PANEK, ROBERT JOSEPH SR.
Remains Returned December 1988

Name: Robert Joseph Panek, Sr.
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Unit: 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Takhli Airbase, Thailand
Date of Birth: 10 June 1939
Home City of Record: Chicago IL
Date of Loss: 28 January 1970
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 175300N 1055100E (WE864792)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Category: 2
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: F105G

Other Personnel in Incident: Richard J. Mallon (remains returned); on rescue
helicopter: Gregory L. Anderson; Leonard C. Leeser; William D. Pruett; William
C. Shinn; William C. Sutton (missing); Holly G. Bell (remains returned)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1991 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

REMARKS: SEEN TO LAND - ENEMY TRPS N AREA

SYNOPSIS: On January 28, 1970, Capt. Richard J. Mallon, pilot; and Capt. Robert
J. Panek, electronics warfare officer, were sent as escort to a reconnaissance
aircraft on a mission in North Vietnam. Their F105 aircraft was a G model,
which was an adaptation of the F105F used in the Wild Weasel program.

The F105F Wild Weasel featured radar homing and warning gear. Upon pinpointing
the radar at a missile site, the Wild Weasel attacked with Shrike missiles that
homed in on radar emissions. The F105F was a stretch-limo F105, with a longer
fusilage to allow for a second crewman. As modified for the G, the F105
launched Standard ARM rather than the shorter range Shrike. During the period
of 1965-1972, the F105 performed on many diversified missions in Southeast
Asia, including SAM attack, bombing, and as in the case of the mission of
Mallon and Panek, armed escort/diversion.

Mallon and Panek's aircraft was shot down during the mission, and they both
successfully ejected and landed safely in an enemy controlled area about 20
miles northeast of the Mu Gia Pass on the mountainous border of North Vietnam
and Laos.

A helicopter was immediately dispatched to pick up the two downed airmen. When
the aircraft was about 50 miles northwest of the location of the F105 crash,it
was hit by a MIG and exploded. The helicopter was flown by pilot Major Holly G.
Bell, and carried crewmen Capt. Leonard C. Leeser, SMSgt. William D. Pruett;
SSgt. William C. Shinn; MSgt. William C. Sutton; and passenger Sgt. Gregory L.
Anderson. A short beeper signal was heard from the helicopter, indicating that
at least one person aboard may have exited the aircraft. All six aboard were
listed as Killed/Body Not Recovered. It was thought that in the cases of Bell
and Anderson that the enemy would not likely have knowledge of their fates, but
that the Vietnamese could probably account for the other four men. (A
determination that was probably made from the relative crew positions and their
proximity to the area of the MIG hit and the likelihood of their having escaped
obliteration by the explosion.)

Mallon and Panek, meanwhile, were in an area heavily infiltrated with the
enemy, and it was known that there were enemy troops in the vicinity. It was
thought very probable that the two were captured or killed by the enemy, but
never known for certain, as they did not appear in the Hanoi prison system to
be held with those American POWs who were released. The Vietnamese denied any
knowledge of any of the eight men missing that day.

Some time later, family members were told by a squadron mate that his
information was that Panek and Mallon had both ejected safely. Mallon had landed
on a road near the Mu Gia Pass and was captured almost immediately. Panek landed
in nearby trees and his parachute was seen 30 minutes later, being pulled from
the trees. Both men were seen in a clearing within the hour, being surrounded,
stripped to their shorts, and holding their hands in the air. Neither Mallon nor
Panek were ever classified Prisoner of War, however, but were maintained in
Missing in Action Status.

In December 1988, the Vietnamese returned a number of remains they stated were
those of American servicemen to U.S. control. The remains of Mallon, Panek, and
the helicopter pilot, Holly G. Bell were subsequently positively identified by
the U.S. Casualty Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CILHI).

For the Panek, Mallon and Bell families, the long wait is over. They are no
longer haunted by a never-ceasing flow of reports concerning Americans alive in
Southeast Asia. For the other families, however, life goes on in agonizing
suspense. And for the hundreds of Americans said to be alive in Southeast Asia,
the days pass in imprisonment and abandonment.

Richard J. Mallon was buried in Willamette National Cemetery.