WELCH, ROBERT JOHN Name: Robert John Welch Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force Unit: 11th Tactical Recon Squadron, Udorn Airfield, Thailand Date of Birth: 23 March 1926 Home City of Record: Detroit MI Date of Loss: 16 January 1967 Country of Loss: North Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 212659N 1052546E (WJ445718) Status (in 1973): Missing in Action Category: 2 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: RF4C Refno: 0566 Other Personnel In Incident: Michael S. Kerr (released POW) 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: 01 January 1990. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 1998. REMARKS: POSSIBLY WENT IN W/PLANE SYNOPSIS: On January 16, 1967, an unarmed Air Force RF4C Phantom aircraft flown by Capt. Robert J. Welch departed Udorn Airfield, Thailand for a photo reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam near Hanoi. Welch's navigator that day was 1Lt. Michael S. Kerr. Welch and Kerr's aircraft was shot down about 35 miles northwest of Hanoi. They were perhaps making an inspection run over targets hit the day before as part of a 37-plane mission to destroy railroads, highways, bridges and SAM (surface-to-air missile) sites 15 miles from Hanoi. Welch and Kerr were career Air Force officers. Their families were friends, the two trained together on the photographic version of the Phantom jet, went to Vietnam together in 1966, flew together and were shot down together. Their families moved to Washington State to wait. Welch and Kerr didn't return home together; Kerr was released in 1973, Welch was not. They had flown out of Udorn, Thailand, on a bright, clear day for the low-altitude photographic mission around Hanoi. A SAM was fired at the plane, but did not make a direct hit. The plane pitched up and Kerr blacked out. When he recovered, he reached for the ejection-seat handle over his head, but the force was too strong. He grabbed the other one between his legs and got out. Kerr did not see Welch bail out, but observed the plane impact and explode on the side of a hill. Kerr was completely uninjured. Before he was taken to Hanoi, a young boy showed him a piece of the tail of his plane. Kerr wondered if he also found Welch or brought out dog tags, if Welch had died. Throughout his captivity, Kerr never saw Robert Welch, but he never stopped looking. After he returned, Kerr and his wife were divorced. Mrs. Kerr and Mrs. Welch are still friends, and very much involved in the effort to achieve the release of men like Robert Welch whom they strongly believe are alive today. Nearly 2500 Americans did not return from the war in Vietnam. Thousands of reports have been received indicating that some hundreds remain alive in captivity. Whether Welch is alive or dead is not known. What is certain, however, is that Vietnam and her communist allies can tell us what happened to most of our men...including Robert Welch.