GREENLEAF, JOSEPH GALES
|Name: Joseph Gales Greenleaf
Rank/Branch: O3/US Navy
Unit: Fighter Squadron 114, USS KITTY HAWK (CVA-63)
Date of Birth: 16 November 1944 (Boston MA)
Home City of Record: West Newton MA
Date of Loss: 14 April 1972
Country of Loss: South Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 164856N 1065956E
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Other Personnel In Incident: Clemie McKinney (remains returned)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 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.
SYNOPSIS: Lieutenants Joseph Greenleaf and Clemie McKinney were pilots
assigned to Fighter Squadron 114 onboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty
Hawk. On April 14, 1972, they launched in their F4E fighter jet for a
bombing mission at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). On the flight, Greenleaf
was the pilot and McKinney was the Radar Intercept Officer.
During their bombing run, the F4 was hit by anti-aircraft fire andd was
observed to continue its dive until impact. No ejections were observed. The
crash occurred 1 mile south of Cam Lo village, South Vietnam. Reports at
that time indicated that because the aircraft had taken a direct hit into
the cockpit was involved in a low-level bombing dive as well, that
successful ejection would have been virtually impossible.
On August 14, 1985, the Vietnamese government returned remains purported to
be those of Lt. Clemie McKinney. Although McKinney's family disputed the
finding, the Navy determined the remains to be those of McKinney's in
February 1988. The delay, according to the Navy, was due to an error in
documenting correct biographical and physical information. One of the
objections of the family is the apparent discrepancy of having received a
direct hit in the cockpit, precluding the possibility of recovering any
identifiable remains. Other problems involving the configuration of the feet
bones were questioned.
The difficulty in successfully identifying remains that have withstood the
wearing effects of trauma and years of exposure is recognized, as are
scientific achievements making the near-impossible possible. However,
military errors in identification have had to be reversed in court, and it
is the desire of most POW/MIA family members that a private professional
opinion be obtained before they are able to lay their loved one to rest.
Under the circumstances, it is not clear whether the identification of
Clemie McKinney is accurate. Greenleaf, at least, is still among the
missing. Tragically, reports continue to pour in relating to Americans
prisoner, missing or otherwise unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. Many
officials who have reviewed this largely classified information have
reluctantly concluded that hundreds of Americans are still alive in
When the military confirms an identification of remains, that case is closed.
No one is looking for Clemie McKinney. Should a report that he is alive be
received, it will be discounted because he has been proven to be dead.
If there are Americans still alive in captivity in Southeast Asia, no books
should be closed until they are all home. We cannot afford the abandonment
of even one of these men, America's finest sons.
ROLLING THUNDER, THE WALL, AND MORE
By Betsy Greenleaf
My brother Joe Greenleaf was shot down and killed in 1972, over Vietnam. After Joe’s death, our family, who are all widely spread out along the East Coast, had remained in close contact with Joe’s widow, Marcia, over the years. So we were happy when Marcia and Dan (her second husband) and their daughter, Maya, invited us all to a reunion at their place in Fairfax, Virginia.
It was 1997, the reunion would be held over Memorial Day weekend, so we planned to attend the ceremony and concert on the National Mall in Washington, DC, green park land extending from the Capitol building to the presidential monuments: The Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson memorials.
My brother Hank and his family drove down from Connecticut. My husband and I drove north from central Virginia with our son and my mother. The big suburban house easily accommodated us all, Marcia cooked up a feast for us, and Dan was a jovial host. As we stood around the kitchen visiting, we suddenly realized that we hadn’t all been together since 1972. None of us had realized, until that moment, that it was 25 years since my brother Joe had been killed in Vietnam. He had been a Navy pilot of an F-4 fighter jet. We also remembered him as a handsome, bright, Princeton grad, who was a gentle, wise, and lovable guy.
Joe and Marcia had been married a short time when he was given orders for a second tour of duty in Vietnam. Some of us thought we would never see Joe again, but Hank, knowing what a good pilot Joe was, expected him to come home. In April 1972 my parents received a telegram stating that Joe’s plane had been shot down April 14 on a mission over the DMZ (demilitarized zone) in Vietnam. He and his copilot were presumed dead because the jet had crashed into the ground, and no one was seen parachuting out. The Navy had a memorial service for the two men on the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier.
The 114 Fighter Squadron commander wrote an epitaph about Joe: “Joe was a truly outstanding individual in all respects and – He was happiest when he was flying – he had earned the complete respect and admiration of all his fellow officers and men and his performance in combat showed him to be courageous and highly devoted to the performance of his duties. I was proud and thankful to have a person such as Joe in my squadron. He was a warm and sincere person and distinguished himself by his exemplary personal conduct, military bearing and exceptional discipline.”
