GATWOOD, ROBIN FREDERICK
Name: Robin Frederick Gatwood
Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force
Unit: 30th Air Division
Date of Birth: 05 December 1946
Home City of Record: Hickory NC
Loss Date: 02 April 1972
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 165000N 1070100E (YD146612)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: EB66E ("Bat 21")
Source: Compiled 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 in 2020.
Personnel in Incident: April 2: Robin F. Gatwood; Wayne L. Bolte; Anthony
Giannangeli; Charles A. Levis; Henry M. Serex; (all missing from the EB66).
LtCol. Iceal Hambleton (rescued after 12 days from EB66). Ronald P.
Paschall; Byron K. Kulland; John W. Frink (all missing from UH1H rescue
helicopter), Jose M. Astorga (captured and released in 1973 from UH1H).
April 3: William J. Henderson (captured and released in 1973 from OV10A
rescue craft); Mark Clark (rescued after 12 days from OV10A rescue craft).
April 6: James H. Alley; Allen J. Avery; Peter H. Chapman; John H. Call;
William R. Pearson; Roy D. Prater (all KIA/BNR from HH53C "Jolly 52" rescue
chopper). Also in very close proximity to "Bat 21"on April 3: Allen D.
Christensen; Douglas L. O'Neil; Edward W. Williams; Larry A. Zich (all
missing from UH1H). April 7: Bruce Charles Walker (evaded 11 days); Larry
F. Potts (captured & died in POW camp) (both missing from OV10A).
SYNOPSIS: On the afternoon of April 2, 1972, two Thailand-based EB66
aircraft (Bat 21 and Bat 22), from the 30th Air Division, were flying
pathfinder escort for a cell of B52s bombing near the DMZ. Bat 21 took a
direct SAM hit and the plane went down. A single beeper signal was heard,
that of navigator Col. Iceal Hambleton. At this time it was assumed the rest
of the crew died in the crash. The crew included Maj. Wayne L. Bolte, pilot;
1Lt. Robin F. Gatwood, LtCol. Anthony R. Giannangeli, LtCol. Charles A.
Levis, and Maj. Henry M. Serex, all crew members. It should be noted that
the lowest ranking man aboard this plane was Gatwood, a First Lieutenant.
This was not an ordinary crew, and its members, particularly Hambleton,
would be a prize capture for the enemy because of military knowledge they
It became critical, therefore, that the U.S. locate Hambleton, and any other
surviving crew members before the Vietnamese did - and the Vietnamese were
trying hard to find them first.
An Army search and rescue team was nearby and dispatched two UH1H "slicks"
and two UH1B "Cobras". When they approached Hambleton's position just before
dark, at about 50 feet off the ground, with one of the AH1G Cobra gunships
flying at 300 feet for cover, two of the helicopters were shot down. One,
the Cobra (Blue Ghost 28) reached safety and the crew was picked up, without
having seen the other downed helicopter. The other, a UH1H from F Troop, 8th
Cavalry, 196th Brigade, had just flown over some huts into a clearing when
they encountered ground fire, and the helicopter exploded. Jose Astorga, the
gunner, was injured in the chest and knee by the gunfire. Astorga became
unconscious, and when he recovered, the helicopter was on the ground. He
found the pilot, 1Lt. Byron K. Kulland, lying outside the helicopter. WO
John W. Frink, the co-pilot, was strapped in his seat and conscious. The
crew chief, SP5 Ronald P. Paschall, was pinned by his leg in the helicopter,
but alive. WO Franks urged Astorga to leave them, and Astorga was captured.
He soon observed the aircraft to be hit by automatic weapons fire, and to
explode with the rest of the crew inside. He never saw the rest of the crew
again. Astorga was relesed by the North Vietnamese in 1973.
The following day, Nail 38, an OV10A equipped with electronic rescue gear
enabling its crew to get a rapid "fix" on its rescue target entered
Hambleton's area and was shot down. The crew, William J. Henderson and Mark
Clark, both parachuted out safely. Henderson was captured and released in
1973. Clark evaded for 12 days and was subsequently rescued.
On April 3, the day Nail 38 was shot down, a UH1H "slick" went down in
the same area carrying a crew of four. They had no direct connection
to the rescue of Bat 21, but were very probably shot down by the same
SAM installations that downed Bat 21. The helicopter, from H/HQ, 37th
Signal Battalion, 1st Signal Brigade, had left Marble Mountain Airfield, Da
Nang, on a standard resupply mission to signal units in and around Quang Tri
City. The crew, consisting of WO Douglas L. O'Neil, pilot; CW2 Larry A. Zich,
co-pilot; SP5 Allen D. Christensen, crew chief; and SP4 Edward W. Williams,
gunner; remain missing in action.
On April 6, an attempt was made to pick up Clark and Hambleton which
resulted in an HH53C helicopter being shot down. The chopper was badly hit.
The helicopter landed on its side and continued to burn, consuming the
entire craft, and presumably, all 6 men aboard. The crew of this aircraft
consisted of James H. Alley; Allen J. Avery, John H. Call III, Peter H.
Chapman, William R. Pearson, and Roy D. Prater. Search and rescue noted no
signs of survivors, but it is felt that the Vientamese probably know the
fate of this crew because of the close proximity of the downed aircraft to
On April 7 another Air Force OV10A went down in the area with Larry Potts
and Bruce Walker aboard. Walker, the Air Force pilot of the aircraft, evaded
capture 11 days, while it is reported that Potts was captured and died in
Quang Binh prison. Potts, the observer, was a Marine Corps officer. Walker's
last radio transmission to search and rescue was for SAR not to make an
attempt to rescue, the enemy was closing in. Both men remain unaccounted
Hambleton and Clark were rescued after 12 incredible days. Hambleton
continually changed positions and reported on enemy activity as he went,
even to the extent of calling in close air strikes near his position. He was
tracked by a code he devised relating to the length and lie direction of
various golf holes he knew well. Another 20 or so Americans were not so
In July 1986, the daughter of Henry Serex learned that, one week after all
search and rescue had been "called off" for Bat 21, another mission was
mounted to recover "another downed crewmember" from Bat 21. She doesn't know
whether or not it is her father or another man on the EB66 aircraft. No
additional information has been released. When the movie "Bat 21" was
released, she was horrified to learn that virtually no mention of the rest
of the crew, including her father, was made.
In Vietnam, to most fighting men, the man that fought beside them, whether
in the air or on the ground, was worth dying for. Each understood that the
other would die for him if necessary. Thus, also considering the critical
knowledge possessed by Col. Hambleton and some of the others, the seemingly
uncanny means taken to recover Clark and Hambleton are not so unusual at
What defies logic and explaination, however, is that the government that
sent these men to battle can distort or withold information to their
families, and knowingly abandon hundreds of men known or strongly suspected
to be in enemy hands.
Thousands of reports have been received by the U.S. Government indicating
that Americans are still alive, in captivity in Southeast Asia. It has been
17 years for those who may have survived the 1972 Easter crashes and rescue
attempts. How much longer must they wait for their country to bring "peace
with honor" to them and bring them home?