|Name:||Robert Laverne Hill|
|Rank/Branch:||Chief Master Sergeant/US Air Force|
|Unit:||33rd Air Rescue and Recovery
|Date of Birth:||25 September 1931|
|Home of Record:||Detroit, MI|
|Date of Loss:||18 October 1966|
|Country of Loss:||North Vietnam (Tonkin Gulf)|
|Loss Coordinates:||175500N 1070900E (YE278821)|
|Status in 1973:||Missing In Action|
|Other Personnel in Incident:||Inzar W. Rackley, Lawrence Clark, John R. Shoneck, Ralph H. Angstadt, Steven H. Adams, and John H.S. Long (all missing)|
REMARKS: RADIO CONTACT LOST
SYNOPSIS: The Grumman HU16 Albatross first appeared in the US Air Force inventory in 1949. It was a fix-wing amphibious aircraft capable of making vertical recoveries on land or over water, as well as water landings in daylight and mild sea conditions to rescue downed aircrews. By the end of 1965, it had saved 70 people, 60 of them combat crews. It was also used as a command and control aircraft coordinating multi-aircraft missions.
Beginning in 1966, the HU16's, along with other Air Rescue Services fixed-wing aircraft, were replaced by the Lockheed HC130 Hercules that was specifically tailored for the global search and rescue mission.
On 18 October 1966, Maj. Ralph H. Angstadt, pilot, Capt. John H.S. Long, co-pilot, Maj. Inzar W. Rackley, navigator, then TSgt. Robert L. Hill, flight mechanic; SSgt. John R. Shoneck, flight mechanic; AM1 Stephen H. Adams, parajumper; and SSgt. Lawrence Clark, radio operator; comprised the crew of an HU16 search and rescue (SAR) aircraft (serial #51-7145), call sign "Crown Bravo," carrying an elite Air Force pararescue team. The Albatross departed DaNang Air Base at 1101 hours to recover a downed pilot approximately 80 miles off the China coast in the northern sector of the Gulf of Tonkin.
Two A1E Skyhawks escorting the rescue aircraft remained on station providing air cover until the mission was completed, and then they returned to their base. The last contact with the HU16 was at 1745 hours, and at that time, there was no indication of any trouble with the aircraft. At 2231 hours, all contact was lost with the amphibious aircraft in marginal weather conditions. SAR efforts were immediately initiated, but found now trace of the missing aircraft or its crew. The last know position of the Albatross placed it right on the Asian Coastal Buffer Zone, approximately 38 miles east of the North Vietnamese coastline and 44 miles northeast of the major port city of Dong Hoi, Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam. At the time the formal search operation was terminated, all seven Americans on board were listed as Missing In Action. Because there is no record of the identity of the pilot recovered during this missing, it is believed he was a member of an allied force rather than US. Interestingly, even though the HU16 was reported lost over water, which would indicate the men were not recoverable, several of the crew were carried in categories which indicated they could have been readily accounted for.
Approximately one year after the loss incident, Steve Adams' family received a call from an International Red Cross representative who stated that he was "alive, well and presumed to be in a hospital in Southeast Asia," and that "upon exiting the aircraft, his left side had been severely injured." Shortly after the call, two Air Force casualty officers cautioned the family strongly "not to listen to outsiders", and that only "government sources" could be trusted. Steve Adams' brother, Bruce said, "We have always hoped that what the Red Cross representative said is true. But the evidence is clear that there ARE Americans still held captive in Southeast Asia. I don't know if Steve is one of them, but SOMEONE'S brother is. We as a Nation owe those men our very best effort to secure their release and return. I could not face myself if I did not do everything in my power to help bring them home."
After Operation Homecoming in 1973, all returning POWs were debriefed by US intelligence. In addition to general intelligence material, they were looking for any information pertaining to other Prisoners of War known in captivity. Although there was no specific information provided about TSgt. Hill, US Army MSgt. Harvey G. Brande, who was repatriated on 16 March 1973, reported he personally observed John Long, the Albatross' co-pilot, as a prisoner held in Hanoi and that Capt. Long was in good physical condition. He further reported Capt. Long's full name was circulated in the camps and that the co-pilot was seen in Citadel, Holiday Inn and Vegas prisons by him. Additionally, Capt. Long was reportedly held with a group of POWs captured in Laos and moved into North Vietnam. John Long's post-capture photo also appeared in a photo album compiled by the United States of American POWs in captivity referred to as "Reference Volume 1." His photo appears on page 1-A-112."
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 POWs remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam were called upon to fly 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.
HILL, ROBERT LAVERNE
Name: Robert Laverne Hill Rank/Branch: E6/USAF Unit: 33rd Air Rescue/Recovery Squadron Date of Birth: 25 September 1931 Home City of Record: Detroit MI Date of Loss: 18 October 1966 Country of Loss: North Vietnam (Tonkin Gulf) Loss Coordinates: 175500N 1070900E (YE278821) Status (in 1973): Missing In Action Category: 4 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: HU16 Refno: 0496
Other Personnel In Incident: Inzar W. Rackley; John H.S. Long; Steven H. Adams; John R.Shoneck; Lawrence Clark; Ralph H. Angstadt (all missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 October 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 1999 in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
REMARKS: RADIO CONTACT LOST
SYNOPSIS: At 11:01 a.m. on October 18, 1966, a HU16 Albatross (serial #51-7145) departed Da Nang Airbase, Republic of Vietnam, to rescue a downed pilot in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam.
