Full Name: FRANK EUGENE FULLERTON
Date of Birth: 2 January 1934
Date of Casualty: 27 July 1968
Home of Record: Jonesboro, Georgia
Branch of Service: NAVY
Casualty Country: North Vietnam
There is an “In Memory Of” headstone for Commander Fullerton in Arlington National Cemetery.
The Douglas A4 Skyhawk was a single-seat light attack jet flown by both land-based and carrier squadrons, and was the US Navy's standard light attack aircraft at the outset of the war. It was the only carrier-based aircraft that did not have folding wings as well as the only one that required a ladder for the pilot to enter/exit the cockpit. The Skyhawk was used to fly a wide range of missions throughout Southeast Asia including close air support to American troops on the ground in South Vietnam. Flying from a carrier was dangerous and as many aircraft were lost in “operational incidents” as in combat.
On 27 July 1968, then Lieutenant Commander Frank E. Fullerton was the pilot of an A4F Skyhawk (serial# 154182) that launched from the deck of the USS Bon Homme Richard as the flight leader in a flight of two on a night road reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam. As the flight crossed the coastline, Lt. Cmdr. Fullerton placed his wingman in a one to two mile trail position and 2000 feet above himself. Three to four minutes after crossing the coastline the flight leader spotted a series of lights on the ground and assessed them to be trucks traveling south along a primary north-south road used by the North Vietnamese to transport men and material through the Mu Gia Pass and onto the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail.
When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the acknowledged war zone.
At 0400 hours, he radioed his wingman reporting multiple moving targets and stating that he was going to make a bomb run on them. The wingman saw two bombs detonate on the ground, then observed an orange-red fireball close to the bomb hits, which he believed was a secondary explosion. Further, the second explosion threw burning debris high into the air. After the wingman made his bomb run on the target, he made his first radio call to Commander Fullerton in order to form-up on his flight leader. When no contact could be established, the wingman radioed the onsite command and control aircraft to assist him in making contact with Commander Fullerton. The command aircraft was not able to make voice contact either. However, while it was orbiting some 12 miles north of the target area, its crew received an “IFF radio mode III squawk” that the crew believed was a signal from Commander Fullerton. The radar return faded at 20 miles before a positive identification could be made. Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were immediately initiated, but none of the aircraft participating in the search could find any trace of the downed pilot. At the time the formal search effort was terminated, Frank Fullerton was listed Missing in Action.
The area of loss was located in the forested mountains approximately 4 miles northeast of a single-track railroad line that generally ran from the northwest to the southeast and curving through the mountains from Vinh to Dong Hoi. The primary road intersected the railroad line 4 miles northeast of the loss location as well as being approximately 17 miles south of the major hub city of Ha Kinh, 29 miles north-northeast of the Mu Gia Pass, 44 miles south of Vinh and 62 miles northwest of Dong Hoi, Ha Tinh Province, North Vietnam.
There is no way to know if Frank Fullerton crashed because he misjudged his bombing run altitude in relationship to the surrounding terrain or if his Skyhawk was downed because it was struck by enemy ground fire. If he died in the loss of his Skyhawk, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he managed to eject his aircraft, his fate like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different.
On a memorial unveiled last Thursday, on a rainy day in Jonesboro, Georgia, Frank Eugene Fullerton received a monument of his own. Beneath the brass plaque honoring the Vietnam War pilot was a simple phrase carved in stone:
“To Those Who Fight For It, Life Has A Flavor The Protected Never Know.”
Fullerton’s son, Frank Jr., a Salem attorney with the Oregon Department of Justice, marveled at the marker. He attended the memorial’s dedication with his wife Lorraine at the Harold R. Banke Justice Center, in the small town south of Atlanta.
Frank Eugene Fullerton was killed in action in Vietnam while flying an A-4 Skyhawk on a bombing run in 1968. Fullerton’s A-4 had to dive low to hit its target. The plane was caught in the explosion of an ordnance dump. His remains were never found.
Thirty-five years later, the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association chose Fullerton as its most recent honoree. The group has erected plaques throughout metropolitan Atlanta in remembrance of those who didn’t return from Vietnam. Some of the previous plaques have been placed at CNN Center, the Georgia World Congress Center and Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport. Fullerton’s was placed in his hometown of Jonesboro.
The younger Fullerton, now 46, is grateful to finally have a place to decorate with flowers or just sit and reflect on the man who brought him life, who gave him his name and who died serving his country. His father has a headstone at Arlington National Cemetery and his name on the Vietnam Memorial, but the hometown honor was unique.
“This was a tribute from other veterans and it was in his hometown, many of his former classmates are there and some of his old teachers, really good for me,” he said.
Fullerton said the memorial and the accompanying ceremonies provided a denouement for the family’s Vietnam experience. It began with a knock on their door in the summer of 1968, when Frank was missing in action, now it feels more like he is home.
“After the prisoners of war returned and there was talk of others still in captivity, there was always that wondering,” he said. “And a big thing is not having any of his remains.”
Fullerton said he’s already planning to order flowers for next Memorial Day, to place at his father’s new memorial.
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard