Name: William Robert "Bill" Stark 
Rank/Branch: Commander/US Navy 
Unit: Fighter Squadron 96,
USS Enterprise (CVA-65) 

Date of Birth: 28 May 1930 (Michigan City, IN)                               
Home of Record: Michigan City, IN
Date of Loss: 19 May 1967 
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 203952N 1054125E (WH718962)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps

Status in 1973: Returned Prisoner of War 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F-4B "Phantom II"
Other Personnel In Incident: Richard Rich (remains returned) 


SYNOPSIS:  The McDonnell F-4 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 F-4 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
On 19 May 1967, Cmdr. Richard "Dick" Rich, pilot; and then Lt. Cmdr. William R. "Bill" Stark, radar intercept officer; comprised the crew of the lead F-4B (tail #152264), call sign "Showtime 01," in a section of 4 aircraft that launched from the deck of the USS Enterprise. Showtime flight was conducting a morning MiGCAP (Combat Air Patrol) mission over North Vietnam as part of an overall strike mission package. The mission identifier was "Rolling Thunder III."

The strike aircraft, call sign "Raygun," were A6A Intruders that were also stationed aboard the USS Enterprise. The 3 targets assigned to this mission were Hanoi's power plant located approximately 2 miles west of the city itself; a truck park and a truck repair facility located in the Van Dien District of down town Hanoi, an area of town American pilots commonly referred to as "Little Detroit." Weather conditions included rain showers earlier in the morning, scattered clouds and visibility of 10 miles.

When the various elements of the strike package arrived in the target area, each element's flight leader established radio contact with the airborne battlefield command and control center (ABCCC) responsible for controlling all operations in the region. After being given clearance into their individual targets, each element commenced its briefed attack on their targets. At the same time the attacks began, the NVA gunners opened fire on the American aircraft from their well-entrenched anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) batteries and surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites that were dispersed throughout Hanoi and the surrounding countryside.

At 1112 hours, an A6A Intruder flown by Lt. Cmdr. Eugene B. "Red" McDaniel, pilot; and Lt. James K. "Kelly" Patterson, radar intercept officer; was struck by a SAM forcing them to immediately eject from their crippled aircraft. Both men landed roughly a mile from the wreckage of their aircraft and a mile apart in a U-shaped valley surrounded by rolling hills that contained many villages and numerous truck-passable roads. Other aircrews visually and electronically located Lt. Cmdr. McDaniel and Lt. Patterson as they descended in their parachutes and also on the ground in an area approximately 30 miles southwest of Hanoi and 11 miles southeast of Hao Binh, Hao Binh Province, North Vietnam.

At 1113 hours, and within seconds of hearing another pilot call "2 good chutes" for Red McDaniel and Kelly Patterson, the North Vietnamese obtained a SAM lock on Showtime 01. At this time the Phantom was approximately 10 to 12 miles south of Hanoi at 18,000 feet and heading toward the southwest. Once the missile was in the air, Cmdr. Rich and Lt. Cmdr. Stark obtained a visual sighting of it and successfully performed a "Split S" maneuver, which brought the Phantom down to an altitude of 12,000 feet. The SAM exploded to the rear and left of the aircraft. Even though Cmdr. Rich's cockpit instruments were all green, his wingman quickly examined Lead for any sign of battle damage, then gave Dick Rich a thumbs up confirming there was none.

A second SAM launch was detected coming from the same general direction of the first. Dick Rich again obtained a visual sighting of it and commenced performing another Split S maneuver. The second missile also exploded to the rear of the Lead aircraft shaking it violently. Lt. Cmdr. Stark later reported he remembered hearing a garbled voice transmission from Lt. Cmdr. Rich stating, "I can't …. (do something)."

The wingman reported hearing another transmission from Dick Rich following the first missile detonation that indicated that his aircraft had been damaged and was responding sluggishly. After the second SAM detonation, the wingman lost visual and electronic contact with his flight leader in the chaos of battle as he dodged other missiles and intense AAA fire that was being directed at the other American aircraft. Later other aircrews spotted what they believed to be the Phantom's burning wreckage in a rice field roughly ¼ mile east of the eastern edge of the rolling hills in which the Intruder was downed.

