- Full Name: HUGH MICHAEL FANNING
- Date of Birth: 7/12/1941
- Date of Casualty: 10/31/1967
- Home of Record: FT WORTH, TEXAS
- Branch of Service: MARINE CORPS
- Rank: CAPT
- Casualty Country: NORTH VIETNAM
- Casualty Province: NZ
- Status: MIA
Hugh M. Fanning was born in Washington D.C. July 12, 1941. He lived in New York, where his parents later made their home, and attended college and lived in Dallas, Texas, before he joined the Marine Corps. His wife and children lived in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma when he went to Vietnam as a Marine pilot with the First Marine Air Wing based at Da Nang, South Vietnam. Fanning flew the A6A Intruder, an all-weather, low-altitude attackplane.
On October 31, 1967, Captain Fanning and bombardier/navigator Captain Stephen J. Kott were sent on a mission over North Vietnam as number two in a flight of two aircraft on a night electronics support mission. Their radio code name
was “Oatmeal.” At about 1:50 a.m., Fanning indicated he was approaching the target. At 2:02 a.m., the leader observed a bright orange flash in the vicinity of the target area and in the estimated position of Fanning's aircraft which he estimated to be about 15 miles east of Hanoi at an altitude of 100-500 feet.
It was believed that Fanning and Kott could have survived the crash of the aircraft, and the two were classified Missing in Action. The U.S. believed that the Vietnamese could account for them. Several reports surfaced concerning the crash of Fanning's and Kott's plane in the ensuing years, including one account that Kott was killed in the crash, but Fanning was captured and taken away by jeep. The accuracy of these reports is uncertain.
In August, 1984, remains were returned by the Vietnamese proported to be those of Fanning and Kott. Mrs. Fanning was glad the years of waiting had finally ended. Her casualty assistance officer assured her that existing dental records of her husband's matched those of the remains, an important means of identification. Moreover, he assured her that her husband had not been wounded in the skull, the focus of a recurring dream that had plagued her for years. The remains were buried with full military honors in Oklahoma City.
It was not until 10 months later, when she was first allowed access to her husband's forensic file, that Mrs. Fanning learned that there had been NO skull and NO teeth in the remains proported to be Hugh Fanning. Mrs. Fanning arranged for the remains to be exhumed and examined independently. The examiner concluded that the alleged remains of Hugh Fanning could not have been scientifically identified as his … or anyone else's. The government stated the Kott family has accepted the positive identification of the remains said to be those of Stephen Jay Kott. He has been buried with full military honors. Close family friends dispute that the family “accepted” the identification.
Whether Hugh Fanning died on October 31, 1967 in the crash of his plane or was taken prisoner is not known. It can only be known with certainty when proof is obtained of his death, or Major Fanning himself is brought home alive. Meanwhile, Mrs. Fanning says, “My husband may be dead. However, until positive proof is given to me, I must entertain the possibility that he may be alive. Regardless of my husband's chances, I do believe that live Americans still remain in Southeast Asia. I will continue to search for the truth.”
Hugh Michael Fanning and Stephen Jay Kott were promoted to the rank of Major during the period they were maintained missing.
With the addition of the Grumman A6A Intruder to its inventory, the 1st Marine Air Wing (MAW) had the finest two-man, all-weather, low-altitude attack/bombing aircraft in the world. It displayed great versatility and lived up to the expectations of those who pushed for its development after the Korean War. At the time it was the only operational aircraft that had a self-contained all-weather bombing capacity including a moving target indicator mode. In this role it usually carried a bomb load of 14,000 pounds and was used rather extensively in the monsoon season not only in South Vietnam, but also in Laos and over the heavily defended areas of North Vietnam. The Intruder was credited with successfully completing some of the most difficult single-plane strikes in the war, and its' aircrews were among the most talented and most courageous to serve the United States.
On 31 October 1967, Captain Hugh Fanning, pilot, and then Captain Stephen J. Kott, bombardier/navigator, comprised the crew of an A6A Intruder, call sign “Oatmeal 2,” conducting a night electronics support mission over North Vietnam as the number two aircraft in a flight of two. At approximately 0150 hours, Captain Fanning radioed Oatmeal Lead that he was approaching the target located in the densely populated and heavily cultivated region southwest of Hanoi and was preparing to make his attack pass.
At 0202 hours, the crew of the Lead aircraft observed a bright orange flash in the vicinity of the target and in the estimated position of Oatmeal 2's aircraft. Lead estimated his wingman was flying at an altitude of between 100-500 feet at the time he saw the flash. Oatmeal Lead tried to raise Captains Fanning and Stephen Kott, but without success. In the chaos of combat and darkness, no parachutes were seen and no emergency beepers heard.
Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were not possible due to the loss area being approximately 11 miles southwest of Hai Duong, 15 miles northwest of Ninh Giang, 23 miles southeast of Hanoi and 31 miles west of Haiphong. In addition to being densely populated, the open flat expanse was laced with rivers, canals and waterways of all sizes. It was also crisscrossed with primary and secondary roads. Both Hugh Fanning and Stephen Kott were immediately listed Missing in Action.
After Operation Homecoming in 1973, several intelligence and refugee reports surfaced concerning the crash of the Oatmeal 2. These reports included one account that Captain Kott was killed in the crash, but that Captain Fanning was captured and taken away by jeep. The veracity of these reports as they relate to Hugh Fanning's survival and Stephen Kott's death are unknown.
On 17 July 1984, the Communist Vietnamese returned remains reported to be those of Hugh Fanning and Stephen Kott without explanation along with 6 other sets of remains. Both families gratefully accepted the remains as those of their loved one and buried them with full military honors.
In Hugh Fanning's case, ten months after these remains were interned, Mrs. Fanning was first allowed access to her husband's forensic file, and she learned she had been blatantly lied to. On several occasions she was told her husband was identified through his dental records. The quantity of material returned by the Vietnamese equaled only approximately 15% of a human body and included no skull and no teeth.
Mrs. Fanning arranged for the remains to be exhumed and examined independently by board certified forensic experts. The examination proved conclusively that the alleged remains of Hugh Fanning could not be scientifically identified as his … or anyone else's. Further, based on the remains themselves, it was only possible to say they belonged to an individual over the age of 19 or 20. There was no way to prove the race, sex, height, weight, muscular structure or dexterity of that person by the type and condition of those remains.
In July 1987, Kathryn Fanning returned the exhumed remains to the US government saying she could not be sure that they were, in fact, her husband's remains. A board of four officers appointed by the head of the Armed Services Graves Registration Office subsequently issued a report saying that “insufficient evidence existed to support the original identification” of Major Fanning.
In response, a Marine spokeswoman, Major Nancy LaLuntas stated: “We have done exhaustive testing and, as far as we are concerned, that's who these remains belong to. We've drawn our conclusions, and it's time to bury these remains.” In 1987, the Marine Corps re-buried these unidentifiable bones in Arlington National Cemetery under a headstone bearing the name of Hugh Michael Fanning.
For Stephen Kott, his family, friends and country of have the piece of mind of knowing where he lies. For Hugh Fanning the question remains did he die on 31 October 1967 in the crash of his aircraft or was taken prisoner? His fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for, his fate could be quite different. Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Fighter pilots were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.
Stephen Jay Kott Graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1962.
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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