GOTNER, NORBERT ANTHONY RIP 25 Sept 2013 Name: Norbert Anthony Gotner Rank/Branch: O4/USAF Unit: 25th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Ubon Airfield, Thailand Date of Birth: Home City of Record: Kansas City, KS Date of Loss: 03 February 1971 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 171700N 1061030E (XE230120 or XD258926) Status (in 1973): Released POW Category: Acft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D Refno: 1698 Other Personnel in Incident: Robert L. Standerwick (missing) REMARKS: 730329 RELSD BY PL Source: Compiled 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 in 2013. SYNOPSIS: When North Vietnam began to increase their military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. The border road, termed the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" was used for transporting weapons, supplies and troops. Hundreds of American pilots were shot down trying to stop this communist traffic to South Vietnam. Fortunately, search and rescue teams in Vietnam were extremely successful and the recovery rate was high. Still there were nearly 600 lost in Laos who were not rescued. Many of them went down along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During his Air Force career, Col. Robert L. Standerwick, Sr. flew a variety of aircraft. At Omaha, Nebraska, he was selected to fly SAC's "Looking Glass" missions.He was among the first of his friends to be selected to fly the Phantom F4 fighter/bomber. After Thanksgiving 1970, Standerwick left Omaha and shipped out to Vietnam, to be stationed at Ubon Airfield, Thailand, with the 25th Tactical Fighter Squadron. To his four children, it seemed like just another long period Dad would be away. On February 3, 1971, Standerwick was assigned a mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail along the eastern border of Laos. Standerwick's backseater was Maj. Norbert A. Gotner, from Kansas City, Kansas. Their aircraft was the D model F4. The D model of the Phantom F4 aircraft had arrived at Ubon in 1967. This model was improved with the installation of a central air data computer for bombing and navigation. The computer automatically determined the weapon release point for all bombing modes. This version also launched Walleye television-guided missiles and laser-guided bombs. Combined with the aircraft's max level speed of over Mach 2 and its tremendous manuverability, the aircraft was considered one of the "hottest" high-tech aircraft of the day. Standerwick and Gotner's mission on February 3 was not a bombing mission, however, but a "sensor drop" - dropping strategically placed sensors to help monitor truck and troop movement along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The Trail was heavily defended and heavily trafficked. During the mission, Standerwick and Gotner's F4 was shot down, and both men ejected as the aircraft crashed. Radio contact was made with both Col. Standerwick and Maj. Gotner, who reported that they were alive and uninjured on the ground. The two were close enough to talk with each other. Rescue could not be made due to darkness and weather. A later radio message from Standerwick reported that he was surrounded and had been hit by gunfire. Some first hand accounts report that Standerwick yelled or screamed. Soon after, contact with Gotner and Standerwick was lost, and the Air Force declared both men Missing in Action. An immediate intelligence report was received by the U.S. describing two Americans being moved through Mahaxay Village in southern Khammouane Province, Laos (about 8 miles northeast of the point the F4D was downed). This report, although not felt to be specific enough to be a definite identification, was thought to relate to Standerwick and Gotner. No further word was heard of either man. Unknown to U.S. intelligence and the Air Force, Maj. Gotner had been captured by North Vietnamese troops. He was moved immediately to North Vietnam, where he and a handful of other men captured in Laos were held in the same prisons as men captured in North and South Vietnam. Gotner and the other few captured in Laos and moved to Hanoi were held incommunicado from other American POWs for the next two years. When peace agreements were signed in Paris in January 1973, the Vietnamese agreed to release all American Prisoners of War in their hands. The list they provided the U.S. did not include any of the men lost in Laos. A subsequent list of eleven individuals was provided at the last minute, and it was known for the first time that Norbert Gotner was a Prisoner of War and would be returning home. The eleven had all been held in North Vietnam, apart from other Americans. Bob Standerwick's name appeared on no list. He was not returned home with the 591 Americans who were released from North Vietnam. Families of men lost in Laos were horrified that none of the over 100 men they knew had been alive were released. The Pathet Lao had repeatedly stated that they held "tens of tens" of Americans, yet no negotiations had occurred that would secure their freedom. A series of assurances were made over a period of years that these men had not been