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Remains of Marine shot down during Vietnam War heading home after 48 years

A Marine radar intercept officer missing nearly 48 years after he was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War has been accounted for after his remains were found last year, the Bergen Record reports.

The remains of Marine Corps Reserve 1st Lt. William (Billy) Ryan, of Bogota, N.J. (left in photo) were identified through DNA tests conducted by the Defense Pow/MIA Accounting Agency at the Pentagon, the paper reported Friday.

Ryan’s plane crashed on a combat mission in southern Laos near the Vietnam border on May 11, 1969, the day before his son’s first birthday.

“I always knew my dad died in the crash, and that’s what my mom told me,” Michael Ryan, 48 told the paper. “What she didn’t tell me is that part of her held out hope that maybe she’d see his face again.”

His aircraft was pulling out of a bombing run when it was hit by enemy fire. The pilot bailed out and was rescued.

Ryan was also shot down in 1968 over the Gulf of Tonkin but he survived that crash.

According to the Record, military investigators went to the Laos crash site in 1990 and found his plane seat.

Investigators visited the site on six other occasions from May 2012 to January 2016 to look for remains.

A lab identified the remains as Ryan’s and notified Michael last month.
The next day Ryan’s widow Judith was diagnosed with stage-4 stomach cancer.

“I don’t know, it’s strange to me,” Michael told the paper. “We’ve waited 48 years for this. And now I’m looking up at God and saying, ‘Can you give this woman a week to celebrate?'”

Billy Ryan will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on May 10, the eve of the crash anniversary.

Much more about Ryan and his family can be found at the site below:


Profile in Courage: Col James Kasler

James Helms Kasler was born on May 2, 1926 in South Bend, Indiana and following 30-years of distinguished military service, retired as a U.S. Air Force Colonel. Three times he went off to war and three times returned home. During his career, he is the only person to be awarded three Air Force Crosses. He also was awarded two Silver Stars, Legion of Merit, nine Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts, eleven Air Medals and Bronze Star with V for valor. Setting aside recipients of the Medal of Honor, he is the 10th most decorated serviceman in U.S. history. For some, he is known as Indiana’s Sgt. Alvin York, the famous hero of World War I.

Shortly after graduating from Shortridge High School, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in May 1944. He spent his two-year enlistment flying combat missions over Japan as a B-29 Superfortress tail gunner.

Following the war, Kasler attended Butler University in Indianapolis for three years before entering the U.S. Air Force pilot training program in January 1950 and received his wings on March 24, 1951 at Williams AFB, Arizona. Following a brief assignment to Presque Isle, Maine, in November 1951 he was sent to Korea and assigned to the 335th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter-Interceptor Group.

Flying the F-86 Sabrejet, Kasler was credited with his first aerial victory on April 1, 1952, downing one MiG-15 near Wongsong-dong and damaging a second east of Sinuiju. He shot down another MiG near Okkang-dong on April 21. Action picked up in May, and he was credited with four more MiG-15s – one on the 4th, two on the 15th. It was on April 25 when he got his 6th in MiG Alley.

He and his wingman, 1st Lt. Albert Smiley, caught several MiGs just as they were returning to their Communist air base. Kasler got behind the lead MiG, chasing it for about 50 miles on the deck, refusing flight commander Phil “Casey” Colman’s request to call it a day. On the MiGs tail, Kasler opened up, and his gunfire tore it apart. Its canopy gone, its pilot engulfed in fire, the MiG arched down in a flaming trail before it splattered in the mud flats just below. Kasler pulled back on the stick mightily, to avoid sharing his victim’s fate. He cleared and called triumphantly to Colman, “Casey, I’m an ace.”

MiGs were routinely piloted by Chinese and Soviet pilots and a U.S. intelligence officer later informed Kasler that the three MiGs he and Smiley killed were the only ones recorded that day.

The officer had another bit of information: One of those three planes had been piloted by the son of Mao Zedong, father of the Chinese revolution and principal founder of the People’s Republic of China.

