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?