BARRETT, THOMAS JOSEPH
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Name: Thomas Joseph Barrett
Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force, GIB
Unit: 43rd TFS
Date of Birth: 5 November 39
Home City of Record: Lomax, IL
Date of Loss: 05 October 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 213200N 1062100E (XJ397815)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Category:
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4C
Incident # 0161
Missions: 34

Other Personnel in Incident: James O. Hivner Incident # 0161 (released POW);
from F105D aircraft nearby: Bruce G. Seeber Incident # 0160 (released POW);
and Dean Pogreba Incident 0162 (missing); Phillip E. Smith Incident # 0149
(captured from an F104C downed over Chinese territory on September 20)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 June 1990 from one or more of the
following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with
POW/MIA families, published sources, personal interviews. Updated by the
P.O.W. NETWORK.

REMARKS: 730212 RELSD BY DRV

SYNOPSIS: On September 20, 1965 an American pilot named Capt. Phillip E. Smith
was shot down over the Chinese island of Hai Nan Tao. The case of Capt. Smith
ultimately became entwined with those of other American pilots lost in North
Vietnam the following month. Capt. Smith was flying an Air Force F104C and his
loss over Hai Nan island is perplexing.

The Lockheed F104 Starfighter was an unusual aircraft created in the mid-1950's
to fill a need for a more maneuverable, faster fighter aircraft. The result was
a Mach 2-speed aircraft thrust into a combat-aircraft world of Mach 1 and below.
The aircraft itself is spared looking like a rocket by its thin and extremely
short wings set far back on the long fuselage, and a comparatively large
tailplane carried almost at the top of an equally enormous fin. One less
apparent peculiarity was an ejection seat which shot the pilot out downwards
from under the fuselage rather than out the canopy of the cockpit. The
Starfighter was primarily a low-level attack aircraft capable of flying
all-weather electronically-guided missions at supersonic speed.

Why Capt. Smith was flying a strike aircraft over 40 miles inland in Chinese
territory is a matter for speculation. While the flight path to certain Pacific
points from Vietnam may take a pilot in the general vicinity of the island,
China was denied territory. According to one pilot, "Hai Nan was on the way to
nowhere we were supposed to be, and on the way back from the same place." Either
Smith was unbelievably lost or was on a mission whose purpose will never see the
light of day. Capt. Smith was captured by the Chinese.

Lieutenant Colonel Dean A. Pogreba was an F105D pilot attached to the 49th
Tactical Fighter Squadron at Yakota, Japan. In the fall of 1965, Pogreba was
given a temporary duty assignment to fly combat missions out of Takhli (Ta Khli)
Airbase, Thailand.

The aircraft flown by Pogreba, the F105 Thunderchief ("Thud") flew more missions
against North Vietnam than any other U.S. aircraft. It also suffered more
losses, partially due to its vulnerability, which caused the aircraft to be
constantly under revision.

On October 5, 1965, Pogreba departed Takhli as part of a five-plane combat
section on a bridge strike mission north of Hanoi in North Vietnam. Capt. Bruce
G. Seeber was Pogreba's wingman on the mission. At a point near the borders of
Lang Son and Ha Bac provinces, both Seeber's and Pogreba's aircraft were hit by
enemy fire and crashed. The location of loss given by the Defense Department is
approximately 40 miles southwest of the city of Dong Dang, which sits on the
border of North Vietnam and China. The area was "hot" with MiGs, surface-to-air
missiles (SAM) and anti-aircraft fire.

On the same day, an Air Force F4C Phantom fighter/bomber was shot down
approximately 5 miles from the city of Kep, and about 10 miles south of the
official loss location of Pogreba and Seeber. The crew of this aircraft
consisted of Major James O. Hivner and 1Lt. Thomas J. Barrett.

Curiously, Radio Peking announced the capture of an American pilot that day,
giving the pilot's name and serial number. It was Dean Pogreba that had been
captured. The U.S. never received separate confirmation of the capture, however,
and Pogreba was listed Missing in Action.

Gradually, it became known that the crew of the F4, Barrett and Hivner had been
captured by the North Vietnamese. Likewise, Bruce Seeber was also identified as
a prisoner of war of the Vietnamese. Dean Pogreba's fate was still unknown.

When American involvement in Vietnam ended, 591 Americans were released from
prisoner of war camps in Southeast Asia. Among them were Hivner, Barrett, Seeber
and Smith. Smith was released by the Chinese. Pogreba was still missing. None of
the returnees had any information regarding his fate, and all believed he had
died in the crash of his plane.

Reports of an American POW held in China that had fueled hopes for the Pogreba
family were correlated to Phillip Smith upon his release. The Pogreba family
thought this was hastily and summarily done. According to others in the flight
with Pogreba, Dean's plane had actually strayed into Chinese territory. Although
no information at all was forthcoming from the Chinese, the Pogrebas still
believed there was a good chance Dean had been captured.

Years passed, and no word of Pogreba was heard. Under the Carter Administration,
most of the men still listed prisoner, missing or unaccounted for were
administratively declared dead because of the lack of specific information that
they were alive. The Pogrebas, although haunted by the mystery of Dean's
disappearance, finally resigned themselves to the fact that he was most probably
dead, and went on with their lives. Dean's wife, Maxine, with children to raise
alone, ultimately remarried.

Then in 1989, Maxine Pogreba Barrell received some shocking news. Through an
acquaintance, she learned of a "high-ranking friend" of Dean's who claimed to
have visited Vietnam and spoken with her former husband. When she contacted this
retired Air Force Brigadier General, he told her a story quite different from
the official account given to Dean's family.

According to the General, Dean had indeed been shot down in China, but had been
brought back across the border into North Vietnam in 1965 by "friendlies."
Several attempts to rescue him had failed; two helicopters had crashed in the
effort. Then food and supplies were dropped to Dean and his rescuers; recovery
efforts were deemed impractical because of the hostile environment.

The General stated that he had never given up on Dean, and had made it his
mission to find the "gray-haired colonel" which he claimed he did in 1988 and
1989, traveling to Vietnam on a diplomatic passport. He told Dean's family that
Dean was alive and well and had adjusted to his "situation," which was a
solitary life in a village. Dean, he said, leaves the village daily to work.

Mrs. Barrell does not know how much credence to give the story. On one hand, she
says, the General asked nothing from them. He did not seek them out. On the
contrary, she and her family sought him out. Shortly after they spoke, the man
told her that he was in "trouble" with the U.S. Government and would not speak
with her again.

On the other hand, there is absolutely no way Dean's family can verify or
discount the General's story. A family, at relative peace for over a decade, is
once again suffering the uncertainty that comes with not knowing. The U.S.
Government simply isn't talking to them about it. One cannot simply fly to Hanoi
and beg permission to visit one's relative when Hanoi denies he even exists.

Unfortunately, the Pogreba story is not an aberration. Many cases of Americans
missing in Southeast Asia are fraught with inconsistencies, some to the point of
outright deception. Still others are hidden under the cloak of "national
security" classification; some cannot be revealed until after the year 2000.
These families will have to wait almost half a century to know the truth about
what happened to their men.

Since the war ended, U.S. intelligence agencies have conducted over 250,000
interviews and perused "several million documents" related to Americans still
missing, prisoner or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. Many authorities,
including a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, having reviewed this
largely classified information, have concluded that scores of Americans are
still alive in captivity today.

As long as even one American remains held against his will, we must do
everything in our power to bring him home. How can we afford to abandon our best
men?

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Thomas Barrett retired from the United States Air Force as a Lt. Colonel. He
and his wife Suzanne reside in Illinois.

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