Edwin "Jim" Fickler-MIA in VietNam
Updated: Feb 19
Explore the rest of this website about my dad's B-17 crew: www.rumboogiecrew.com
Click below to listen to the audio blog.
"Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones-one of many anti-war songs during the Vietnam War (click to play).
My brother Steve, my parents only son, served in the Viet Nam War. I shouldn't have been surprised when he joined the military since as kids he and I could usually be found in our back yard using fire crackers to blow up little green army men. Steve joined the Marines when he was 17 years old with the blessings of my father, a WW2 tail gunner, who also lied about a couple of my brother's health issues. Steve was a skinny kid who was constantly being picked on, and he was determined not to be picked on ever again. Since I was only 12 years old when he left for basic training, I didn't realize the danger he would eventually be in. Thank God, Steve came home after serving one tour in Viet Nam, unlike 58,220 other soldiers who did not. (You can see my interview with Steve about our father on this website at rumboogiecrew.com/tailgunneralvinneff).
Jim Fickler was one of four children and grew up in Kewaskum, Wisconsin. When he was a sophomore in high school, he had a diving accident and broke his neck. He had to wear a body cast for almost an entire school year.
During college, Jim enrolled in the ROTC program and joined the Marines. He quickly discovered his passion for flying. But when his medical records showed a hairline crack in his neck from the diving accident, the military doctors wouldn't clear him to go to Viet Nam. Jim wanted to go, so after getting four doctors to sign off that his neck injury wouldn't be a problem with flying, he left for Viet Nam in 1968.
On January 17, 1969, Jim Fickler's A6 Intruder was struck by enemy fire and crashed. Also aboard was Lt. Robert J. Kuhlman, the navigator (see his blog also on this website). Search and rescue crews were launched to look for the two men. No parachutes had been seen, no emergency electronic beepers had been heard, and no voice contact had been established. Due to heavy enemy activity in the area, ground searches were not possible. Both men were listed as "missing in action" and they still remain missing today.
Lt. Fickler's parents searched for him for over a decade. They would fly all over the U.S. looking for new information on his whereabouts: it became an obsession for them. Ironically, when Jim's younger brother Gary died in a car accident, the parents found some kind of closure about Jim.
Jim's story prompted me to contact the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for any current information about Lt. Fickler. I'm hopeful but not optimistic. I see what looks like a small red circle on the map designating where the two men crashed and wonder: It seems like smaller things have been found in larger areas.
A Shau Valley (looking south)
My brother Steve also looked at the map. He told me he was in that same place in 1965 and it was a very rugged area. Steve offered this explanation: "At the time he was shot down, he was likely killed in the crash. If the North Vietnamese or Viet Cong went to the crash site, they would have scavenged all of the equipment they could and quite possibly buried the two crewmen."
A big thank you to Matt Campbell whose original reporting on this story provided details I hadn't known before. To read more information on Captain Fickler and many, many others, I highly recommend the Task Force Omega website. TFO is a non-profit, tax-exempt POW/MIA organization dedicated to the full accounting and return of all prisoners of war as well as those missing in action during the defense of our country. Below is the TFO page for Captain Fickler:
Name: FICKLER, EDWIN JAMES
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Marine Corps
Unit: Marine Air Group 11, 1st Marine Air Wing
Date of Birth: 04 May 1943 (West Bend, WI)
Home of Record: Kewaskum, WI
Date of Loss: 17 January 1969
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 160700N 1072100E (YC470921) Status in 1973: Missing in Action
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A6A "Intruder"
Other Personnel In Incident: Robert J. Kuhlman (missing)
SYNOPSIS: On 17 January 1969, Capt. Edwin J. Fickler, pilot, and 1st Lt. Robert J. Kuhlman, bombardier/navigator, comprised the crew of an A6A Intruder on a direct air support/armed reconnaissance mission east of the infamous A Shau Valley, Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. Their mission, as well as that of American and allied ground troops they were supporting, was to cut the NVA's extension of the Ho Chi Minh Trail as it ran through the northwestern region of South Vietnam.
At 2125 hours, Capt. Fickler was providing close air support for embattled US and allied troops operating along the east rim of the A Shau Valley. After completing an attack pass on a known enemy position hidden in the rugged jungle covered mountains, the Intruder pulled off target and was struck by enemy ground fire. It was seen by friendly forces to crash approximately 1 mile south of a primary east/west road running from the east side of the A Shau Valley to Hue City. A second primary road branched off of the main road and ran to DaNang. These roads were a major part of the NVA's extended infiltration route.
Search and rescue (SAR) aircraft were immediately launched and initiated a visual and electronic search for Capt. Fickler and 1st Lt. Kuhlman. During the search operation, no parachutes were seen, no emergency electronic beepers heard and no voice contact could be established with either crewman. Further, a ground search was not possible because of heavy enemy activity in the area of loss. At the time the formal search was terminated, Edwin Fickler and Robert Kuhlman were listed as Missing In Action.
If Edwin Fickler and Robert Kuhlman died in the loss of their Intruder, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they were able to eject their crippled aircraft, they most certainly could have been captured and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way, there is little doubt the Vietnamese could return them or their remains any time they had a desire to do so.
Since the end of the Vietnam War, over 21,000 reports of American Prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document live American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia.