With the addition of the Grumman A6A Intruder to its inventory, the Naval Air Wing 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 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’ air crews were among the most talented and most courageous to serve the United States.
On 19 May 1967, Lt. Cmdr. Eugene “Red” McDaniel, pilot, and then Lt. James “Kelly” Patterson, bombardier/navigator, launched from the deck for the USS Enterprise in an A6A, call sign “Raygun 502.” They were on a deep strike mission to attack a NVA truck repair facility located in the Van Dien District of down town Hanoi, North Vietnam. This area was commonly referred to by US pilots as “Little Detroit.” The weather conditions included scattered clouds and visibility of 10 miles.
At 1112 hours, as the Intruder flew deep over enemy held territory, it was struck by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) forcing Lt. Cmdr. McDaniel and Lt. Patterson to eject. Both men landed roughly a mile apart in a U-shaped valley containing villages and numerous truck-passable roads, and nearly a mile from the wreckage of their aircraft. A short time later, squadron mates Nick Carpenter and Richard Slaasted crossed over the burning wreckage and had no difficulty in visually locating the downed crew in an area approximately 30 miles southwest of Hanoi and 11 miles southeast of Hao Binh, Hao Binh Province, North Vietnam.
Both men immediately established radio contact with the crew of another Intruder reporting they were injured – Red McDaniel damaged his back upon landing and Kelly Patterson had sustained a badly broken left leg. The next morning the same Intruder aircrew who first located the burning wreckage and both Red McDaniel and Kelly Patterson alive on the ground, again found Lt. Patterson without difficulty. They not only spoke with him over his survival radio, but they saw him alive and free. On the morning of the third day, Nick Carpenter returned to the area of loss in the backseat of an Air Force F4 to pinpoint the downed bombardier/navigator’s position for Air Force rescue personnel, and again, they found Kelly Patterson in the same location. And as in previous flights, they were able to see him and talk with him before dropping a Fulton Extraction kit for him to use during a planned extraction. That night and before dawn two other F4 aircrews located him. Unfortunately, they learned during that radio contact that the Vietnamese captured the extraction equipment before Lt. Patterson could reach it. During the day of 22 May – his fourth day on the ground deep in enemy territory – all efforts to locate Kelly Patterson by Navy and Air Force personnel proved fruitless. All rescue efforts were terminated at that time based on the firm belief he had been captured, and accordingly, James Kelly Patterson was listed as a Prisoner of War.