Robert John Kuhlman, Jr

VMA(AW)-242, MAG-11, 1ST MAW
United States Marine Corps
25 August 1944 - 19 June 1978
Richmond, Indiana
Panel 34W Line 025


Naval Flight Officer

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

The database page for Robert John Kuhlman, Jr

21 Mar 2007

I know nothing of Major Kuhlman other than what I have read on TFO and that his name has been on my wrist for going on three years now. I stumbled across this page and noticed that he did not have a memorial. Although I am much too young (26) to have experienced the Vietnam War I am an active duty service member and have many friends and relatives who served in Vietnam and regretably received a less than welcoming return. I believe that all the missing as well as the living vets of that war and all wars deserve to be remembered and honored with the utmost respect. I am asked frequently why I wear the name of a man with whom I have no real connection. I always tell them that regardless he is my Brother in service and deserves to be remembered and it is my highest honor to where his name on my right wrist for ever.

"Never Forgotten"

AE2 Benjamin D Roth, USN

A Note from The Virtual Wall

The A-6 Intruder was designed for single-aircraft night/bad-weather low-level attack missions, but such missions carry risks other than those imposed by enemy gunners. On 17 Jan 1969 an A-6A, BuNo 152586, flown by Capt Edwin J. Fickler and then-2ndLt Robert J. Kuhlman was tasked with a night low-level strike in the A Shau Valley in northwestern South Vietnam. As usual, the A-6 was unaccompanied and radar contact with the aircraft was lost as it entered mountainous terrain west of Danang. The crew did check in with a Forward Air Controller who assigned them a target area but then lost contact with them.

Quite simply, the aircraft disappeared, victim to either enemy antiaircraft fire or a ground collision. Search and rescue efforts failed to locate wreckage or either crewman. Both men were classed as Missing in Action and remained in that status until the Secretary of the Navy approved Presumptive Findings of Death, Fickler on 04 Feb 1974 and Kuhlman on 16 June 1978.

Captain Fickler was assigned to H&MS 11, MAG-11, while 2ndLt Kuhlman, of Richmond, Indiana, was assigned to VMA(AW)-242.

The POW Network and Task Force Omega sites both have descriptions of this incident, but they conflict one with the other. TFO claims that
"At 2125 hours, Capt. Fickler and 1st Lt. Kuhlman were providing close air support for embattled US and allied troops operating along the east rim of the A Shau Valley. After completing an attack pass on a known enemy position hidden in the rugged jungle covered mountains, the Intruder pulled off target and was struck by enemy ground fire. It was seen by friendly forces to crash approximately 1 mile south of a primary east/west road running from the east side of the A Shau Valley to Hue City."
but that seems unlikely.

The VMA(AW)-242 and MAG-11 Command Chronologies for January 1969 contain information on this loss:

  • The Squadron Command Chronology states that
    "On the night of 17 January DT-07 [the aircraft side number] with Capt FICKLER and Lt KULHMAN failed to return from their mission in the A Shau Valley. A comprehensive rescue effort was initiated with negative results. Indications point to their being shot down by enemy 37mm guns. However, no wreckage has been sighted."

    "First Lieutenant Robert J. KUHLMAN Jr. 094382/7583, USMC, was missing in action 17 January 1969. The aircraft in which he was flying as Bombardier/Navigator was conducting Direct Air Support/Armed Reconnaissance against enemy infiltration routes into South Vietnam. At 2125 the last radio contact with the aircraft was made by REDEYE 05 [the USAF FAC]. A visual and electronic search was conducted in the A Shau Valley, suplemented as conditions warranted by photographic aircraft. The search was discontinued as of 1600 hours 24 January 1969. The results of the search were negative." (page 2)

    The squadron Daily Flight Schedule for 17 Jan 69 shows that Captain Fickler had been scheduled for a beacon bombing mission to launch at 2340. He was swapped with a Major Lono to take an armed recon mission with a scheduled takeoff of 2040. 1stLt Kuhlman was scheduled as the B/N for that mission.

  • The MAG-11 Command Chronology states that
    "On 17 January, an A6A was lost in the A Shau Valley while on a Direct Air Support mission. The Crew is missing in action and the wreckage has not been located." (page 2-1)
Although the squadron suggests the possibility that the aircraft was hit by 37mm fire, the intelligence section of the same report indicates that neither the FAC nor the initial SAR forces saw or received AAA fire while in the Valley. Since the wreckage was never located there is no physical evidence.

One of The Virtual Wall staff is an ex-A6 aviator with about 100 missions along the Laotian border and knows that "fast mover" night close air support via visual dive bombing was essentially unheard of - the risk to friendly troops was just too great. Higher altitude level bombing via SKYSPOT radar was used, and offset bombing from a radar beacon using the Intruder's weapons system also was used ... but that too involved higher altitudes and a level delivery. It seems far more likely that the aircraft hit one of the mountainsides while pulling off target. A shallow system dive-bombing run would have been conducted along the long axis of the valley, would have placed the aircraft well below the mountaintops at pull-out, and the normal change of direction after weapons release would have had the aircraft turning toward the hillsides as it came off target at 360 knots (415 mph) or so. Enemy antiaircraft fire may have contributed to the loss, but it could equally have occurred without AAA involvement.

The point-of-contact for this memorial is
one who wears his MIA bracelet,
Benjamin D Roth

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 21 Mar 2007
Last updated 03/27/2007