Lt. Robert Di Tommasso
Bio, Di Tommaso, Robert J. DI TOMMASO, ROBERT JOSEPH
Name: Robert Joseph Di Tommaso Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force Unit: 388th Combat Support Group, Udorn Airbase, Thailand Date of Birth: 07 August 1941 Home City of Record: Buffalo NY Date of Loss: 29 July 1966 Country of Loss: North Vietnam Loss Coordinates: 204300N 10454953E (VH998943) Status (in 1973): Missing In Action Category: 2 Acft/Vehicle/Ground: RC47D Refno: 0407
Other Personnel in Incident: Robert Hoskinson; Galileo F. Bossio; (still missing) Bernard Conklin; James S. Hall; John Mamiya; Herbert E. Smith; Vincent Chiarello (remains returned)
Source: Compiled 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. NETWORK in 1998.
REMARKS: DEAD/FIR 317-09130 74
SYNOPSIS: On July 19, 1966, an RC47D aircraft departed Udorn Airfield in Thailand en route to Sam Neua, Laos. The crew abord the aircraft included Capt. Robert E. Hoskinson, pilot; Maj. Galileo F. Bossio, 1Lt. Vincent A. Chiarello, Capt. Bernard Conklin, 1Lt. Robert J. Di Tommaso, SSgt. James S. Hall, TSgt. John M. Mamiya and TSgt. Herbert E. Smith, crewmen. The aircraft was an unarmed RC47D Command and Control airship (Dogpatch 2).
When the aircraft was 10-20 miles south of Sam Neua, it was attacked by enemy fighters. Radio contact was lost and the families were initially told there was no further word of the plane or crew - that they had all been lost on an operational mission in North Vietnam.
It was later learned, however, that at least one, possibly two parachutes were observed in the air from persons on the ground, and the loss had occurred not in North Vietnam, but at 201200N 1041700E, which is in Laos.
Primary objective of the C-47 in Laos at that point in the war was visual reconnaissance. American forces worked closely with CAS (CIA) primarily to weaken the communist supply link to South Vietnam via the "Ho Chi Minh Trail". This particular plane, however, was working in support of the CIA's secret indigenous army which was attempting to prevent a communist takeover in Laos.
The crewmembers on these missions were normally highly trained in electronic surveillance techniques as well as versed in codes and languages. Accordingly, and as "there was no war in Laos", certain details of the mission, such as the precise location of loss, were originally distorted. Later reports indicate that some of the crew survived the attack on July 29, 1966. According to a March, 1974 list published by the National League of Families of POW/MIAs, Bossio survived the incident and was missing in Laos. One 1971 report states that as many as 5 of the crew were captured. Chiarello and Di Tommaso were identified as survivors by Capt. Adair of Project Dogpatch. U.S. Air Force records still reflect the loss as having occurred in North Vietnam.
In 1988, the remains of Conklin, Chiarello, Hall, Mamiya and Smith were returned to U.S. control. They were positively identified and returned to their families for burial. The Di Tommaso family was also notified, and Mafalda Di Tommaso rushed to Hawaii to sadly welcome her son home. She was shocked to learn that no body had returned - only information which added nothing to the mystery surrounding her son's loss.
The families of Bossio, Hoskinson and Di Tommaso have the right to know what happened on July 29, 1966. The communist governments of Southeast Asia can account for the large majority of the nearly 2500 Americans still missing there. The weight of the evidence shows that some of them are still being held captive. It's time the veil of secrecy was lifted on these men and the others. It's time they came home.
Jim - Sorry for the mix-up, and I understand your comments exactly, and I take no offense. Your EC47 missions were obviously NOT the same SOG group that DiTommasso was working - his C-47 was 'bristling' with electronics - his mission was essentially to fly near the Ho Chi Minh Trail at precise dates and times to pick up Hmong tribes people's broadcasts of who was on the trail, when and how many. . .
Some team members of the SOG team were land based, operating along the Trail, in Cambodia (shhh ! nobody must know) etc, leaving these gizmo radios for the Hmong to use to transmit, with a calendar of when they were to send. . . The 'observer' status was unofficial, as there were folks who were traveling onboard mission flights to become acclimatized to what was going on - Chiarello and Cooperman were in an intelligence outfit - working at the end of the Udorn runway in a shack at the time. That's where they were when the coin flip occurred. . . There are 8 names on Panel 09 around line 85 that were onboard that flight - Chiarello was the odd man - the others were assigned to 'chairs' as crew, navigators, listeners, and charters of traffic. Of course, everyone on these flights got their 'flight pay' (if qualified), combat pay and tax exemption - normally, C-47 crews based in Thailand would make trips into South Vietnam to get their tax exemption - if based in Thailand, and flying in Thailand, there was none of the above. . .just flight pay.
The casualty dates are the dates the plane was shot down - July 29, 1966 - I arrived at NKP on July 30 . . .the plane had been at NKP the day before, last leaving point for their flight East. . .fueled up and that was the last they were seen. The 1979 dates are the dates that our grand and glorious government declared all the MIAs as officially dead and paid the life insurance to the spouses and kids. There may have been some bone fragments at the Hickam Forensics Lab at that time too, accounting for other dates.
