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Michael John Estocin
Missing in Action - 26April67

Michael Estocin
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("All Biographical and loss information on POWs provided by Operation Just Cause have been supplied by Chuck and Mary Schantag of POWNET. Please check with POWNET regularly for updates.")

Rank/Branch: O4/US Navy
Unit: Attack Squadron 192, USS TICONDEROGA (CVA-14)
Date of Birth: 27 April 1931
Home City of Record: Turtle Creek PA
Loss Date: 26 April 1967
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 204258N 1070257E (YH134919)
Status (in 1973): Prisoner of War
Category: 2
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: A4E
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)

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, interviews.

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REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS: The USS TICONDEROGA (CVA 14) was first in Vietnam waters in late 1944 when fighter planes from the TICONDEROGA and the USS HANCOCK flew strike missions against enemy vessels in Saigon Harbor. The TICONDEROGA, the fourteenth U.S. aircraft carrier to be built, was on station during the very early years of the Vietnam war and remained throughout most of the duration of the war.

The "World Famous Golden Dragons" of Attack squadron 192 returned to the waters off North Vietnam in November 1966, their third combat deployment and a cruise that would prove to be both intense and noteworthy.

LTCDR Michael J. Estocin was an A4E Skyhawk pilot and the operations officer of Attack Squadron ONE NINE TWO, onboard the USS TICONDEROGA. On March 11, 1967, Estocin was the lead pilot of a three-plane group in support of a coordinated strike against two thermal power plants in Haiphong. Estocin was to fly SHRIKE, which considered among the toughest of the war. He was one of six SHRIKE pilots in the squadron on this, his second tour of Vietnam. The previous month, the executive officer of the squadron, CDR Ernest M. "Mel" Moore, had been hit on a SHRIKE mission and had been captured by the North Vietnamese.

The SHRIKE pilot's job was to fly ahead of the strike group by five to seven minutes literally trying to draw fire from the surface-to-air missile emplacements. When the ground radar found the SHRIKE, the pilot would fire anti-radar missiles at SAM sites. The goal was either to actually knock out the SAM radar or, as was sometimes the case, to force the North Vietnamese to turn off the radar, enabling the alpha strike force behind the SHRIKE aircraft to fly on and off their targets without SAMs launched against them. The more SAMs that were fired at the SHRIKES meant fewer fired at the formations, which had to stay together to complete their part of the mission.

During the operation, Estocin provided warnings to the strike group leaders of SAM threats, and personally neutralized three SAM sites. Although Estocin's aircraft was severely damaged by an expoloding missile, he reentered the target area and prosecuted a SHRIKE attack amidst intense anti-aircraft fire. He left the target area when he had less than five minutes of fuel remaining. Estocin refueled during his return to the ship.

Six days later, on April 26, Estocin again flew a SHRIKE mission over Haiphong against enemy fuel facilities. Again, his aircraft was seriously damaged by shrapnel from an exploding SAM, but he gained control of the plane and launched his SHRIKE missiles before departing the area.

Estocin called, "I'm hit," and his wingman informed him that he was trailing fuel and on fire. The aircraft was observed to recover after 4-5 uncontrolled aileron rolls, and Estocin turned toward the sea calling: "I'm going down, switch to channel five" (Search and Rescue Common Frequency). Estocin was observed by his wingman to be sitting erect and appeared to be uninjured. The cockpit area of the aircraft was undamaged by the missile. Passing an altitude of 6000 feet the aircraft again commenced a series of uncontrolled aileron rolls, and then stabilized in the inverted position descending in a 10-15 degree dive.

Estocin's wingman observed the aircraft enter a 3500 feet undercast cloud layer in the inverted position. Maximum ground elevation in the area was 1,086 feet. The islands in the vicinity of Haiphong, where the aircraft was last seen, are sparsely populated, densely covered with foliage, and ideal for escape and evasion. No part of the ejection sequence was observed by the wingman, who was less than 1,000 feet from the aircraft throughout this period. The overcast cloud layer bottoms were lying on the ground which precluded observation of aircraft impact or immediate search of the area for the pilot. Radio contact was lost with Estocin after his aircraft entered the cloud layer.

Electronic and visual searches were conducted until dark and began again at the first light. No voice or other electronic communications were established, and visual search failed to locate the aircraft crash site or any sign of the pilot. No reports of pilot capture or aircraft downing in the area was reported by the Vietnamese following this incident. It was the considered opinion of the Commanding Officer that Estocin be carried as Missing In Action.

On April 26 and 27, Radio Hanoi broadcasted information indicating that Estocin may have been captured. U.S. intelligence sources reported that Estocin was alive in North Vietnam, as a prisoner of war and his status was changed to reflect this. An interesting side-note to Estocin's story is that one of his squadron mates, who actually wrote the citation application for Estocin's mission, never knew that there was the chance he had ejected. For the next 20 years, the squadron member believed no word had ever been surfaced on the fate of Michael Estocin. This is not in the least unusual, given the U.S. Government's conservative policy of releasing information on Americans who are missing. Much of the information publicly released is classified or incomplete. This would also apply even to military personnel who did not have a "need to know."

Estocin's family wrote and sent packages. In August, 1972, a package sent by Mike's sister was returned from Hanoi. All the contents were still in the package, but it had been opened and other items had been added. Added to the box was a crudely cut, hand-sewn felt bootie with two "M's" cut out of felt on it (Michael's wife's name is Maria). Inside the bootie were three hearts and two scraps of felt (The Estocins have three children). The Navy could not determine how this could have happened. Mike's family felt they were made by Mike and were heartened by this sign of his well-being.

In 1973, 591 American prisoners were released from North Vietnam. LCDR Estocin was not among them. Returned POWs heard his name in several camps, and sources reported that he was alive, still held prisoner. Hanoi denies any knowledge of Michael Estocin. He is among nearly 2500 Americans still missing from the Vietnam war.

Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports have been received relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia which have convinced many officials that large numbers are still alive as captives. Estocin could be one of them.

Michael John Estocin is the only Navy jet pilot to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for a combat role. He was awarded the CMH for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 20 and 26 April 1967. While the CMH was not normally given for a combination of missions, an exception was made for this very intense two-day SHRIKE mission and, according to those who flew with Estocin, the honor was well-deserved.

The USS Estocin

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The Pledge of Devotion
I pledge my devotion to the POW/MIAs of America
and to their flag before which we stand.
One brotherhood, indivisible
Until they have returned - one and all.
.......... Written by Adrian Cronauer

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A note from the Webmaster:
I lived just outside of Pittsburgh until 1989 and can remember Michael's sister-in-law, Shirley, being on local television shows talking about Michael and the plight of the other POWs. Thus began my interest in this issue. I wear Michael's POW braclet (along with that of three other POWs and one bearing the names of all those still missing in action from Pennsylvania). Every year I lay a small floral tribute at the Wall at the panel bearing his name with a note that says I will never abandon him and will keep the faith until he is returned. Until all of our Abandoned American Heroes return home, a candle burns in my front window. I talk to at least one person every day about the plight of Michael and his fellow MIAs. And I talk to God about him every night.

Please get involved and help bring about a resolution of this shameful issue. To learn how you can help, click on the candle above.

Tina Thomas
Firebase Freedom

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Thanks, Gunny.....

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Michael's photo courtesy Life Magazine, November 1987

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