Kasler returned to the United States in July 1952 and during the next 11 years served in Canada, Turner AFB, Georgia, Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, and Breitburg Air Base, Germany, flying a variety of jet fighters. In 1963 he received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Nebraska.

In February 1966 he went to Tahkli Air Base, Thailand as the operations officer for the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 355th Wing. While mission were flying daily over both South and North Vietnam, Hanoi was at that time off-limits to U.S. warplanes. Fearing a wider conflict, Robert McNamara, secretary of defense during the Kennedy and Johnson presidential administrations, drew a 50-mile circle around it and a 30-mile ring around the principal harbor.

That restriction was eliminated in June 1966 as American defense chiefs were slowly escalating the war, and had recently decided to broaden the bombing of North Vietnam to include industrial targets like the Hanoi POL (petroleum, oil, & lubricant) facility.

On June 21, Kasler learned of the impending strike and began to select pilots, draw up the precise navigation plans, and studying Hanoi’s formidable aerial defenses. North Vietnam had the strongest anti-aircraft defenses in history: over 7,000 AA guns of 37mm or larger, and batteries of radar-controlled SAM’s ringing Hanoi.

By midnight on the 28th, their plans were complete, down to detailed route charts, folded accordion-style. Minutes before the 0830 mission briefing, Kasler was invited to lead the mission, much to his surprise, and to the discomfort of Col. Holt, who otherwise would have led the large raid. The briefing focused on weather (clear) and winds (light and variable) – both perfect for fighter operations. Both wings, the 355th and the 388th, would approach the target from the south, to minimize the chances of a bomb ending up in the city of Hanoi. Each Republic F-105 Thunderchief carried eight 750-pound bombs.

Kasler rolled down the runway and lifted off at 235 knots. Airborne, he headed north for the rendezvous with the aerial tankers. They refueled uneventfully and were three minutes ahead of schedule. Kasler led the Thuds in a circle to kill the 180 seconds. Twenty minutes later, they were over the Red River and Kasler began to lose altitude, until they were 300 feet off the ground, at the base of “Thud Ridge,” the landmark mountain range that ran east-west across North Vietnam’s mid-section.

As they dropped tanks, they could see smoke rising up from the POL tanks, already hit by Navy jets. Flak blossomed all around them, even at 300 feet. The NVA gunners must have had their 85mm and 100mm pieces at zero elevation. Amidst the smoke from the target and puffs of anti-aircraft fire, Kasler called for afterburners and went into his bomb run. Big fat oil tanks filled his view; he dropped his bombs and rolled away to the right. Turning back, he saw the fuel tanks erupting into huge billowing fireballs, thousands of feet high.

His flight crossed the Red River and the flak gunners switched to fighter-bombers behind him. Flying west, looking for targets of opportunity, he found a convoy of twenty-five trucks. The Thuds blasted them with 20mm cannon fire, destroying at least half of them. He glanced back at Hanoi, now 35 miles behind. A pillar of black smoke towered up, over six miles high.

The Hanoi POL strike was very successful. Over 90 percent of the facility was destroyed and the Vietnamese abandoned it altogether.

On August 8, 1966, on his 91st combat mission, he was leading the formation when his wingman, Fred Flom was shot down. Kasler dropped down and flew low-level cover while awaiting the arrival of a combat rescue patrol. Running low on fuel with just enough to return to base, he instead hooked up with a KC-135 midair refueler and return to look for Flom.

Kasler’s F-105 was also shot down over North Vietnam that same day and captured by the North Vietnamese. He was a POW until 4 March 1973. So began six years and seven months of imprisonment by an enemy who knew exactly who he was and why to hate him.

Oddly, it was Kasler’s notoriety that saved his life, but it also exposed him to unspeakable torture. His captors gloated. They singled him out. They almost immediately put Kasler on television, so they couldn’t kill him without losing face, but they were particularly eager to force a confession or any capitulation, so great would have been its propaganda value.

It was testimony to the ferocity of the air war that another of Kasler’s closest friends, Lewis Shattuck, was shot down and rescued on Aug 1st and was shot down again, and this time captured, on Aug 11th. And that his friend John Brodak went down Aug 14th.

