PATTERSON, JAMES KELLY
|Name: James Kelly Patterson
Rank/Branch: O3/US Navy
Unit: VA 35, USS ENTERPRISE (CVAN-65)
Date of Birth: 14 July 1940
Home City of Record: Long Beach CA
Date of Loss: 19 May 1967
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 204537N 1052539E (WH445955)
Status (in 1973): Prisoner of War
REMARKS: PROB CAPTURED WITH BROKEN LEG
Source: Compiled by HOMECOMING II 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 with
information from George "Luck" Patterson. UPDATED 2020.
SYNOPSIS: When nuclear powered USS ENTERPRISE arrived on Yankee Station on
December 2, 1965, she was the largest warship ever built. She brought with
her not only an imposing physical presence, but also an impressive component
of warplanes and the newest technology. By the end of her first week of
combat operations, the ENTERPRISE had set a record of 165 combat sorties in
a single day, surpassing the KITTY HAWK's 131. By the end of her first
combat cruise, her air wing had flown over 13,000 combat sorties. The record
had not been achieved without cost.
When the ENTERPRISE arrived in Vietnam on its second combat cruise, two of
its pilots were LtCdr. Eugene B. "Red" McDaniel and Lt. James K. Patterson,
an A6 "Intruder" team. The Intruder pilots were known to have, in the words
of Vice Admiral William F. Bringle, Commander Seventh Fleet, "an abundance
of talent, courage and aggressive leadership", and were sent on some of the
most difficult missions of the war.
On May 19, 1967 McDaniel was the pilot and Patterson the backseater aboard
an A6A with a mission to bomb a truck repair facility at Van Dien, Hai Duong
Province, North Vietnam. The aircraft was shot down, but both crew members
ejected safely from the aircraft and established voice radio contact with
other aircraft in the area.
Lt. Patterson badly broke his leg upon landing, but maintained radio contact
with rescue forces for a period of four days. On May 21, he reported that
enemy forces had taken a recovery kit which had been dropped to him and that
he had moved up a hill for safety. LtCdr. McDaniel was taken prisoner by the
North Vietnamese and taken to Hanoi.
During the nearly six years he was a prisoner of war, McDaniel never saw his
backseater. He continually asked about him, and was given conflicting
stories. In late 1967, he was told by a guard that Lt. Patterson had
recovered from his injuries. Partly because the Vietnamese seemed to be
toying with him by changing the story on Patterson, and partly because he
never saw or heard of his backseater, McDaniel finally came to the belief
that his backseater and friend had not been captured, but was dead.
McDaniel is noted for three things as a prisoner - his honor, his optimism
and faith in his country, and also for having been the prisoner who received
the most brutal torture at the hands of the Vietnamese.
"Red" McDaniel was released March 4, 1973 believing that Patterson and the
others who were not released were dead. It was not until he served the Navy
as a liason to Congress that he began to see evidence that Americans were
still alive in Southeast Asia. It was a heartbreaking realization.
When Captain McDaniel left the Navy, he formed The American Defense
Institute in order to foster patriotism in America's youth and to share with
other Americans what he learned about communism and why it must be fought at
every level. One of ADI's most important issues is that of missing Americans
in Southeast Asia.
In late 1986, a former NSA intelligence analyst stated that backseaters like
Patterson, who possessed technical knowledge surpassing that of the pilot
were singled out. The analyst stated that in the intelligence community
these men were dubbed, "MB", or "Moscow Bound". They would make valuable
trades to the Soviet Union for a heavily indebted Vietnam.
The same year, a Congressional team visiting the Central Identification
Laboratory learned that certain identification belonging to Patterson had
been given to the U.S. by the Vietnamese. This was clear evidence that the
Vietnamese knew what happened to James K. Patterson.
Today McDaniel does not know if James K. Patterson is alive or not, but he
is absolutely convinced that many Americans are alive, still held captive in
communist prisons in Southeast Asia, and has been a tireless leader in the
effort to force action leading to their honorable return.
