PRENDERGAST, FRANCIS (FRANK) SARSFIELD
Name: Francis S. Prendergast
Rank/Branch: United States Navy
Unit: Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 13, USS KITTY HAWK (CVA 63)
Date of Birth: 1943 Chicago IL
Home City of Record: Carrollton, Ohio
Date of Loss: 09 March 1967
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 195800N 1060500E (XH133079)
Other Personnel in Incident: Charles Putnam (remains returned)
NOTE: Francis Prendergast is not listed on any USG documentation as a
Prisoner of War. His capture, escape, and rescue came to light only after
his death in 1998. The notes that follow the synopsis are from former
Prisoners of War who either knew him or served with him.
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. NETWORK 2017.
SYNOPSIS: The USS KITTY HAWK was on duty in Vietnam as early as 1964 and had
131 combat sorties to its credit by the end of 1965, and many more through
the remaining years of the Vietnam war. The KITTY HAWK was one of the
Forrestal-class "super" carriers, and could operate up to ninety aircraft
from her angled deck.
One of the aircraft that launched from the decks of the KITTY HAWK was the
F4 Phantom. 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"
CDR Charles L. Putnam was a Phantom pilot assigned to Reconnaissance Attack
Squadron 13 onboard the USS KITTY HAWK. On March 9, 1967, he and his
co-pilot, LTJG Pendergast, launched on a reconnaissance mission over North
Vietnam. Their mission was to make an intelligence photo run along a section
of the North Vietnamese coastline. An F4 fighter was launched as their
escort on the mission.
Approaching the coastline to begin their photo run some 15 miles northeast
of the city of Thanh Hoa, CDR Putnam turned to parallel the coast at an
altitude of 350 feet and 1/4 mile from the beach. The F4 escort crew noticed
numerous muzzle flashed from the tree line on the beach and immediately
noticed that the RA4C aircraft was on fire.
CDR Putnam immediately raised the nose of the aircraft to gain some altitude
and initiated the sequenced ejection of his co-pilot and himself. Two fully
deployed parachutes were seen as both crewmen landed in shallow water about
200 yards from the beach.
Search and Rescue aircraft were immediately called in. The F4 and other
assist aircraft fired at enemy positions on the beach in an attempt to give
the rescue helicopter a chance to pick up survivors. The rescue helo was
able to recover the co-pilot, but was unable to find CDR Putnam. The crew of
the F4 escort aircraft stated that they saw somebody running and waving his
arms along a sandbar near the down site. Their reference to the person being
of larger height than the Vietnamese soldiers in the area would lead one to
believe that it may have been CDR Putnam, who was 6' 1" tall. Due to
increased fire from the beach and no radio contact with CDR Putnam, the
search and rescue forces were withdrawn.
It was the opinion of the squadron's commanding officer that CDR Putnam
ejected successfully from the aircraft and was subsequently captured. A
subsequent report from indigenous sources indicate that a dead American
pilot was seen on the beach in a timeframe and vicinity which correlates to
CDR Putnam's incident.
When 591 Americans were released at the end of the war, CDR Putnam was not
among them. The Vietnamese did not list him as someone who died in
captivity; they denied any knowledge of his fate.
The analysis of the report of the dead pilot is interesting to observers of
the POW/MIA issue. Navy accounts of the report do not indicate that the
pilot was identified, nor do they indicate that separate source information
was received to verify the report. It is curious that the Navy and Defense
Department would consider Putnam dead based on this report.
Other reports of equal detail have been received which indicate individuals
were captured, yet many of those men remain classified "missing." Further,
in many cases, the same reports which fueled hopes throughout the war that
personnel were alive were re-analyzed after the war and called "proof" that
the man could no longer be alive.
Since the war ended, over 10,000 reports relating to Americans prisoner,
missing or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S.
It is no surprise that the general public has little faith in the analysis
of these reports. The U.S. Government officially says there is no actionable
evidence that Americans are still alive in Southeast Asia, yet many
officials, including one former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency,
The greatest problem, perhaps, is that much of the sighting information is
classified. If, as the U.S. seems to believe, there are no Americans still
alive, then why must USG hide behind a curtain of classification? If, on the
other hand, there are hundreds of Americans waiting for their country to
come for them, why are they not home?
The remains of Charles L. Putnam were "discovered" and returned to U.S.
control November 3, 1988.