The crew of the aircraft consisted of Maj. Ralph H. Angstadt, rescue commander and pilot; 1Lt. John H.S. Long, co-pilot; SSgt. John R. Shoneck and TSgt. Robert L. Hill, flight mechanics; SSgt. Lawrence Clark, radio operator; and Capt. Inzar W. Rackley, Jr., navigator. Also onboard the aircraft was A2C Steven H. Adams, a parajumper/frogman and a member of an elite pararescue team ("PJs").
The aircraft headed to the pilot's location, which was approximately 80 miles off the China coast in the northern sector of the Gulf of Tonkin. Two A1E Skyhawks escorting the rescue aircraft remained on station until the mission was completed, then the Skyhawks returned to the base. The last contact with the HU16 was at 5:45 p.m., and at that time, there was no indication of any trouble. The Albatross was returning to base, and last contact was in the vicinity of coordinates YE278821, approximately 35 miles off the coast of North Vietnam.
All contact was lost with the amphibious aircraft in marginal weather conditions, and although an extensive search for the aircraft was conducted, there were no sightings of the crew or the aircraft. Even though the HU16 was believed lost over water, the men on board were not declared killed, but Missing In Action. The possibility exists that they were captured by one of the numerous enemy vessels that were present offshore from North Vietnam.
Curiously, the DIA enemy knowledge categories assigned to the men onboard the Albatross are not the same. Five of them were assigned Category 4 which indicates "unknown knowledge" and includes individuals whose time and place of loss incident are unknown. Angstadt was assigned Category 3 which indicates "doubtful knowledge" and includes personnel whose loss incident is such that it is doubtful that the enemy would have knowledge. Clark was assigned Category 2 which indicates "suspect knowledge" and includes personnel who were lost in areas or under conditions that they may reasonably be expected to be known by the enemy. No reason for the different categories can be determined.
About one year after the incident, Adams' family received a call from an International Red Cross representative who had just come from a "closed door" meeting during which Steven Adams was discussed. She stated that Steve was "alive, well and presumed to be in a hospital in Southeast Asia," and that "upon exiting the aircraft, his left side had been severely injured." A family friend and member of the intelligence community located the Red Cross worker and confirmed the information.
Shortly after the call, two Air Force casualty officers cautioned the family strongly "not to listen to outsiders" and that only "government sources" could be trusted.
In August 1987, a Department of Defense official was contacted by a U.S. citizen who said he was relaying information from a man in London. According to the American, 17 U.S. prisoners of war could be released through the office of a Western European embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. The POWs would be released C.O.D. upon the delivery of seven U.S. passports and a million dollars. If the money were placed at the Embassy, an unidentified Vietnamese general would take the 17 Americans to the Philippines for release, and provide information on how to secure the release of over 1,400 other Americans upon payment of another million dollars. Steve Adams was mentioned as one of the 17 POWs.
U.S. government officials refused to place the money at the Embassy. They said they had investigated the offer and that it was "a clumsy, amateur attempt to extort money and arms from the U.S. Government."
Although the U.S. Government called the offer a "scam," they refused to give the Adams family the names of those involved, citing "national security" as the reason.
Steve's brother, Bruce, was outraged. A non-government offered POW reward fund had been established for just such a offer and the government was aware of it, yet did not inform Bruce of the COD offer for several months. By that time, it was too late to do anything about it from the private sector.
"This was a pay on delivery offer, not extortion," said Adams. "It would have cost the Government nothing to comply. If the general did not appear with 17 American POWs the money would still be intact, in neutral hands. But to deny me the opportunity to enact the privately offered reward is inexcusable."
Bruce Adams says the evidence is clear that there ARE Americans still held captive in Southeast Asia. "I really don't know if Steve is one of them, but SOMEONE'S brother is. We as a nation owe those men our best efforts to secure their release and return. I could not face myself if I did not do everything in my power to help bring them home."
The crew of the UH16 received promotions during the period they were maintained Missing in Action: Angstadt and Rackley were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel; Long to the rank of Captain; Clark and Hill to the rank of Chief Master Sergeant; Shoneck to the rank of Senior Master Sergeant; and Adams to the rank of Master Sergeant.
There is no available information on the downed crewman the Albatross was sent to rescue.
------------------ The Sacramento Bee Sunday, March 21, 1999
NO NEWS ON MIA FLIER--BUT SOME SOLACE PENTAGON UPDATES STRESSFUL, HELPFUL FOR HIS WIDOW, OTHERS M.S. Enkoji Bee Staff Writer
Tears well up, just like that, just like it was yesterday.
But it was 33 years ago for Jessie Hill when a knock on the door interrupted her as she ironed her infant son's clothes. She opened the door to find four military men -- one a chaplain -- standing there, a sorrowful tableau on a fall afternoon.