McDaniel says, "It's a matter of our national honor to bring these men home.
We went to Vietnam prepared to be wounded or even to die. We went prepared
to be captured. But we were never prepared to be abandoned."
Biography and investigation update (Feb '99) on
James Kelly Patterson, MIA, Vietnam, 1967
As soon as James Kelly Patterson was old enough to gaze skyward, airplanes
and flying became his lifelong obsession. A talented artist, one of his
earliest grade school paintings shows a barefoot, straw-hatted Huck Finn
type walking along a country path, stringer of fish a-dragging, cane pole
a-toting, and over his head, a jet airplane. His model fighters and bombers
hung from our bedroom ceiling, frozen in combat. On weekends I was his
captive assistant at the Rose Bowl parking lot where he flew his powered
models. They all eventually crashed or flew out of sight, giving him an
excuse to start building new ones. It's not surprising that the lowest
point in his life came when he learned that Naval Academy study had ruined
his eyes for pilot training. But he shook it off and, determined to be
airborne, became, according to his commanding officers, a stand-out,
inspired combat bombardier- navigator, one of the best in the business.
Maybe we were naive, but we thought the Vietnam issue was pretty simple: the
communist North was poised to enslave the free South, our ally. America was
right to intervene. And growing up siblings in a Navy family, entranced by
every episode of "Victory at Sea", there was no question about it--Kelly and
I were duty-bound to go, and would go willingly. So he shipped out for
Southeast Asia in December of 1966 as a B-N in a carrier-borne A-6 squadron,
and, O'Sullivan Act notwithstanding, I followed in January.
After dozens of truly harrowing missions over the north, and several
citations for bravery and outstanding performance, Kelly earned a much
needed R&R in April. But he left Yankee Station, not for Bangkok or
Honolulu or Brisbane, but for Danang, South Vietnam. There he hopped a
Marine convoy and found his way to my outfit in the bush.
Not unheard of, this was at least out of the ordinary. The Navy had
invested a small fortune in his training, making him an expert in the use of
the state- of-the-art electronics that was neutralizing Hanoi's air
defenses. How he got approval for this trip, I don't know. Maybe he told
his commanding officer he just wanted to see his kid brother in Danang.
He had always been a protective big brother, and here he was again, checking
on my welfare, easing our folks' concerns. He found me as I was preparing
my Marine rifle platoon for a three day patrol, and not to be denied a
visit, asked to go along. So I issued him a helmet, flak jacket, and rifle,
and at O-dark-thirty stepped out of our perimeter into Indian country, Kelly
in tow to share my muddy war in the paddies.
Our time together was cut short when my platoon was choppered out to pursue
an NVA force which had hit the Marines in the foothills inland, but the two
days we had together were very special. When we could, we talked about home
and family, and of course the war. Kelly was living his dream, flying a
carrier based Navy warplane in combat. Saving the South Vietnamese from the
horrors of Communism was reason enough for fighting. He had no animosity
toward the common people of the north, and took extreme care (to his own
hazard, I learned later) to avoid civilian casualties on his bombing runs.
He didn't even mind that the anti-war groups at home were sending medicine
to North Vietnam. Maybe some of it found its way to the villagers, he
reasoned, and maybe they would return the favor some day.
I treasure the memory of these, as it turned out our final, hours together.
Kelly's conduct as a Naval officer, as a warrior, and as a man, and most
especially as a brother, was extraordinary. When I last saw him, through
the rotor dust of a rising "Sea Knight" helicopter, he was riding atop an
am-trac headed back to his war. On May 19, 1967, Kelly was shot down over
North Vietnam. With his pilot, Eugene "Red" McDaniel, he ejected, and with
a broken leg evaded capture for three days. Then he disappeared.
The North Vietnamese remained silent for 18 years, ignoring all inquiries.