forgotten, and that negotiations would occur to free them. None of the assurances brought a single man home. These nearly 600 abandoned Americans were seemingly forgotten. In 1980, the Standerwick family was told by a non-government source that Bob Standerwick's name had been on a report prepared for Presidential review. The source described the report as detailing two groups of about 2 dozen Americans each. On one group, the source stated, there was only sketchy information; on the second group, there were more details. The source stated the report gave very current and specific information about Bob Standerwick, listing his location at that time, identifying the group that held him, and describing the menial labor job he was being forced to do in northern Laos. The source identified the author of the report, the number of pages it contained, the number of copies that had been made and where they were located. The Standerwick family has never been able to substantiate this report, and U.S. Government sources deny the existence of the report. All copies of the report, according to the source, are under U.S. Government control. When Norbert Gotner was released, he provided little further information about his pilot. He did state that shortly before his own release he was asked by his Vietnamese captors, "What do you know about Col. Standerwick?" As Gotner himself was unknown to other Americans for most of his captivity, this question takes on greater potential meaning. Many observers feel that only those POWs held in the "Hanoi" prison system were released in 1973, and that parallel prison systems existed in which prisoners were held without exposure to those in other systems. One case which supports the theory that only the "Hanoi" group, which was known to each other, was released is the case of American civilian Bobby Keese, whose existence was discovered only days before the general prisoner release in the spring of 1973. Keese, who had been held in a separate section of a prison from other Americans, was not scheduled for release and may yet be imprisoned were it not for a unified effort on the part of other POWs to see that he was released. Friends of Bob Standerwick say that there is no chance he would ever give up. They say that unless he was murdered, there is every chance he could be alive. Friends of Standerwick's children see the same ingenuity, courage, resolve and determination in them. They have not stopped seeking information on their father and the Americans still missing in Southeast Asia since they were old enough to understand the circumstances of the loss of their father. An interesting study can be made in the reports surrounding the last radio messages from Bob Standerwick. Until the time the Air Force administratively declared Standerwick dead on June 20, 1980, because there was "no evidence that he was alive", these reports were evidence to support Standerwick's Missing in Action status - the hope that Standerwick could still be alive. At the time of his PFOD (Presumptive Finding of Death), these same reports were used in the case to close the books on Bob Standerwick. Belying the across-the-board PFOD findings, nearly 10,000 reports have been received by the U.S. Government relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia. Many authorities believe that hundreds of Americans are still alive in captivity today. Few agree on the most appropriate measure needed to bring them home. Standerwick's family does not consider him dead until proof has been found that he is, indeed, dead. His wife has consistently aggravated the Air Force by refusing to sign any form or document as his "widow". It's a small, but important matter to her. The Standerwicks hold no "false hopes" that he is alive; they are psychologically prepared to accept it if they learn that he died. They want only the truth. They say, "The important point is that either he was killed (at capture), or he was shot, wounded and taken captive. One way or another, somebody knows whether he's alive or dead. If he is not, someone's father, son or brother IS alive, and we owe it to him to do everything we can to obtain his freedom." ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Norbert Gotner retired from the United States Air Force as a Lt. Colonel. He and his wife Rose resided in Washington State until his passing.
Lt/Col Norb Gotner flew West on September 25, 2013. Norb had been in a care facility in Eugene, Oregon for some time and passed due to heart complications. His wife Rose lives at 3251 Twin Elms Drive Eugene, OR 97408 Norbert was captured in Laos on February 3, 1971 during what came to be known as the "Invasion of Laos' back home. He joined the Lulu's (POWs captured in Laos) at "Lulu's Hideaway," the "Briar Patch," in May 1971. He was released along with the Lulus on March 28, 1973 from Hanoi. Noeb's career as a Bombadier/Navigator had been as crew on B-52s, B-58 Hustlers, qualified Missileman, and as a GIB in RF-4Cs over Vietnam and Laos. Burial will be with full military honors at 11:30am at the Willamette National Cemetery, 11800 SE Mt. Scott Blvd. Portland, Oregon. I will be there! Ernie Brace