That’s three buddies down within 35 days of one another and serving as POWs from 1966 until 1973.

At one point, during the fall of 1967, Kasler’s captors took his clothes and his mosquito net. For three days, they denied him food and water and they beat his back and buttocks with a truck fan belt, every hour on the hour, 6 a.m. until 10 or 11 p.m.

He was tortured repeatedly by his Communist captors, in an effort to get him to cooperate with their propaganda claims. In the early years, the prisoners were kept in isolation and rarely let out of their cells. The Vietnamese used isolation, sleep deprivation, starvation, as well as physical pain to try to break Kasler down. His worst session came in June 1968:

“The Vietnamese were attempting to force me to meet a delegation and appear before TV cameras on the occasion of the supposed 30000th American airplane ever North Vietnam. I couldn’t say the things they were trying to force me to say. I was tortured for six weeks. I went through the ropes and irons ten times. I was denied sleep for five days and during three of these was beaten every hour on the hour with a fan belt. During the entire period I was on a starvation diet. I was very sick during this period. I had contacted osteomyelitis in early 1967 and had a massive bone infection in my right leg.

“They would wrap my leg before each torture session so I wouldn’t get pus or blood all over the floor of the interrogation room. During this time they beat my face to a pulp. I couldn’t get my teeth apart for five days. My ear drum was ruptured, one of my ribs broken and the pin in my right leg was broken loose and driven up into my hip.”

“I lay in agony for six months until I was given an operation in January of 1969.”
[Excerpted from]

Kasler shared the infamous Room 7 of the “Hanoi Hilton” with other great heroes like Robinson Risner, James Stockdale, Bud Day, John McCain, Larry Guarino, and Jeremiah Denton. He never cooperated with the North Vietnamese and survived to return home in March, 1973, after six and one-half years in captivity.

For seven long years, his wife Martha, daughter Suzanne and twins Jim and Nanette awaited Kasler’s return from Vietnam. It came, joyfully and tearfully, on March 8, 1973 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

The twins were 12 when their father left for Vietnam. They were 19 when the family was reunited. Kasler momentarily mistook his son Jim for Suzanne’s husband, John Morris.

The confusion was understandable but short-lived. It is testimony to Kasler’s enormous strength, and that of Martha and the kids, that normalcy was incredibly, and almost immediately, restored.

In July 1974 Kasler was assigned as vice commander of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho and remained in that capacity until his retirement as aColonel on 1 May 1975, in spite of him being in line for an Air Wing command and a brigadier general’s star.

He spent the last 39 years of his life as a resident of Momence, an Illinois-Indiana border town where he owned South Shore Golf Course and had interests in banking and real estate, served on a number of boards and received a variety of civic and service awards.

He died on April 24, 2014, at the age of 87, in West Palm Beach, Florida. One obituary read, he joined what Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg called ‘our honored dead.’

Kasler’s former cell-mates at Hanoi Hilton, Lewis Shattuck and John Brodak, were in Indianapolis for the May 16, 2014 memorial service at Crown Hill Cemetery that saluted Kasler in death. It was a grim, gray day, but the rain eased and the sky brightened a bit for the F-15 Eagle flyover, when there was a lump in every throat and a tear in almost every eye. Kasler was more than a hero. He was a husband to Martha for 65 years, a father and grandfather.

At his funeral, John Brodak, his voice flush with feeling, said, ‘The colonel was my mentor and my hero, the most courageous man I’ve ever known. He was a fierce warriors and a patriot and I’m proud he called me his friend.’

Brodak is a retired Air Force colonel who flew with Kasler. And for 15 months of the six and a half years both were North Vietnamese prisoners of war, he was Kasler’s cellmate at ‘The Zoo’ and the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton.’

Kasler’s happiest occupation was Grandpa. His six grandchildren served as greeters at his Crown Hill memorial celebration. Each spoke.

One, Ashley Hurley, recalled grandpa’s infectious sense of humor and how, when she was little, he would get down on the floor with her and laugh and laugh.