Sat Jan 24 1998
To Post Everlasting: Francis S. Prendergast
Francis S. Prendergast, 55, a pilot who earned the Navy Cross after he was
shot down in Vietnam and escaped his captors. Born in Chicago, Prendergast
grew up in Brock, Canada, and was educated at Loyola University of New
Orleans and St. Bonaventure in Olean, N.Y. He joined the Navy in 1964, and
three years later was shot down during a combat mission over North Vietnam.
Pursued and captured, he escaped and was picked up by a rescue helicopter.
In addition to the Navy Cross, Prendergast also earned the Purple Heart and
three Air Medals...."
Jan 26 1998
Subject: Frank Prendergast....Escape from NVN
Subject: Re: Who is Francis S. Prendergast?
I was in CAG-11 with Frank. He was an RA-5C backseater from VAH-13 on board
Kitty Hawk during our 66-67 cruise. His pilot was the squadron CO, CDR
Charlie Putnam. They were shot down on 3/9/67 on the coast north of Thanh
Hoa. CO landed on beach and was last seen running with gooks in hot pursuit
(we on the ship assumed he was captured, but he was never in our system.
Remains returned in 1988). Frank landed about 200 yds offshore in shallows.
Two V came out and captured him. They took his standard issue .38 but
did not go through his survival vest -- in which Frank was carrying a .25
automatic. They gave him the hands up signal and started to force him toward
the beach. But every time the F-4 escort made a low pass one V would duck
under the water and the other would kind of duck and take his eyes off
Frank. Frank saw the rescue helo inbound and decided it was now or never.
One the next pass he pulled out the automatic and shot the first V
between the eyes -- as the second one surfaced he knocked him silly, took
his AK-47 and threw it away from them (he told me he didn't know why he
didn't shoot the V!). Frank then got up on a sandbar and started running
toward the chopper. The V recovered his weapon, was in hot pursuit about
a 100 yds behind, and began to shoot. Frank stopped, held up his hands, the
V stopped shooting, and Frank fired at him and then began to run again.
The same thing happened a second time before the chopper arrived, turned
broadside and machine gunned the V in pursuit. Frank was rescued and
returned to Kitty Hawk.
I am now curious: because he was captured, albeit for only 5 minutes or so,
does that make him our only escapee from NVN??
From Mike McGrath
This poses an interesting question. If Prendergast was captured, does that
make him the only POW to escape from NVN? I think the answer is: In theory,
and for morale purposes, yes. But, technically, DOD must not have looked at
it that way. DOD lists the incident as Reference number 611. The CO, Cdr
Charles Putnam is listed in the DOD database. He was missing 3-9-67, remains
were negotiated and returned to US control Nov 3, 1988. Prendergast isn't
mentioned in the DOD Reference Document.
Mon Jan 26 1998
Al Agnew writes the below information. He was the last POW captured in
NVN. His RA5C was shot down 12-28-72. His backseater, Michael Haifley was
killed. That same day, at 0003 local time, the last B52 was shot down (the
10th downed in NVN). The other POWs captured that last day in NVN were:
Maj Jim Condon, Capt Sam Cusimano, and E7 Jim Gough.
The next POW captured, and the last one captured in the DMZ, SVN, was
NAM-POW member, Lcdr Phil Kientzler. His pilot, Cdr Harley Hall was killed.
Later, other military pilots were killed in NVN and SVN, but no other POWs.
Here's Al's note:
Frank Pendergrast was a RAN in RVAH 13 when he was shot down in NVN. He was
flying with the XO (who was killed). Frank in fact carried a derringer and
killed one of his captors. They were in the surf, not in a boat, and as the
Spads made strafing passes the V would duck under water...... this gave
Frank the chance he needed as the helos arrived; he killed the V as the V
resurfaced. He did get the Navy Cross and later (68-69) went back through
pilot training. Jerry Coffee, Glen Daigle and a couple of others know more
about this since they were in RVAH 13 with him.........I didn't join the
squadron until a few years later ('71).
Tue Jan 27 1998
I was on the flight that Prendergast got shot down. He was the back seater
to CDR Charlie Putnam, CO of ??13 on the Kitty Hawk. Charlie was apparently
killed by his captors on the scene.
The story goes: They had finished a recce mission and while waiting for
their Charlie-time, they decided to go down and see what those sticks in the
mud were for.
Those sticks were people farming in the shallows. They were shot down by
small arms fire some distance from the beach. Both captured immediately.