At the funeral we had for Joe, the whole family went through all the feelings of grief: Confusion, anger, regret, and loss. My parents never really got over his untimely death at age 27. Eventually Marcia remarried another Navy officer, Dan, but continued to stay in touch with us, as she was particularly close to our mother, and lived only a few hours away.
In 1985, 13 years after Joe’s death, the remains of Clemie McKinney, Joe’s copilot, were returned to his family with the information that he had survived the crash, been taken prisoner, and had died a few months later. We didn’t hear about this until seven years later, in 1992, which was one of many examples of bureaucratic bungling. It was known that there were still prisoners of war in North Vietnam after the war, but the government didn’t try to get them out or let the public know.
President Clinton wanted to resolve the POW/MIA issues. Consequently, Hank had been called down to DC to meet with military investigators. They told him that Joe was on a list of 42 men whose cases were still open. It was very disturbing news for us all. Hank spent the next year corresponding and meeting with numerous political and military authorities. What he learned unofficially was that Joe had also survived the crash. He had been taken prisoner, was moved to Laos for probable interrogation by the Russians, and had died in a hospital.
Then in 1996 Hank received more news, and this time it was official. Joe’s crash site had been positively identified with evidence of his dog tags and burned flight suit. Investigators surmised that Joe’s automatic seat-ejection mechanism had jammed, but that copilot Clemie’s had not. Joe had died at the crash site, but there were no remains. Joe and Clemie had been mistaken for another pair of pilots who had crashed nearby about the same time. It was a huge relief to learn that Joe had died quickly, which confirmed our intuitions.
Now, just a year later, having found peace with the past, we were just tourists
about to show off our nation’s capital to our children. As we drove across the
Potomac, the magnificent marble and stone monuments of the Mall came into view.
Coming on to Constitution Avenue, we were startled to find ourselves surrounded
by crowds of
The watchword of Rolling Thunder is “We Will Not Forget,” because their major mission is to publicize the POW/MIA issue. They feel that our government, along with the media, have ignored over 10,000 reports of sightings of live captives still in Vietnam since the end of the war. At their first rally, 2,500 motorcyclists converged on D.C. “To demand from our leaders a full accounting” of all prisoners-of-war/missing-in-action soldiers. Henceforth it was called the “Ride for Freedom” or the “Ride to the Wall.” The founders chose the name Rolling Thunder in memory of the 1965 Operation Rolling Thunder bombing campaign against North Vietnam. By 2010, there were 900,000 Rolling Thunder participants in the “Ride for Freedom.”
After miraculously finding parking in the chaos that is DC on a holiday weekend, we headed out into the crowds. We trekked to our first destination, The Wall (the Vietnam Veterans Memorial), to pay our respects to Joe. Standing in a long line under black umbrellas was a solemn and very sad experience. The dark wall, lit from below by lights in the walk, had a serene and surreal quality. Its shiny black surface reflected each person as they stepped up close to find the name of their lost soldier. We looked up Joe’s name in a directory, and took a strip of white paper and a pencil provided there. Panel 2 was at the center of The Wall’s two wings. We found his name, Joseph G. Greenleaf, laid the paper over it, and rubbed the letters. We were tearful, as were many around us. Some spoke softly or placed mementos: A red rose, an I.D. tag, a letter from home. Even the children were quiet – feeling the sorrow all around us that hung in the warm, damp air like a shroud.
Later we headed back to Fairfax for rest and another fine meal prepared by Marcia and Dan – and then gathered comfortably in the living room and watched the inspiring Memorial Day concert and ceremony on television. Veterans told stories of heroism and patriotism that moved us to tears once again. After the concert we shared stories of Joe, laughing and crying even more. We missed him, and felt sad that our children and spouses had never known such a special man. Mom was especially quiet and stoic – hiding all the years she had grieved for the sweet son she had lost. Despite the sad occasion, it was good to be together. We hugged and headed off to bed. In the morning we awoke to sunshine, packed up, and headed home after group photos and farewells.
The serendipitous 25th anniversary reunion gave us closure on our loss of Joe. We were never all together again. I still receive notes from friends or family members who have been to The Wall to pay their respects to Joe, or who have found his name on a plaque honoring the men in his squadron. It surprises me that we are still thinking about him 40 years later.