James Kasler was nicknamed “Stoneface” by his Air Force peers, testimony to his toughness, his seriousness of purpose and his mission commitment. But men like Brodak and Shattuck, his wife Martha, kids and grandkids


CDR Allan R. Carpenter U.S. Navy (Ret) (1955-1978)

Read the service Reflections of US Navy Sailor:

carpenterCDR Allan R. Carpenter

U.S. Navy (Ret)


Shadow Box:

(Veterans – record and share your own service story with friends and family by joining This is a free service)


I graduate at the age of 17 from Sanford High School in 1955 and at the end of that summer I enlisted in the Navy on September 27, 1955 with the intent to qualify for the Naval Cadet program as soon as I turned 18.

There was also a family history. My father had served in WWII on the cruiser USS Vincennes and an uncle completed a career as a YNC after serving on SS combat patrols in the Pacific, ultimately as COB.


I went to boot camp at the United States Naval Training Center, Bainbridge with additional training at Norman, Oklahoma, Norfolk and Glynco. In August 1956 I was assigned to Naval Air Station Patuxent River as an Airborne Radar Operator on WV-2s (EC-121 Warning Star). While here I married the former Carolyn Malone (my high school sweetheart) of Sanford, Maine on August 31, 1957.

In October 1958 I went to Olathe, Kansas for Tower and Ground Controlled Approach School then on to Quonset Point for three years shore duty.

I was well into training as an AC (W) and, of course, had developed a bad attitude regarding officers! Made AC1 in 5 yrs., leaving little to look forward to (most Chiefs, in those days, did more admin than ops), so I succumbed to urging from an excellent Division Officer to apply for the Integration Program (“Seaman to Admiral”) and NESEP (Navy Program Seeks Officers From the Ranks). I was selected for both; decided I could always get an education, but it would be my last and only shot at Wings of Gold, so accepted orders to Flight Training, via OCS at Newport.

While in training I flew the T-34, T2A, F9F Cougar, and F-11 Tiger – how’s THAT for dreams come true!!

I next went to Naval Justice School at Newport, then on to the A4 RAG, VA-43 at Oceana as a Fleet Replacement Pilot. I completed RAG training in June 1964 and immediately reported to my new squadron, VA-72 at Oceana, flying the A4E Skyhawk. I became the squadron Legal Officer and Landing Signal Officer trainee. Significant cruises were in the Mediterranean in the fall of 1964 and in the Western Pacific in 1965, both on the USS Independence.

I finished the 1965 cruise as a fully qualified LSO. I finally dropped my legal duties and moved the family to Jacksonville, Florida in January 1966. After a few more training cruises, I shoved off for Vietnam again, this time aboard the USS Roosevelt.


In May 1965, I made my first combat cruise aboard the USS Independence (CVA-62). The ship was deployed for more than seven months, including 100 days in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam, the first Atlantic Fleet carrier to do so. She also was the fifth U.S. carrier to operate off Vietnam. We participated in the first major series of coordinated strikes against vital enemy supply lines north of the Hanoi-Haiphong complex, successfully evading the first massive surface-to-air missile barrage in aviation history while attacking assigned targets, and executing the first successful attack on an enemy surface-to-air missile installation.

During this cruise I lost my roommate to hostile fire. On September 13, 1965, LTJG Joe Mossman launched in his Skyhawk (“Scooter”) attack aircraft as the number four plane on an armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. Only the month previous, two A4E’s had been the first Navy aircraft to be shot down by surface-to-air missiles (SAM). They claimed so many American planes in the duration of the war.

When the flight was over the target area near the city of Dong Hoi in Quang Binh Province, Joe’s aircraft was hit by small arms fire. No ejection was observed. The aircraft crashed approximately 12 kilometers west of Dong Hoi, near Route 101.

Search and rescue (SAR) was flown over the crash site but no signs of survival were spotted. Joe was initially placed in a status of Missing in Action which was later changed to Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered in 1973.

On November 1, 1966, I was leading a flight of three F4s on a missile suppression mission in support of a vital photo reconnaissance flight in the Haiphong area. It was my 107th combat mission. Flying over a missile site I was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Almost immediately my plane caught fire and my controls began difficult to use. As I had been trained to do, I headed for open water where I lost complete control of my plane. I punched out of my crippled plane suffering severe injuries from the high-speed ejection and fell into the ocean below that was filled with many North Vietnamese fishing boats.

