SMITH, PHILIP ELDON

Name: Philip Eldon Smith 
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant Colonel/US Air Force 
Unit: 435th Tactical Fighter Squadron 
DaNang Airfield, South Vietnam                       





Date of Birth: 15 October 1934
Home of Record: Roadhouse, IL
Date of Loss: 20 September 1965 
Country of Loss: China
Loss Coordinates: 190000N 1093000E (DN302116)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Returned Prisoner Of War 
Category:

Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F104C "Starfighter"
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing) 

REMARKS:  730315 Released By China

SYNOPSIS:  THE Lockheed F104 Starfighter was an unusual aircraft created in the mid-1950's to fill the need for a more maneuverable, faster fighter. It was designed primarily to be a low-level attack aircraft capable of flying all-weather, electronic-guided missions at supersonic speed. Further, this airplane was a Mach 2 jet thrust into the combat aircraft world where all others were Mach 1 and below. Its ejection seat and system was different from all others of the day because it shot the pilot downwards from under the fuselage rather than out the canopy of the cockpit.

On 20 September 1965, then Capt. Philip E. Smith was the pilot of an F104C (serial #56-883) that was to conduct an EC-121 escort mission over the Gulf of Tonkin. His aircraft experienced several equipment failures and incorrect steering commands, and flew well to the west of his target area and into communist Chinese airspace where 2 Chinese MiG-19s shot him down. The location of loss was approximately 28 miles northeast of Folue Northeast Airfield, 45 miles northwest of Lingshui Airfield and 55 miles east of the western coastline of Hainan Island, China. It was also 253 miles east-northeast of Vinh, North Vietnam.

When Capt. Smith failed to return to base, a visual and electronic search was immediately initiated. When no trace of the missing aircraft and pilot were found, the search was cancelled and all aircraft returned to base. During the return flight, two F104s were involved in a mid-air collision. Both pilots safely ejected and were rescued. At the time the search efforts was terminated, Philip Smith was reported as Missing in Action.

Philip Smith successfully ejected from his crippled aircraft and was captured shortly after reaching the ground. After capture, the communist Chinese transported him to Canton where he underwent intensive interrogation. Later Capt. Smith was transferred to the capitol of China, Peking, where he spent the bulk of his captivity in solitary confinement.

During the time Capt. Smith was not in solitary, he found himself with Richard Fecteau and John T. Downey, two CIA case officers captured during the Korean War. The two men had been passengers on a C47 aircraft shot down on 29 November 1952 when they were sent in to pick up anti-communist Chinese agents. The aircraft's two pilots, Robert C. Snoddy and Norman A. Schwartz, were killed in the incident and the two case officers captured.

On 13 December 1971, the Chinese released Richard Fecteau to US control. During his extensive debriefing, he told US intelligence personnel that other Americans, including John Downey and Philip Smith, were alive. Further, he provided specific and detailed information about their confinement as well as his nearly 20 years in captivity. With positive proof of capture in hand, the US Air Force upgraded his status to Prisoner of War.

On 17 February 1972, then-President Richard M. Nixon made his historic visit to Peking. In addition to discussing in depth the Sino-American relationship and the need for improvements with Chairman Mao, Capt. Smith believes that although his release was not secured at that time, positive results were achieved in government-to-government relations that directly affected the American's situation. For example, the same prison authorities and guards, who were once dealing out harsh treatment in austere living conditions before President Nixon's trip, were directed to adopt more humanitarian practices toward their captives. The hard reality is that Philip Smith and John Downing could have remained prisoners of the Chinese long after the Vietnam War ended if relations had not improved between the United States and China.

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, 8 COMUATDC WIR radio messages were intercepted and correlated to this incident. The NSA synopsis states: "Note; Navigational error to vicinity of Hainan Island and shot down by PRC fighters. PRC shootdown of unidentified hostile aircraft. Shot down by PRC fighters from Hainan. No pilot status."

On 12 March 1973, John Downey returned to US control when he walked across the bridge from mainland China to Hong Kong. Three days later, on 15 March 1973, Smith did the same. They joined 591 American military and civilian Prisoners of War who returned during Operation Homecoming in 1973. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, questions remain. Certainly some died during the war. However, for others 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 and China TODAY.

US personnel in Vietnam were call upon to fly and fight 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.