Wingman radioed for SAR chopper. Came in, swooped down to pickup
Prendergast first. He had an extra pistol under his survival gear. Pulled
it out and put one between the eyes of one of the V. Chopper picked him up
and brought him back to the Kitty Hawk. They were unable to rescue Charlie
The Navy Cross is real. They gave it to him and shipped him back to the
states on the next COD.
Mon Apr 13 1998
We have some 18 POWs held in NVN that made escape attempts. Whether or not
they were successful is not the issue. They at least all make the attempt
to escape our captors. Most escapes were short lived. One of Ernie Brace's
four escape attempts lasted all of five minutes. Arlo Gay, a civilian
captured 4-30-75 in SVN and moved to NVN, escaped and evaded for 30 days
before giving up due to starvation. Ben Purcell and John Dramesi escaped
twice each. Bud Day made it to within two miles of a US/ARVN base on the
south side of the DMZ before he was recaptured. He could see the base. In
short, 16 military and one civilian gave it their all, but were recaptured
There is one untold story of a heroic escape from NVN. On March 9th, 1967,
CDR Charlie Putnam, squadron commander of RVAH-13 aboard the U.S.S.
Kittyhawk took off on a routine recce mission over NVN. LT Frank
Prendergast was the BN in the back seat. Their RA5C was hit at 1648 local
time at 19-58-00N, 106-05-00E, very near the heavily defended city of Thanh
Hoa. The RA5C barely made the coast- line before Charlie and Frank ejected.
They couldn't squeeze even a few more yards out of the bird. Charlie
landed on the beach, stripped off his gear and was last seen running up the
beach just north of Thanh Hoa. The V were seen chasing him in hot pursuit.
Frank landed some 200 yards offshore in the shallow surf. He was standing
waist deep in the water when two armed soldiers waded out to capture him.
Each had a rifle trained on Frank. One soldier took Frank's standard issue
Smith& Wesson .38 but they failed to find the .25 automatic he had in a
pocket of his survival vest.
The V gave Frank the hands up signal and started to force him toward the
beach. But each time the F4 escort, and by one report the newly arrived
Sandys, made a low pass toward the beach, the soldiers would duck under the
water while holding their weapons above the water. Frank saw the rescue
helo inbound and he made his decision--it was now or never. On the next
pass Frank pulled out his automatic and snatched one rifle away from the
soldier's hands. The soldier aimed at Frank and pulled the trigger on
Frank's pistol. Frank always left the first two chambers of his pistol
empty. As the pistol clicked on the empty chamber, Frank shot the soldier
between the eyes. As the second soldier surfaced Frank knocked him silly
with a blow to the head, took his AK-47 and threw it it away in the surf (he
later told Irv Williams that he didn't know why he didn't just shoot the
Frank then got up on a sandbar and started running toward the inbound
chopper. The soldier recovered his weapon, was about 100 yds behind, and
began to shoot. Frank stopped, held up his hands. The V stopped shooting.
Frank saved a few valuable seconds as the helo pressed in. Frank fired again
and began to run. The same thing happened a second time before the chopper
arrived, turned broadside and machine gunned the soldier. Frank was rescued
and returned to Kitty Hawk.
Epilog: Charlie Putnam's end is still unknown. He was presumed to be
killed on the beach. His negotiated remains were returned to the US on
November 3, 1988. He was never listed as a prisoner of the V. Frank
Prendergast was never listed by DOD as a prisoner because of the sort
duration of his capture. He was reTurned to the US and later awarded a Navy
Cross for his bravery. He requested flight training and was granted that
request by the USN. He served honorably and achieved the rank of Commander.
His obituary was recently published in the Los Angeles Times.
Thanks to Ev Southwick, Irv Williams and Jack Rollins for helping me piece
together this story. They knew Frank before they themselves were captured.
Jack was on the same flight that Frank and Charlie got shot down. Irv, Ev
and Jack were in the same airwing as Charlie and Frank on board Kittyhawk.
|Subject:||Prendergast, Francis Sarsfield (Frank)|
|Date:||Tue, 14 Nov 2017 07:34:32 -0600|
Frank's home was Carrollton, Ohio 44615. His family moved there in 1958.
Frank graduated from Carrollton High School in 1960. He and his sister, Dr.
Deirdre (Prendergast) Tessman, were inducted into the Carrollton High School
Alumni Hall of Fame in 2016. This also is the home town of Major General Thomas
Fiscus, the former Judge Advocate General of the United States Air Force, also
in the Alumni Hall of Fame. When the Government didn't receive the answer they
wanted from Tom, he paid the price.