WELCH, ROBERT JOHN

Name: Robert John Welch
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Unit: 11th Tactical Recon Squadron, Udorn Airfield, Thailand
Date of Birth: 23 March 1926
Home City of Record: Detroit MI
Date of Loss: 16 January 1967
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 212659N 1052546E (WJ445718)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Category: 2
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: RF4C
Refno: 0566

Other Personnel In Incident: Michael S. Kerr (released POW)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project with the assistance of one or more
of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources,
correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews: 01
January 1990. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 1998.

REMARKS: POSSIBLY WENT IN W/PLANE

SYNOPSIS: On January 16, 1967, an unarmed Air Force RF4C Phantom aircraft
flown by Capt. Robert J. Welch departed Udorn Airfield, Thailand for a photo
reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam near Hanoi. Welch's navigator that
day was 1Lt. Michael S. Kerr.

Welch and Kerr's aircraft was shot down about 35 miles northwest of Hanoi.
They were perhaps making an inspection run over targets hit the day before
as part of a 37-plane mission to destroy railroads, highways, bridges and
SAM (surface-to-air missile) sites 15 miles from Hanoi.

Welch and Kerr were career Air Force officers. Their families were friends,
the two trained together on the photographic version of the Phantom jet,
went to Vietnam together in 1966, flew together and were shot down together.
Their families moved to Washington State to wait. Welch and Kerr didn't
return home together; Kerr was released in 1973, Welch was not.

They had flown out of Udorn, Thailand, on a bright, clear day for the
low-altitude photographic mission around Hanoi. A SAM was fired at the
plane, but did not make a direct hit. The plane pitched up and Kerr blacked
out. When he recovered, he reached for the ejection-seat handle over his
head, but the force was too strong. He grabbed the other one between his
legs and got out.

Kerr did not see Welch bail out, but observed the plane impact and explode
on the side of a hill. Kerr was completely uninjured. Before he was taken to
Hanoi, a young boy showed him a piece of the tail of his plane. Kerr
wondered if he also found Welch or brought out dog tags, if Welch had died.
Throughout his captivity, Kerr never saw Robert Welch, but he never stopped
looking.

After he returned, Kerr and his wife were divorced. Mrs. Kerr and Mrs. Welch
are still friends, and very much involved in the effort to achieve the
release of men like Robert Welch whom they strongly believe are alive today.
Nearly 2500 Americans did not return from the war in Vietnam. Thousands of
reports have been received indicating that some hundreds remain alive in
captivity. Whether Welch is alive or dead is not known. What is certain,
however, is that Vietnam and her communist allies can tell us what happened
to most of our men...including Robert Welch.