There was a Hawaiian NG unit arriving in late July - flying old WW-II A-26 attack bombers - flying also out over the trail - bombing trees. One of those planes got shot up pretty bad - as the story goes - on the 29th as well - and limped back towards NKP - the pilot and copilot both were injured, could not transmit radio, but could listen - the weather was rotten, cloudy and rainy - wingman got them back over NKP, and the A1C in the control tower (a tiny little teakwood shack) apparently talked the plane into the tops of trees - the A-26 went straight down - full load of 500 lb bombs on board went off - making for a Mt. St. Helens look to the West end of the runway. We arrived the next day on a C-130, and the pilot had that story to tell us about 'the lake' at the end of the runway - which he circled once just to tip his wing down to show us the lake.
NKP at that time was just finished with a renewed PSP runway, apron and parking area. The Seabees who did the job were leaving on that C-130 - and I shook their hands - they wished me well - and that was my first day at NKP.
I should have confirmed that Bobby's plane was not an EC-47 in your parlance - I just 'assumed' it was because of the electronics. Didn't mean to raise any hackles.
Will stay in touch - I plan to contact Colonel Steiner - I want a copy of that NKP aerial photo - and blown up - when I was there we were showing the locals MOVIES on a TREE's LEAVES at night - no buildings with walls, a few tents existed, and we started building teakwood barracks - some Sikorski cranes were flying in Air Conditioned house trailers for flying crews. We had some USAF construction crews on base for 3 months, building new buildings I was paying 2,000 local Thai's 3 cents an hour to clear land - and all the Province Chief's relatives 5 cents or 10 cents an hour to 'supervise' - yeah - these guys all had the SAME signature when they signed for payroll - "X". I lived on the local economy for a few months - shared a place with a SSGT Avery; Sep, Oct 66 - we lived maybe 100 yards from the Mekong River, on a road that went straight up the hill to a prison. That picture Steiner has will show all the BIG buildings - theaters and stuff. When I left , we still had poured only enough concrete for pillars to support some lite-weight buildings.
Well, It's late at night, I'm off for some shuteye. Keith
Just got this in. Charlie is ex pres of the Air commando assoc and a former CCT. I can send this only to you because I am restricted to 25 outgoing at one time and your list is way too big. wish it could be consolidated like the TLC so everyone could get it. Please pass this on.
Would like to hear what the other guys have to say.
To All, I am (Name Withheld), Butterfly FAC in Laos, May 1966 to November 1966, flying in (then classified secret) civilian contracted STOL airplane, the Pilatus Porter PC-6. I had guerilla operatives (Gen. Vang Pao's troops) spotted around Laos MIL Reg. II. I would fly over and they would inform me of targets, I would control USAF planes to destroy these. One of the sites I frequently flew into for strikes was Site Two, San Tia, south of Ban Ban, Laos, field elevation of about 6000 feet.
Before the C-130s and others got into the airborne control business over Laos, there was indeed a C-47 flying quasi-airborne control/coordinating flights over Laos. His call sign was Dogpatch. I did meet some of the crew, including the operators in the back of the plane. One haunting memory is of the loss of one fine young (to me then at age 30 or so!) man, an operator, second or first Lt. I was told he was on Dogpatch at the shootdown. What troubles me is I cannot remember his name. He is remembered as having a rather large birthmark on his face. We went to dinner in Udorn on one of my trips down there. I worked with Dogpatch on numerous occasions. In the Porter, we carried 55 gallon barrels of fuel with us in many situations, with a hand pump (wobble-pump). When we ran low on fuel due to battle and weather concerns, we would find a place to land and kick the barrels out and very hurriedly hand pump a refueling process.
While at Site 2 on the day of "Dogpatch's death," we did refuel. As we took off, and were climbing out, I heard one of my ground troops calling me repeatedly. His call sign was "Tall Man" (Lao) or "Red Cap" (Thai), I believe it was Red Cap. I answered him. He asked me if I had heard from Dogpatch. I told him I had been off the air for several minutes refuelling. He said he heard Dogpatch calling out he was under attack from MIGs. The communications with Dogpatch had ceased. I never did establish contact with Dogpatch. Tall Man repeatedly called Dogpatch, too, but no response. I alerted the CIA guys I worked for. I personally believe the Gooney Bird simply flew too far north, too high, around the East by Northeast side of Sam Nuea, Laos, and got high enough that the NVN radar could pick him, and he was then shot down. We went into those areas many times, but we knew to stay literally down in the weeds to prevent any chance of being picked up on NVN radar, and to minimize ground-fire time to shoot us.
Hope this helps. Charlie
Received the below information from Charlie 3 August, 2000
Dear J.C. I did go to the web site. Wanted to point out a thing or two, mainly about the notes referencing the A-26 Commando airplanes at NKP. These WERE NOT a group of Hawaiian guys in worn-out planes The planes were completely rebuilt A-26 K models with a new tail number assigned, and zero hours when the Commandos got them back from the "On-Mark" Corp. modifications. These had reverse pitch props, eight fifty-cal guns in the nose, and were beefed up. They were fine airplanes flown over there from Commando units in the States. These planes set records for truck kills in Laos, to the aggravation of the "all-jet AF" guys. The pilots were all active duty, all-volunteer Air Commando pilots.
(Some of them would take exception that the planes were the junky leftovers from the WWII, flown by weekend warriors.) One of our nation's heroes, Joe Kittenger, was one of the A-26 pilots.
Thanks for all you do! Charlie Jones
(P,.S. I had the experience of riding one of these birds in on a crash belly landing. Another story.......