James Alan Crew

389TH TFS, 366TH TFW, 7TH AF
United States Air Force
15 May 1941 - 04 December 1978
Windber, Pennsylvania
Panel 29E Line 066



James A Crew

USAF Pilot

Purple Heart, Air Medal, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign

The database page for James Alan Crew

29 May 2003

On 9 November 1967 a 480th Tac Ftr Sqdn F-4C (tail number 64-0751) crewed by Lt. Colonel John Armstrong and Lt. Lance Sijan went down near Ban Loboy Ford, Laos, as they bombed enemy supply routes. The circumstances indicated that the destruction of the aircraft could have happened in one of two ways: they could have taken a direct hit or the plane could have been blown up by its own bombs. Since Armstrong's flight was armed with the new FMU-35 time-delay fuzes, there was a distinct possibility that they had malfunctioned. Faulty fuzes could have prematurely triggered detonation of all six bombs, and if this had happened, over two tons of high explosive would have erupted less than fifty feet from the airplane.

The next day, 10 Nov 1967, Lt. Colonel Kelly Cook told his wife in a letter that part of his flight assignment that night was to check out some malfunctioning bomb fuzes. Cook's flight that night consisted of two aircraft from the 389th Tac Ftr Sqdn:

  • BAFFLE 01, F-4C tail number 64-0669
    • Major James S. Morgan, 389th TFS, flight lead
    • 1LT Charles J. Huneycutt, 389th TFS

  • BAFFLE 02, F-4C tail number 64-0834
tasked with a SKYSPOT mission over North Vietnam. SKYSPOT was frequently used when the weather was too bad for the pilots to actually get into the target; the flight crew would fly to a designated point where they were picked up by radar and the radar controllers would then vector the crew to another point where a countdown for bomb release would begin. Normally, the bombs were ordered released while flying level at 15,000 to 20,000 feet, and bomb damage was assessed by the same radar controllers who were directing the mission. On this particular night, when the radar people directed Baffle Flight to drop their bombs, both aircraft had immediately disappeared from the radar scope. Since there was nothing said by the pilots, the radar crew figured that, once again, one of two things must have happened: either the bombs underneath the aircraft had been hit by an 85 millimeter shell, or the bombs had been set off prematurely by the new FMU-35 fuzes.

When mechanically-fuzed bombs were released, the arming wire was pulled and a front spinner propeller began to spin. After the spinner rotated a certain number of revolutions -- set during ground weapons load -- the bomb's fuze was active and ready to detonate upon ground impact. The new FMU-35s, chemical fuzes developed for use on mines and delayed bombs, armed the bomb through a precisely-timed, two-step process: First, the bomb was released from the aircraft; this act pulled an arming wire, which then allowed the second step to begin. During the second step, chemicals began eating through a thin metal shield. When the shield was broached, the bomb was an armed mine: volatile and very sensitive to impact.

Unfortunately, as they were to prove months later, there was a defect in the fuzes when the military first began using them, and, essentially, the bombs were arming when they were attached to the aircraft. This meant the bombs were live and deadly when released from the aircraft, allowing premature, sometimes immediate, detonation.

Colonel Frederick "Boots" Blesse, Deputy Commander of Operations for the wing, suspected the fuzes were defective after the back-to-back losses of Armstrong/Sijan and Baffle Flight. At that time, he ordered all the FMU-35 fuzes removed and replaced with regular mechanical fuzes. Unfortunately, 7th Air Force didn't agree with Colonel Blesse's conclusion that the FMU-35 fuzes were at fault and he was ordered to continue using the FMU-35s.

On 26 November 1967, Colonel Herbert O. Brennan and Lt. Douglas Condit went down in Laos (F-4C 64-0697, 390th TFS). It seemed to be a repeat performance of the Armstrong/Sijan loss two weeks earlier. They had rolled in on the target, released their bombs, and had immediately blown up. Colonel Blesse immediately suspended all use of the FMU-35 fuzed weapons until a thorough investigation could be conducted. This time 7th Air Force listened and responded by sending U.S. Air Force Contractor personnel to DaNang to officially investigate the fuze problem. This official delegation couldn't find anything wrong with the fuzes and delivery of weapons employing this fuze was began again at the end of December.

Two weeks later, on 16 January 1968, Colonel Blesse's suspicions were finally confirmed. Two F-4s from the 480th TFS were tasked with a SKYSPOT mission using FMU-35 fuzed 750 pound Mk 117 bombs set for delayed detonations from 45 minutes to six hours after arming. The mission crews were

  • F-4C tail number 64-0927
    • Major Charles E. Lewis, flight lead
    • 1LT Jack L. Kelley

  • F-4D tail number 66-8706
    • Capt Scott B. Stovin
    • 1LT Thomas N. Moe
Kelley was very concerned about the fuzes so during the briefing he advised Major Lewis to take the extra precaution of pulling up sharply upon release of the last bomb and, fortunately, that was precisely what he did. Their aircraft and the one behind was blown up. The four crewmen safely ejected; Lewis and Kelley were rescued several hours later, while Stovin was picked up two days later. Tom Moe was captured and spent the rest of the war as a POW.

