Name: Thomas Holt Pilkington

Rank/Branch: O2/US Navy Reserves

Unit: Fighter Squadron 154, USS CORAL SEA (CVA 43)

Date of Birth: 08 September 1941

Home City of Record: Morton Grove IL

Date of Loss: 19 September 1966

Country of Loss: North Vietnam

Loss Coordinates: 191700N 1054700E (WG788340)

Status (in 1973): Missing in Action

Category: 4

Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4B

Refno: 0462

Other Personnel in Incident: Don B. Parsons Jr. (missing)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 30 June 1990 from one or more of

the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence

with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W.



SYNOPSIS: The USS CORAL SEA participated in combat action against the

Communists as early as August 1964. Aircraft from her squadrons flew in the

first U.S. Navy strikes in the Rolling Thunder Program against targets in

North Vietnam in early 1965 and participated in Flaming Dart I strikes. The

next year, reconnaissance aircraft from her decks returned with the first

photography of Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) sites in North Vietnam. The

CORAL SEA participated in Operation Eagle Pull in 1975, evacuating American

personnel from beleaguered Saigon, and remained on station to assist the

crew of the MAYAGUEZ, which was captured by Cambodian forces in 1975. The

attack carriers USS CORAL SEA, USS HANCOCK and USS RANGER formed Task Force

77, the carrier striking force of the U.S. Seventh Fleet in the Western


One of the aircraft launched from the decks of the CORAL SEA was the F4

Phantom. The Phantom a multitude of functions including photo and electronic

surveillance. The two-man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2), and had a

long range (900 - 2300 miles, depending on stores and mission type). The F4

was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes.

The F4 was selected for a number of state-of-the-art electronics

conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing

capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest"

planes around.

LTJG Don B. Parsons was an F4B pilot and LTJG Thomas H. Pilkington a Radar

Intercept Officer (RIO) assigned to Fighter Squadron 154 onboard the USS

CORAL SEA. Historically, pilots from fighter squadrons have been associated

with dramatic duels in the skies, and have held the attention of aviation

enthusiasts and the public; a fondness dating back to the days of the

exploits of the Red Baron in World War I.

But Vietnam was largely an "air-to-mud" war. There were a considerable

number of air duels over North Vietnam and the exploits of MiG killers have

been well documented. But those aerial duels were only a minute part of air

combat in Vietnam. The bulk of naval air activity consisted of various

attack aircraft dropping bombs and firing rockets and bullets on the fields,

factories and bridges of North Vietnam. Fighter pilots, not wanting their

talents to go to waste, also flew air-to-ground missions.

On September 19, 1966, Parsons and Pilkington were assigned to a two-plane

night armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. Parsons' aircraft

trailed the flight leader by about 4 miles. "Armed reconnaissance" meant

look for targets and destroy them--usually truck convoys or similar small

enemy targets.

Shortly after crossing the coast at 4,000 feet, the flight leader saw a

possible surface-to-air missile (SAM) launch approximately two miles

southeast of his position and near Thanh Hoa, North Vietnam. He called for

defensive maneuvers back to the coast, but Parsons did not respond. Although

no explosion was noticed, an A4C flight reported seeing an unexplained flash

on the ground in the general area of the missing aircraft.

[NOTE: U.S. Navy accounts give the lead aircraft position as two miles

northwest of the city of Thanh Hoa. Defense Department records list the loss

of Parsons and Pilkington at 191700N 1054700E, which is a full 25 miles

south of Thanh Hoa. If Parsons remained four miles behind the flight leader

and if he heard the call for defensive maneuvers, it seems unlikely that he

would have approached the sea on this flight path. No explanation can be

found for this discrepancy.]

Search and rescue efforts were made by helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.

These efforts were unsuccessful. Both Parsons and Pilkington were classified

Missing in Action.

Nearly 2500 Americans remain missing or otherwise unaccounted for in

Vietnam. Since the war ended, over 10,000 reports concerning missing

Americans in Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S. Government. Many

experts are completely convinced that hundreds of Americans are still held


One set of critics say that the U.S. has done little to address the issue of

live POWs, preferring the politically safer issue of remains return. Others

place the blame on the Vietnamese, for using the issue of POW/MIA to their

political advantage. Regardless of blame, no living American has returned

through the efforts of negotiations between the countries, and the reports

continue to pour in. Are we doing enough to bring these men home?

Both Parsons and Pilkington were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant

Commander during the period they were maintained missing.

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