On 19 May 1967, Commander Richard Rich, pilot, and Lieutenant Commander
William R. Stark, radar intercept officer, launched in as the lead
aircraft in a division of four F-4B Phantoms
from USS ENTERPRISE on a mission over North Vietnam. The F-4s were
providing combat air patrol support for A-6 INTRUDER aircraft
that were striking three targets in the vicinity of Hanoi. Rich's call
sign was SHOWTIME 01; his wingman was SHOWTIME 02.
During the mission the US aircraft were subjected to intense
anti-aircraft and surface-to-air missile (SAM) fire. Shortly after 11 AM
one of the A-6 aircraft (crewed by LCDR Eugene B. McDaniel and LT James
K. Patterson, Attack Squadron 35) was hit by a SAM and the crew ejected.
Immediately thereafter, SHOWTIME 01 was damaged by two near-hits by SAMs.
SHOWTIME 02 lost sight of his lead during violent evasive maneuvering.
Visual contact was completely lost and repeated radio calls to CDR Rich
produced no results.
Search and rescue efforts were begun immediately. Voice contact was
made with the two downed A-6 crewmen; both reported that they were
injured. No contact was made with the SHOWTIME 01 crew, nor were
parachutes sighted anywhere near the F-4B wreckage. The extreme threat
in the SAR area made it impossible to bring in a helicopter and the four
downed crewmen, two known to be alive, could not be rescued. They were
classed as missing in action.
The US subsequently learned that LCDR McDaniel and LCDR Stark had
been captured, but no information was available regarding CDR Rich or LT
In February 1973, 591 Americans, including LCDR McDaniel and LCDR
Stark, were released by the Vietnamese. During his debrief, LCDR Stark
stated that he lost intercom communications with CDR Rich after the
second SAM detonation and that he ejected when the F-4B was at about
1200 feet in a 10-degree nose down attitude and a speed of 450 knots. He
was rendered unconscious during the ejection and was captured before
regaining consciousness. He had no knowledge of what became of Commander
Rich, nor did any of the other returned POWs. Similarly, there was no
news of Lieutenant Patterson.
On 11 November 1976, the Secretary of the Navy approved a Presumptive
Finding of Death for now-Captain Richard Rich and his status was changed
from MIA to killed in action, body not recovered.
Between August 1997 and March 2000, several investigations of the
crash site were conducted. The wreckage was confirmed to be an F-4B, and
the search crews recovered fragmented human remains as well as items of
personal flight gear. The remains were turned over to US representatives
on 25 April 2000, and on 10 October 2000 the Central Identification
Laboratory, Hawaii, announced the positive identification of Captain
Rich. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National
Cemetery on 7 November 2000, over 33 years after his last mission.
As of this date (06 May 2002), three of the four Naval aviators
downed on 19 May 1967 have come home - but Lieutenant James K. Patterson