She slammed the door shut, hoping to change what they came to tell her.
"When you see four military people come to your door, you know something is wrong," said Hill.
Gently, the door opened again, and for Hill, it's never really closed.
She found out that day in October 1966 that Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Robert Hill, her husband of 12 years, was missing in action. His plane was shot down in North Vietnam, and he and six others in it could not be found.
Without answers, without remains enclosed in a casket, Jessie Hill was left to search, traveling to Washington, DC, writing letters. The search stretched into a lifetime: Her husband was 33 when he disappeared, and as many years have passed and his wife still waits. Every event, every letter, every conversation, sends her back to October 1966.
"I'm reliving it all over," she said, dabbing tears just hours before meeting with military representatives who account for the thousands missing in action from three wars.
The Sacramento woman and 150 others spent all day Saturday huddled with the US Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office at a Sacramento hotel. The Defense Department team travels around the country monthly to give progress reports on what the government is doing and relay specific information to families.
The team came to Sacramento for the first time and met with families of 79 MIAs, 40 from the Korean War, 26 from the Vietnam War and three lost during the Cold War while doing reconnaissance flights near the Soviet Union.
The military closed the meeting to everyone but the families.
Afterward, Jessie Hill said she learned nothing new about her husband, but she gained useful insight about the military's efforts overall.
"That made me feel better," she said.
Spending time with other families was also encouraging, said Hill. "We're all in the same small boat," she said.
Robert Hill, a flight engineer assigned to Hamilton Air Force Base in Marin County, was on his third tour of duty in Southeast Asia. His job with the 41st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron was to touch down on land or water to rescue downed pilots. His crew had saved 19 in six months. Hill had an hour of flying time left when he disappeared, an hour left before he came home to his young family for good, he had promised his wife in his last letter.
For a week after his disappearance, Jessie Hill fought sleep, even medication, to stay awake and stare out a window. It wasn't until seven years later that the military finally considered her husband dead, though his body wasn't recovered.
Hill and her young son went to a memorial service for him at the Presidio in San Francisco, but it left her unsettled.
"There's nothing there but a grave space," said Hill, who never remarried.
"The main thing is to close the chapter."
The US government has always tried to recover missing military personnel, said Alan Liotta, deputy director of the MIA office. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and improved relations in Southeast Asia, a military task force in the early 1990s organized the military's efforts and created Liotta's office.
Teams regularly go into Vietnam and North Korea to excavate crash sites or research information to locate remains, he said. Since the United States withdrew from Southeast Asia, 519 bodies have been recovered and returned to families. Another several hundred are waiting positive identification at the military's laboratory in Hawaii.
Remains from 29 soldiers have been recovered from Korea. A few from World War II have also been found, including an unusual recent find in the Tibetan Mountains. A search team found bodies from a downed aircraft eerily preserved because they had been encased in ice for years.
Still, there are 78,000 troops missing from World War II -- another 8,200 from the Korean War and 1,400 from Southeast Asia. There are none from Desert Storm, said Liotta.
The count of missing from World War II is so high because of so many naval losses, said Liotta, like the 1,000 who went down in the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.
With advanced technology, gains in identifying remains are also lowering the count, said Liotta. But there are still obstacles. Teeth, the best natural name tag, may not always be recovered, and DNA requires finding the right relative. Now all military personnel have DNA samples on file.
The search for matching DNA relatives is a quandary for Pat Phillips, whose husband, 26-year-old Air Force Capt. Dean Phillips, was shot down in July 1960 with five others on an Air Force secret spying mission off the Soviet Union coast.
Her husband, who trained at Mather Air Force Base, was an only child and has no survivors who could provide DNA matches if his body is ever found. Their daughter cannot be used as a match for Dean Phillips.
Still, Pat Phillips, a retired Sacramento nurse, is grateful for any news.
"It's the first time I've been able to go to one of these," she said of the group meeting. "It was just fascinating."
There are 123 airmen still missing from similar missions during the Cold War era. Phillips' husband disappeared just two months after Francis Gary Powers was shot down flying over the Soviet Union on a CIA mission.
Powers, who was eventually exchanged for a Russian spy, touched off controversy because he cracked under interrogation by the Soviets. The frenzy over spying missions led then-U.N. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge to bring Phillips and wives of the five other crew members to the United Nations as he appealed to Soviet representatives for information.
Even with a place in history, Phillips still seeks an end.
She knows that of the six on her husband's plane, two were captured by the Soviets and imprisoned for six months. The two told Phillips that five parachuted into the sea but they lost track of each other. Eventually, the pilot's body was found with a piece of the plane on the seafloor.
Last July, a team went to the Russian tundra during the only time of year when it thaws to exhume unmarked graves on a military base near where her husband's plane went down.
Hope rose, but the bodies were Russians. The team will return in July to exhume six other unmarked graves, she said.
Over the years, she kept in touch with the two men who were prisoners and the wives of the others.
"I have made peace. After five or six years, for my own sanity, I had to. He will never come back," she said.
Still, as for Hill, every event, every reunion is a lurch to the past, said Phillips.
"It just doesn't die," she said. "It hasn't to this day."