PRUETT, WILLIAM DAVID
Name: William David Pruett
Rank/Branch: E8/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 18 July 1930
Home City of Record: Bluefield VA
Date of Loss: 28 January 1970
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 180200N 1053300E (WF582048)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Other Personnel in Incident: Leonard C. Leeser; Gregory L. Anderson; William
C. Shinn; William C. Sutton (missing); Holly G. Bell (remains returned). On
F105G aircraft: Richard J. Mallon; Robert J. Panek (remains returned)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1991 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: MIG HIT - EXPLODE - SHRT BEEPR - J
SYNOPSIS: On January 28, 1970, Capt. Richard J. Mallon, pilot; and Capt.
Robert J. Panek, electronics warfare officer, were sent as escort to a
reconnaissance aircraft on a mission in North Vietnam. Their F105 aircraft
was a G model, which was an adaptation of the F105F used in the Wild Weasel
The F105F Wild Weasel featured radar homing and warning gear. Upon
pinpointing the radar at a missile site, the Wild Weasel attacked with
Shrike missiles that homed in on radar emissions. The F105F was a
stretch-limo F105, with a longer fusilage to allow for a second crewman. As
modified for the G, the F105 launched Standard ARM rather than the shorter
range Shrike. During the period of 1965-1972, the F105 performed on many
diversified missions in Southeast Asia, including SAM attack, bombing, and
as in the case of the mission of Mallon and Panek, armed escort/diversion.
Mallon and Panek's aircraft was shot down during the mission, and they both
successfully ejected and landed safely in an enemy controlled area about 20
miles northeast of the Mu Gia Pass on the mountainous border of North
Vietnam and Laos.
A helicopter was immediately dispatched to pick up the two downed airmen.
When the aircraft was about 50 miles northwest of the location of the F105
crash,it was hit by a MIG and exploded. The helicopter was flown by pilot
Major Holly G. Bell, and carried crewmen Capt. Leonard C. Leeser, SMSgt.
William D. Pruett; SSgt. William C. Shinn; MSgt. William C. Sutton; and
passenger Sgt. Gregory L. Anderson. A short beeper signal was heard from the
helicopter, indicating that at least one person aboard may have exited the
aircraft. All six aboard were listed as Killed/Body Not Recovered. It was
thought that in the cases of Bell and Anderson that the enemy would not
likely have knowledge of their fates, but that the Vietnamese could probably
account for the other four men. (A determination that was probably made from
the relative crew positions and their proximity to the area of the MIG hit
and the likelihood of their having escaped obliteration by the explosion.)
Mallon and Panek, meanwhile, were in an area heavily infiltrated with the
enemy, and it was known that there were enemy troops in the vicinity. It was
thought very probable that the two were captured or killed by the enemy, but
never known for certain, as they did not appear in the Hanoi prison system
to be held with those American POWs who were released. The Vietnamese denied
any knowledge of any of the eight men missing that day.
Some time later, family members were told by a squadron mate that his
information was that Panek and Mallon had both ejected safely. Mallon had
landed on a road near the Mu Gia Pass and was captured almost immediately.
Panek landed in nearby trees and his parachute was seen 30 minutes later,
being pulled from the trees. Both men were seen in a clearing within the
hour, being surrounded, stripped to their shorts, and holding their hands in
the air. Neither Mallon nor Panek were ever classified Prisoner of War,
however, but were maintained in Missing in Action Status.
In December 1988, the Vietnamese returned a number of remains they stated
were those of American servicemen to U.S. control. The remains of Mallon,
Panek, and the helicopter pilot, Holly G. Bell were subsequently positively
identified by the U.S. Casualty Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CILHI).
For the Panek, Mallon and Bell families, the long wait is over. They are no
longer haunted by a never-ceasing flow of reports concerning Americans alive
in Southeast Asia. For the other families, however, life goes on in
agonizing suspense. And for the hundreds of Americans said to be alive in
Southeast Asia, the days pass in imprisonment and abandonment.
Richard J. Mallon was buried in Willamette National Cemetery.