PEARSON, WAYNE EDWARD
The symbol on the Wall next to Wayne's name was changed from a cross (MIA) to a Star (KIA) April 30, 1994. Remains were identified 02 JULY 1993.
Name: Wayne Edward Pearson Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force Unit: Date of Birth: 04 November 1939 Home City of Record: Western Springs IL Date of Loss: 22 February 1969 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 192200N 1031100E (UG982422) Status (in 1973): Missing in Action Category: 3 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D Refno: 1391 Other Personnel in Incident: (see text)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1990 with the assistance of 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 2007.
SYNOPSIS: The Phantom, used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings, served a multitude of functions including fighter-bomber and interceptor, photo and electronic surveillance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2), and had a long range (900 - 2300 miles, depending on stores and mission type). The F4 was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes. The F4 was selected for a number of state-of-the-art electronics conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.
Capt. Wayne E. Pearson was a pilot assigned to an F4D. U.S. Government raw data codes him as a "back-seater" responsible for such things as operation of the weapons systems, navigation, and other highly technical equipment used aboard the aircraft. On February 22, 1969, Pearson was on an operational mission over the Plain of Jars in Xiangkhoang Province, Laos.
At a point about 10 miles southeast of the city of Ban Na Mai, Pearson's aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed. While public military record does not indicate the name of Pearson's pilot, the following account was found in Christopher Robbin's "The Ravens" which may correlate to Pearson's incident if he was incorrectly coded as a backseater. If the account does not correlate to Pearson, it does give one an excellent idea of the mechanics involved in the crash of a Phantom and subsequent rescue efforts:
In early 1969, a set of Phantom F4s arrived on station on the rim of the Plain of Jars in Laos--a location where U.S. fighter/bombers flew attack missions as a daily routine. They arrived to hit a target marked by a Raven FAC (Forward Air Control) aircraft.
FAC in Laos was conducted by RAVENS, who were volunteers clandestinely stationed in Laos to support anti-communist efforts in that country. These unconventional pilots were among the best the Air Force had to offer, and saw more combat flying during a tour than any other single group. FACs had to be intimately familiar with the terrain and populous of their regions, and have an excellent handle on enemy activity as well.
"The Raven watched the first fighter enter its run and saw the bombs drop, but just as the Phantom was beginning to pull off it started to come apart. It was incomprehensible. There had been no ground fire, or even reports of antiaircraft guns capable of taking a jet out of the sky at 3,500 feet, but the plane had turned into a ball of smoke.
"...Mike Heenan, the co-pilot, got on the stick the moment he sensed something was wrong. He heard the pilot grunt, as if he were also fighting to get the aircraft under control. They were diving fast, but an aerodynamic nose rise made it seem as if the plane might be recovering. Not until they were very low did it become apparent that the F04 was going to dive straight into the ground.
"[The pilot cried for Heenan to eject and]...in the split second between hearing his colleague call to him and being blown out of the plane, Heenan accepted his death. 'I knew I was going to die...' ...Heenan blacked out on ejection, and when he came around he was hanging from his parachute, which had caught on a tree. He had smashed through its branches and slammed into the trunk and was bleeding profusely. As small, sharp branch stuck through one of his hands like a dagger, and his helmet had been ripped off, laying bare a part of his skull, but he felt no pain. ...'I could not believe I was alive!'
"...[Heenan] fired his flares and began to shout for help into the hand-held survival radio. [A FAC] came up on the radio and told him to keep calm--and to get to the ground. Heenan unbuckled himself from the parachute and allowed himself to fall, hitting the ground hard...and spraining his ankle...."
Heenan spent the next 45 minutes in relative quiet, but then the North Vietnamese spotted his parachute and shots began to be fired. The Raven FAC, according to procedure, was forced to wait to rescue the downed airman, even though helicopters were on the ready, until aircraft could arrive from Thailand to suppress enemy fire and action surrounding the downed man.
The fighters arrived, but the enemy had been closing in. Had the Raven FAC been unencumbered by regulations, Heenan might have already been rescued. The best he could do was try to direct Heenan to a safer pick-up zone. By the time Heenan had been on the ground nearly two hours, he was bleeding continuously and feeling very weak. Still, enemy action had prevented his rescue. The operation was not going smoothly, and the Raven FAC resumed command of the operation and led a Jolly Green to the ground to pick Heenan up.
Ravens were known to be unconventional, and had this Raven not been so, Heenan would not have survived. As Heenan was being hoisted in the waiting Jolly Green, the airman clasping him tight was aiming an M-16 at the enemy who had come running from the cover of nearby bushes. The other member of Heenan's flight team apparently was never rescued.
Pearson is one of nearly 600 Americans who remain Missing, Prisoner, or otherwise unaccounted for in Laos. Because the war in Laos was secret, the fates of Americans lost there are difficult to determine. Many who were known to have been alive when last seen simply disappeared. A handful who were confirmed prisoners were never returned, although reports continue to be received on some of them to this day.
The Pathet Lao stated publicly during the war that they held "tens of tens" of American prisoners, yet the U.S. did not negotiate for their freedom in the peace agreements that ended U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. There has been no treaty to date that would bring these men to freedom.
Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S. Government. Many authorities have reluctantly concluded that there are hundreds of them who remain alive today, held captive by a long-ago enemy.
Whether Wayne E. Pearson is among those thought to be still alive is not known. What is clear, however, is that we owe these men our very best efforts to bring them home. What must they be thinking of the country they proudly served?
To: <email@example.com> Subject: re PEARSON, WAYNE EDWARD bio P026 Date: Fri, 2 Mar 2007 22:53:08 -0800
Hello, I ran across Capt. Pearson's bio on your web site. As to the confusion regarding his role in the F4, I'm confident that Capt. Pearson was the pilot. The "co-pilot" mentioned, Capt. Michael E. Heenan, was his WSO, or "backseater" in the Phantom. Capt. Heenan was later assigned to the 58th TFTW @ Luke AFB, AZ and related the story some of us who worked for him in the base information office. Interestingly enough, during his rescue the "Jolly Green" who picked him up happened to have a motion picture photog riding along, so he had a film that he showed us of his rescue.
D L San Diego, CA.