GERSTEL, DONALD ARTHUR
Name: Donald Arthur Gerstel
Rank/Branch: O4/US Navy
Unit: Attack Squadron 93, USS MIDWAY
Date of Birth: 23 June 1938 (Harvey IL)
Home City of Record: Matteson IL
Date of Loss: 08 September 1972
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 184800N 1055300E (WF932788)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A7B
Refno: 1920
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project with the assistance of one or more
of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources,
correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews: 15
March 1990. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 1998.
REMARKS:
SYNOPSIS: The Vought A7 Corsair II was a single-seat attack jet utilized by
both the Navy and Air Force in Vietnam. The aircraft was designed to meet
the Navy's need for a subsonic attack plane able to carry a greater load of
non-nuclear weapons that the A4 Skyhawk. The aircraft's unique design
completely freed the wingspace for bomb loading; the Pratt and Whitney jet
engine was beneath the fuselage of the aircraft. The Corsair was used
primarily for close air support and interdiction, although it was also used
for reconnaissance. A Corsair is credited with flying the last official
combat mission in the war - bombing a target in Cambodia on 15 August 1973.
Major Donald A. Gerstel was the pilot of an A7B Corsair assigned to Attack
Squadron 93 on board the aircraft carrier, USS MIDWAY. On September 8, 1972,
Gerstel launched as the leader of a section of aircraft assigned a surface
reconnaissance mission which would take him over North Vietnam. The
surveillance mission maintained watch over the Chinese merchant shops
anchored off the coast of North Vietnam and Gerstel's flight was assigned to
an anchorage adjacent to the small island of Hon Nieu.
The flight rendezvoused without incident and proceeded toward the anchorage
at an altitude of 6,OOO feet. They switched their radios to the controlling
ships frequency. Gerstel's transponder was not received by the carrier's
strike controller. As a result of this, the wingman's transponder was used
to monitor the flight. Nearing the anchorage, the flight entered instrument
flight conditions and Gerstel detached his wingman and instructed him to
climb above the base altitude and orbit while he commenced a descent to
determine the bases of the clouds. The section was in an area of severe
turbulence and lightning. Shortly after the separation Gerstel reported that
he had been struck by lightning. When his wingman asked if he was alright,
he replied: "Yes, just a lot of sparks". The wingman then asked his position
and he reported that he was 3O miles west southwest of the control ship. The
weather prevented the control ship from obtaining a radar return from
Gerstel's aircraft. Since Gerstel's transponder was inoperative, it was
impossible for the control ship to maintain him under positive control.
Later Gerstel reported his location as midway between the islands of Hon
Nieu and Hon Matt. Gerstel's loss coordinates last place him in the Gulf of
Tonkin about 18 miles east of the city of Phu Dien Chau in Nghe An Province.
After that report there were no further contact, visual, radio or radar was
made with him. Search efforts was conducted with negative results. Lt.Cdr.
Gerstel was classified Missing in Action.
The Defense Intelligence Agency further expanded Gerstel's classification to
include an enemy knowledge ranking of 2. Category 2 indicates "suspect
knowledge" and includes personnel who may have been involved in loss
incidents with individuals reported in Category 1 (confirmed knowledge), or
who were lost in areas or under conditions that they may reasonably be
expected to be known by the enemy; who were connected with an incident which
was discussed but not identified by names in enemy news media; or identified
(by elimination, but not 100% positively) through analysis of all-source
intelligence.
When 591 Americans were released from prison camps in the spring of 1973,
Gerstel was not among them. Military officials later expressed their horror
that "hundreds" who had been believed captured were not released. The
Vietnamese denied any knowledge of these men, including Donald A. Gerstel.
Since American involvement in Vietnam ended in 1975, nearly 10,000 reports
relating to Americans missing, prisoner, or otherwise unaccounted for in
Indochina have been received by the U.S. Government. Many officials, having
examined this largely classified information, have reluctantly concluded
that many Americans are still alive today, held captive by our long-ago
enemy.
Whether Gerstel survived the over-water crash of his aircraft to be captured
by the multitude of enemy fishing and military vessels often found along the
coastline is certain not known. It is not known if he might be among those
thought to be still alive today. What is certain, however, is that as long
as even one American remains alive, held against his will, we owe him our
very best efforts to bring him to freedom.