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.
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?