Updated: May 1, 2022
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"Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones; one of
many anti-war songs during the Vietnam War
My brother Steve, my parents only son, served in the Vietnam War. I shouldn't have been surprised when he joined the military since as kids he and I could usually be found in our backyard 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, the Rumboogiecrew 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 Vietnam, unlike 58,220 other soldiers who did not. You can see my interview with Steve about our father on this website at www.rumboogiecrew.com/tailgunneralvinneff
Two soldiers who did not come home from Vietnam were Jim Fickler (below left), a pilot, and Robert J Kuhlman (below right) a navigator. To see Robert Kuhlman's blog on this website, go to www.rumboogiecrew.com/post/robert-j-kuhlman-mia-in-vietnam
On January 17, 1969, their A6 Intruder was struck by enemy fire and crashed in the A Shau Valley. Immediately, search and rescue crews were launched and they initiated a visual and electronic search for the two men. No parachutes had been seen, no emergency electronic beepers had been heard, and no voice contact could be established with the two men. Also, 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 is one of 37 veterans still MIA from Wisconsin and the cousin of Rum Boogie Crew Co-Pilot Lloyd J. Fickler).
A Shau Valley Looking South
My brother Steve looked at the above 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."
Jim Fickler's story prompted me to contact the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for any information about him to which I received a form letter reply. 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.
The Vietnam War lasted for 20 years. No matter what anyone says or thinks about this particular tragedy, the truth is that the
United States government has not done even close to enough to find and bring home the missing Americans who proudly served in Vietnam at a time in our history when many others would not.
Jim Fickler by a hooch in Viet Nam
"Captain Jim Fickler: Full of Life; Full of Fun" (Reprinted Courtesy of Matt Campbell)
"On an unseasonably mild, rainy, Sunday December afternoon, Nancy Wichert [Jim Fickler's Sister] revisits her hometown and stops by the former corner drug store she would frequent as a kid, which is now the Coffee Corner Bistro. She reminisces about her brother Jim's upbeat personality and his passions in life, like the outdoors, athletics and flying.
Wichert was the oldest of four children. Edwin "Jim" Fickler was two years younger than her, her sister, Colleen was seven years younger, and her youngest brother, Gary was 15 years younger.
The Fickler family grew up in Kewaskum, Wisconsin, at a time where their home was only one of three on the street. As time went on, the neighborhood grew and so did the memories. They're tough to revisit at times because everything changed when Jim went to Vietnam.
Wichert recalls the neighborhood being close. They enjoyed having fun outdoors, playing night games (when their parents allowed), having a soda or malt at the local corner drug store, or seeing a movie at the theatre on Main Street for only 12 cents.
One of their favorite spots to play outside was out in Lake Seven in the Kettle Moraine State Forest, which resulted in an accident that followed Jim Fickler around for years. "He had a diving accident out in Lake Seven in the Kettle Moraine," said Wichert. "They had a tall slide there, the platform was about 14 feet high, but they would stand on it, push themselves off it and shallow dive. So one day when he was up there, his foot slipped; instead of pushing off, he went straight down and broke his neck. He had a body cast he had to wear for almost his entire sophomore year."
The neck injury did not stop Jim, as he continued to play basketball and football throughout high school. Fickler's high school basketball coach and teacher, Howard Zemlicka, recalls when Fickler got out of his body cast and started shooting free throws again for the first time. "He was a little stiff at first," said Zemlicka. "But he played, and contributed quite a bit; he was big, took up a lot of space, and got those rebounds." Zemlicka also enjoyed shooting ping-pong at the Fickler's and joking around with him about cars. Fickler drove Chevrolets, Zemlicka drove Fords, and Fickler would always give Zemlicka a hard time about that.
Fickler graduated from Kewaskum High School and went on to Steven's Point for college, enrolling in the Natural Resource program. He was a big outdoorsman, loved hunting, fishing, anything outdoors. He also enrolled in the ROTC program while at Steven's Point and joined the Marine Corps. While enrolled, he discovered his passion for flying. He then concentrated on flying and getting his pilot license. After the military, he planned to be a commercial pilot.
"He was such an upbeat guy, full of life, full of fun!" said Wichert. She said the only time she saw her brother sad was when medical records came up with a hairline crack in his neck from his neck injury during his sophomore year. Because of this injury, they wouldn't clear him to go to Vietnam. "He wanted to go; he wanted to go so bad." Fickler had to get four doctors to sign off that his previous neck injury wouldn't be a problem with his flying. He then left for Vietnam in 1968.
Pictures of Jim from High School
"I thought he was going to come back because he was such a survivor," says Wichert. "When he was six years old, he had spinal meningitis and they didn't think he would live. Plus, the whole neck thing; that was a huge blow."
Fickler's parents searched over a decade for him. They would fly everywhere across the United States looking for new information on his whereabouts. It became an obsession for the parents. "When this happened, it was like the rest of us didn't matter anymore," said Wichert. "There was no more Christmas . . . life for them more or less just stopped." Wichert says it wasn't until the passing of Fickler's younger brother Gary that a closure came to their parents about Jim's death. "Although they were devastated by this, when my younger brother died, it was bad, but there was like a closure to it, you know what I mean?" said Wichert. "With Jim, they just always expected . . . because they had so many prisoners of war at the time . . . that he maybe was one and maybe he would be back some day." But the body of the young man from Washington County would never come home.
Gary Fickler passed away in a car crash. His car ran off the road and wasn't found until the next morning. Jim and Gary Fickler have a joint grave located in Peace Cemetery in Kewaskum, Wisconsin (see below). Both were 26 years old when they passed.
To read more information on Captain Fickler and many, many others, I highly recommend the Task Force Omega website (www.taskforceomegainc.org). 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.
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