THOMAS B MITCHELL - MAJ
- DATE OF BIRTH:
- March 31, 1941
- DATE OF CASUALTY:
- May 22, 1968
- BRANCH OF SERVICE:
- Air Force
- South Vietnam
Thomas B. Mitchell was born on March 31, 1941. His home of record is Rumson, NJ. He had five siblings - Robert, William, Kenneth, Josephine and Martin. He graduated from Rumson/Fair Haven Regional High School in 1959. He enjoyed football and tinkering with anything mechanical. He also loved dancing and going to the beach. He was an excellent student and took on odd jobs in the neighborhood.
He served in the US Air Force and attained the rank of Major (MAJ). He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1963.
Mitchell was killed in action on May 22, 1968, when his C-130 crashed. His wife, Norma May, survived him.
In 2000 a joint recovery team found the crash site of his C-130. They concluded excavation of the site and had an internment for all the crewmembers at Arlington National Ceremony on June 10, 2000. The identifier for the group is 1187.
His was awarded a number of medals and decorations including the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal.
My stepbrother, Thomas B. Mitchell, was born on March 31, 1941, in New Jersey. Mitch's mother died when he was very young, and his father and my mother, a widow, married in 1952. Mitch was 13 months older than I was. He had two older brothers, and I had one younger brother. We became a blended family with five children.
I think we had a fairly typical 1950's childhood, growing up on the New Jersey shore when you could still roam in the woods and find arrowheads. We salvaged and repaired an old rowboat and enjoyed going out on Oyster Bay. We rode our bikes, played tennis, and went to the beach in the summer. Mitch was on the Rumson Fair Haven High School football team, was the class president, enjoyed school dances and social events, and worked hard at getting good grades. He did odd jobs for spending money, riding his bicycle to deliver the Red Bank Register and mowing lawns. Mitch often had his head inside the guts of an old car, and allowed me to help out by handing him various tools. Our parents had their first and only child together when I was sixteen and Mitch was seventeen, and we both enjoyed our baby brother and helped to take care of him. Mitch graduated from Rumson Fair Haven High School in 1959.
Mitch's father had been a captain in the Army in World War II, and remained in the active Army reserves thereafter, retiring as a major. Mitch's oldest brother enlisted in the Air Force. His next oldest brother enlisted in the Marines. Both enlisted shortly after high school. Military service was part of our family's life.
Mitch wanted to go to the Air Force Academy, fly planes, and make the Air Force his career. He was especially interested in the Air Force Academy because it was the newest service academy. The first class graduated in 1959, and because there were so few Academy graduates, Mitch thought that graduates would have good opportunities for promotion. He was thrilled when he was selected.
After graduation from the Air Force Academy, Mitch went to flight school in San Antonio, Texas. While he was in Texas, he met Norma, and they were married in 1966. When he was sent to Asia, she went with him to Okinawa. Mitch was the pilot of a C-130 aircraft, and he and his crew would be in Thailand for two weeks flying missions and then go back to Okinawa for one week, where, as he wrote me in April 1968, he not only enjoyed spending time with his wife but "taking the cars and motorcycle apart like I wish to do so much." He was excited about coming back to the States in December.
On May 22, 1968, at 5:10 p.m., Mitch and his crew of nine left Ubon Airfield, Thailand, for a night flare drop mission over Laos. It is my understanding that these missions were extremely dangerous. The terrain was mountainous with heavy jungle foliage and the flares were, of course, highly flammable. The Laotians and North Vietnamese were making every effort to shoot down the planes. The last radio contact with the plane was at 8:55 p.m. When radio contact could not be reestablished, two aircraft operating nearby were diverted to the area and although they saw a fire on the ground, they were unable to verify that the fire was caused by a plane crash.
Mitch was listed as "missing in action" until February 1975, when the Air Force officially changed his status to "killed in action." We still had no definite information on what happened to Mitch, and the writer of the book "The Bamboo Cage" reported that Mitch and two other officers had been seen alive in a cave in Laos.
In late 2000 a joint US/Vietnamese recovery team working in North Vietnam spoke to a witness who described seeing a large plane explode and crash in nearby mountains, close to the border with Laos. The witness did not see any parachutes. The recovery team traveled across leach-infested streams and into jungles where wild tigers and boars still roamed to reach the crash site on the side of a mountain, and found a large impact crater, some remains of the aircraft (parts had been scavenged), remains of flight clothing, part of a flight helmet, and parts of boots. Excavation of the crash site established that the plane was the C130 that had disappeared on May 22, 1968. Due to the length of time since the crash, only a few tiny bone fragments have been recovered and no DNA matches have been made as yet. Because of the depth and size of the impact crater, it is reasonable to assume that no one aboard the plane survived the crash.
Our family is grateful to the recovery teams and to the office of Mortuary Affairs, which is still working to identify remains. We are relieved to know that Mitch died in the crash and was not held prisoner. Unfortunately, the news came too late for his father, stepmother and two older brothers, all of whom passed away before we found out what happened to Mitch.
Written by Josephine A. Fitzpatrick, Stepsister
Sources: Josephine Fitzpatrick (stepsister), Don Kerr (friend) and NJVVMF.
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