FLYNN, ROBERT JAMES
RIP May 15 2014

Name: Robert James Flynn
Rank/Branch: O3/US Navy, pilot
Unit: Attack Squadron 196, USS CONSTELLATION
Date of Birth: 15 September 1937 (La Crosse WI)
Home City of Record: Houston MN
Date of Loss: 21 August 1967
Country of Loss: China
Loss Coordinates: 213300N 1073200E (YJ519957)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Category:
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A6A
Missions: 71

Other Personnel in Incident: Jimmy L. Buckley (ashes returned); from other A6s:
Forrest G. Trembley and Dain V. Scott (both missing); Leo T. Profilet and
William M. Hardman (both released POWs); on USAF F105s: Lynn K. Powell and
Merwin L. Morrill (both remains returned)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project with the assistance of Task Force
Omega from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency
sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews.
Date Compiled: 15 March 1990. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2014.

REMARKS: 730315 RELEASED BY RED CHINA

SYNOPSIS: On August 21, 1967, four aircraft launched from the USS
CONSTELLATION with the assignment to strike the Duc Noi rail yard four miles
north of Hanoi. The aircraft flew from Attack Squadron 196, based on board
the carrier.

The route from the coast-in point was uneventful with the exception of some
large weather cells building up. Further along their route they received
indications of launched Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) and observed bursting
85mm anti-aircraft fire.

Lieutenant Commander "J" Forrest G. Trembley, bombardier/navigator of one
Intruder, reported he had been hit and he was advised to reverse course and
return to the coast. He transmitted that he was experiencing no difficulty
and would proceed to the target rather than egress alone. Commander Jimmy L.
Buckley was the pilot of this aircraft. Several SAMs had been launched at
this time and a transmission was made "Heads up for the Air Force strike"
which was being conducted in the vicinity of the A-6 target. An aircraft was
hit which was thought to be an Air Force aircraft.

Two F105D aircraft, flown by Air Force Major Merwin L. Morrill and 1Lt. Lynn
K. Powell, were shot down at this approximate location on August 21, 1967.
It is believed that one of these is the aircraft referred to in Navy
information concerning this incident. The remains of both Air Force crewmen
were repatriated on June 3, 1983. While Morrill had been classified Missing
in Action, it was believed that he was dead. Powell was classified as Killed
in Action/Body Not Recovered.

The division leader was hit while in the target area and two good parachutes
were observed. The crew of this A6, Commander William M. Hardman and Capt.
Leo T. Profilet, were captured by the North Vietnamese. Both men were
released from captivity on March 15, 1973.

The other three aircraft began their egress from the target. Surface-to-air
missiles (SAMs) were in flight everywhere and the aircraft were maneuvering
violently. A large weather cell separated them from the coast which
precluded their egress further north than planned.

Another transmission was heard -- "Skipper get out" -- and the voice was
recognized as that of Lieutenant Commander Trembley. A SAM detonated between
two of the other aircraft, two parachutes and flying debris were observed.
Lieutenant Commander Trembley transmitted, "This is Milestone 2, Milestone 1
was hit, 2 good chutes, 2 good chutes." The multitude of SAMs along with
deteriorating weather may be the reason for the flight to ultimately stray
well north of their planned egress track. It was believed that Lieutenant
Commander Trembley's aircraft was shot down in the vicinity of the Chinese
boarder.

Trembley and his BN, Dain V. Scott, were placed in a Missing In Action
casualty status. Their case was discussed with the Chinese government by
then Congressmen Hale Boggs and Gerald Ford, with very little information
being obtained.

In their navigation around the weather, one of the remaining two A-6
aircraft observed MIGS in a run out of the overcast above Lieutenant
Commander Flynn's aircraft. Requests for assistance were radioed but went
unanswered. The tracking of the aircraft by airborne early warning aircraft
showed them crossing the Chinese border. The maximum penetration was about
eleven miles. A visual search could not be conducted due to poor weather in
the vicinity of the last known position.

Later that day Peking Radio reported "two U.S. A-6 aircraft were shot down
when they flagrantly intruded into China airspace and one crewman was
captured". Lieutenant Commander Flynn was held prisoner in China, his pilot,
Commander Jimmy L. Buckley, was reportedly killed in the shoot down.

