Gilbert Swain Palmer, Jr. – Colonel, United States Air Force


Gilbert Swain Palmer was born on October 12, 1930 and joined the Armed Forces while in Birmingham, Alabama.

He served as an aviator in the United States Air Force, 14 TRS, and attained the rank of Colonel.

Gilbert Swain Palmer is listed as Missing in Action.

There is a “In Memory Of” stone in his name in Arlington National Cemetery.

Name: Gilbert Swain Palmer, Jr.
Rank/Branch: O4/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 30 October 1930
Home City of Record: Birmingham Alabama
Date of Loss: 27 February 1968
Country of Loss: Laos
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: RF4C

Other Personnel In Incident: Thomas T. Wright (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.


The Phantom, used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings, served a multitude of functions including fighter-bomber and interceptor, 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.

Major Gilbert S. Palmer Jr. and Captain Thomas Wright comprised the crew of a reconnaissance version of the Phantom fighter/bomber, an RF4C, in Vietnam. On February 27, 1968, the two were assigned a reconnaissance mission from
which they would not return.

Palmer’s aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed. The location is not clear. According to a sheet distributed by the Arizona POW/MIA families (Palmer’s family was at that time residing in Arizona), Palmer and Wright were lost in Laos. According to Defense Department and State Department records, the two went down in Laos. However, coordinates listed by these agencies are located near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), some five miles southwest of the city of Vinh Linh in Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam. The records of Joint Casualty Resolution Center indicate that the loss occurred in Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam.

Palmer and Wright were declared Missing in Action. From the non-specific coordinates given, it is clear that the Air Force does not know the precise loss location. Thus, they are not sure what the Vietnamese know about their fates.

When 591 Americans were released from Vietnam in 1973, Palmer and Wright were not among them. If, as some records indicate, the two were lost in Laos, they join nearly 600 Americans who were lost there. Not one man held in Laos was ever released–or negotiated for.

As for those lost in Vietnam, military officials were dismayed in 1973 that hundreds that were known or suspected to be prisoners were not released. There were over 2500 still missing.

Unlike “MIA’s” from other wars, most of the missing in Southeast Asia could be accounted for, alive or dead. Since the war’s end, thousands of reports have been received by the U.S. Government regarding Americans still in captivity in Southeast Asia. There is a large volume of evidence which indicates that hundreds are still being held.

In the 1950’s, Henry Kissinger predicted that future “limited political engagements” would unfortunately result in nonrecoverable prisoners of war. We have seen this happen in Korea and Vietnam, where thousands of men and
women remain missing, and where ample evidence exists that many of them (from BOTH wars) are still alive today. The U.S. Government seems unable (or unwilling) to negotiate their freedom. For Americans, the “unfortunate”
abandonment of military personnel is not acceptable, and the policy that allows it must be changed before another generation is left behind in some faraway war.

Gilbert S. Palmer Jr. and Thomas T. Wright were both promoted to the rank of Colonel during the period they were maintained missing.

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