Today in History – Major Robert “Vince” Willett, Jr., August 5, 1944-April 17, 1969 – “Ode to a Wingman”

JD Wetterling sent this amazing poem in honor of his friend Major Vince Willett, Jr. who was shot down on April 17, 1969.

ODE TO A WINGMAN: A Post-Midnight Passage to Glory
(Robert “Vince” Willett, Jr., August 5, 1944 –April 17, 1969)

We both were gung-ho, two young fighter jocks.
Our blight was psychotic—a love affair.
Belov’d was inert, ferocious and fast.
She looked mach one as she sat in the chocks.

The Super Sabre, but we called her “hun—”
A sweptwing killer and seraphic fly’r,
We fondled her switches and lit her fire
Then mated on takeoff—became as one.

My wingman and I liked night sorties best.
The trucks all southbound on Ho Chi Minh’s Trail
Made awesome explosions when we prevailed.
The dark made it hard, but we ace’d the test.

Once as we ravaged a truck motorcade,
Big triple-A guns tried to stop our huns.
I pulled off the trucks and dove on those guns.
High noon at midnight—a bold (?) escapade.

The big guns went silent. Were they all dead?
Can’t know for sure on an inky dark night.
My wingman then asked where to take the fight.
“Just drop another round right on their head.”

A lifetime later those words I regret.
More guns belched fire as he dove in the night.
Two huge explosions said both lost the fight.
MIA is the term—he and his jet.

The term haunts the soul so much more than “dead.”
The God who made both of us worked His plan,
And eons from now we’ll both understand–
His blessing was greater: he went ahead.

JD Wetterling
Author Blog: Cogitations

Robert Vince Willett was from Great Falls, MT. He was married just six weeks before going to Vietnam.  Captain Willett was a member of the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron. On April 17, 1969, he was the pilot of a North American Super Sabre Fighter (F-100D tail number 56-3403) on a mission near Saravane Province, just inside Laos and south of Khe Sanh, South Vietnam, where his aircraft was shot down by hostile fire. His remains were not recovered. Subsequent to the incident, and while carried in the status of missing in action (MIA), the U.S. Air Force promoted First Lieutenant Willett to the rank of Major. Robert Vince Willett’s name is inscribed on the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial.


Scroll to Top