5 December 1956 – A Northrop XSM-62 Snark, 53-8172, N-69D test model, fitted with a new 24-hour stellar inertial guidance system, launches from Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex, Florida. It wanders off-course, ignores destruct command, disappears over Brazil. It is found by a farmer in January 1983. The Day They Lost the Snark By J.
Ralph C. Balcom
Ralph Balcom, Jr. was the older brother of SSS Member Keith Balcom.
Captain Ralph Carol Balcom, who joined the U.S. Air Force from Washington, was a member of the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron. “On May 15, 1966, he piloted an F-105D Thunderchief (tail number 61-0174) as the lead aircraft in a three-plane bombing mission over North Vietnam. The flight was unable to strike the primary target due to cloud cover and moved down the coast to bomb a section of Route 1A. After dropping his ordnance, Capt Balcom radioed that he would return to base, and he was last seen climbing through a cloud formation in Quang Binh Province.
The other two aircraft on the mission lost visual contact with Capt Balcom after they entered the cloud and they were unable to locate him after exiting. Immediate search and rescue efforts failed to locate Capt Balcom. Information from later investigations indicated that Capt Balcom’s aircraft was likely hit by enemy fire and crashed; however, he has not been recovered and remains unaccounted for. “(1) “Two months later a propaganda film appeared with a man Ralph’s parents immediately recognized as their son being paraded down the streets of Hanoi. The U.S. Government later identified the man as a returned POW Kyle Berg, also from the state of Washington.
While carried in the status of missing in action (MIA), the U.S. Air Force promoted Capt Balcom to the rank of Colonel (Col).
In November 1973, the Air Force discovered that Joint Casualty Resolution Center (JCRC) in Nakhon Phanom was carrying Balcom as a Prisoner of War while Defense Intelligence Agency carried him as Missing In Action. The Air Force directed JCRC to delete any reference pertaining to POW status in Balcom’s files. Balcom’s status was changed from Prisoner of War to Missing in Action, although analysts say today that JCRC records were the most accurate and complete because of their close proximity to the region.
JCRC also lists Balcom as being lost in Laos, not North Vietnam. The loss coordinates, 171200N 1064000E are in North Vietnam about 20 miles north of the DMZ. Grid coordinates XE100100 are located a few miles northwest of the Ban Karai Pass in Laos. It cannot be determined why there is a discrepancy in loss locations between agencies.”(2) Many people still wear his MIA/POW bracelet, especially his brother Keith who has it tattooed on his arm.
Today, over 20 years have passed since Ralph Balcom’s last flight over Vietnam. Ralph C. Balcom was promoted to the rank of Colonel during the period he was maintained as a Prisoner of War and Missing in Action. He is memorialized on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
For a really good article about the Balcom brothers, see Issue 45 of The Intake.
Medley recently heard that Ralph’s dog tags have been discovered. For more about this recent find, see the article in the next issue of The Intake (No 46).