ROBERT E ROCKY - CAPT
- DATE OF BIRTH:
- November 11, 1939
- DATE OF CASUALTY:
- September 17, 1966
- BRANCH OF SERVICE:
- Air Force
- South Vietnam
Robert Edward Rocky was born in Carteret on November 11, 1939, to Mr. and Mrs. Edward Rocky. His home of record is Lincroft, NJ. He graduated from Carteret High School where he achieved high academic honors. After high school, he went to Penn State University where he earned a bachelors degree in psychology. Rocky, through outstanding academic performance, was inducted to Kappa Phi, a national honor society. Rocky was also a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon, a social fraternity.
After college, Rocky attended the US Air Force Officer Training School and was given a reserve commission in 1962, as a second lieutenant. In June 1962, he married Sylvia Beauregard. In 1964, he took further pilot training at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, GA, and received his wings and a regular commission. Rocky flew the newest jet trainers and received special academic and military training during the course. He was reassigned to Lackland AFB, TX.
Rocky served with the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing. He flew 207 missions over North and South Vietnam in the F4-C Phantom Jet. He attained the rank of Captain (CAPT).
On September 17, 1966, Rocky was the rear seat pilot in the lead aircraft in a flight of three F4C aircraft that landed at Da Nang Air Force Base after a combat mission where they successfully provided air cover for a downed helicopter crew. The aircraft returned and were re-serviced and checked and headed back to Cam Ranh Bay. The first two aircraft were in close formation and the third aircraft was several miles behind as they approached the field. At this time, both ground and air observers saw an explosion in the air and both aircraft crashed into the South China Sea, one mile north of the base.
The two Phantom Jets involved in the crash were flying close formation when inexplicably, one jet exploded in a ball of fire. The cause of the explosion was reported to be a collision between the two aircrafts, but the sole survivor of the accident is still unable to shed any light as to how the explosion or collision actually took place. When both jets went down into the South China Sea, the lives of two American heroes went with them. Captain Robert Edward Rocky was flying back seat, with First Lieutenant Michael Edward Surwald piloting the aircraft. After the collision, the pilot of the other aircraft was able to eject, and give the location of the two downed planes. Immediate rescue efforts were launched and lasted for almost 24 hours. However, the rescue operation proved futile. The remains of both Rocky and Surwald were never fully recovered. What was found, medical examiners were unable to positively identify as either man. Consequently, Rocky is honored with a group plot in Arlington National Cemetery.
The facts available indicate that the two aircraft were involved in a mid-air collision and that death of the other crewmembers was instantaneous. An immediate search was begun by helicopters and boats under the lights of high-powered flares and continued throughout the night. Further recovery efforts continued until darkness the next day. Wreckage that could be recovered was carefully evaluated and it was evident that only the one crewmember survived.
Rocky's fellow officers had nothing but praise for him. Commanding officer, Lt. Col. Gerald J. Beisner wrote home to Rocky's family after the crash and explained that the Squadron held a memorial for their son, and attendance was so large that many were forced to stand outside.
Western Union Telegram from Robert W. Beers, Colonel, USAF, sent to the family of Robert Rocky:
I sincerely regret to inform you that remains subsequently recovered from the crash in which your son lost his life cannot be individually identified. The remains were thoroughly examined by identification specialists, using every method and type of equipment known to modern science. Even with these exhaustive efforts, the remains could not be identified and must be buried together as a group. We realize that relatives receive much comfort from selecting the cemetery for burial of their loved ones. I deeply regret that this privilege is denied because it is impossible to identify the remains of your son. The group will be buried in Camp Nelson National Cemetery, Nicholsville, Kentucky. This cemetery was selected because it is centrally located for the families involved. The Superintendent of the cemetery will arrange for the funeral service. He will notify you of the date and the time as soon as possible so that relatives and friends can attend. My continued sympathy is extended to you in the loss of your loved one.
Through a twist of tragic irony, Rocky was killed three weeks before his tour in Vietnam was over. Rocky was due to return home in three weeks for a month's leave before reassignment to Germany. He wrote letters home saying how he and his wife were going to adopt a child when he returned. He believed he was going to be stationed somewhere in Europe for the second half of his tour. Rocky was so looking forward to coming home and seeing his wife, brother and parents again. In honor of her late husband, Sylvia Rocky established a scholarship fund for children of Air Force personnel. When asked why she chose to do this, she said that her husband had always loved children and he had been a great man. He had written her almost everyday, and he never once complained about the hard times he was facing in combat. Captain Rocky believed the war was a just cause for freedom, and was willing to do whatever it took to win.
Sources: Rocky Family, Bryan Kreher (Monmouth University Student) and NJVVMF.
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