COKER, GEORGE THOMAS
Name: George Thomas Coker
Rank/Branch: O2/US Navy Reserves
Unit: Attack Squadron 65, USS CONSTELLATION (CVA 65)
Date of Birth: 14 July 1943 (Amarillo TX)
Home City of Record: Linden NJ
Date of Loss: 27 August 1966
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 184700N 1052700E (WF474767)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Other Personnel in Incident: J.H. Fellowes (released POW)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 30 April 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 02/97 with information provided by George T. Coker. 2019
REMARKS: 730304 RELSD BY DRV
SYNOPSIS: The USS CONSTELLATION provided air power to the U.S. effort in
Vietnam early in the war, having participated in strikes against Loc Chao
and Hon Gai in North Vietnam during August 1964. One of the first American
POWs of the war, and certainly one of the most well-known, LTJG Everett
Alverez, launched from her decks and was captured during this series of
strikes in 1964. The CONSTELLATION was large and carried a full range of
aircraft. Fighters from her air wing, CVW-14, earned the carrier the
Meritorious Unit Commendation in 1968 during a particularly intense period
of air attacks. VF-96, a premier fighter squadron awarded the Clifton Trophy
two straight years, flew from the CONSTELLATION in October 1971. During this
period, two of her pilots, LT Randall H. Cunningham and LTJG William
"Willie" Driscoll became the first American aces of the Vietnam War, having
shot down five Russian-made MiG enemy aircraft. The CONSTELLATION remained
on station throughout most of the war.
LCDR John H. "Jack" Fellowes was a pilot assigned to Attack Squadron 65
onboard the USS CONSTELLATION. On August 27, 1966, he and his
Bombardier/Navigator (BN), LTJG George T. Coker, launched in their A6A
Intruder all-weather attack aircraft on a strike/bombing mission into North
Vietnam. Coker was on his 55th mission over North Vietnam.
When the flight was about 20 miles northwest of the city of Vinh in Nghe An
Province, Fellowes' aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire or debris from a
surface-to-air missile (SAM) in the right wing which caused the aircraft to
enter a flat spin forcing both crewmen to eject. Their wingman sighted two
parachutes at approximately 2,000 feet, and manually operated emergency radio
beeper signals commenced and persisted as the wingman maneuvered to keep the
chutes in sight. The area was about 18 miles inland in a well-populated area.
The terrain was primarily flat with rice paddies and numerous houses and
villages. There was little to offer concealment.
Moderate flak was encountered as the two parachutes passed 1,000 feet. Due
to poor weather visibility and enemy flak, the wingman lost sight of the two
chutes as they passed below 50 feet. An intensive search effort was
conducted despite moderate to heavy flak for nearly 3 hours, but the
parachutes were not spotted on the ground, nor were emergency beepers heard
any longer. Both Fellowes and Coker were classified Missing in Action.
Later that day, Radio Hanoi announced, "The Armed Forces and people in Nghe
An Province this morning shot down two U.S. aircraft during two
counterattacks within ten minutes. At 1030 hours, one of the two U.S. planes
was shot down on the spot at the first round while intruding into the
airspace over the western part of the province. The aggressor pilot was
captured. Ten minutes later, flights of U.S. aircraft send to the rescue of
the U.S. air pirate had to flee in disorder in the face of accurate ground
fire. One of them was knocked down." (NOTE: No other Americans were captured
or listed as missing on that date.) When this information was received, both
men were reclassified Prisoner of War.
During their captivity, Coker and Fellowes suffered along with their fellow
POWs. Torture and deprivation was commonplace. Fellowes arms were both
permanently damaged by manipulation in the "ropes", a common
torture-technique. Coker suffered a back fracture and a lacerated knee and
arm. While in captivty, he was beaten with a fan belt, was tortured with
ropes, and was forced to stand for two months. Coker actually escaped in
December 1970 with another American. The two swam down the Red River, but
were recaptured. Coker was found buried in a mud bank attempting to conceal
his location from his captors.
Fellowes and Coker were held in various prisoner of war camps -- Cu Loc, Hoa
Lo (Hanoi Hilton), Alcatraz Grove -- in and around Hanoi throughout the
duration of the war. On March 4, 1973, they were both released as part of
Operation Homecoming. Coker had spent six and a half years in captivity with
two and a half of that in solitary.
Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing,
prisoner or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S.
Government. Many authorities who have examined this largely classified
information are convinced that hundreds of Americans are still held captive
today. These reports are the source of serious distress to many returned
American prisoners. They had a code that no one could honorably return
unless all of the prisoners returned. Not only that code of honor, but the
honor of our country is at stake as long as even one man remains unjustly
held. It's time we brought our men home.
George T. Coker was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant during the period he
was prisoner of war. He remained in the Navy and attained the rank of
John H. Fellowes was promoted to the rank of Commander during the period he
was prisoner of war. He remained in the Navy and attained the rank of
Captain. He retired from the Navy and as of 1989, resided in Annapolis,
SOURCE: WE CAME HOME copyright 1977
Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor
P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602
Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and
UPDATE - 09/95 by the P.O.W. NETWORK, Skidmore, MO
GEORGE THOMAS COKER
Prisoner of War in
8-27-1965 - 3-4-1973
Lord give me the wisdom to
know your will, and the
strength to do it.
Born in Amarillo, Texas, 14 July 1943, I lived in the Texas Panhandle till
1951, when my family moved to Linden, New Jersey. Linden has become my home,
and I graduated with honors from grammar school and high school. I am an Eagle
Scout, played football, and was a high school state wrestling champion.
Next I went to Rutgers University, studying electrical engineering. In 1963, I
became a cadet in the naval flight program. I received my commission and wings
in August 1964. Flying then took me to Virginia Beach, Virginia, where I was
stationed for two years before being deployed to Southeast Asia aboard the
aircraft carrier Constellation in May 1966.
Following my deployment to Southeast Asia, I was shot down on my 55th mission
on 27 August 1966. My aircraft was an A6A Intruder jet, a navy attack
aircraft, or sometimes called a tactical fighterbomber. Then began the long
ordeal that lasted till 4 March 1973, when I was released and flown to Clark
Air Force Base in the Philippines.
Concerning my captivity, I can confirm the many horror stories you have
undoubtedly heard. Like 95% of the POWs, I was tortured many times. I have
been beaten, tied up in the straps or ropes, made to stand for weeks on end,
kept awake for days, harassed and humiliated constantly. Perhaps worst of all
were the three years of solitary confinement. I only bring these points up to
assure you that this incredible story is true, and to make you aware of the
type of enemy we are fighting.
I was injured when shot down, my left knee and arm being torn open, but they
have healed, and now only scars remain. The doctors say I am in excellent
health, both mentally and physically, and I should be flying again soon.
Perhaps I should add that I escaped from Hanoi in October 1967 with George
McKnight, but we were recaptured and returned to Hanoi the next day after 12
hours and 15 miles of freedom.
Of greater importance are the things that enabled us to survive, those things
on which our faith is based. We lived on faith-perhaps a blind faith-but a
deep, personal faith that maintained our trust in God, in our country, and in
our families and fellow Americans. The basis of this faith goes back to my
grammar school days. There is where l learned my American history and concepts
of patriotism. Scouting continued to develop my concepts of duty and service.
Sports taught me to be strong physically, as well as mentally, to roll with
the punches, and to keep pressing for the victory. Our military training
helped to polish this attitude, but the basis of our strength was our
childlike faith in all the things that make America what it is.
Now that victory is ours, it is great to be home. I am part of a large family,
having four brothers and one sister, all of whom are married, making me the
only single member of the family. It was a long ordeal, but a necessary one;
and after many years of struggle, we have gained our objectives. I believe
this completely, and if necessary, I am ready to go back. As a military
officer, I must be ready to serve you, any way you need or want. I hope to be
back to work and flying again in August. I do plan to make the naval service
George Coker retired from the United States Navy as a Commander in September
of 1986. After his release from captivity, he received the Navy Cross, the
Legion of Merit, and the Silver Star as well as the P.O.W. medal. He
returned to school and has a BS in Political Science. He and his wife Pamela
Ann reside in Virginia. He enjoys computers and scouting. They have two
daughters, Theresa and Elizabeth, and a son, Thomas.
... "If you're never tested, you don't know," says George Coker.