After decades of uncertainty, Clark claims pilot
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
CLARK, New Jersey – Nearly 39 years after he was shot down over North Vietnam, the name of Lieutenant Commander Richard Donner Hartman will join the list of township veterans who gave the fullest measure of dedication to their country when he is honored at the annual Memorial Day service Monday.
A township street will also be renamed in honor of the U.S. Navy pilot, who died a prisoner of the North Vietnamese shortly after the A-4 Skyhawk attack plane he was flying was shot down by anti-aircraft fire on July 18, 1967.
Hartman’s name will be added to the list of Clark’s war dead, which is compiled by the local American Legion and features the names of residents who have died in military conflicts stretching as far back as the American Civil War.
On Monday, after more than 30 years of work by a retired Clark police officer, Hartman will take his place among the township’s honored dead.
Lifelong Clark resident William Duffy, who now works with Union County Prosecutor’s office, began tracking down information on township veterans shortly after being discharged from the U.S. Army in 1971.
Long hours spent at the Elizabeth Public Library searching through old newspapers and, more recently, on Internet search engines, has yielded a thorough and detailed list, which appears on Page 5.
“It’s a labor of love for me, I enjoy doing it,” said Duffy, who joined the Clark Police in 1972 and retired in 2000.
Duffy said that when he returned home to Clark from a deployment in Korea during the Vietnam War, he was disappointed by the lack of information on township veterans who had served in other conflicts.
“In my opinion these guys are true heroes,” Duff said. “It’s important that the younger generation be told about them.”
A lack of records confirming that Hartman actually resided in the township made establishing the flyer’s case for placement on the list difficult.
“He was the hardest one,” Duffy said of the 20 men that are now listed on the memorial.
“Because he did not grow up in Clark, go to school here, or own property, we could not establish that he was from Clark,” Duffy wrote in an e-mail, despite the fact that on official government records, Clark was listed as Hartman’s hometown.
Duffy eventually located Ed Koch, a first cousin of Hartman, who lived on Gertrude Street before moving to Minnesota. Hartman returned to stay with his cousins in Clark frequently and used the Gertrude Street house as his primary residence during his 10-year career in the Navy, Duffy said.
The 32-year-old Hartman, a member of the VA-164 attack squadron, took off from the deck of the USS Oriskany that fateful day in July, coincidentally the same aircraft carrier that John McCain, then 31, was transferred to in that same year.
McCain, a member of VA-163 — Hartman’s sister squadron — was shot down and imprisoned in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” just three months after Hartman’s plane went down over
Nam Ha province.
The Oriskany, sunk off the western coast of Florida May 17 to serve a new mission as an artificial reef, carried a uniquely sorrowful legacy in the thousands of tragic stories left in the wake of the Vietnam War.
Though the Arlington National Cemetery Web site describes the Oriskany’s 1966 tour — where 44 sailors and pilots were killed in a massive ship fire — as “one of the most tragic deployments of the Vietnam conflict.” Edward Hartman, who will attend the memorial service Monday with a host of relatives, said his brother narrowly avoided perishing in the fire — which claimed the lives of more than a dozen pilots — only to become one of the many air casualties among the Oriskany’s air crews.
The carrier’s flight wing suffered some of the heaviest losses of the Vietnam War.
The 1967 cruise, the site reads, “earned near legendary status by virtue of extensive losses suffered in the ship’s squadrons, including among the Ghostriders of VA-164 and Saints of VA-163.”
Earl Piper — a retired Marine Corps colonel who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with Hartman in 1957 — remembered the varsity soccer player as unassuming and devout.
“He was always very pleasant and never down,” Piper, 70, said in a phone interview from his home in Beaufort, S.C. “He had a lot going for him, but he wasn’t one to wear it on his sleeve.”
Piper, who was serving with the Marines in Vietnam when he learned his former classmate was shot down, said little is known about the incident.
“They tried to recover him by helicopter,” Piper said of an attempted rescue mission to bring Hartman back to the Oriskany. “All four crewmen were killed trying to get Dick out of there,” Piper added. After the helicopter was shot down, further rescue attempts were not considered. “That’s never an easy decision,” he said.
Piper said that though the North Vietnamese published the news of Hartman’s capture, the circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery.
“To this day they don’t know how he died,” Piper said.
Edward Hartman said the family waited three years after Richard’s plane went down before learning he had died. Hartman said he even traveled to Paris to meet with a North Vietnamese delegation tasked with helping families locate missing servicemen. The trip proved fruitless.
However, in November of 1970, following a “round the clock” prayer day held by several New Jersey churches — including the Christian Missionary Alliance Church of Clark — the family received unofficial word from the North Vietnamese that the Hartman was dead.
“We counted it as a real answer to prayer,” the younger Hartman said, noting that many families are still awaiting information on relatives lost during a war that ended more than 40 years ago. His brother’s date of death was listed as July 18, 1967, the same day his plane was shot down.
Piper said he was stationed in Thailand when Hartman’s remains were identified there by the Joint Casualty Resolution Center, a group of civilian pathologists who took on the grim task of identifying remains returned by the North Vietnamese. Hartman was returned to the U.S. for burial in Arlington National Cemetery in 1974.