On Memorial Day, 1999, two years after our reunion, we adopted our Russian-born daughter, Nadya, in a courtroom a few hours from Moscow. The day we flew back to Reagan Airport we picked up our car at a hotel near DC, and there was Rolling Thunder again. We asked the bikers, who were getting ready to head home as well, if we could snap a family photo near their bikes. A big, tough-looking fellow with a gray beard, sunglasses, and bandana on his long hair was pleased we had asked. Holding the baby who was dressed in patriot stripes, I sat sidesaddle on his red bike, and then thanked them for this perfect and most unexpected moment. Some day we will take Nadya to visit The Wall, and rub Joe’s name once again.
Betsy Greenleaf is the sister of a Navy pilot MIA since 1972. She is a retired landscape architect.
To whom it may concern,
I was Joe Greenleaf’s friend and shipmate. May I point out a few errors in his bio, https://www.pownetwork.org/bios/g/g124.htm?
1. When he was shot down, Joe was flying the J model of the F-4, not the E-model. (The Navy did not operate the E-model; the Air Force did.)
2. He was not lost over water, but over land. The coordinates look accurate on Google Earth, and they are clearly “feet dry” north of Cam Lo.
3. His Radar Intercept Officer that day, Clemie McKinney, was not another pilot, but a Naval Flight Officer (Note the dual anchors of the wings in his official photo. See http://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/36958/CLEMIE-MCKINNEY?page=2)
These errors also appear in the bio for Clemie McKinney, http://www.pownetwork.org/bios/m/m217.htm
Thank you for your attention.
John Paul Jones
CAPT USN (ret.)
Temporarily, I'm appending your comments to both bios. I need to get some paperwork out of storage from the late 70's/early 80's before "correcting."
I keep running into archived notes that indicate the information listed may have been in original USG documents. If that is the case, will leave your note and the original information as we have done many times to show the many times the USG had faulty information in incident reports esp as some notes indicate their loss was originally mixed with another incident. If it is indeed a typo, will get it corrected.
Mary Schantag, Chairman
I will be attaching the information and your note to the bios.... but please
see attached 1 of 4 for the information gleaned from numerous old USG/DoD
data reports. If by chance, both names are not shown, the 2nd name was not
mentioned in that document set.
Hope it helps show how hard it was/is to get accurate info from USG files on this issue. Decades ago, incident reports were read over the phone to members of the Last Firebase writing the bios . Families later confirmed what was noted in bios, was what they found in loved one's incident reports. Those reports have never been received in writing by anyone other than family members.
Dear Ms. Schantag,
I’ve had a look at the documents you sent to me on Tuesday, June 6, as attachments to four messages. Below are the results of my analysis.
1. A document in set 1, entitled “U.S. Citizens … Captured, Missing, Detained etc. DIA PW/MIA Branch,” reports Joe Greenleaf and Clemmie McKinney lost over water adjacent to South Vietnam, as do your bios. According to Google Earth, however, the latitude and longitude reported in that document, 16 40’ 56”N, 106 59’56”E, is more than 16 miles inland from the coast. The contradiction is therefore evident from the face of the DIA document.
2. The same document Identifies Joe and Clemmie as USN personnel, but reports them lost while flying the E model of the F-4 Phantom, as do your bios. But the E model was operated only by USAF. The Navy owned and operated only the B and J models of the A/C in 1972, and the air wing of which Joe and Clemmie were members, CAG-11, flew only the J model on that deployment. A document in set 4, entitled “POWS/MIAS,” correctly reports the model of Joe and Clemmie’s aircraft as J -- as does another document in set 4, entitled “Biographic Report.”
3. A document in set 4, “List of [Massachusetts] Casualties Incurred by U.S. Military Personnel” correctly codes Joe’s “SPEC” as 1310, the Navy officer occupation designator code for a Naval Aviator commissioned in the Regular Navy. Another document in set 4, entitled “List of [Ohio] Casualties Incurred by U.S. Military Personnel” correctly codes Clemmie’s “SPEC” as 1325, the Navy officer occupation designator code for a Naval Flight Officer commissioned in the Naval Reserve. Your bio, however, misclassifies Clemmie as a pilot.
4. The document in set 4 entitled “List of [Massachusetts] Casualties Incurred by U.S. Military Personnel” reports Joe’s Branch of Service as N for Navy, but lists him as 1LT, a rank common to the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps at the level O-2, but not the Navy. Elsewhere, Joe’s level of rank is listed as O-3, which would have made him a Lieutenant in the Navy, abbreviated LT. Your bio does not repeat this error.
Thank you for your attention. I hope that the Network can eventually correct these two bios.
John Paul Jones
CAPT USN (Ret.)