Thursday, April 26, 2012

TFH 4/26: LCDR Michael J. Estocin, USN

Michael John Estocin was born on April 27, 1931 in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania and grew up in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania - both near where I live today outside Pittsburgh. After graduating from Slippery Rock University, he joined the United States Navy in 1954 and obtained his "Wings of Gold" as a Naval Aviator.

In April of 1967, he had reached the rank of Lieutenant Commander and was a Douglas A-4E Skyhawk pilot with Attack Squadron 192 (VA-192), the "Golden Dragons", flying off the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) from "Yankee Station" off North Vietnam. During two raids over Communist North Vietnam on April 20 and 26, 1967 he lived up to VA-192's motto - Be Ready, our Enemy Must Lose - flying the suppression of enemy air defenses role. Their primary weapon was the AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile; it would home in on the emissions from enemy surface-to-air missile radars. His tenacity, courage, and devotion to duty in escorting attacking aircraft to their targets earned him our Nation's highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War (A-L):


Rank and organization. Captain (then Lt. Cmdr.), U.S. Navy, Attack Squadron 192, USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14). Place and date: Haiphong, North Vietnam, 20 and 26 April 1967. Entered service at: Akron Ohio, 20 July 1954. Born: 27 April 1931, Turtle Creek, Pa. Citation. For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 20 and 26 April 1967 as a pilot in Attack Squadron 192, embarked in USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14). Leading a 3-plane group of aircraft in support of a coordinated strike against two thermal power plants in Haiphong, North Vietnam, on 20 April 1967, Capt. Estocin provided continuous warnings to the strike group leaders of the surface-to-air missile (SAM) threats, and personally neutralized 3 SAM sites. Although his aircraft was severely damaged by an exploding missile, he reentered the target area and relentlessly prosecuted a SHRIKE attack in the face of intense antiaircraft fire. With less than 5 minutes of fuel remaining he departed the target area and commenced in-flight refueling which continued for over 100 miles. Three miles aft of Ticonderoga, and without enough fuel for a second approach, he disengaged from the tanker and executed a precise approach to a fiery arrested landing. On 26 April 1967, in support of a coordinated strike against the vital fuel facilities in Haiphong, he led an attack on a threatening SAM site, during which his aircraft was seriously damaged by an exploding SAM; nevertheless, he regained control of his burning aircraft and courageously launched his SHRIKE missiles before departing the area. By his inspiring courage and unswerving devotion to duty in the face of grave personal danger, Captain Estocin upheld the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. 

At the time, Estocin's fate wasn't known. After regaining control of his heavily damaged Skyhawk his wingman, John Nichols, saw him slumped forward and not moving in the cockpit. It's likely that Estocin was wounded by the anti-aircraft fire his plane absorbed and succumbed to his wounds. Nichols observed Estocin's plane crash. No parachute was observed. Intelligence received from North Vietnam indicated that he had, in fact, ejected and was captured. The Navy declared him a prisoner of war. He was promoted in absentia to Commander and Captain. When North Vietnam released the American POWs in 1973, Estocin was not among them. It was assumed he perished in captivity.

In 1993 it was determined by a US Military committee that Vietnamese reports of Estocin's bail-out and capture were false and he did die in the crash of his A-4. His name is inscribed on Panel 18E, Line 092 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. As his body has never been recovered, a cenotaph to his memory can be found at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, CA.

Today, the Michael J. Estocin Award is given to the strike fighter squadron in the Navy that demonstrates the greatest professional reputation, aggressiveness, and performance. A memorial scholarship in his name is available to freshmen entering Slippery Rock University. In 1981, the Navy placed into commission the USS Estocin (FFG-15), an Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate. She served with the US Atlantic Fleet until her decommissioning and sale to Turkey in 2003. She is still in service as the TCG Göksu (F-497).

Estocin's Vietnam squadron is today designated Strike Fighter Squadron 192 (VFA-192) and flies the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet from their home field of Naval Air Station Lemoore in central California. They are currently assigned to Carrier Air Wing 9 which sails aboard the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74).

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