Air Force Theme
I was born July 17, 1949. "Alf" Alfred was already almost six years old. It doesn't seem much of a gap to me now, closing on 49.
In 1964, I was a High School freshman in Newberg, Oregon (one of the few schools I attended two years in a row).
In 1964, "Alf" Alfred graduated from the Air Force Academy. Like so many of my generation, he dreamed of becoming an astronaut. He studied hard; he'd been on the Dean's List for four years.
In 1965 I was beginning to explore philosophy. I dismayed my grandfather by expressing admiration for communism, then equally startled him by doing an in-depth report on it for social studies class and disillusioning myself. My mother was disturbed to find that most of my journal-diary was devoted to exploring theological themes in science fiction.
In 1965 "Alf" Alfred trained on the F4 Phantom fighter jet and began flying it in Vietnam. He was assigned to the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Da Nang.
In 1966, I was attending Junior High in Gig Harbor Washington. My biggest preoccupation was the increasing difficulty of living with my grandfather, whom none of us realized was suffering advancing arteriosclerosis.
In 1966 ...
The U.S.S. Keppler (DD-765) was operating in the coastal area about halfway between Dong Hoi and Vinh Linh. The Keppler's crew, comprised of Navy Seals, was part of Operation Sea Dragon, which involved engaging and destroying Waterborne Logistic Craft, junks and barges in particular. On the evening of December 11, 1966, the seas were relatively calm, and it was somewhat foggy. Personnel aboard the Keppler observed Woodcock and Alfred's aircraft head for water, nose over and crash, "literally right in front of [their] eyes."
While no ejection was seen, two emergency beepers were heard momentarily. A rescue team was dispatched from the Keppler immediately, coinciding with a rescue effort by the U.S Air Force. Air Force aircraft dropped a number of flares in the area, while the Navy personnel searched from the water. A member of the Navy team was awarded the Navy Cross for his rescue of Jerry Woodcock.
Capt. Woodcock believed that his backseater had ejected. The Navy team continued searching for him, but with no success. There were numerous enemy craft of all sorts in the area, which was close enough to shore that Lt. Alfred might have been able to reach the shoreline if his flotation device had been functioning (Woodcock's had not been functional).
The failure to find Alfred has haunted some of the personnel aboard the Keppler throughout the years. Their frustration at being unable to locate this man, whom they believed had every chance to survive, was deep and heartfelt.
The U.S. Air Force categorized Gerald O. Alfred, Jr. as Missing In Action, and it is believed that he parachuted into the sea. Because of the proximity of the enemy, it is also believed that the enemy knows the fate of 1Lt. Gerald O. Alfred, although the Vietnamese have denied any knowledge of him for over 20 years.
Since the end of American involvement in Vietnam in 1975, thousands of reports have been received which have convinced many authorities that hundreds of Americans are still being held captive today.
Some analysts fear that men like Gerald O. Alfred will never return. In late 1986, a former NSA intelligence analyst stated that backseaters like Alfred, who possessed technical knowledge surpassing that of the pilot were singled out. The analyst stated that in the intelligence community these men were dubbed, "MB", or "Moscow Bound". They would make valuable trades to the Soviet Union for a heavily indebted Vietnam.
Whether Alf survived that day in December is not known. What seems certain, however, is that there are men who did, and still do, survive. What must they be thinking of their country? It's time we brought them home.
I never knew Gerald Oak Alfred, Jr. -- "Alf". I haven't the claim to grieve for him that his family and his friends do.
But I want to know him. I want to meet this other Alf, compare 1950's reading lists, compare our different Air Force terms of service and what they had in common. I want to have the chance to do that.
I want this stranger that I find I have unknown bonds with to have the same respect and dignity I demand for all. I refuse to let those who died homeless be forgotten because they make people uncomfortable. Neither should our missing soldiers be forgotten and ignored.
If we fail to respect any person's dignity, we diminish our own. To let our missing be forgotten is to forget an important part of ourselves.
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