It was the second time I had been shot down. The first was on August 21, 1966 and that time I had been rescued by our ship’s rescue helicopter. By the time I hit the water, I was immediately pulled onto a fishing junk that took me to the beach and into the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”


My six years and four months as a P.O.W., for mostly obvious reasons, the first of which was the realization that I was so fortunate to serve in the company of heroes, to survive, and to have served my Navy and my country with honor!

Also during all that time the feeling that my wife and children needed me home, safe and sane, and the firm conviction that the United States of America would never abandon its prisoners of war, sustained me whenever I got to feeling particularly blue.

In early 1973, we started hearing rumors that the U.S. and Vietnam were conducting peace talks that could lead to our release. That rumor became a reality beginning in February when we learned all 591 American prisoners of war still held by North Vietnam were going home. A few days later, I touched American soil for the first time since the mid-60s when my plane home landed at Logan Airport in Boston. After receiving the proper medical attention I returned to my hometown of Sanford Maine to be with my family and to start life anew. This photo was taken of me with my family at the Sanford airport moments after my return after six years of captivity as a POW of the North Vietnamese.

Since that day, March 4, 1973 has gone into my personal history as the happiest day of my life to date and one that will be celebrated as my “Re-birthday” from here on out.


Three Silver Stars – first for leading the Iron Hand, SAM suppression flight (my flight of 3 destroyed the SAM site) on which I was shot down and captured; 2nd and 3rd for enduring severe torture sessions in prison; Legion of Merit and 2 Bronze Stars for particular actions while a P.O.W.; some of my 11 Air Medals and four Navy Commendations for individual, noteworthy, combat flights.


Two: My Division officer Quonset Pt., LT Jim Yates (now deceased), for prodding me into applying to officer procurement programs, and CDR Edward P. Stafford, veteran of WW-II combat ops in the Med and Pacific, Patrol Plane Commander of our VW-15 flight crew, and grandson of RADM Robert E. Peary, discover of the North Pole, for being a tremendous role model. I recommend reading his books:”The Big E”, “Little Ship, Big War”, and “Subchaser.”


My final assignment in the Navy was as an instrument flight instructor in Virginia and where I retired from the Navy in late 1978. We remained in Virginia living on a tributary on Chesapeake Bay. Every summer we would return to Sanford to visit our friends.

I worked as a small marina owner; marine railway operator; ultralight aircraft sales and service; and aerial photographer.

Finally, fully retired!

In 2007, I returned to Vietnam with my wife and two of our daughters. I must admit I traveled there with some trepidation, but ended up having a wonderful time. We found no evidence of hatred or dislike or violence there. While Vietnam is still a communist nation, I noticed that the country has changed dramatically and that capitalism has made tremendous inroads.

We even toured the Hoa Lo Prison, which is now part of a museum. We went into the room where I and the other POWs were held captive more than 30 years earlier. It brought back memories it had taken me years to forget but I glad I made the trip.

I continue to act as guest speaker at events where POW/MIA issues are discussed.


Nam POWs: a matchless fraternity of love, respects and support.


I thoroughly love and appreciate every aspect of my Navy career. I am very proud of my enlisted service, from AA to AC1. Those years gave me a basis, understanding and appreciation of ALL of us – enlisted and officer – that would serve me extremely well throughout the rest of my career – from squadron Legal Officer to X.O.


Always serve with pride, and honor, never forgetting that you are ambassadors of our country, and the protectors of our freedom and the U.S. Constitution!


For me, TWS is a chance to connect with old friends, make a few new ones along the way.

I’ve enjoyed putting my profile together and telling a bit of my story.

I know it will be well taken care of long after I am gone.


Only U.S. Woman POW in WWII Europe

On September 27, 1944 a C-47 assigned to the 813th Medical Air Evacuation Squadron lifted off from England into the clear morning sky. Its destination was a landing field at St. Trond, Belgium to pick up casualties. Since the aircraft usually carried military supplies and troops on the outbound flight and casualties on the return trip, it was not marked with the Red Cross.

