Dedicated to the loving memory of ...
Captain Frank E. Fullerton was a pilot assigned to Attack Squadron 93 onboard the aircraft carrier USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA-31). On July 27, 1968, he launched in his A4F "Skyhawk" attack aircraft as the flight leader of a two-plane section on a night road reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam.
As the flight crossed the coastline, Capt. Fullerton had his wingman placed in a one to two mile trail position 2000 feet above him. Three to four minutes after crossing the coastline, Capt. Fullerton spotted a series of lights on the ground and assessed them to be trucks. He then called to his wingman saying that he was going to make a bomb run.
The wingman saw two bombs detonate and
then observed an orange-red fire ball close to the bomb hits, which he presumed was a secondary explosion. The second explosion threw flaming debris high in the air.
The wingman made his bomb run and made his first radio call to form-up on Capt. Fullerton. There was no contact returned by Capt. Fullerton, and the air controller aircraft in the area was contact to aid in making contact.
Although an IFF radio mode III squawk was heard, the radar return faded at 20 miles before a positive identification could be made, and no confirmed contact was ever made with Capt. Fullerton, and he was declared Missing in Action.
Upon review of the information available, it was considered that Capt. Fullerton either misjudged his bombing run altitude and impacted the ground after his bomb release (in which case he probably went down with the aircraft), or the IFF squawk was made by Capt. Fullerton. No solid information was ever received to determine exactly what happened to Capt. Frank E. Fullerton.
Fullerton was not among the prisoners of war that were released in 1973. High ranking U.S. officials admit their dismay in that "hundreds" of suspected American prisoners of war
did not return.
Through my own personal research, including extensive conversations and interviews with LtCdr Fullerton's comrades, I've come to learn that Frank was honored with the title of Captain posthumously and presumed to be Killed in Action when he did not return with the released Prisoners of War in 1978, but he has never been forgotten and his comrades have shared multiple stories with me. Frank was probably on his second flight the day he was lost. He and his comrades were exhausted from the operations and always in need of sleep. The
ship was terribly hot there in the Tonkin Gulf and the rooms in which they slept were rarely less than 80 degrees. Frank was dependable under conditions of exhaustion and stress, he was even-tempered and calm when it really counted, and he was a leader. Frank was soft spoken and pleasant to be around, and he was a good pilot, and a professional in everything that he did in the air and on the ground. When communications were lost with Frank, planes from every squadron in the air wing searched on subsequent launches during the night. Only rescue flares fired off by Frank, if he had been able to eject and parachute safely to the ground, or burning wreckage of his aircraft would have been visible. They saw nothing. The search continued after daybreak with some aircraft from each launch assigned to search. Still, no one sighted anything. The Commanding Officer, Tom Schaaf, was determined to take every possible measure to find Frank and launched on a search mission of his own with his wingman, Michael Trout. Although Air Wing tactics prohibited descending below 3000 feet over enemy territory, they searched, at 500 feet, every route in Package One that they thought Frank could have taken. First one and then the other would fly lookout at 3000 feet while the other searched at the lower altitude. Although they were more exposed than usual for nearly an hour to enemy ground fire, they were fortunately not fired upon but their attempts were unsuccessful, and they could only say that it was most likely that the Skyhawk and its pilot,
LtCdr Frank E. Fullerton, went down at sea.
A very special thanks to Michael D. Trout
for his willingness to assist in my research.
"Initial Biographical and loss information on POW's provided by
Operation Just Cause have been supplied by
Chuck and Mary Schantag of POWNET."