On March 15, 1973 Lieutenant Commander Flynn was repatriated to U.S.
jurisdiction in Hong Kong and returned to the United States. The ashes of
Commander Jimmy L. Buckley were returned by the Chinese in December 1975.

Two Air Force bombers and three of the four Navy aircraft on the strike
mission on August 21, 1967 were shot down. Trembley and Scott, of the eight
Americans shot down on August 21, 1967, are the only two who remain Missing
in Action.

When American involvement in the Vietnam war ended by means of peace accords
signed in 1973, Americans held in countries other than Vietnam were not
negotiated for. Consequently, almost all of these men remain missing. During
the Nixon Administration and following administrations, relations with China
have eased, but the U.S. seems reluctant to address the years-old problem of
the fate of her men in China.

Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports have been received relating to
Americans missing in Southeast Asia. Many authorities believe there are
hundreds who are still alive, held captive. Whether Trembley and Scott could
be among them is not known. What seems certain, however, is that they have
been abandoned for political expediency.

In 1997, Commander Flynn provided the P.O.W. NETWORK with detailed
information regarding his career -

Flynn attended the University of Minnesota from 1955-58 (pre-law).
6 July 58  - He entered Naval Service as a cadet.
20 June 60 - Designated NFO (TC-N-48) Number 48 (NAO-N)
24 Feb 61  - Designated PAC FLT Bomadier/Navigator number 025.
June 1963 - Married Mary Kathryn

Commander Flynn and his Pilot, LCDR. Jimmy L. Buckley were shot down on 21
Aug 67. Flynn says, "Neither I nor my aircraft were ever in Chinese airspace
or territory! I was removed to China after capture in North Vietnam and
incarcerated in RED CHINA - the Peoples Republic of China, in Peking."

Jimmy Buckley was killed in the shootdown. Commander Flynn suffered severe
spinal compression fractures and severe wrenching of all muscle and skeletal
joints during ejection.

After arriving in Peking, Flynn endured more than 2,030 days of consecutive
solitary confinement. The winter of '67/68 (his first in China) he had no
warm clothes. He endured 3 separate incidents of extened handcuff torture -
one lasting 7 days, one 30 days and one 60 days. No other serviceman in our
Nation's history has ever endured a longer period of solitary confinement.

Robert Flynn credits his survival to several teachers -
* Father Michael J. Quislie of St. Mary's of Houston, MN.
* Frederic Haver, football coach and history teacher, Houston High, Houston,
MN.
* Gunny Sergeant Gus Aiken, USMC, Drill Instructor for the Pre-flight class
28-58 Drill Team.

Flynn returned to U.S. control 15 March 1973. He says "Thank God" and his
special helpers - H. Ross Perot, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon.

Among his awards and decorations is the Legion of Merit with Combat
Distinguishing Device. He returned to school and studied International
Relations - China and the Far East, in 76-77. He medically retired as a
Naval Commander in 1985 after 27 years of service.

He is an avid waterfowl hunter, enjoys fishing, flyfishing, swimming and
snorkeling. When not on or in the water, he enjoys bicycling, reading and
gourmet cooking. He and his wife of 35 years, Kathy, reside in Florida,
where Flynn is involved in a small business venture - "building a unique 23'
classic custom open sea skiff with Caribiana Sea Skiffs, Inc."

They have a daughter, Elizabeth, married and living on the west coast, and a
son, Robert Jr., who also resides in Florida.
=======================
In May of 1998, the NETWORK had a long conversation with CDR Flynn. He
related, in great detail, time in captivity with civilian John T. Downey,
captured 11/29/52 and held until 03/12/73. He also spent time with civilian
Richard Fecteau, captured 11/29/52 and released from China 12/12/71. He said
Richard was a Yale Football player who spent his time in captivity jumping
rope. Flynn never understood where the energy came from! One day he said, he
noticed him eating the "meal of the day," rice gruel. "I had all I could do
to eat one bowl," and he was eating SIX! Fecteau went on, he says, to
Harvard, married, and became a lawyer. All three speak about once a year.
Flynn is still searching the Guinness Book of World Records for the jump
rope record Fecteau should have, he says. John Downey has a book relating
his story, on the market.