The crash site of Cmdr. Rich and Lt. Cmdr. Stark's aircraft was less than 1/8 mile east of the Song Con River and the Ha Duc village located along both sides of the river. It was also approximately 18 miles south-southwest of Hanoi and 22 miles south-southeast of the Hoa Lac MiG base, My Duc District, Ha Tay Province, North Vietnam. The entire sector was covered in rice fields dotted with numerous villages that were connected by roads and footpaths. The area was also laced with many rivers, canals and waterways.

With two aircraft shot down and at least two of the four men attempting to evade capture, the ABCCC immediately called for a search and rescue (SAR) operation. Lt. Cmdr. McDaniel and Lt. Patterson established radio contact with another Intruder aircrew reporting they were injured. At the time rescue efforts were underway for the Intruder's crew, efforts were also made to locate the Phantom's crew. While the wreckage was easily located, none of the other aircrews saw either Dick Rich or Bill Stark eject. Further, none of them saw parachutes in the air or on the ground. Likewise, they heard no emergency radio transmissions emanating from their loss area. Due to the intense AAA fire and the lack of contact with the downed Phantom's crew, that portion of the search operation was terminated. At that time both Dick Rich and Bill Stark were listed Missing in Action.

Subsequently US intelligence learned that the North Vietnamese had captured Lt. Cmdr. McDaniel and Lt. Cmdr. Stark, and immediately upgraded Bill Stark's status to Prisoner of War. Bill Stark and Red McDaniel returned to US control on 4 March 1973 during Operation Homecoming. In his debriefing statement, Bill Stark recounted that after the second SAM exploded under their aircraft, he lost all communication with Dick Rich, but he "thought the pilot was alive because of his upright head position." Lt. Cmdr. Stark went on, "At this point I had no recollection of how I exited the aircraft. However, it was in a 10-degree nose low angle at a speed of 450 knots and at an altitude of 1,200 feet, at the time I ejected. The next thing I remember is waking up injured on the ground. I was taken by the North Vietnamese and dragged to an open stall. While receiving medical attention, I heard a single pistol shot in the area. I never saw nor heard of Cmdr. Rich again."

On 25 August 1997, a joint team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to Ha Tay Province to investigate Cmdr. Rich's loss incident. While there, the team interviewed 3 local villagers who provided information about a US aircraft crash. The villagers recalled the crash took place on 19 May, Ho Chi Minh's birthday, but one stated it happened in 1965 while the second witness believed it crashed in 1967 and the third thought it was in 1968. Two of the men recalled that one crewman ejected from the F-4 and was captured. All three indicated that the remains of the second crewman were small and scattered at the crash site. The team was then led to the purported crash site. They did not find overt signs in the area, but were shown pieces of wreckage that had been removed after the crash that included fragments of a Martin-Baker ejection system that were later determined to be consistent with those used on F-4s.

From 3 to 20 October 1999, another joint JTFFA team began excavating the crash site in Ha Tay Province that had previously been associated with Cmdr. Rich's Phantom. A second excavation team returned to complete the work between 24 February and 18 March 2000. In addition to life support and aircraft related fragments, the team recovered possible human remains. After being examined by Vietnamese forensic personnel, they were turned over to US representatives at Noi Bai Airport on 25 April 2000 and transported to the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI).

The skeletal remains consist of 31 small fragments of bone with two fragments demonstrably human - a fragment of tibia and a phalanx. The other fragments are consistent with being human and none of them are more than 2 inches long. The dental remains consist of a single fragment of the #29 right premolar that showed signs of dental restoration matching Cmdr. Rich's dental records. The dental restoration included traces of gold from a filling that was detected after examining the tooth with an electron microscope. These remains were identified as Dick Rich on 10 October 2000 and returned to his family for burial shortly thereafter. Cmdr. Rich was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on 7 November 2000.

For the family and friends of Richard Rich, they finally have piece of mind in knowing where their love one lies. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, questions remain and their fate could be quite different.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, 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.

Fighter pilots in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and 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.