SCHOEPPNER, LEONARD JOHN
Name: Leonard John Schoeppner
Rank/Branch: O3/US Navy
Unit: Fighter Squadron 21, USS RANGER (CVA 61)
Date of Birth: 02 October 1943
Home City of Record: Canton OH
Date of Loss: 09 March 1970
Country of Loss: North Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 174258N 1074658E (YE951608)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 5
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4J
Refno: 1571
Other Personnel in Incident: Rex L. Parcels Jr. (missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 May 1990 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 1998.
REMARKS:
SYNOPSIS: The USS RANGER was a seasoned combat veteran, having been deployed
to Vietnam for Flaming Dart I operations. The carrier played a steady role
for the remainder of American involvement in the war. The first fighter jets
to bomb Haiphong in Operation Rolling Thunder came from her decks.
One of the aircraft launched from the decks of the RANGER was the F4 Phantom
fighter jet. The Phantom, used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings,
served a multitude of functions including fighter-bomber and interceptor,
photo and electronic surveillance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast
(Mach 2), and had a long range (900 - 2300 miles, depending on stores and
mission type). The F4 was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at
low and high altitudes. The F4 was selected for a number of state-of-the-art
electronics conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing
capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest"
planes around.
LT Leonard J. Schoeppner and LTJG Rex L. Parcels Jr. were F4 pilots assigned
to Fighter Squadron 21 onboard the USS RANGER. On March 9, 1970, the two
were assigned a photo reconnaissance escort mission in their F4J Phantom.
Schoeppner was the pilot and Parcels served as the Radar Intercept Officer
(RIO) on the flight.
Schoeppner and Parcels launched at 1200 hours on that day. Their climbout
and aerial refueling were normal. Because of low ceilings and poor
visibility in the reconnaissance aircraft's target area, the escort mission
was cancelled. Schoeppner's aircraft was diverted to their secondary mission
assignment as combat air patrol for the Task Force. The reassignment
occurred about one hour after their takeoff.
Schoeppner reported his position as overhead the RANGER in the Gulf of
Tonkin at 17,000 feet. He was instructed to rendezvous with another squadron
F4, but he failed to contact the newly assigned control agency for the
required vector. Contact between Schoeppner's and Parcels' aircraft and the
ship's search radar was also lost at about this time (1330).
A preliminary search was conducted, using aircraft already airborne in the
vicinity of the carrier. With no success on this preliminary search, the
assistance of other assets was utilized (seven destroyers, seven
helicopters, four A7's, three OV10's, two HC130's, two E1's, one E2, one
C1A, one C131, and one P3). A thorough and detailed coverage of this large
area was attested to by a variety of non-pertinent floating debris recovered
by the SAR force, including objects as small as an old life jacket.
A pilot from the HANCOCK reported that he had seen an F4-type aircraft in a
dive at approximately 4,000 feet. All other F4 pilots airborne at this time
stated that they had not engaged in such a maneuver. The diving aircraft was
thought to possibly be that of Schoeppner and Parcels. With weather
conditions as they were, they may have inadvertently entered a maneuver,
such as a dive, which carried them to an altitude too low to effect a
recovery after their condition was realized.
Schoeppner and Parcels are listed with honor among the Americans still
prisoner, missing or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia because their bodies
were never recovered. Others who are missing do not have such clear cut
cases. Some were known captives; some were photographed as they were led by
their guards. Some were in radio contact with search teams, while others
simply disappeared.
Since the war ended, over 250,000 interviews have been conducted with those
who claim to know about Americans still alive in Southeast Asia, and several
million documents have been studied. U.S. Government experts cannot seem to
agree whether Americans are there alive or not. Distractors say it would be
far too politically difficult to bring the men they believe to be alive
home, and the U.S. is content to negotiate for remains.
Over 1000 eye-witness reports of living American prisoners were received by
1989.  Most of them are still classified. If, as the U.S. seems to believe,
the men are all dead, why the secrecy after so many years? If the men are
alive, why are they not home?