Name: Robert Lewis "Bob" Simpson npa
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Air Force
Unit: 6th Fighter Squadron,
1st Air Commando Group
Pleiku Airfield, South Vietnam
TDY to Detachment 2,
Bien Hoa Airfield, South Vietnam

Date of Birth: 27 June 1927 (Paris, France)
Home of Record: Panama City, Panama
Date of Loss: 28 August 1962
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 091750N 1055748E (XR058278)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: T-28B "Nomad"
Other Personnel In Incident: Lt. Hoa (missing)


SYNOPSIS: The North American T-28 Nomad was a single-engine fighter/bomber that was utilized throughout Southeast Asia by US and allied personnel as a trainer as well as to conduct counterinsurgency and escort missions. When flying as an escort, the Nomad relied on the more sophisticated detection equipment aboard other aircraft to direct them to the target area, then the pilot would fly low in a shallow dive in order to most effectively carry out his attack on an enemy position.

On 28 August 1962, Capt. Robert L. "Bob" Simpson, instructor pilot; and Lt. Hoa, South Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) pilot; comprised the crew of a lead aircraft in a flight of two conducting a morning combat training mission. Lt. Hoa was the nephew of the Vice-President of South Vietnam. Major Gene Mechling and another Vietnamese Lieutenant comprised the crew of the #2 aircraft in the flight. A third T-28 piloted by Capt. Charlie Brown was also operating nearby.

Their assigned mission was to escort the US Marine Corps helicopters transporting South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) troops to attack a Viet Cong (VC) stronghold as well as to Give Lt. Hoa additional training and experience in providing close air support to ground troops. Their area of operation was south of Soc Trang, Bac Lieu Province, South Vietnam. For political reasons and to provide plausible deniability since US personnel early in the Vietnam War were there only as advisors, VNAF officers was necessary to fly with the Americans as a cover story that the American pilots were teaching the Vietnamese how to use aircraft in guerrilla warfare.

The US Forward Air Controller (FAC) observed VC forces moving on an allied position and radioed for Capt. Simpson's flight to suppress VC activity along the edge of a Mangrove swamp in a densely populated and hotly contested sector that was populated with small villages and hamlets and laced with rivers, canals and waterways of all sizes. As Bob Simpson make his second attack run on an enemy position with his wingman following right behind him, his aircraft was struck by hostile ground fire. The other pilots watched in horror as the Nomad broke up as it crashed into the Mangrove swamp and tumbled into the muddy water of the fast moving Rach Ba Kha River that ran through the swamp.

The crash site was located less than a mile north of the coastline, approximately 1 mile east of Highway 4, the primary north/south road that ran through this sector from the coast northward to Soc Trang, 15 miles due east of Vinh Loi, and 18 miles due south of the Soc Trang Airfield. It was also 21 miles due south of the town of Soc Trang and 108 miles south-southwest of Saigon.

While the battle raged on the ground, the FAC called in a situation report to ground control headquarters. At the same time, Gene Mechling and Charlie Brown initiated an immediate visual and electronic search of the area in and around the crash site for any sign of survivors. When none were found, Capt. Simpson and Lt. Hoa were presumed killed from the impact of the crash.

As part of the extensive 9-day search and rescue/recovery (SAR) operation, Lt. Charles G. "Gayle" Stowers, an adviser to the Vietnamese 26th Riverain Assault Boat Group, stationed in Long Xuyen, and his counterpart, Lt. Toan of the Vietnamese Navy along with several US Air Force officers, traveled by boat to the crash site to conduct a waterborne search for the missing pilots. This part of the naval operation continued for 5 or 6 days.

Using grappling hooks, the team found, and was able to recover, part of the landing gear and some metal parts of the aircraft from the 20 to 30-foot deep Rach Ba Kha River. The swiftness of the water and VC activity made it difficult to find anything else. At the time the search effort was terminated, Bob Simpson and Lt. Hoa were declared Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

In spite of the fact this aircraft had been shot down by hostile ground fire, the cause of loss was listed as a "military aircraft accident." The VC took great pride in this event and recorded it in propaganda pamphlets circa 1962 crediting the VC Army of Lac-Hoa village with shooting down the aircraft. Chronicling this event became very important to the communists because the propaganda leaflet, which showed the T-28 being downed by ground fire, was incorporated into Children's schoolbooks in areas controlled by the VC.

While the fate of Bob Simpson and Lt. Hoa is not in question, each man had the right to have his remains returned to his family and friends; and for Capt. Simpson, to the country for which he gave his life. 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 military men were called 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.

Robert L. Simpson entered the Marine Corps in 1945 before the end of WWII. Later he was accepted as a cadet in the Air Force flight program, received his wings and flew 67 combat missions during the Korean War. He was the first American fighter pilot killed during the Vietnam War and listed as POW/MIA/KIA-BNR.