Remains Returned 14 August 1985

Name: Richard Christian Sather
Rank/Branch: O2/US Navy
Unit: Attack Squadron 145, USS CONSTELLATION
Date of Birth: 15 February 1938
Home City of Record: Pomona CA
Date of Loss: 05 August 1964
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 195457N 1055958E (XH046023)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 5
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A1H
Refno: 0034

Other Personnel in Incident: Everett Alvarez, Jr. (Returned POW)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 May 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.


SYNOPSIS: By midsummer 1964 events were taking place in the Gulf of Tonkin
that would lead to the first clash between U.S. and North Vietnamese forces.
In late July the destroyer USS MADDOX, on patrol in the gulf gathering
intelligence, had become the object of communist attention. For two
consecutive days, 31 July-1 August, the MADDOX cruised unencumbered along a
predesignated route off the North Vietnamese coast. In the early morning
hours of 2 August, however, it was learned from intelligence sources of a
possible attack against the destroyer.

The attack by three North Veitnamese P-4 torpedo boats (PT boats)
materialized just after 4:00 p.m. on August 2. The MADDOX fired off three
warning volleys, then opened fire. Four F-8 Crusaders from the aircraft
carrier USS TICONDEROGA, also took part in the skirmish. The result of the
twenty-minute affair saw one gunboat sunk and another crippled. The MADDOX,
ordered out of the gulf after the incident concluded, was hit by one 14.5 mm

A day later the MADDOX, accompanied by the destroyer USS C. TURNER JOY,
received instructions to reenter the gulf and resume patrol. The USS
CONSTELLATION, on a Hong Kong port visit was ordered to join the TICONDEROGA
stationed at the mouth of the gulf in the South China Sea. The two
destroyers cruised without incident on August 3 an din the daylight hours of
August 4 moved to the middle of the gulf. Parallel to the movements of the
C. TURNER JOY and MADDOX, South Vietnamese gunboats launched attacks on
several North Veitnamese radar installation. The North Vietnamese believed
the U.S. destroyers were connected to these strikes.

At 8:41 p.m. on August 4 both destroyers reportedly picked up
fast-approaching contacts on their radars. Navy documents show the ships
changed course to avoid the unknown vessels, but the contacts continued
intermittently. At 10:39 p.m. when the MADDOX and C. TURNER JOY radars
indicated one enemy vessel had closed to within seven thousand yards, the C.
TURNER JOY was ordered to open fire and the MADDOX soon followed. For the
next several hours, the destroyers, covered by the TICONDEROGA's and the
CONSTELLATION's aircraft, reportedly evaded torpedoes and fired on their

Historians have debated, and will continue to do so, whether the destroyers
were actually ever attacked. Most of the pilots flying that night spotted
nothing. Stockdale, who would later earn the Medal of Honor, stated that a
gunboat attack did not occur. The skipper of the TICONDEROGA's Attack
Squadron 56, Commander Wesley L. McDonald, said he "didn't see anything that
night except the MADDOX and the TURNER JOY."

President Lyndon B. Johnson reacted at once to the supposed attacks on the
MADDOX, ordering retialiatory strikes on strategic points in North Vietnam.
Even as the President spoke to the nation, aircraft from the CONSTELLATION
and TICONDEROGA were airborne and heading for four major PT-boat bases along
the North Vietnamese coast. The area of coverage ranged from a small base at
Quang Khe 50 miles north of the demarcation line between North and South
Vietnam, to the large base at Hon Gai in the north.

At 1:30 p.m. on August 5, 1964, a flight of sixteen aircraft from the
TICONDEROGA on the Vinh hit petroleum storage complex in response to the
presidential directive to destroy gunboats and supporting facilities in
North Vietnam which the President indicated were used in the attack on the
MADDOX. The results saw 90 percent of the storage facility at Vinh go up in

Meanwhile, other coordinated attacks were made by aircraft from the
CONSTELLATION on nearby Ben Thuy Naval Base, Quang Khe, Hon Me Island and
Hon Gai's inner harbor. Skyraiders, Skyhawks and F8s bombed and rocketed the
four areas, destroying or damaging an estimated twenty-five PT-boats, more
than half of the North  Vietnamese force.

LTJG Richard C. Sather was an A1 Skyraider pilot assigned to Attack Squadron
145 onboard the USS CONSTELLATION. During the retaliatory strikes, his
"Spad" was hit by enemy fire just offshore from the city of Thanh Hoa, some
25 miles north of the island of Hon Me. No parachute was seen, and no
emergency radio beepers were heard. It was generally agreed that Sather had
died in the crash of his aircraft. He was declared Killed in Action, and his
body was not recovered.

Among the pilots participating in the Hon Gai attack was LTJG Everett
Alvarez Jr., an A4C Skyhawk pilot assigned to Attack Squadron 144 onboard
the USS CONSTELLATION. His flight was given a target at Hon Gai. The flight
leader briefed them to expect PT boats tied up at the southeast pier.

When the aircraft reached the bay, however, Alvarez noted that the PT boats
were out in the bay rather than at the pier. The flight rolled into two
layers of smog--actually one layer of smog and one of anti-aircraft smoke.
The pilots realized they were being fired on and noted that Alvarez had been

Alvarez's call sign was Four-Eleven, and he came up on the air saying, "411,
I'm hit," followed by "I can't control it. I'm ejecting." Accompanying
aircraft heard his emergency beeper, made three or four orbits, and then
were forced to leave the area because of low fuel states. Alvarez was
captured and imprisoned.

The Navy had lost two aviators, LTJG Everett Alvarez from VA 144 and LTJG
Richard C. Sather from VA 145, an A-1 squadron. Alvarez earned the dubious
distinction of being the first naval aviator captured by the North
Vietnamese and spent eight-and-one-half years in captivity.

Richard Sather, in a sense, was less fortunate, becoming the Navy's first
pilot killed during the conflict. It was twenty-one years, August 14, 1985,
before the Vietnamese "discovered" his remains and returned them to U.S.

Finally, on February 12, 1973, Everett Alvarez was released from prisoner of
war camps and sent home. Alvarez had been a prisoner of war for eight and
one-half years. In all, 591 Americans were released. The remains of Richard
Sather were not returned until 1985.

Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing,
prisoner or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S.
Government. Many authorities who have examined this largely classified
information are convinced that hundreds of Americans are still held captive
today. These reports are the source of serious distress to many returned
American prisoners. They had a code that no one could honorably return
unless all of the prisoners returned. Not only that code of honor, but the
honor of our country is at stake as long as even one man remains unjustly
held. It's time we brought our men home.