After returning to the base, Lewis and Kelley told how one of their bombs exploded below and behind their right wing. They saw the flash of light, felt the push on the aircraft, heard the noise, and saw 1/3 of their right wing being blown in pieces up and slightly to the left. That information was all Blesse needed -- he ordered the armament people to use the fuzes, but to leave them disconnected from the bombs. From that time forward, there were no more incidents at DaNang of aircraft suddenly blowing up upon release of their bombs, which were armed by FMU-35 fuzes.

This information was compiled for my book Angels Unknown, which documents James Badley's tour of duty at DaNang Air Base. On tapes home, Jim talked about this series of accidents involving defective fuzes, and twenty years later, I interviewed many of the pilots who were assigned to the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing. When I shared this information with Emmanuel Crew, Jim Crew's father, he sent me the following newspaper article.

Missing Major Still Remembered
By: Timothy R. Trainer
The Tribune-Democrat

WINDBER -- Air Force Major James A. Crew has been missing since he was shot down over North Vietnam 23 years ago. But the jet fighter pilot, father and husband has remained in the hearts of family, friends and his community ever since.

Mayor Christina Hunter has proclaimed the next seven days James A. Crew Week and the Windber Area School District will dedicate a $235,000 high school track in his memory at a ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the track, built on an extension of 26th Street.

Superintendent Sal Marro said the idea for the Maj. James A. Crew Memorial Track was suggested by Joseph Hancharick, a Vietnam veteran and science teacher at the Windber Middle School.

Patricia Benko Crew, who had only 22 months with her husband before he went to war, has been patiently awaiting his return ever since Nov. 10, 1967, when his F4C jet, flying out of DaNang Air Base in South Vietnam, failed to return from a bombing mission.

Mrs. Crew, who has not remarried, maintains hopes her husband is still alive somewhere in the jungles of Vietnam. But whether he's alive or dead, the Windber woman wants her husband home.

"Truthfully, I don't know if my husband's there or not. It's been 23 years," she said. "But even if I'm just waiting for his remains, I want his remains. This is the country he fought and died for. He belongs here."

She said the military informed her last year that some American remains have been located that could include her husband's. An investigation was launched, but Mrs. Crew has not heard from the officials.

"I would like to say, 'Yes, my husband did die.' But I can't say that. There's always the doubt. We have no definite answers, but I can't let it go," she added. "Maybe we'll never have an answer. But I won't give up until they tell me what happened to him. I'll always hope he's there."

Crew's daughter, Dyanna Lynn, was 11 months old when her father left for the Vietnam War. The family celebrated her first birthday a month early because of Crew's scheduled departure.

Dyanna Crew now is a registered nurse at Chambersburg Hospital. Mrs. Crew, who operates a beauty shop in Windber, said the uncertainty of her husband's fate has been tough on both her and Dyanna.

"When my daughter was in school, I can remember she had some hard times," she said. "Kids used to tell her that her father was a deserter. But I made sure she knew the kind of man her father really was. She knows as much about him as I did."

She credited Chapter 364, Vietnam Veterans of America, with helping her and her daughter deal with the uncertainty and heartache of her husband's disappearance.

Of the memorials planned in her husband's honor this week, Mrs. Crew said: "It's really great . . . In our hearts we know the community is doing it for my husband, but I would like to think it is being done for the men over there and all the men who went over and came back."

Born May 15, 1941, in Windber, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel Crew, who now live in Waynesburg, Crew was an energetic member of his community even as a boy. He was active in the Windber Assembly of God Church and Windber Boy Scout Troop 130, where he earned the rank of Eagle Scout and the God and Country Award.

Crew was graduated in 1959 from Windber Area High School, where he was a member of the wrestling team and stage crew. He attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., receiving a degree in engineering sciences in 1965.

He was in Vietnam for only six months when his plane was shot down.

From a friend of a friend,
Lynda Twyman Paffrath

11 May 2007

I have an MIA bracelet for James Alan Crew. Has he been found? or would family like to have the bracelet?

E-Mail will be forwarded by the

A Note from The Virtual Wall

Four crewmen were lost in F-4Cs 64-0669 and 64-0669 -
  • Col Kelly F. Cook, Sioux City, IA
  • Col James S. Morgan, El Dorado, AR
  • Major James A. Crew, Windber, PA
  • Major Charles J. Huneycutt, Charlotte, NC
As of 03 Nov 2007, only one of the four has been repatriated: The recovery and identification of Major Hunneycutt's remains was announced on 26 Sep 1989.

The point-of-contact for this memorial is
a friend of a friend,
Lynda Twyman Paffrath

Top of Page

Virtual Wall icon

Back to
To alpha index C
PA State Index . Panel 29E
389TH TFS Index


With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 29 May 2003
Last updated 11/03/2007