SPINELLI, DOMENICK ANTHONY
Name: Domenick "Spike" Anthony Spinelli Rank/Branch: O3/US Navy Unit: Attack Squadron 196, USS CONSTELLATION (CVA61) Date of Birth: 06 November 1925 (Haverhill MA) Home City: Oak Harbor WA (Listed on the WALL as Ohio, numerous other records as WA) Date of Loss: 30 September 1968 Country of Loss: North Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 185400N 1053200E (WF561896) Status (in 1973): Missing In Action Category: 1 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: A6A Refno: 1294
Other Personnel in Incident: Larry Van Renselaar (remains returned)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 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: 15 March 1990. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 1998.
SYNOPSIS: "Spike" Spinelli's wife, Raye, had dealt with war before Spike left for Vietnam to fly from the USS Constellation. Her first husband was the only man who was not rescued from his downed aircraft. He was declared missing in action in World War II and Raye never saw him again. Spike had joined the Navy in 1942 as an enlisted man. He also had served in World War II, and was commissioned as a Naval officer in 1960.
Spike Spinelli flew as navigator/bombadier on Larry Van Renselaar's A6A Intruder. On September 30, 1968, the two left the ship on a night armed reconnaissance mission near the city of Vinh. The mission called for the acquisition and destruction of moving targets just south of 19 degrees north latitude. They were to reconnoiter inland to the town of Vinh Son, North Vietnam, then southeast along Highway 72 that parallels the Song Ca River. Surface-to-air (SAM) missiles were launched at the aircraft as they crossed the coastline. A few seconds after Commander Spinelli reported missiles. His last radio communication relayed, "This is Milestone 404. Two missiles lifting, 19, coast." Another pilot tried to contact the aircraft but was unsuccessful.
About 20 seconds later, an explosion was observed that lit up a large portion of the horizon. Wreckage was seen on the ground but no parachutes were observed and no contact was established with the crew.
The aircraft was fired on near the 19th parallel; the pilot was trying for the coast to facilitate rescue. He didn't make it. Although emergency signals were heard, search and rescue was negative. Both men were classified Missing In Action, and their families were given little hope.
A Radio Hanoi broadcast on October 1, 1968 was received which alluded to the shooting down of an A-6 jet plane on September 30, 1968. This aircraft was downed over Nghe An Province and the fate of the crew was not mentioned.
Spinelli and Van Renselaar were not among the 591 American POWs returned at the end of the war. Their families were told the returning POWs had no information about their men.
In early 1987, Diane Van Renselaar called Raye with the news that the two men had been maintained in Category 1, indicating CONFIRMED enemy knowledge. Diane had never been told this, nor had Raye. The two wives decided to review their husband's files for information. Raye found that Spinelli had been identified by a Navy pilot held prisoner in Hanoi and that Spinelli's photograph had been positively identified by CIA as a prisoner. Diane found that both men had been included on a 1986 negotiation list. Both families feel certain their men had been captured - and that they were lied to.
In the fall of 1989, the remains of Larry Van Renselaar were "discovered" by the Vietnamese and returned to U.S. control. Diane no longer must wonder if her husband is dead or alive. No public announcement has been made of any return of remains of Spinelli.
The Van Renselaar and Spinelli families continue to press for answers, with limited success. Diane Van Renselaar says, "All POW/MIA families have the right to know the complete truth. If they are alive, we have a right to know. If they are dead, we must be told. Why has information been withheld from us? Why is it still being withheld? What are they afraid of?"
Van Renselaar and Spinelli were two of nearly 2500 Americans who remain missing in Southeast Asia. There have been nearly 10,000 reports; over 1000 of them eyewitness reports, of Americans still in captivity. As long as those reports remain unresolved, we must conclude that Americans are still alive, waiting for their country to bring them home.
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SMITH 324 COMPELLING CASES
North Vietnam Domenick A. Spinelli (1294)
On 30 September 1968, Lieutenant JG Larry J. VanRenselaar and Lieutenant Domenick A. Spinelli were the crew of an A-6A aircraft which departed the U.S.S Constellation in a flight of three aircraft. The flight was assigned to acquire and destroy moving targets just south of 19 degrees North Latitude over North Vietnam. Two hostile surface to air missiles, one high and one law, were observed by other flight members to explode near Spinelli's aircraft. About 20 seconds later a third explosion was observed and it lit up the horizon. At this point the flight was approximately nine kilometers southwest of Phu Dien Chau, Nghe Tinh (Formerly Nghe An) Province.
No parachutes were sighted and no distress beepers were heard. All subsequent search and rescue efforts were futile. A Radio Hanoi broadcast on October 1, 1968, stated than an A-6 aircraft had been shot down over Nghe An Province. Lieutenant Spinelli's A-6A aircraft was the only one shot down on September 10, 1968, over Nghe An Province. Both airmen were declared missing in action.
During Operation Homecoming, a returnee, Lieutenant Tangeman, stated that he knew the name Spinelli but he did not know him as a POW. In the late 1970s, Tangeman was visited by Spinelli's next of kin. During that visit, he finally recalled why he recognized the name;both he and Lieutenant Spinelli had been at the same naval air training facility before going to Vietnam. Lieutenant Spinelli's family alleged the existence of a photo depicting Spinelli in captivity. The Defense Intelligence Agency has no knowledge of such a photo but did provide the family a photo of a POW, Major Gideon, shown riding in an ox cart. This photo is on sale at the military museum in Hanoi and may have been confused by family members with being a photograph of Lieutenant Spinelli.
Returning U.S. POWs were unable to provide any information on either crewman's eventual fate. After Operation Homecoming both were declared killed in action, body not recovered, based on a presumptive finding of death.
On July 31, 1989, Vietnam repatriated remains it identified as those of Lieutenant VanRenselaar. On June 22, 1990 the Armed Forces Identification Review Board approved the identification of these remains as Lieutenant VanRenselaar.