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August 29, 2016

The Hunt for “Wolfman 44”

by dianeshort2014
From the TWS Archives
By Loyde W. McIllwain & Jon YimOn Dec, 19, 1972, an OV-10 Bronco observation plane flew through the scattered clouds over South Vietnam’s northern region west of the South China Sea. At the controls was Air Force pilot Capt. Frank Egan. His aerial observe (AO), a Marine officer known by the call sign, “Wolfman 44”, carefully searched for enemy activity in the rain soaked jungle and mountains below.

Suddenly, the twin-engine Bronco was hit by an enemy heat-seeking missile. Damage was extensive. Not wanting to crash in thick jungle, Egan turned his crippled aircraft out to sea in an attempt to ditch it over water. As luck would have it, an Army U-21 Ute conducting electronic battlefield surveillance witnessed the incident and descended towards Egan’s damaged plane. The pilot, Army Capt. Warren Fuller, contacted Egan on the aircraft emergency frequency and was told by Egan that he planned on punching out when he got to 800 feet.
Declaring himself the ‘on-scene commander,’ Fuller established radio contact with everyone that he thought could help. He requested a Navy warship to steam toward the damaged Bronco and contacted a local ground commander in the general area and a pair of jet fighters that had been working earlier with Capt. Egan. Fuller also enlisted the help of a flight of UH-1 Huey helicopters from Da Nang.As Egan’s crippled Bronco approached the coast, both he and Wolfman 44 ejected at about 800 feet, but Fuller saw only one parachute open. “Wolfman 44 contacted me when he hit the ground and told me Frank’s parachute never deployed and that he appeared to be dead,” Fuller said. “I found out later that a D-ring prevented (Egan’s) parachute from deploying.”  Wolfman 44 and Egan’s lifeless body were picked up by a Huey and taken to the Navy warship, where Egan was officially pronounced dead. Photo is of Capt. Francis X. Egan.

A few days later, the Marine aerial observer came over to Fuller’s outfit hoping to meet and thank him for his help, “But I was out on another mission,” recalled Fuller.
That was the last time Capt. Fuller would ever hear from Wolfman 44.For some 30 years since then, Warren Fuller had been personally searching for the man known as “Wolfman 44” but all he had were mere scraps of information: The aviator’s call sign and a tip that he was a Marine attached to the 1st ANGLICO (Artillery-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company). In this age of rapid communications and social networking, he turned to the internet, posting his search on various military website forums for any details on the Marine aerial observer. Photo is of Capt. Warren Fuller.

One of Fuller’s posts caught the attention of members on the US Marines heritage community website, TogetherWeServed.com (Marines TWS). After reading the information posted by Fuller, several members took-on his quest as their personal mission. Within days of the post, there were many leads to the possible identity of Wolfman 44 but none panned-out.

On New Year’s Day 2010, a TogetherWeServed.com administrator received a phone call from former Army Specialist Mark Stovall, a member of the Marines’ sister site, Army TWS. Stovall saidhe had first-hand knowledge of the events of Dec 19, 1972: He was the one who pulled Capt. Frank Egan from his downed aircraft.

Captain Egan didn’t eject, recalls Stoval. “I found him still strapped in his seat. I can’t remember if he (Wolfman 44) was in the bird when I got there or was running like hell with me to get there himself.”

Stovall added that it’s hard for him to recall exactly what happened with all the activity that was going on at the time, as combat adrenaline tends to lend itself to distorted sensory perception.

“I don’t remember much about Wolfman getting to Da Nang with us,” said Stovall.  “But I have to assume Wolfman got there as well and was likely taken to the Gunfighter Compound at Da Nang Air Base because I didn’t see him at (our) compound and it was just across the road.”

As to Wolfman 44’s name, Stovall said it must be in Air Force records of the event, since the Army had nothing in their documents mentioning any names of those flying with Egan that day. “It says the pilot died from ‘injuries incurred during ejection,” Stoval recounts. “That was wrong, of course, because I found him still strapped-in.”

The search for Wolfman 44 went on as Fuller and Stovall, along with Marines TWS members, pressed-on by keeping track of every lead. Then on Jan. 5, 2011, a big break came from a Marines TWS member, retired Marine Sergeant Major James Butler.

“There was an aerial observer in our unit, a 1st Lt. J.F. Patterson,” said Butler. “He was recommended for the Purple Heart in Dec. 1972.”

With that vital piece of information, Marines TWS members called upon their vast resources to locate information on 1st Lt. Patterson. As it was a common name, there were several leads. TWS members narrowed and focused the search on those that fell within the age range to have served in Vietnam; narrowing a list to seven possibilities scattered throughout the United States.

The search for the enigmatic “Wolfman 44” was officially ended with a post on the Marines TWS site by member George Reilly of the TWS Personal Locator service: “Warren is on the phone with Wolfman 44 right now!”

After some 38 years of searching, former Capt. Jonathan F. Patterson, aka “Wolfman 44,”was located and reunited with Capt. Warren Fuller.

In a letter to all the Army and Marine TWS members involved in the successful search of Wolfman 44, Fuller wrote, “Today, my wife Janie and I hosted a luncheon with Jon and his wife Gail in Winston-Salem, NC at a very nice restaurant called Paul’s Fine Italian Dining. We talked about many things over lunch, but the topic of the OV-10 shot down on December 19, 1972 always seemed to surface. I also learned this was Jon’s 3rd ejection out of an OV-10. Jon and I will continue to stay in touch.”

Jon Patterson is now a member of Marines TWS, the website whose members worked every lead and put a name to the call sign “Wolfman 44.”

IF YOU HAVE A STORY ABOUT FINDING AND REUNITING WITH AN OLD FRIEND AS A RESULT OF TOGETHERWESERVED, PLEASE CONTACT ADMIN HERE. WE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR YOUR STORY.

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