COSTEN, WILLIAM THOMAS "TOM" Remains Returned March 12, 1991
Name: William Thomas "Tom" Costen Rank/Branch: O3/US Navy Unit: VA155, USS RANGER Age: 27 Home City: St. Louis MO Date of Loss: 18 January 1991 Country of Loss: Iraq Loss Coordinates: Status: Missing in Action Status is 2002: KIA Remains Returned Acft/Vehicle/Ground: FA6
Other Personnel in Incident: Charlie Turner (missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 09 March 1991 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, published sources, interviews. Updated 2002 POW NETWORK.
REMARKS: OPERATION DESERT STORM
SYNOPSIS: The Grumman A6 Intruder is a two-man all weather, low-altitude, carrier-based attack plane, with versions adapted as aerial tanker and electronic warfare platform. The A6A primarily flies close-air-support, all-weather and night attacks on enemy troop concentrations, and night interdiction missions. Its advanced navigation and attack system allows small precision targets, such as bridges, barracks and fuel depots to be located and attacked in all weather conditions, day or night. Their crews are among the most talented and most courageous to serve the United States.
In the early days of hostilities in the Middle East, about one dozen American pilots were shot down and declared missing. The Pentagon, reluctant to release more information than was necessary, released only name, rank, branch of service and age of each missing man. Family members, friends and media sources reported more.
Tom Costen and Charlie Turner were assigned to Attack Squadron 155 at Whidby Island, Washington which shipped out to the Middle East onboard the USS RANGER when U.S. military buildup began there in January 1991. Costen and Turner had been in the region only ten days when hostilities began and they was asked to fly combat missions on Iraqi military targets in the first wave of offensive strikes of the war. Costen was the pilot of an FA6 Intruder, and Turner his navigator.
Costen's aircraft was apparently shot down and he failed to return from missions on the morning of Friday, January 18, 1991. The Pentagon has been reluctant to release information related to the Missing, and no information is yet available as to location of loss or probability of survival. Costen's parents, Dr. William S. Costen and Barbara Wilkins of St. Louis, state that the Navy is still running search and rescue operations looking for him.
Later information revealed that an ejection signal had been heard, and that two emergency radio beeper signals were picked up indicating that both Turner and Costen successfully ejected from the aircraft. The two were returning to the USS Ranger following a bombing mission when they were shot down.
On January 20, 1991, Associated Press released information that Navy Lt. Charlie Turner of Minneapolis, Minnesota was missing. Turner's name as of January 20 had not appeared on Pentagon lists, but the information was received from family members that Turner was the bombadier/navigator of an A6 lost on January 19, 1991 over Kuwait.
On January 20, 1991, a video interview of Allied POWs was broadcast on Iraqi television. First the audio portion, then the video, were shown in the U.S. by Cable News Network (CNN). Seven Allied POWs (including three Americans) had been paraded through Bagdhad in a propaganda move and coerced into making "peace" statements. All appeared to be speaking under extreme duress.
Turner and Costin were not shown or mentioned in the report. Also on January 20, the Iraqis stated that POWs would be used as "human shields" to protect their important military sites from attack by Allied forces.
On January 21, Scripps Howard News Service released a report out of Ruweished, Jordan, quoting an eye witness who said he watched "an enraged mob of Iraqis attack and butcher an American pilot after he was shot down over Baghdad" on January 18. "I saw a plane get hit by fire from the ground and a pilot came down in a parachute on Saadoun Street," said Al Nathari, a Yemenite agriculture student who was among some 1,500 people who fled across the Jordanian border on January 20. "The Iraqi people ran over to him and beat him and cut him to pieces with knives," Al Nathari claimed. "The police came and stopped them, but they came too late. The American was dead.
Asked how he knew the dead pilot was American, Al Nathari said he saw an American flag on his flight suit.
The Pentagon denies any knowledge of the incident.
Amidst clearly inflated shoot-down reports issued by the Iraqis, and reluctance by the Pentagon to release information, observers wait for news of captured pilots, speculating on the treatment they are receiving. Iraq has historically used prisoners for propaganda in an attempt to undermine enemy morale while providing only "minimum food and shelter" to the prisoners themselves. However, Iraq has not previously held prisoners with the technical knowledge and expertise that U.S. pilots possess, and many fear that the prisoners will be tortured for their knowledge more than used for propaganda.
Those who recall the torture and degradation American POWs were subjected to by the North Vietnamese can only wait and pray.
Those who recall the abandonment of American POWs in World War II (to the Soviets), Korea and Vietnam are watching carefully, determined that men like Turner will be returned alive, or fully accounted for, before American troops leave the Middle East when hostilities cease.
Tom Costin was raised in Independence, Missouri and later moved to St. Louis. He is a graduate of John Burroughs High School in Ladue, Missouri and the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, where he received a degree in physics. He has been in the Navy about six years. He is the son of William Costin, and is a triathelete and steeplechase runner who enjoys guitar and banjo playing as well as building furniture.
On March 12, 1991, the Iraqis handed over to the U.S. 14 allied dead. According the the U.S. Government, one of these was Tom Costen.