Name: Robert Wetzel Rank/Branch: O3/US Navy Unit: VA35, USS SARATOGA Age: 30 Home City of Record: Metuchen NJ Date of Loss: 18 January 1991 Country of Loss: Iraq Loss Coordinates: Status: Prisoner of War Status: Released 03/04/91 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: A6E
Other Personnel in Incident: Jeffrey N. Zaun (released)
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 by the POW NETWORK 2002.
REMARKS: OPERATION DESERT STORM
SYNOPSIS: Navy Lt. Robert Wetzel was one of nine children in his family raised in Metuchen, New Jersey. Wetzel graduated from Metuchen High School in 1978 where he played soccer and baseball and received the school's scholar/athlete aware. He subsequently attended the New Jersey Institute of Technology and went on to join the U.S. Navy in about 1986. Wetzel eventually took pilot training on the A6 Intruder.
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.
Wetzel was assigned to Oceana Naval Air Station at Virginia Beach, Virginia with Attack Squadron 35 (VA35 - "Black Panthers"). Ultimately, his squadron shipped out on the USS SARATOGA and was stationed in the Red Sea when hostilities began in the Middle East in 1991.
On January 18, 1991, Wetzel was the pilot and Lt. Jeffrey N. Zaun flew as backseater on an A6E Intruder in early attacks on Iraqi military targets. The attacks on Iraqi military targets. Zaun and Wetzel's target was the H3 Airfield in Southwest Iraq. The aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft artillery over the desert. Zaun, at least, ejected from the aircraft and was captured by Iraqi forces.
On January 20, 1991, a video interview of Zaun was broadcast on Iraqi television. First the audio portion, then the video were shown in the U.S. by Cable News Network (CNN). Zaun and six other Allied POWs (including two other Americans) had been paraded through Bagdhad in a propaganda move and coerced into making "peace" statements. All appeared to be speaking under extreme duress. While the Pentagon has yet to confirm the identity of the Americans in the film, Zaun's family confirmed that the man appearing in the interview was their son. Wetzel was not mentioned in the report. Also on January 20, Iraqi stated that POWs would be used as "human shields" to protect their important military sites from attack by Allied forces.
Until March 3, 1991, no one knew the fate of Robert Wetzel. On that day, both Wetzel and Zaun were released by the Iraqis in a group of six American POWs. Zaun, whose battered face is said to have united America behind the POWs and the troops serving in Desert Storm, had healed and both men from the "Black Panther" squadron greeted cameras with smiles.
Robert Wetzel is unmarried, but is scheduled to be married to Jaqui Curtin of Virginia Beach in five weeks. His parents, William and Kathleen Wetzel, reside in Vero Beach, Florida. He is one of nine children.