Robert Edward Bernhardt
First Lieutenant
United States Air Force
Richmond, Virginia
May 12, 1948 to February 05, 1973
ROBERT E BERNHARDT is on the Wall at Panel W1, Line 116

Robert E Bernhardt
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20 July 2002

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A memorial from his sister Susan.
Email address is not available


Notes from The Virtual Wall

On February 5, 1973, about a week after the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement, an EC-47Q electronic warfare collection aircraft (tail number 43-48636) was shot down over Saravane Province, Laos, about 50 miles east of the city of Saravane. The aircraft belonged to and was crewed by the 361st Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron, but the collection crew "back-enders" were from the 6994th Security Squadron: The aircraft was on a radio-direction-finding mission, attempting to locate North Vietnamese tanks moving south on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The last radio call from Baron 52 indicated that he was taking anti-aircraft fire. What happened next is a matter of some conjecture.

From the report:

"Over five years later, Joe Matejov's mother, Mary Matejov, heard columnist Jack Anderson, on "Good Morning America", describe a Pathet Lao radio communique which described the capture of four "air pirates" on the same day as the EC-47Q carrying her son was shot down. No other plane was missing that day. Anderson's information indicated that reconnaissance personnel had 40 uninterrupted minutes in which to survey the crash site.

"The report of the reconnaissance team, which was not provided to the families for over five years, showed that three bodies, which were thought to have been higher ranking officers because of the seating arrangement, were found strapped in seats. Four of the men aboard the aircraft were not in or around the aircraft, and the partial remains of the eighth man (Bernhardt) was recovered. No identification was brought out from the crash site, and no attempt was made to recover the three bodies from the downed aircraft.

"There were specific reports intercepted regarding the four missing men from the aircraft missing on February 5, 1973. Radio reports indicated that the four were transported to the North Vietnam border. None of the four were released with the other American POWs later in the spring."

Hobson, in "Vietnam Air Losses", puts a slightly different slant on matters. He writes that the wreckage was located on 07 Feb and three US Air Force rescuemen were lowered to the crash site on 09 Feb 73. The rescuemen sighted at least four bodies but were able to recover the partial remains of only one airman (Bernhardt). The rescuemen could not remain on the ground long enough to extract and hoist the remains of the others to the hovering helicopter overhead. Hobson states that a joint Lao-US team excavated the site in 1993, recovering human remains and eight parachute "D" rings, one for each of the eight parachutes taken aboard the C-47. Although individual remains could not be identified, it was clear that none of the eight crewmen had parachuted to safety and there was no physical evidence indicating that any had survived the crash and post-crash fires.

While the family members of some crewmen refused to accept the DoD finding that all eight men had died in the crash, the comingled remains of these men were given a group burial in December 1995.

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