|Name:||Ronald Nicholas Sittner|
|Rank/Branch:||Major/US Air Force|
Ubon Airfield, Thailand
|Date of Birth:||20 November 1937|
|Home of Record:||South Euclid, OH|
|Date of Loss:||23 August 1967|
|Country of Loss:||North Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:||F4D "Phantom II"|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Charles R. Tyler (returned POW)|
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 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.
At 1335 hours on 23 August 1967, Major Charles R. Tyler, pilot; and Capt. Ronald N. Sittner, weapons systems officer; comprised the crew of an F4D (aircraft #66-0238), call sign "Ford 01," that departed Ubon Airfield as the lead aircraft in a flight of four. Captain Larry E. Carrigan, pilot; and Capt. Charles Lane, Jr.; weapons systems officer; comprised the crew of the #4 aircraft (aircraft #66-0247), call sign "Ford 04." Ford flight was conducting a strike mission against the Yen Vien railroad yard located in a densely populated and heavily defended area approximately 36 miles north of Hanoi. Weather conditions consisted of scattered with towering cumulus clouds over near by Thud Ridge. The cloud bases were at 15,000 feet and the pilots had clear visibility during this afternoon mission.
At 1515 hours, while ingressing the target, the flight was attacked from the rear by a flight of 2 MiG-21s armed with air-to-air missiles (AAMs). In the ensuing dogfight, Ford 04 was struck by an air-to-air missile (AAM) and Ford 01 was struck by another AAM immediately afterward. Other pilots in the flight saw three parachutes leave the two fireballs. Within minutes of the shootdown, other flight members heard three strong emergency beepers and 1 weak beeper. Voice contact was also briefly established only with Larry Carrigan, the pilot of Ford 04. When voice contact could not be established the other downed pilots, beeper confirmation was requested.
The order in which acknowledgement was requested and the response received is as follows: "Ford Lead frontseater - short beep, strong signal; Lead backseater - short beep, strong signal; Ford 04 frontseater - short beep, strong signal; Ford 04 backseater - short beep, weak signal. The weak signal was in response to asking Capt. Lane to signal.
Ford 02 and 03 heard the beepers before leaving the area to rendezvous with an airborne tanker to refuel. At 1700 hours, they returned, and upon approaching the area, beepers were again heard. One of the pilots was immediately able to reestablish voice contact with Larry Carrigan, and he was able to give his relative position in relation to the pilot he was talking to. Again a beeper confirmation was requested. This time the only one not to respond with a short beeper was backseater of Ford 04, Charles Lane.
The location of loss was over a rugged, mountainous area approximately 5 miles north of Nui Dianh Mountain, 2 miles north of a primary road, 20 miles northwest of the Yen Vein and 24 miles northwest of the Thai Nguyen steel mill complex. This was also 49 miles north-northwest of Hanoi, North Vietnam, on the border of Tuyen Quang and Thai Nguyen Provinces. Because of the location of loss being deep within enemy-held territory, no search and rescue (SAR) operation was possible. At the time the informal SAR effort established by the rest of Ford flight was terminated, Larry Carrigan, Charles Lane, Charles Tyler and Ronald Sittner were immediately listed Missing in Action.
A few days after the loss, Ha Hoi press and Hanoi radio released news reports associated with this incident. The broadcasts reported several pilots were captured. Subsequent information received by US intelligence indicated Major Charles Tyler and Capt. Larry Carrigan had been captured by the NVA and each man's status was immediately upgraded from Missing in Action to Prisoner of War. Charles Tyler and Larry Carrigan were both repatriated on 14 March 1973 during Operation Homecoming. By August 1968, US intelligence believed that Charles Lane had also been captured, but did not upgrade his status.
Upon his release, Capt. Carrigan reported in his debriefing that while descending in his parachute, he saw another American moving around in his parachute as they were both descended toward the ground. He also stated that he believed that individual to be his weapons systems officer, Capt. Lane. Once on the ground, Capt. Carrigan did not see Major Tyler, Capt. Sittner or Capt. Lane. After capture, the man guarding him took his .38 caliber pistol away from him and emptied the bullets out of it. Shortly afterward, a Vietnamese boy ran up, grabbed the pistol away from the guard, pointed it at the American and pulled the trigger twice.
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 Ronald Sittner and Charles Lane.
In November 1991, a team from the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to Vietnam to investigate the loss of Ford 01 and 04. They interviewed witnesses to the downing of the two F4 aircraft and the reported sighting of either 3 or 4 parachutes. The location of their downing was determined to be in Tuyen Quang Province, not in Thai Nguyen Province. Witnesses reported the capture of two airmen and stated that they were unable to locate the other two crewmen until 1970 when the partial remains of one of the two was located.
Local witnesses also stated that a nearby People's Republic of China military unit arrived at one of the crash sites and recovered wreckage of one of the downed aircraft. They provided no other details about the incident. The JTFFA team members concluded that the reported partial remains may have correlated to the remains of Capt. Lane, who was not confirmed to have ejected from his aircraft, but could have done so.
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, messages regarding the shoot down of Ford 01 and 04 by MiG-21s were immediately recorded. However, there was no information transmitted in these enemy reports about the fate of any of the pilots.
In April 1992, another US team from the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) interviewed additional witnesses, then surveyed and recovered equipment and personal artifacts from two gravesites at the crash site location reported to be where Charles Lane and Ronald Sittner had been buried. The artifacts included ejection seat fragments and other wreckage. A mangled .38 caliber revolver was turned over by local villagers and the serial number bore the number of the pistol issued to Capt. Sittner. The team also recovered fragments of a flight suit, boots, zippers, etc., and a single tooth fragment that matched the dental radiographs of Ronald Sittner. Based on the identification of that tooth, Ronald Sittner was declared remains recovered on 25 November 1997.
Ronald Sittner's family accepted CIL-HI's identification of their loved one and buried him with the honor befitting an American serviceman who gave his life for his country. For Charles Lane only questions remain. Based on information provided by Larry Carrigan, there is no doubt his weapons systems officer ejected their crippled aircraft and was alive in his parachute as he descended to the ground. If he died in captivity, he has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he survived and was held back by the communists, his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way, there is no question that the Vietnamese 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 in Vietnam 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.