Name: David Robert Wheat
Rank/Branch: O2/US Navy
Unit: Fighter Squadron 41, USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA 62)
Date of Birth:
Home City of Record: Duluth MN
Date of Loss: 17 October 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 214000N 1063800E (XJ689966)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4B
Missions: 80

Other Personnel In Incident: Roderick L. Mayer (missing - died of severe
wounds); At nearby coordinates, all F4 aircraft from USS Independence and US
Navy personnel; Stanley E. Olmstead (missing) and Porter A. Halyburton
(released POW); Rodney A. Knutson and Ralph E. Gaither (both released POWs)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 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: LT Roderick Mayer was a pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier USS
INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62). On October 17, 1965 he and his Radar Intercept
Officer (RIO), LTJG David Wheat launched in their F4B Phantom fighter jet
for a day strike mission on the Thai Nguyen bridge northeast of Hanoi.

On the same day, a second Phantom flown by LCDR Stanley E. Olmstead, with
LTJG Porter A. Halyburton as his RIO, and a third Phantom flown by LTJG
Ralph Gaither and LTJG Rodney A/ Knutson also launched from the USS
INDEPENCENCE. These four pilots were part of Fighter Squadron 84, the "Jolly
Rogers". Mayer and Wheat were part of the carriers Fighter Squadron 41. All
were dispatched to the same general mission area near the city of Thai

The three Phantoms were all shot down within a few miles of each other.
Knutson and Gaither were shot down in Long Song Province, North Vietnam,
near the border of China, or about 75 miles northeast of the city of Thai
Nguyen. Olmstead and Halyburton were shot down in Long Son Province about 40
miles east of the city of Thai Nguyen. Mayer and Wheat were shot down about
55 miles east-northeast of the city of Thai Nguyen, in Long Son Province.

Mayer and Wheat's aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Both men were seen
to eject from the aircraft. Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were hampered
due to enemy small arms fire. Lt. Mayer was observed over a period of two
hours in a prone position, still in his parachute. Before rescue helicopters
could reach the scene, both Mayer and Wheat had disappeared from sight and
enemy troops were seen in the area. David R. Wheat was confirmed to be a
prisoner of war, and when released in 1973, made statements which suggest
that Mayer was killed during the ejection or that he died later of injuries
resulting from the ejection. He stated that Lt. Mayer did not move, even
when he was found by ground troops. Mayer was classified Prisoner of War.

LCDR Olmstead's aircraft was hit by hostile fire and crashed while on a
bombing mission. No transmissions were heard, nor was there any sign of
ejection by either crewmember. Other U.S. aircraft passed over the crash
site and determimed that there was no possibility of survival. However, it
was later learned that Halyburton had survived, and was captured. Being the
RIO, Halyburton would eject first. It was believed that Olmstead had
probably died in the crash of the aircraft, but there was no proof of this
theory. Olmstead was classified Missing in Action.

Gaither and Knutson were captured by the North Vietnamese, spent nearly 8
years as prisoners and were both released on February 12, 1973 in Operation
Homecoming. Knutson had been injured, and was not fully recovered at the
time of his release.

The fates of these six men from the USS INDEPENDENCE was not clear at the
time they were shot down. Their status changed from Reported Dead to
Prisoner of War or Missing in Action. At the end of the war, only Olmstead
and Mayer remained missing. Ultimately, they were declared dead for lack of
evidence that they were still alive.

When the war ended, refugees from the communist-overrun countries of
Southeast Asia began to flood the world, bringing with them stories of live
GI's still in captivity in their homelands. Since 1975, nearly 10,000
reports relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia have been received.
Many authorities believe that hundreds of Americans are still held in the
countries in Southeast Asia.

The U.S. Government operates on the "assumption" that one or more men are
being held, but that it cannot "prove" that this is the case, allowing
action to be taken. Meanwhile, low-level talks between the U.S. and Vietnam
proceed, yielding a few sets of remains when it seems politically expedient
to return them, but as yet, no living American has returned.

Roderick L. Mayer was promoted to the rank of Commander during the period he
was maintained missing and David R. Wheat was promoted to the rank of
Lieutenant Commander.

Rodney A. Knutson and Ralph E. Gaither were promoted to the rank of
Lieutenant Commander during the period they were maintained as prisoner of

Stanley E. Olmstead was promoted to the rank of Commander during the period
he was maintained missing. Porter A. Halyburton was promoted to the rank of
Lieutenant Commander during the period he was maintained as a prisoner of

SOURCE: WE CAME HOME  copyright 1977
Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor
P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602
Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and
spelling errors).

Lieutenant Commander - United States Navy
Shot Down: October 17, 1965
Released: February 12, 1973
He attended Duluth, Minnesota schools and graduated from the University of
Minnesota in 1963 with a BA in Industrial Education. In October 1963 he
entered the Navy AOC program at Pensacola, Florida, and was commissioned on
February 14, 1964. He then entered the NFO school at Sherman Field, Pensacola,
and in March 1965 he earned his NFO wings at VF 101, Key West, Florida. He
then joined VF 41 at Oceana in April 1965. On May 10, 1965 he left Norfolk,
Virginia for Vietnam on board the USS Independence. On July 1, he flew his
first mission in Vietnam and after eighty missions was shot down on October
17, 1965. He was a POW for seven years and four months.

He is single and the youngest of five children of a retired college professor.
He enjoys being a bachelor along with outdoor activities such as boating,
camping, golfing, skiing, flying and athletic events such as football and

He plans to make the Navy a career. He has the following decorations and
awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Purple Heart, Combat Action
Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam
Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

I'd like to say: "It's been an honor to serve our fine country. You think of
us as heroes but we didn't do anything that you, the average American,
wouldn't have done under similar circumstances. Faith in the American people
and government were the prime factors that sustained me during the long
internment. Knowing that we would be coming back to a land of freedom and
opportunity was a great lift. Let us not forget our disabled veterans, men
MIA and KIA who gave so much by serving bravely and honorably in Vietnam and
other wars. Thank you America for such a wonderful Homecoming!"

David Wheat retired from the United States Navy as a Commander. He and his
wife Ginger reside in Minnesota.


Duluth POW, held 7 years in Vietnam, looks back at 40 years since release

Forty years ago last week, David R. Wheat was greeted in Duluth by cheering, flag-waving crowds. A state trooper escorted him to the family home he hadn't seen in eight years. Mayor Ben Boo proclaimed Feb. 27, 1973, David Wheat Homecoming Day.

By: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News Tribune

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