PILKINGTON, THOMAS HOLT Name: Thomas Holt Pilkington Rank/Branch: O2/US Navy Reserves Unit: Fighter Squadron 154, USS CORAL SEA (CVA 43) Date of Birth: 08 September 1941 Home City of Record: Morton Grove IL Date of Loss: 19 September 1966 Country of Loss: North Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 191700N 1054700E (WG788340) Status (in 1973): Missing in Action Category: 4 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4B Refno: 0462 Other Personnel in Incident: Don B. Parsons Jr. (missing) Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 30 June 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 1998. REMARKS: SYNOPSIS: The USS CORAL SEA participated in combat action against the Communists as early as August 1964. Aircraft from her squadrons flew in the first U.S. Navy strikes in the Rolling Thunder Program against targets in North Vietnam in early 1965 and participated in Flaming Dart I strikes. The next year, reconnaissance aircraft from her decks returned with the first photography of Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) sites in North Vietnam. The CORAL SEA participated in Operation Eagle Pull in 1975, evacuating American personnel from beleaguered Saigon, and remained on station to assist the crew of the MAYAGUEZ, which was captured by Cambodian forces in 1975. The attack carriers USS CORAL SEA, USS HANCOCK and USS RANGER formed Task Force 77, the carrier striking force of the U.S. Seventh Fleet in the Western Pacific. One of the aircraft launched from the decks of the CORAL SEA was the F4 Phantom. The Phantom a multitude of functions including 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. LTJG Don B. Parsons was an F4B pilot and LTJG Thomas H. Pilkington a Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) assigned to Fighter Squadron 154 onboard the USS CORAL SEA. Historically, pilots from fighter squadrons have been associated with dramatic duels in the skies, and have held the attention of aviation enthusiasts and the public; a fondness dating back to the days of the exploits of the Red Baron in World War I. But Vietnam was largely an "air-to-mud" war. There were a considerable number of air duels over North Vietnam and the exploits of MiG killers have been well documented. But those aerial duels were only a minute part of air combat in Vietnam. The bulk of naval air activity consisted of various attack aircraft dropping bombs and firing rockets and bullets on the fields, factories and bridges of North Vietnam. Fighter pilots, not wanting their talents to go to waste, also flew air-to-ground missions. On September 19, 1966, Parsons and Pilkington were assigned to a two-plane night armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. Parsons' aircraft trailed the flight leader by about 4 miles. "Armed reconnaissance" meant look for targets and destroy them--usually truck convoys or similar small enemy targets. Shortly after crossing the coast at 4,000 feet, the flight leader saw a possible surface-to-air missile (SAM) launch approximately two miles southeast of his position and near Thanh Hoa, North Vietnam. He called for defensive maneuvers back to the coast, but Parsons did not respond. Although no explosion was noticed, an A4C flight reported seeing an unexplained flash on the ground in the general area of the missing aircraft. [NOTE: U.S. Navy accounts give the lead aircraft position as two miles northwest of the city of Thanh Hoa. Defense Department records list the loss of Parsons and Pilkington at 191700N 1054700E, which is a full 25 miles south of Thanh Hoa. If Parsons remained four miles behind the flight leader and if he heard the call for defensive maneuvers, it seems unlikely that he would have approached the sea on this flight path. No explanation can be found for this discrepancy.] Search and rescue efforts were made by helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. These efforts were unsuccessful. Both Parsons and Pilkington were classified Missing in Action. Nearly 2500 Americans remain missing or otherwise unaccounted for in Vietnam. Since the war ended, over 10,000 reports concerning missing Americans in Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S. Government. Many experts are completely convinced that hundreds of Americans are still held captive. One set of critics say that the U.S. has done little to address the issue of live POWs, preferring the politically safer issue of remains return. Others place the blame on the Vietnamese, for using the issue of POW/MIA to their political advantage. Regardless of blame, no living American has returned through the efforts of negotiations between the countries, and the reports continue to pour in. Are we doing enough to bring these men home? Both Parsons and Pilkington were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander during the period they were maintained missing.