Then, in 1985, they suddenly claimed that their militia had found Kelly in
the jungle, shot him dead when he resisted in a short gun battle, and buried
him on the spot. Their several written reports of the incident conflicted
with the accounts finally given to US investigators by two "eye witnesses" a
few years later. And when the investigators dug up the spot where Kelly was
supposedly buried, they found only undisturbed soil strata. No bones, no
teeth, not a zipper, button, or buckle. Nevertheless, the US concluded that
Kelly had died, "KIA, body not recovered".
Actually, there was persuasive evidence that he had survived his capture.
McDaniel, a prisoner, was told by his guard that Kelly had recovered from
his injury and was well. Another prisoner saw his name headlining an
interrogation questionnaire. This and other evidence could not be
corroborated or verified, any more than his death. None of it could be
proven erroneous either, any more than his death. It was persuasive, but
inconclusive. Then this:
An article in the November 4, 1991 issue of "Kommersant", a respected Moscow
weekly, claimed Kelly had been taken in the fall of 1967 through a "window"
in the China-Soviet border to Saryshagansk, on Lake Balkash, in the then
Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan. The author even suggested that
Kelly was still working in the area (he later recanted this). A February
issue further stated he was transferred soon to nearby Priozersk. These
were in a closed Russian military region dedicated to missile research and
As shocking as this was, it made some sense to me. The A-6 "Intruder"
electronic systems were cutting-edge at the time, routinely defeating the
Russian air defenses deployed around Hanoi (and incidentally, around
Moscow). Kelly was highly skilled in the use of these systems. If he could
be made to tell when he did what, and why, he might be of some use in
In the months following this revelation, a concerted effort was made to find
the source of the information, one Russian Army Major Vladeslav Timaschov.
Timaschov, we were told, was dead, no proof offered.
In 1994, George J. Veith (authored "Code Name Bright Light") reasoned that
if Kelly had been taken to Priozersk, just possibly a scientist still living
in Kazakhstan might remember him. At his suggestion, I wrote letters with
Kelly's picture, description, and possible circumstances then and now, to 62
Kazakh. physics researchers.
In Alma Ata, the capital of now independent Kazakhstan, Professor Evgeny
Kolomeets, known internationally for his work in cosmic ray physics, took a
special interest in my letter. It seems he had been assisted by total
strangers in locating his missing father's grave following World War 11, so
at his own expense he published Kelly's picture and story in two newspapers.
Soon afterward, he was telephoned by a woman who claimed she met Kelly when
she was 13 years old! She said that her stepbrother, an army officer
assigned to Priozersk, and some of his officer friends came to her house one
night accompanied by this American. She talked with this man, who told her
he was confined to the military base and unable to move about freely. As a
memento of their meeting, this American gave her a doll, which she still had
to this day. She never again saw him, but was curtly told later by her
stepbrother, angry that she had asked, to forget about the American, that he
had died in an auto accident in Moscow. She said she was 100% certain the
picture in the paper was the American she had met, and she would remember
his face as long as she lived. She asked for nothing in return for her
story, but she refused to give her name, fearing the consequences to her and
her 12 year old son.
Encouraged by this contact, Kolomeets began asking colleagues if they knew
of an American at Priozersk in the late sixties. One colleague told him not
one, but several Americans had been there. An active duty colonel said
there had been two, possibly three American "consultants" in Priozersk. A
young man who had recently worked in Priozersk was interviewing for a job
with the professor when he said that it was general knowledge that Americans
had been present there in the 1970s. Again, these and others insisted on
Kolomeets believed that if I came to Alma Ata and made personal appeals for
information through the various news media, people still wary of Soviet era
security bureaucracies might be encouraged to approach me. So, armed with a
home-stay visa based on the professor's invitation and his promise to the
state to supervise my activities, the blessing of JCSD (Joint Commission
Support Directorate, the investigative arm of our side of the US-Russian
Joint Commission on POW/MIA's), and funding by Kelly's brothers of the US
Naval Academy class of '63 and elsewhere, I flew to Kazakhstan in October of
For over a week, and almost always accompanied by the professor, I was
interviewed by a number of radio, television, and newspaper correspondents.
