IRWIN, ROBERT HARRY
Remains Returned - ID Announced 891120
Name: Robert Harry Irwin
Rank/Branch: O4/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 09 December 1938
Home City of Record: Peekskill NY
Date of Loss: 17 February 1972
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 170915N 1064940E (XD944974)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Other Personnel in Incident: Edwin A. Hawley Jr. (Released POW)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1990 with the assistance
of one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency
sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources,
interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 1998.
REMARKS: DEAD/CREWMAN SAID IN HANOI
SYNOPSIS: The Phantom, used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings, served
a multitude of functions including fighter-bomber and interceptor, photo and
electronic surveillance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2),
and had a long range (900 - 2300 miles, depending on stores and mission
type). The F4 was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and
high altitudes. The F4 was selected for a number of state-of-the-art
electronics conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing
capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest"
Major Robert H. Irwin, pilot, and Capt. Edwin A. Hawley Jr., weapons/systems
operator, were dispatched on a combat mission in their F4D aircraft over
North Vietnam on February 17, 1972. At a point about 15 miles west of the
city of Vinh in Quang Binh Province, their aircraft was shot down.
Capt. Hawley, being the rear-seater, ejected from the aircraft first. It was
standard procedure for the pilot to eject second. Therefore, it was not
uncommon for the crewmembers to be separated on the ground. Capt. Hawley was
captured by the North Vietnamese and spent the next year in prison camps in
and around Hanoi. On February 14, 1973, he was released, still showing signs
of the injuries he suffered when he ejected from his aircraft.
Capt. Hawley, in his debriefing stated that he believed his pilot was dead.
No details of this briefing is publicly available, as much of it is still
classified. Maj. Robert H. Irwin remained Missing in Action.
The Defense Intelligence Agency further expanded Irwin's classification to
include an enemy knowledge ranking of 2. Category 2 indicates "suspect
knowledge" and includes personnel who may have been involved in loss
incidents with individuals reported in Category 1 (confirmed knowledge), or
who were lost in areas or under conditions that they may reasonably be
expected to be known by the enemy; who were connected with an incident which
was discussed but not identified by names in enemy news media; or identified
(by elimination, but not 100% positively) through analysis of all-source
Throughout years following the war, reports continued to accumulate relating
to Americans missing or prisoner in Southeast Asia. By 1989, there were
nearly 10,000 such reports (largely classified), and many authorities became
convinced that hundreds of Americans remained alive, prisoners of war. The
U.S. continued to ask for information on missing Americans at each visit to
Hanoi, but the Vietnamese either ignored their questions, or denied
knowledge of Major Irwin.
In late November, 1989, it was announced that remains had been returned to
U.S. control by the Vietnamese, and these remains had been positively
identified as being those of Major Robert H. Irwin. For over 17 years, he
had been a prisoner of war - alive or dead.
For Major Irwin's family, the wait is over. They can finally grieve and
heal. They no longer wonder if he is one of the hundreds thought to be still
alive. For thousands of other families, however, the wait continues. It's
long past time we brought all our men home from Southeast Asia.
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