Robert Harry Irwin – Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force


Date of Birth: 12/9/1938
Date of Casualty: 2/17/1972
Home of Record: PEEKSKILL
State: NY
Branch of Service: AIR FORCE
Rank: LTC
Casualty Country: NORTH VIETNAM
Casualty Province: NZ
Status: MIA

Remains Returned – ID Announced 891120
Name: Robert Harry Irwin
Rank/Branch: O4/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 09 December 1938
Home City of Record: Peekskill NY
Date of Loss: 17 February 1972
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 170915N 1064940E (XD944974)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D
Refno: 1798

Other Personnel in Incident: Edwin A. Hawley Jr. (Released POW)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1990 with the assistance of 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. NETWORK 1998.


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 Robert H. Irwin, pilot, and Capt. Edwin A. Hawley Jr., weapons/systems operator, were dispatched on a combat mission in their F4D aircraft over North Vietnam on February 17, 1972. At a point about 15 miles west of the
city of Vinh in Quang Binh Province, their aircraft was shot down.

Captaon Hawley, being the rear-seater, ejected from the aircraft first. It was standard procedure for the pilot to eject second. Therefore, it was not uncommon for the crewmembers to be separated on the ground. Captain Hawley was
captured by the North Vietnamese and spent the next year in prison camps in and around Hanoi. On February 14, 1973, he was released, still showing signs of the injuries he suffered when he ejected from his aircraft.

Captain Hawley, in his debriefing stated that he believed his pilot was dead. No details of this briefing is publicly available, as much of it is still classified. Major Robert H. Irwin remained Missing in Action.

The Defense Intelligence Agency further expanded Irwin's classification to include an enemy knowledge ranking of 2. Category 2 indicates “suspect knowledge” and includes personnel who may have been involved in loss incidents with individuals reported in Category 1 (confirmed knowledge), or who were lost in areas or under conditions that they may reasonably be expected to be known by the enemy; who were connected with an incident which was discussed but not identified by names in enemy news media; or identified (by elimination, but not 100% positively) through analysis of all-source intelligence.


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