Veterans Day

LCDR Marvin Umstead, Jr. USN

Every couple of years I repost this popular article in honor of Veterans Day. Originally called Armistice Day, it  commemorates the end of World War I. It is a day to remember all our veterans, both living and dead, who served their country in times of war and peace.

‘In Pics and Words’ honors those who serve, and have served, including my older brother, Steve, recipient of the Bronze Star for Acts of Valor, and our father who proudly served in the United States Navy.

LCDR Marvin Umstead, Jr. was a decorated war hero — the recipient of 13 Air Medals including the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “Valor” Device and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

Upon returning from his service in Vietnam, Umstead was assigned to the elite Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron Blue Angels. At the time of the featured photo, he was serving as the team’s Lead Solo. The F-4 Phantom, seen in the background, was piloted by the team’s flight leader, CDR Harley Hall.

Umstead, in his final year with the Blues, was preparing to transition back into the fleet, but fate intervened. CDR Hall (pictured left) volunteered to leave the team and deploy to Vietnam. Umstead, who had left the demonstration squadron at the time of Hall’s departure, was called back after a training accident. He was promoted to Commander and Flight Leader of the Blue Angels in March 1973.

On 26 July 1973, while practicing for an airshow over Lakehurst, New Jersey, Umstead was killed in a mid-air collision which also claimed the lives of Marine Captain Mike Murphy and crew chief Petty Officer First Class Ronald Thomas. The accident, which occurred just four miles from the site of the Hindenburg disaster, prompted the Navy to cancel the 1973 season. Before resuming operations in 1974, the team downsized to the more nimble A-4 Skyhawk, pictured below.

CDR Hall’s Fate

On the last day of the war, 27 January 1973, CDR Hall catapulted off the deck of the USS Enterprise for one final combat mission. His Phantom was shot down, but Hall and his co-pilot, RIO (Radio Intercept Officer) LCDR Philip A. Kientzler, safely ejected.

The two men landed in a clearing about 100 yards apart. They were able to escape into the jungle while taking enemy fire. This was confirmed by their wingman who circled overhead providing air support.

Kientzler was later captured and sent home with the returning POW’s in February 1973, but Hall’s fate remained a mystery. The Defense Department officially classified Hall as the last American POW of the Vietnam War.

On February 29, 1980, the Defense Department reclassified CDR Hall as KIA (Killed in Action).

In 1995, Hanoi returned partial remains that were identified as belonging to Hall. Forensic tests indicated that the deceased likely died in captivity. The condition of the teeth did not match Hall’s dental records at the time of his last mission thus suggesting that he had lived a number of years in confinement.

Returned prisoners said they had seen Hall in a prison camp shortly before their release. North Vietnamese officers boasted that they paraded the “famous Blue Angel” through the streets of Hanoi as a trophy of their victory over the Americans.

We will never forget.

The United States House of Representatives voted to award Congress’ highest honor — the Congressional Gold Medal — to the 13 American service members killed at Kabul airport during this summer’s humanitarian evacuation from Afghanistan.

For the Marine Corps, the deceased are:

  • Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts, assigned to 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Naval Support Activity Bahrain.
  • Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California, assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 24, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

The following Marines were attached to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, California.

  • Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, California.
  • Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska.
  • Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana.
  • Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas.
  • Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Missouri.
  • Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyoming.
  • Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, California.
  • Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, California.

For the Navy, the deceased is:

  • Navy Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio, assigned to 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, California.

For the Army, the deceased is:

  • Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee, assigned to 9th PSYOP Battalion, 8th PSYOP Group, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude.” – Harry S. Truman

Copyright © In Pics and Words

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