==============================

Time as POW marked with solitude, honor

http://www.pnj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080704/NEWS01/807040329&referrer=FRONTPAGECAROUSEL

Troy Moon tmoon@pnj.com July 4, 2008

Want to know the price of freedom?

Ask the family member of a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine killed in war. They know all too well. Or ask retired Navy Cmdr. Robert Flynn, 70, a Pensacola resident......


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In a May 16th email from Tom Pyle:

 

It saddens me to report that Bob Flynn (an A6 BN) took his final CAT shot Thursday evening about 1900 hrs.

Thursday evening about 1900 hrs.

 

This was an unscheduled flight. It appears that his 5 1/2 year solo assignment to a Chinese prison took its toll.

 

"Big Bob" will be missed.  Arrangements have not been finalized,

but probably will be in Pensacola the middle of next week.  Bob GBU/CUL, Tom Pyle

 

Bob Flynn Veteran Tribute 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In a May 16th email from Mike McGrath:

 

Sad news, indeed.  I was looking through my notes on Bob.  Bob told me that he was actually shot down 15 miles inside the
NVN border, not over China.  He was jumped by eight Migs.  His front seater did not survive, but his remains have been returned.  
Bob told me he was captured by NVN troops, then kidnapped by Chinese troops and taken to China where he spent 2030 days in solitary.

 

 
Pensacola, American hero Robert Flynn dies
... in captivity, 2,030 were spent in solitary confinement longer than any U.S. military service member in history, according to the POW Network....
 

Former POW Flynn's services set for Friday

Former POW Flynn's services set for Friday ... confinement, longer than any U.S. military service member in history, according to the POW Network....
 
 
Date:    Mon, 19 May 2014 18:53:50 -0400
Subject: CDR Robert J. Flynn by Stephen Coonts

For those our you who had met Bob Flynn and those of you who have not I
pass this on with out much comment. 
Stephen Coonts was a A6 pilot and wrote "The Flight Of The Intruder' that
was made into a movie.
Bravo Zuku and Fair Winds Warrior!
JR ...
************************
'99