Aboard the aircraft was 24-year-old Texas born Second Lt. Reba Whittle, an experienced flight nurse with 40 missions and over 500 hours flight time.

Somewhere along the way to Belgium the plane strayed far from its intended route, entering German airspace where it was hit by German flak a couple of miles outside Aachen. The crew braced themselves as the plane gained and lost elevation from heavy shrapnel tearing through its thin-skinned fuselage and disabling an engine. Whittle held onto her seat for dear life as they began to nosedive.

On impact, Whittle was violently thrown from her seat and into the navigator’s compartment five feet away. Sergeant Hill, her surgical technician, was wounded in the arm and leg, one of the pilots was killed, the other badly hurt. Whittle herself suffered from concussion, and injuries and lacerations to her face and back. Dazed, the crew immediately evacuated the burning plane through the top hatch. As soon as the last of the crew had left the plane, they saw German soldiers had arrived and were pointing their rifles at them.

Whittle was startled when a German soldier suddenly stepped forward, set down his rifle, grabbed a bandage out of his bag and began to wrap it around her head. She didn’t even know that she was bleeding. Soon the other Germans followed his lead and began providing the rest of the aircrew first aid before marching them the two miles to Aachen.

achenIn Aachen, they were led to a brick house where they were each given some fruit to eat before being questioned by an English speaking officer. They each gave the officer their name, rank and serial number (as required by the Geneva Conventions) and were then taken into the kitchen where they were given coffee with black bread and butter.

When finished eating, the five American prisoners were ushered onto an old bus and driven 40 miles to their next destination. After driving through a tall metal fence, they were taken into an office filled with officers working on assorted paperwork and led upstairs to sleeping quarters. The four men were given one room and Whittle was given another.

About an hour and a half later the five were awakened and taken back downstairs where another English speaking officer question each of them as the officer had done at their previous stop. At 1100, they were loaded into the back of a truck and brought to a German military hospital where the doctor finished Whittle’s treatment and said, “Too bad you’re a woman, you are the first one and no one knows exactly what to do with you.”

On October 1, 1944 the group was separated as the men were sent to a nearby Stalag or prison camp and Whittle waited for the Germans to decide on what they were going to do with her. Five days later, she was sent to Stalag IXC or 9C in Meiningen where she was assigned to work in the hospital, caring for her fellow POWs.

A Swiss legation that negotiated POW transfers, mostly of wounded prisoners, discovered her in custody and began to arrange her release.

Whittle was escorted by the German Red Cross away from the camp along with 109 male POWS as part of a prisoner exchange. She was then transported by train to Switzerland along with other prisoners who were being returned on medical or psychiatric grounds, then flew back to the United States.

She returned to duty in the hospital at Hamilton Field, California where she was awarded the Air Medal and a Purple Heart, and promoted to first lieutenant. She also married Lieutenant Colonel Stanley W. Tobiason, her fiance before being captured. They later had two sons, one who was a naval aviator who flew mission in Vietnam. She was discharged on January 13, 1946.

Whittle suffered from an assortment of physical and psychiatric problems. She sought compensation from the Veterans Administration, and in 1950 began a series of appeals for military medical retirement. Despite diagnoses of post-traumatic encephalopathy, chronic severe anxiety reaction, and early lumbosacral arthritis, her appeals were denied.

Whittle also applied for, and was denied, POW status. The problem was her status as a POW was undocumented by the U.S. military. She had been ordered by the Army not to talk about her experiences – a common wartime regulation designed to protect military personnel still held by the enemy.

She and her husband continued to fight the bureaucracy to recognize her POW status and to receive back pay. She finally accepted a cash settlement in 1955.

While nurses who were imprisoned in Asia had received hero’s receptions upon their release, Whittle’s story was kept quiet by the Army and barely noticed by the media in the celebration of the war’s end.

Whittle died of breast cancer in 1981. Her POW status was officially conferred by the military two years after her death in 1983.

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