Name: Peter Mongilardi, Jr.
Rank/Branch: O5/US Navy
Unit: Attack Squadron 153, USS CORAL SEA
Date of Birth: 01 July 1925
Home City of Record: Haledon NJ
Date of Loss: 25 June 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 195358N 1053557E (WH628002)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered (Remains returned 1994)
Other Personnel in Incident:
Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 May 1990 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews.
VISRAD CNTC - LST SAR N - FBIS - J
Air Wing 15 deployed to Southeast Asia in November 1964 onboard the aircraft carrier USS CORAL SEA, participating in FLAMING DART's two raids in retaliation to North Vietnamese aggression in the Gulf of Tonkin. One of the attack squadrons in Air Wing 15 was the Blue Tails - Attack Squadron 153, so named because of the splash of blue on the tails of their A4 Skyhawks.
CDR Peter Mongilardi Jr. was the skipper of VA 153 until May 1965, at which time he assumed duties as air wing commander (CAG), and was replaced by CDR Harry E. Thomas. Before the long cruise was over in December, both Mongilardi and Thomas were dead.
It was during this period that the North Vietnamese, assisted by the Soviet Union and Chinese, was beginning to build its military from technology-poor and ground-oriented military to one with one of the world's strongest and most sophisticated air defense networks.
As a defense against U.S. air strikes over North Vietnam (ROLLING THUNDER) North Vietnamese missile sites grew from ground zero in 1965 to estimates three years later of two hundred surface-to-air (SAM) sites nationwide and some thirty missile battalions in the Hanoi area alone. Each battalion contained up to six missile launchers plus accompanying radar, computers and generators. The U.S. discovered the first SAM site in April 1965, yet U.S. pilots were forbidden to take immediate defensive action.
The CORAL SEA was in Japan in June 1965 on its way to the U.S. The ordnance and aircraft had already been offloaded, and Thomas and Mongilardi were on a last liberty together. While on liberty, they discovered they they were shipping back to Vietnam.
On the first day back, Mongilardi and his wingman, Paul Reyes, flew on an armed reconnaissance mission. CDR David Leue and his wingman were briefed at the same time in case one of the wingmen went down, and, as luck would have it, Leue's wingman could not transfer his drop tank and was sent back to the ship. Leue joined up with Pete and his wingman. Leue describes armed "recce" as "usually two people flying down a route, really target practice for the local AAA batteries as you come down the pike. I always said if I made it to admiral I would not have done traditional armed recce. To many people are lost."
The three pilots were in the area of Thanh Hoa. Leue was flying with instrument problems, and had no air speed altimeter or pressurization. It was no problem except for determining the flight altitude. Through some broken clouds, Leue spotted a power plant below and radioed that he was rolling in on it. Mongilardi ordered him not to hit the plant because it was denied under the rules of engagement.
By this time, Leue had pulled away from Mongilardi and his wingman, and he turned to rejoin them. As he did, Mongilardi radioed, "I'm rolling in on a little bridge," followed by, "Flak." Leue heard Mongilardi get hit and said, "He actually keyed the mike, I heard a couple of deep breaths, and I called Reyes to ask 'Where are you?' Paul said, 'We're by this rain storm and I've lost CAG [Mongilardi]. I don't know where he is.' Well, he'd been shot and killed; a real tough loss."
Leue was saddened to lose Mongilardi, whom he described as "a superior air wing commander, naval officer and warrior." It was less than two months later, on August 13, 1965, when CDR Harry Thomas was shot down 70 miles west of Hanoi on a low-level strike mission searching for SAM sites. Thomas' aircraft flew into a volley of flak, was hit and crashed. Thomas did not survive. Leue was moved into the position of skipper of the Blue Tails, carrying with him the sadness of having lost two superior squadron commanders.
CDR Mongilardi was classified Killed in Action, Body Not Recovered. He is listed among the missing because his remains were never found. It is not known whether the Vietnamese have information on him, but because of hostile troops in the area of his crash, there is that possibility.