It was well known by later 1972 that the war was drawing to a close, and that the North Vietnamese were offering huge bonuses to anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) gunners who could shoot down American aircraft and capture the aircrews alive. At this stage in the war our enemy knew the more men they could capture, the better their chances were at the negotiating table to secure peace on their terms. Everyone knew the prisoners were worth much more alive than dead to both sides.
On 20 August 1972, then Lt. Roderick B. “Rog” Lester, pilot; and Lt. Harry S. Mossman, bombardier/navigator; comprised the crew of an A6A (aircraft #157018; tail #NH-502), call sign “Viceroy 502,” in a flight of 4 that launched from the deck of the USS Kitty Hawk to conduct a low-level night armed reconnaissance/strike mission against a transshipment point along Route 183 at Da Mon Toi, a small town in extreme northeast North Vietnam located near the major coastal city of Cam Pha, Quang Ninh Province. Further, this mission was the 144th combat sortie flown by Viceroy 502’s aircrew. Weather conditions were described as poor with thunderstorms and a cloud ceiling at 1000 feet.
After initial check-in with their ship and the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC) responsible for all air operations in this region, Lt JG Lester was given current mission and weather data before proceeding with the mission along a pre-briefed flight path. That flight path took the Intruders north as they skirted the enemy coastline just out of the reach of the communist’s shore defenses. Once over land, the flight proceeded on track an additional 5 miles to Route 183 and their area of operation.
Because of the Cam Pha mines, this region was extremely important to the North Vietnamese war effort. Route 183 was a major inland highway running east-west that was bordered by mountains to the north and a very long narrow forested valley to the south. Between the valley and the coastline to the south, a distance ranging from 6 to 9 miles, lay the Cam Phu mines. The entire region was heavily populated with villages of all sizes. It was also equally heavily defended.
At approximately 0145 hours, other flight members heard a transmission from Lt. JG Lester and Lt. Mossman’s aircraft stating “Let’s get the hell of out here!” which other pilots believed meant that Viceroy 502 was getting out of the area due to the heavy ground fire and not ejecting from their aircraft.
About the same time one of the aircrews saw a flash of light below the cloud level that corresponded with the track of Viceroy 502, but they could not tell if it was from the Intruder or from the many thunderstorms. Further, the other aircrews reported extremely accurate and heavy anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire emanating from in and around the target area.
The location of loss was near the village of Ky Thuong on the extremely steep northwest side of Nui Am Vap Mountain, now known as Khe Can Mountain. It was also approximately 7 miles north of Route 183, 12 miles north of the major coastal city of Hon Gay, 13 miles northwest of the town of Cam Pha, 33 miles northeast of Haiphong and 82 miles east of Hanoi, Hoanh Bo District, Quang Ninh Province, North Vietnam.
There are many more details there. The important thing is that after many, many searches, their crash site was found in 2003. Remains of Mossman’s were found (a leg bone, confirmed through mitochondrial DNA testing) and buried with full military honors. Personal effects were also found for both men. No remains were ever found for Rog, however, and there is a slim possibility he could have ejected.
Given that some think that there are still POWs surviving to this day in Southeast Asia, it’s not a possibility I like to dwell on.
As stated on that page. A memorial funeral was performed on August 20th, 2005.
Rest in Peace, Rog. Even if I don’t blog about it every year, I will never forget.