Rank/Branch: O3/US Navy
Unit: Fighter Squadron 41, USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA 62)
Date of Birth: 02 March 1939
Home City of Record: Lewiston ID
Date of Loss: 17 October 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 214000N 1063800E (XJ689966)
Status (in 1973): Prisoner of War
Other Personnel In Incident: David R. Wheat (released POW);
At nearby coordinates, all F4 aircraft from USS Independence and
US Navy personnel;
Stanley E. Olmstead (missing) and Porter A. Halyburton (released
POW); Rodney A. Knutson and Ralph E. Gaither (both released POWs)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1990
from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government
agency sources, correspondence
with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by
the P.O.W. NETWORK March 1997.
REMARKS: DEAD/IR 1 516 0 146 72
SYNOPSIS: LT Roderick Mayer
was a pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62).
On October 17, 1965 he and his Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), LTJG
David Wheat launched in their F4B Phantom fighter jet for a day
strike mission on the Thai Nguyen bridge northeast of Hanoi.
On the same day, a second Phantom flown by LCDR Stanley E. Olmstead,
with LTJG Porter A. Halyburton as his RIO, and a third Phantom flown
by LTJG Ralph Gaither and LTJG Rodney A/ Knutson also launched from
the USS INDEPENDENCE. These four pilots were part of Fighter Squadron
84, the "Jolly Rogers". Mayer and Wheat were part of the
carriers Fighter Squadron 41. All were dispatched to the same general
mission area near the city of Thai Nguyen.
The three Phantoms were all shot down within a few miles of each
other. Knutson and Gaither were shot down in Long Song Province,
North Vietnam, near the border
of China, or about 75 miles northeast of the city of Thai Nguyen.
Olmstead and Halyburton were shot down in Long Son Province about
40 miles east of the city of Thai Nguyen. Mayer and Wheat were shot
down about 55 miles east-northeast of the city of Thai Nguyen, in
Long Son Province.
Mayer and Wheat's aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Both men
were seen to eject from the aircraft. Search and rescue (SAR) efforts
were hampered due to enemy small arms fire. Lt. Mayer was observed
over a period of two hours in a prone position, still in his parachute.
Before rescue helicopters could reach the scene, both Mayer and
Wheat had disappeared from sight and enemy troops were seen in the
area. David R. Wheat was confirmed to be a prisoner of war, and
when released in 1973, made statements which suggest that Mayer
was killed during the ejection or that he died later of injuries
resulting from the ejection. He stated that Lt. Mayer did not move,
even when he was found by ground troops. Mayer was classified Prisoner
LCDR Olmstead's aircraft was hit by hostile fire and crashed while
on a bombing mission. No transmissions were heard, nor was there
any sign of ejection by either crewmember. Other U.S. aircraft passed
over the crash site and determined that there was no possibility
of survival. However, it was later learned that Halyburton had survived,
and was captured. Being the RIO, Halyburton would eject first. It
was believed that Olmstead had probably died in the crash of the
aircraft, but there was no proof of this theory. Olmstead was classified
Missing in Action.
Gaither and Knutson were captured by the North Vietnamese, spent
nearly 8 years as prisoners and were both released on February 12,
1973 in Operation Homecoming. Knutson had been injured, and was
not fully recovered at the time of his release.
The fates of these six men from the USS INDEPENDENCE was not clear
at the time they were shot down. Their status changed from Reported
Dead to Prisoner of War or Missing in Action. At the end of the
war, only Olmstead and Mayer remained missing. Ultimately, they
were declared dead for lack of evidence that they were still alive.
When the war ended, refugees from the communist-overrun countries
of Southeast Asia began to flood the world, bringing with them stories
of live GI's still in captivity in their homelands. Since 1975,
nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing in Southeast
Asia have been received. Many authorities believe that hundreds
of Americans are still held in the countries in Southeast Asia.
The U.S. Government operates on the "assumption" that
one or more men are being held, but that it cannot "prove"
that this is the case, allowing action to be taken. Meanwhile, low-level
talks between the U.S. and Vietnam proceed, yielding a few sets
of remains when it seems politically expedient to return them, but
as yet, no living American has returned.
Roderick L. Mayer was promoted to the rank of Commander during the
period he was maintained missing and David R. Wheat was promoted
to the rank of
Rodney A. Knutson and Ralph E. Gaither were promoted to the rank
of Lieutenant Commander during the period they were maintained as
prisoner of war.
Stanley E. Olmstead was promoted to the rank of Commander during
the period he was maintained missing. Porter A. Halyburton was promoted
to the rank of
Lieutenant Commander during the period he was maintained as a prisoner
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