C "Skyhawk"
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)


SYNOPSIS:   The Douglas A4 Skyhawk was a single-seat light attack jet flown by both land-based and carrier squadrons, and was the US Navy's standard light attack aircraft at the outset of the war. It was the only carrier-based aircraft that did not have folding wings as well as the only one which required a ladder for the pilot to enter/exit the cockpit. The Skyhawk was used to fly a wide range of missions throughout Southeast Asia including close air support to American troops on the ground in South Vietnam. Flying from a carrier was dangerous and as many aircraft were lost in "operational incidents" as in combat.

The USS Coral Sea deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin and in November 1964 and participated in the two raids, mission identifier "Flaming Dart," conducted by American aircraft in retaliation against the North Vietnamese for their reported attack on the USS Maddox. Cmdr. Peter Mongilardi, Jr. commanded Attack Squadron 153 when the carrier first deployed to Southeast Asia. He later was promoted to Commander, Air Group (CAG) of Air Wing 15; of which VA-153 was assigned. After completing it cruise assignment, the USS Coral Sea docked in Japan on it way back home. While in port in Japan, the carrier received orders to return to the South China Sea

On 27 July 1968, Cmdr. Mongilardi was the pilot of an A4C Skyhawk that launched from the deck of the USS Coral Sea as the section leader in a flight of two on a armed reconnaissance/strike mission over North Vietnam. His wingman was Paul Reyes. A second 2-aircraft section lead by Cmdr. David Leue was briefed at the same time. Cmdr. Leue's wingman was forced to return to the carrier when he was unable to transfer his drop tank so David Leue joined Peter Mongilardi's section for the remainder of the mission. This was the first day of flight operations after the ship returned from Japan to Yankee Station. Weather conditions in their area of operation northwest of Thanh Hoa included broken clouds and scattered rain showers.

As the pilots' searched out targets of opportunity Cmdr. Leue spotted a power plant through the clouds. As he pulled away from the other aircraaaft, he radioed his intent to attack it. Cmdr. Mongilardi ordered him not to strike the plant because it was a denied target under the United States' self imposed rules of engagement. David Leue immediately broke off his attack run, then turned to rejoin the flight. As he did so, Peter Mongilardi radioed "I'm rolling in on a little bridge," then as he pulled off target, "flak!" David Leue heard the flight leader's aircraft hit by enemy fire as he made his last transmission. The others next heard him take a couple deep breaths while the mike was still keyed. Peter Mongilardi's aircraft was last seen in straight and level flight with no noticeable battle damage.

Paul Reyes followed the flight leader for his own attack run on the little bridge. As he pulled off, he noted intense anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire in the vicinity being directed at them. David Leue radioed Paul Reyes asking, "Where are you?" Paul Reyes responded, "We're by the rain storm and I've lost CAG. I don't know where he is."

Peter Mongilardi's last known location was approximately 13 miles (22 kilometers) northwest of Thanh Hoa, 3 miles (9 kilometers) northeast of Kien Trung, ½ mile (1 kilometer) south of Mao Ax and 24 miles west of the coastline, Dong Son District, Thanh Hoa Province, North Vietnam. The two remaining flight members initiated an immediate search for their flight leader over a heavily populated open flat area crisscrossed with numerous creeks, rivers and rice fields. They saw no parachute either in the air or on the ground and heard no beeper signal.

Over the next 2 to 3 days an extensive search and rescue (SAR) effort was conducted over the original search area and then extended to include the jungle covered mountains to the north and west of the target area. Air assets used in this massive operation included 15 - A1H's, 10 - F8's, 3 - A3D's and 2 - F4's. Because of the last known heading of Cmdr. Mongilardi's Skyhawk, 70% of the entire SAR area consisted of dense jungle growth and only 30% over the area inundated with water. At the time formal search efforts were terminated, Peter Mongilardi, Jr. was listed Missing in Action. On 19 July 1965, conclusive evidence of death was received and on 23 July Cmdr. Mongilardi's status was changed to Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered. What that conclusive evidence was comprised of is unknown.

During the July 1985 technical meeting between US and Vietnamese personnel discussing the fate of American POW/MIAs, Mr. Cu Dinh Ba, Chief of the Vietnamese Office Seeking Missing Persons, stated his office's personnel had investigated this incident. During the investigation, local residents recalled the crash of an A4C on 25 June 1965. They reported the crewman's remains were smashed to pieces. Because of this, no remains were available to inter. Further, no identification media was found in or near the Skyhawk's wreckage.

In June 1993, Mr. Ba's report was passed to the Vietnamese government in a briefing folder along with other relevant documents during a meeting in DaNang because the Office for Seeking Missing Persons was going to assist in the joint recovery effort of this crash site. Shortly thereafter a site survey was conducted to evaluate the feasibility for excavating the area in the hope of recovering Peter Mongilardi's remains.

In October 1994, a joint American/Vietnamese team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) fully excavated this crash site. They found and recovered pieces of aircraft wreckage, pilot related items, life support equipment and 4 bone fragments - the largest of these bone fragments is less then 2½ inches long. The 4 bones are "consistent with being human," but cannot be confirmed to be human. If human, they are believed to be from the long bones of either the arms or legs. Because they are so small, mtDNA technology is not advanced enough to be used in the identification process. The hope is that technical advances in the future will yield the ability to identify these bone fragments and determine conclusively if they constitute the only recoverable mortal remains of Cmdr. Mongilardi.

While the fate of Peter Mongilardi is not in doubt, he has the right to have his remains positively identified and returned to his family, friends and country he so proudly served for a proper burial in his native soil. For other Americans 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 American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

American servicemen in Vietnam were called upon to operate in many dangerous circumstances both on and off duty, 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.

Peter Mongilardi, Jr. was described by those who served with him as "a superior Air Wing Commander, Naval Officer and warrior." He was among the very best and brightest this nation sent into combat in the Vietnam