McATEER, THOMAS JOSEPH
Name: Thomas Joseph McAteer
Rank/Branch: O3/US Navy
Unit: Air Antisubmarine Squadron 21, USS KEARSARGE (CVS 33)
Date of Birth: 15 April 1946
Home City of Record: Pittsburgh PA
Date of Loss: 10 November 1966
Country of Loss: South Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 173000N 1083000E (BK346365)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Other Personnel in Incident: William T. Carter; Eric J. Schoderer; John M.
Riordan (all missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 May 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.
REMARKS: FAIL RTN FM MSN - SRCH BK 3436 - J
SYNOPSIS: In 1966, there were several search and rescue (SAR) destroyers
parked off the coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. When the attack
and fighter people would egress, they would be there to assist a cripple or
pick up a guy who had to punch out or ditch. During the night when the
strike activity would ebb, the SAR DDs would steam around their small areas
waiting for the next day's activities. It was during these night and early
morning hours that high speed surface contacts would probe their positions.
The "Stoof" (S2) helped provide air cover for these surface ships, as well
as utilize electronic technical gear to pinpoint locations of enemy
As antisubmarine warfare was all but unknown in Vietnam, there were a
variety of duties handled by those trained in antisubmarine warfare. As
marking submarines, and/or destroying them involved the use of marking
buoys, electronic "ears" and other technical equipment suited for target
marking, antisubmarine teams were frequently used for search missions. They
also sometimes assisted in attacks on small enemy water craft. The Stoof
(also called "Tracker") was technically an anti-submarine aircraft, but had
other missions in Vietnam. There were only a few of such planes assigned to
Vietnam at all.
For example, if a ship thought its position was being probed by enemy boats,
it might vector the Stoof out over the target. The Stoof tactic was to drop
a parachute retarded flare from about 10,000 feet over the target, circle
back around at a low altitude (about 300 feet) and investigate. If the
target was unfriendly, then the S2 would engage and destroy it. There was a
certain amount of risk involved in these operations, as the Vietnamese PT
boats had radar that enabled them to strike with no visual contact.
In the dead of night, at 10:30 p.m. on November 10, 1966, an S2E launched
from the USS Kearsarge with pilot LT Thomas J. McAteer, and crewmembers LTJG
William T. Carter, AX3 John M. Riordan, and AX3 Eric J. Schoderer. (AX
designates Antisubmarine warfare technicians and related duties). Their
mission was a surveillance flight in the Gulf of Tonkin.
McAteer's Tracker was last in radar contact with the control ship at 1:45
a.m. It was not uncommon to lose periodic radar contact with a Tracker when
it dived below radar to investigate a surface target. But when the Tracker
did not return to the ship at their expected time, a search and rescue
effort was begun. The search produced aircraft wreckage and personal
survival and flight gear, but no survivors.
The cause of the crash of McAteer's aircraft was not determined. It was
suspected that the aircraft made an uncontrolled contact with the water. The
aircraft was determined lost about 55 miles east-northeast of the city of
Hue in the Gulf of Tonkin. The crew status was initially Missing in Action,
but was changed the following day to Killed/Body Not Recovered.
When considering a personnel loss at sea, the criteria for survival involves
both the location and the cause of the loss. In the case of the S2E, no
reason for loss was ever determined. Therefore, it was either shot down or
went down due to mechanical difficulties or "pilot error."
If mechanical difficulties resulted in the downing of the S2E, in an
entirely non-hostile environment, then there can be little chance of
survival for the crew of the S2E unless they managed to cross 50 miles of
ocean. If enemy activity was present, however, there can be ample room for
speculation that the crew might have been captured.
The crew of the S2E is among nearly 3000 Americans who remained prisoner,
missing, or otherwise unaccounted for at the end of the Vietnam war. Since
that time, cases have been resolved by the return of remains and by other
means. Since the end of the war, nearly 10,000 reports relating to these
Americans have been received by the U.S. Government, convincing many
authorities that hundreds of Americans remain alive in enemy hands today.
Whether the crew of the S2E survived to be captured can only be speculated.
It would be kinder to them and to their families if they died on November
10, 1966. It is impossible to imagine the agony they must feel to have been
abandoned by their country. It is heartbreaking to consider that Americans
still await rescue by the country they proudly served.