“In war you have people that go missing that are never found or identified,” said Piper, who taught math for 17 years after retiring from the Marines. “That’s a very common thing that happens.”
Edward Hartman said his family — including his wife Connie, his 90-year-old mother Ann Hartman, five children and 16 grandchildren, among others — were looking forward to attending the ceremony, which is scheduled to take place at 10:30 a.m. at Arthur L. Johnson High School, following the Memorial Day Parade.
“I think it’s marvelous the way he’s taken up the challenge of making it real as far as the men that died,” Hartman added. “He’s gone way beyond the normal scope and put some flesh to bones.”
E-Mail: March 2006:
Hello – I am a U.S. Naval Academy classmate and old friend of the late Richard Hartman. I notice on your website, on Commander Hartman's page, that there is a note saying that his wife was seen at the Arlington gravesite in October, 2002. I am trying to contact Dick's family because his 50th Naval Academy reunion is coming up next year and I am writing his biography in our reunion yearbook. I had no contact with Dick after our graduation in June, 1957; he went into the Navy and I into the Marine Corps.
I was fighting in Vietnam when Dick's aircraft was shot down (1967) and later (1974) was in Thailand when his remains were recovered and brought to Thailand for identification. I did not even realize that Dick had ever married and would be most appreciative of getting his wife's current address or any contact information you may have. Thank you. Earl S. Piper, Colonel, USMC (retired).
Richard Danner Hartman was born on May 1, 1935 and joined the Armed Forces while in Clark, New Jersey.
He served in the United States Navy, and attained the rank of Commander.
On July 18, 1967, at the age of 32, Richard Danner Hartman perished in the service of our country in North Vietnam.
While visiting Arlington in October 2002, I met the Commander's wife in Section 11. She was in the Washington area and came to visit his gravesite.
HARTMAN, RICHARD DANNER
- Remains Returned March 6, 1974
- Name: Richard Danner Hartman
- Rank/Branch: O4/US Navy
- Unit: Attack Squadron 164, USS ORISKANY (CVA-34)
- Date of Birth: 01 May 1935
- Home City of Record: Clark New Jersey
- Date of Loss: 18 July 1967
- Country of Loss: North Vietnam
- Loss Coordinates: WH886687
- Status (in 1973): Killed in Captivity
- Category: 1
- Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A4E
- Refmo: 0767
Other Personnel In Incident: Dennis W. Peterson (missing); Donald P. Frye; William B. Jackson; Donald P. McGrane all remains recovered.
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 May 1990 from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources including “Alpha Strike Vietnam” by Jeffrey L. Levinson, personal interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK.
REMARKS: REMS RETD 740306
The USS ORISKANY was a World War II-era carrier on duty in Vietnam as early as 1964. The ORISKANY at one time carried the RF8A (number 144608) that Maj. John H. Glenn, the famous Marine astronaut (and later Senator), flew in his 1957 transcontinental flight. In October, 1966 the ORISKANY endured a tragic fire which killed 44 men onboard, but was soon back on station. In 1972, the ORISKANY had an at-sea accident which resulted in the loss of one of its
aircraft elevators, and later lost a screw that put the carrier into drydock in Yokosuka, Japan for major repairs, thus delaying its involvement until the late months of the war.
The ORISKANY's 1966 tour was undoubtedly one of the most tragic deployments of the Vietnam conflict. This cruise saw eight VA 164 “Ghostriders” lost; four in the onboard fire, one in an aerial refueling mishap, and another three in the operational arena. However, the 1967 deployment, which began in June and ended on a chilly January morning as the ORISKANY anchored in San Francisco Bay, earned near legendary status by virtue of extensive losses suffered in the ship's squadrons, including among the Ghostriders of VA 164, and Saints of VA 163. One reason may have been that Navy aviators were, at this time, still forbidden to strike surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites which were increasing in number in North Vietnam.
On July 18, 1967, LCDR Richard D. Hartman's aircraft fell victim to anti-aircraft fire near Phu Ly in Nam Ha Province, North Vietnam. Hartman, from VA 164, ejected safely, but could not be rescued due to the hostile threat in the area. Others in the flight were in radio contact with him and resupplied him for about three days. He was on a karst hill in a difficult recovery area. Eventually the North Vietnamese moved in a lot of troops and AAA guns, making rescue almost impossible.
One of the rescue helicopters attempting to recover LCDR Hartman on the 19th was a Sikorsky SH3A helicopter flown by Navy LT Dennis W. Peterson. The crew onboard the aircraft included ENS Donald P. Frye and AX2 William B. Jackson and AX2 Donald P. McGrane. While attempting to rescue LCDR Hartman, this aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed killing all onboard. The remains of all but the pilot, Peterson, were returned by the Vietnamese on October 14, 1982. Peterson remains missing.
The decision was made to leave Hartman before more men were killed trying to rescue him. It was not an easy decision, and one squadron mate said, “To this day, I can remember his voice pleading, ‘Please don't leave me.' We had to, and
it was a heartbreaker.” Hartman was captured and news returned home that he was in a POW camp. However, he was not released in 1973. The Vietnamese finally returned his remains on March 5, 1974. Hartman had died in captivity from unknown causes.
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