As with any media coverage, the resulting stories were not always accurate
in every detail, but the basic truths were communicated: an American is in
Alma Ata looking for his American brother, James Kelly Patterson, shot down
in Vietnam 30 years ago and thought to have been brought to Priozersk.
Patterson was unmistakably identified as an American, which made the story
unique and readable.
Radio Liberty broadcast the story throughout the old Soviet Union.
Soon afterward, a woman living in Lugansk, in the Ukraine, phoned the
correspondent and excitedly told him that she knew Patterson! In their
taped conversation, she said that she worked in Priozersk in the 1960s and
1970s, and Patterson was there in another directorate. She was unsure of
his first name, but thought it could have been James. She was also unsure
of the year, but believed it was around the mid 1960s (later, she revised
that to 1969). She said he died a stabbing victim. Significantly, she
never raised an eyebrow at Patterson being an American. Midway through
their conversation, the correspondent asked her "How did this American end
up there?" She replied, "I couldn't tell you that. We did not know from
where ....(tape garbled)."
This woman was unique among those claiming Kelly or other Americans had been
at Priozersk: she identified herself openly, gave her address, and didn't
object to further inquiry. She named others who knew Patterson. We were
pretty excited, Professor Kolomeets and I. Even JCSD seemed to sense a
At the airport in Moscow on my return trip from Kazakhstan, I met the JCSD
investigators in route to interview the Lugansk woman. One week after the
radio broadcast, she now told them that Patterson was a Soviet officer, and
she named a friend who could corroborate her story. The friend told the
investigators that he and Patterson had been cadets at a radiotechnical
academy in Kiev, that Patterson had graduated in 1963 and was then
transferred to Priozersk.
I was, of course, disappointed at this news. I was told that although the
name Patterson was not common in the old Soviet Union, it did occur. But I
couldn't shake a nagging skepticism about the Lugansk woman's story to our
investigators. Her telephone conversation with the radio correspondent had
seemed spontaneous and candid, totally lacking guile. She never once
expressed concern that Patterson was American, a fact made clear in the
broadcast and in their conversation. I speculated that after this phone
conversation, someone told her: "You're opening Pandora's box and making a
big mistake. If I were you, I'd tell them this story: ...."
Following its interview with her, JCSD asked that the archives of the
radiotechnical academy in Kiev be checked to confirm that a Patterson, or
Paterson, or Peterson had been a cadet there 1960 through 1964. They also
asked the Russian side of the Joint Commission to check its military
archives for a Soviet officer named Patterson assigned to Priozersk in the
1960s. The replies received in the months that followed: From the Ukraine
Ministry of Defense--no Patterson, Paterson, or Peterson was a cadet at the
radiotechnical academy. From the Russian side of the Joint Commission--no
Soviet officer named Patterson was assigned to Priozersk.
But on January 19, 1999, the Russians about-faced and told JCSD that one
Pavel Semenovich Peterson (pronounced by the Russians "Paterson" with a
long "a" as in patriot) had indeed been assigned to Priozersk, where he died
on June 6, 1965, and is now buried in the Ukraine. The information they
gave was sufficient for follow-up inquiries by the US.
For JCSD, this investigation was now complete. Nevertheless, while
conducting other inquiries in the Ukraine, they asked for a re-examination
of the archives of the radiotechnical academy in Kiev. This time the
academy found the name Pavel S. Peterson, a cadet there from 1955 to 1959.
I would like to say this is closure for me also. It almost is. I'm not
sure what to make of the date discrepancy between the academy's records and
the memory of one of its cadets. I'm trying to make contact with another
witness in Priozersk, and I'd really like to talk to Pavel Semenovich
Peterson's relatives in the Ukraine. Maybe one day some of Professor
Kolomeets's sources will brave going public, or we'll find Vladeslav
Timaschov very much alive and willing to tell all. Anything can happen, and
if anything does, I'll update Kelly's story.
George "Luck" Patterson
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