CDR Robert J. Flynn, USN

The Vietnam War is ancient history. It ended for America in 1973 when the
POWs came home. One of the POWs was an A-6 bombardier-navigator, Robert
J. Flynn, shot down over North Vietnam on August 21, 1967, and marched
north into China, where he was held in solitary confinement for five and
a half years, 2,032 days, in a prison in Beijing. He was released in Hong
Kong, walked across a bridge into the British colony under his own steam,
on March 15, 1973. Shot down as a Lieutenant (junior grade), Bob came out
a Lieutenant Commander and stayed in the Navy, ultimately retiring as a
Commander. Bob died Thursday, May 15th in Pensacola, Florida, at the age
of 76. 
 It is doubtful if any American survivor of that war paid as heavy a
price as did Bob Flynn. It is also doubtful that anyone was more
deserving of the Medal of Honor than Bob Flynn, recognition he didn't
receive. 
 August 21, 1967, was a bad day for Bob's A-6 Intruder squadron, VA-196,
The Main Battery, which launched four bombers on a daylight strike into
the heart of North Vietnam. The lead Intruder, flown by the squadron
skipper, Leo Profillet, was hit and exploded in the dive on the target.
The other three planes managed to drop their bombs, but on egress flew
north of Haiphong into heavy build-ups. One plane broke away from the
formation and proceeded out to sea alone. The remaining two were attacked
by MiGs, and both were shot down. Of the six airmen shot down, only Bob
Flynn survived.
 He was quickly captured and marched for days through the jungle into
China. Once there, the Chinese Communists claimed that the two A-6s shot
down by MiGs were over Chinese airspace, a claim that Flynn denied all
his life. Propaganda photos were taken and released to the world's press.
 Flynn was taken to Beijing and imprisoned. There he was kept in solitary
confinement and repeated tortured for propaganda purposes for five and a
half years! The Chinese never broke him, but the physical and
psychological price Flynn paid was higher than any human should ever have
to endure. Any lesser man would have died or lost his grip on sanity. 
 I met Bob that fall of 1973 when he was finally released from the
hospital and came to NAS Whidbey, the home of the west coast A-6s, for
the Intruder Ball as the guest of honor. I had the honor of flying him
back to Colorado Springs, where his wife was living, in the right seat of
an A-6. At 36,000 feet over the Rockies, I gave him the POW bracelet with
his name upon it that I had worn for my two Vietnam cruises. That flight
was one of the great moments of my life. Probably not so memorable for
Bob, who was inundated with bracelets bearing his name as the months
passed, almost two bushels of them. 
 Bob returned to Whidbey that fall as a staff officer and instructor at
VA-128, the west coast fleet replacement squadron that trained new A-6
pilots and BNs. At the commanding officer's request on several Friday
all-officer's meetings Bob took the podium and tried to tell the staff
and students what it had been like being in solitary in China for five
and half years. What it was like to be handcuffed for up to sixty days at
a time and have to eat off a plate like a dog. What it was like to be
unable to drop your trousers and have to live in your own filth. What it
was like to have only God and your loyalty to your country and your
shipmates to sustain you. What it was like to be without hope and
tortured beyond your ability to resist. And yet. and yet, with no
resources except his inner strength, he never gave in.
 These sessions reduced Bob and most of his listeners to tears. Someone
thought to videotape his lectures, but years later, when Bob tried to
find the tapes, they had been lost. Another tragedy. 
 Bob Flynn was always a rebel. He carried a trumpet in the cockpit and
broadcast the notes of Charge over the radio before he crossed the beach
into North Vietnam. Not once, but every time. He was his own man, then
and always. 
 After he returned from China, Bob had psychological problems. He was in
therapy for years. The wounds finally scarred over. 
 In the early 1990s, after Bob retired from the Navy and at his request,
I asked a friend of mine, former Washington Post military correspondent
George C. Wilson, author of six terrific books, including Supercarrier
and Mud Soldiers, to interview Bob and see if perhaps they could
collaborate upon a book that would tell Bob's story. 
 George went to visit Bob, and came away discouraged. He told me, "Bob
hasn't even talked to his kids about his experiences. He has put that
part of his life away in a place he refuses to visit. I could rip the
scars off, but I couldn't bandage them afterwards." The book never got
written. 
 Of all the rare and honorable men I have met through the years, none
impressed me as did Robert Flynn. America just lost a true son. 
 We who knew him will miss him deeply. Farewell, shipmate.

 Stephen Coonts

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In the Pensacola News-Journal Newspaper:

Bob Flynn Obituary
 
Funeral will be held Friday, May 23, 1115 hrs, at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, 140 W. Government St., Pensacola FL.

 

Interment at Barrancas National Cemetery will follow the service.

Harper - Morris Funeral Home is handling the funeral services.

Donations should be made to the Wounded Warrior Emergency Support Fund (Air Warrior Courage Foundation - River Rats).

 

 

THE VIEWING WILL BE FROM 0915 TO 1015 AT THE ST. JOSEPH CATHOLIC CHURCH IN DOWNTOWN PENSACOLA, FOLLOWED BY THE SERVICE AT 1015.  

 

HE WILL BE INTERRED AT THE BARRANCAS NATIONAL CEMETERY IN NAS PENSACOLA, THE SERVICE LASTING FROM 1145 TO 1230.  

 

St Joseph's Church:  850-436-6461

Harper-Morris Funeral Home:  850-478-3292

 

NETWORK NOTE:

Years ago, I had the privilege to spend more than an hour with Bob Flynn - in a very unorthodox place - a hot tub at our motel during the 1998 Nam Pow reunion in Dallas!

He noticed the POW/MIA bracelets on my wrist, and started talking about his captivity. No intros, just conversation.

He talked OVER an hour, and sitting there, (me with no paper, no recorder...) his memories flowed. At this point, I can recall is dislike of rice, a love of jumping rope, a sad demeanor, yet with a faith that got him through the darkest days of his life.

He left an impression I will never forget. A proud, quiet man, not looking for recognition.... just relating the memories as they crossed his mind that day. What an honor. What a loss.

Mary Schantag

 

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