TOMS, DENNIS LEROY

Name: Dennis Leroy Toms
Rank/Branch: E2/US Navy
Unit: Attack Squadron 192, USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA 31)
Date of Birth: 05 November 1942 (Luverne MN)
Home City of Record: Rock MN
Date of Loss: 21 November 1965
Country of Loss: South Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 171002N 1082204E (BK200000)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 5
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Carrier
Refno: 2035
Other Personnel in Incident: (None 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 BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA 31) saw early Vietnam war action. A
World War II Essex-class carrier, she was on station participating in combat
action against the Communists as early as August 1964. Her aircraft carried
the first Walleye missiles when they were introduced in 1967. In November
1970, the BON HOMME RICHARD completed its sixth combat deployment and was
scheduled for decommissioning by mid-1971.

An aircraft carrier is like a small city. Its inhabitants each have a job to
do; some battle-related, some not. One of Airman Apprentice Dennis L. Toms'
jobs was to load bombs onto the aircraft of Attack Squadron 192 as they were
prepared for launch on combat missions. The aircraft were transferred from
the hangar deck to the flight deck and back by one of three huge elevators
onboard which could carry two airplanes at the same time.

On November 21, 1965, Toms and his crew were loading bombs on an aircraft
scheduled for an attack mission which was positioned on one of the
elevators. The elevator was raised to flight deck level when Toms started
loading his airplane but was soon lowered t the hangar deck level so that
another aircraft could be brought up to the flight deck. Dennis was working
about ten feet from the edge of the elevator edge when he turned and somehow
walked off the edge of the elevator and fell into the sea.

Even though it was dark outside, the elevator was well lighted and the edge
easily seen. Dennis walked off the edge without stumbling or tripping. He
apparently was disoriented and did not know where he was going. His
crewmates did not see him walk toward the edge, but did see him fall forward
into the sea. They immediately threw two flashlights overboard which hit the
water a few feet from where Dennis was. A lighted life ring was thrown
overboard seconds later, however, Dennis was not seen in the water due to
darkness.

A search commenced immediately with three destroyers using their
searchlights and with two helicopters. The search continued into the morning
hours at which time the flashlights and life ring were recovered from the
sea, but no sign of Dennis was found.

Dennis was rated as a Navy Class II Swimmer, which means he had passed a
test requiring him to enter the water feet first, from a height of at least
five feet, remain afloat for five minutes and during this time swim fifty
yards. It was known that he was not a good swimmer.

Dennis Toms' death is one of the unfortunate accidental deaths that occur
wherever people are. The fact that he died an accidental death in the midst
of war is tragically ironic. He is listed among the missing with honor,
because his body was never found to be returned to the country he served.

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?