April 9 is National Former Prisoner of War Day in the United States, by presidential proclamation:
In the history of the 14th Tactical Fighter Squadron, there were no Cold War combat engagements that resulted in aircraft loss and pilot capture by hostile forces, thankfully. And the same applies for the 14th Fighter Squadron in the modern era.
Having said that, there is cause to remember earlier wars the 14th was engaged in, World War II and the Vietnam War, in which there were aircraft losses, and some aircrew became prisoners of war. It is they whom we remember on this day.
Although there is no handy summary available to show how many POWs there were from the 14th in these two wars, initial research indicates names for six men can be found, three from each war. There may be more found as research continues.
In World War II, when the unit was designated as the 14th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, the following men were shot down and became guests of the Luftwaffe:
1 March 1944, Lt. Franklin I. Van Wart was shot down in Spitfire PR XI MB945, named “Lu Mar II.”
5 September 1944, Lt. Robert B. Hillborn was shot down by a Luftwaffe Me-262 jet fighter while flying Spitfire MK XI PL782 (MACR 6687) on a mission to obtain bomb damage assessment pictures of Stuttgart, Ludwigshafen and Karlsruhe. He was attacked by two Me-262’s near Stuttgart, hit, and bailed out of his stricken aircraft near Feurbach. He was a POW at Luft Stalag I, Barth, Germany.
Circa 15 February 1945, Capt. Robert J. Dixon (14PRS Commander), shot down by flak on recon mission to Merseburg, Germany. He stayed in the Air Force after the war and eventually rose to four-star rank, and saw combat again in Korea and Vietnam.
During the Vietnam War, the 14th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron lost aircraft with surviving aircrew who became POWs in North Vietnam. These men were:
23 November 1968, RF-4C recon systems operator Captain Mark J. Ruhling was shot down in RF-4C 66-0445 near Dong Hoi while on a recon mission against a Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) site in North Vietnam.
His pilot, Bradley G. Cuthbert, was considered Missing in Action for many years. His remains were recovered on 4 August 1993 and he was identified on 16 December 1998, though his family disputes the DoD finding on the case.
13 August 1972, RF-4C pilot Captain William A. Gauntt was nearly done with his combat tour and on a recon mission in RF-4C 68-0604 over the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) when he was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery. He was repatriated on 27 March 1973.
Unfortunately, his pilot, 1st Lt. Billie J. Williams did not survive the aircraft loss or initial captivity – his remains were returned 20 December 1990.
9 December 1972, First Lieutenant Hector M. Acosta, Photo Systems Operator in the back seat of RF-4C 68-0597 was shot down on his 90th mission by a surface-to-air missile just north of Vinh, North Vietnam was captured and spent some months in the Hanoi Hilton before being repatriated on 29 March 1973.
Unfortunately his backseater, 1st Lt. Francis W. Townsend did not survive the shoot-down, or captivity, and did not return. His remains were eventually recovered on 13 July 1999 and identified on 13 June 2002.
On this National Former POW Recognition Day, we remember these brave men who served our country in uniform, and in prison camps. They should be honored by a grateful nation for their service and sacrifice. Let us remember them and be inspired by their example, for if we do not remember them and learn from their experience, who else will?
Information on loss of Lt. Hillborn, at: http://forum.armyairforces.com/Help-needed-Loss-data-on-Spitfire-PL782-please-m182142.aspx
Pictures of Van Wart and Hillborn, in Flickr, at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/24554019@N06/3686468686/in/set-72157613174468298/
Robert J. Dixon, Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_J._Dixon
Info on Mark J. Ruhling, at: http://www.talkingproud.us/Retired/Retired/Lavelle_files/rf-4cs-of-432nd-trw.pdf
Image for Capt. Ruhling, at: http://www.ejection-history.org.uk/project/Biographies/R/Ruhling_Mark_john/RuhlingMark.htm
Bio on Bradley G. Cuthbert, at: http://www.pownetwork.org/bios/c/c072.htm
Bradley Gene Cuthbert, ABMC Database entry, at: http://www.abmc.gov/search-abmc-burials-and-memorializations/detail/Vietnam_1435#.VSYh7JP3i7M
Biography for William A. Gauntt, at: http://www.pownetwork.org/bios/g/g078.htm
Image for Lt Col Gauntt, at: http://veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=1726
Biography for Hector M. Acosta, at: http://www.pownetwork.org/bios/a/a079.htm
Image for Hector Acosta, at: http://veterantributes.org/TributeDetail.php?recordID=581 and at: http://www.ejection-history.org.uk/project/Biographies/A/Acosta_Hector_Michael/AcostaMA.htm
Francis Wayne Townsend, ABMC Database entry, at: http://www.abmc.gov/search-abmc-burials-and-memorializations/detail/Vietnam_2023#.VSYqYZP3i7M
14th Fighter Squadron History Factsheet, at: http://www.afhra.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet_print.asp?fsID=9807