Carl Berg Mitchell

NO. 17450  •  

Died 14 January 1964 in Vietnam, aged 35 years
Headstone placed in his honor in the West Point Cemetery, West Point, New York.

CARL BERG MITCHELL, known as "Cully" to his family and "Mitch" to his friends, was from Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, where his mother had a farm originally homesteaded by his Anderson forebears. The farm, town and his family were the home of Cully's heart since he began life in 1928 as an Army brat. His father, Carl Berg, graduated from West Point in 1920. He married Mary English Anderson in 1922 and at the time of Cully's birth was teaching at Culver Military Academy in South Bend, Indiana. A younger brother, Corwin, arrived a few years after Carl and, until their father's suicide in 1938, the young family spent the majority of their time stationed in the South. Cully's boyhood loves included golf, swimming, riding horses and spending summers in Kentucky on the farm.

Carl's mother married Clark Mitchell, a family friend and fellow Army officer (USMA '19), and their son, John Clark Mitchell, was subsequently born. Clark adopted Cully and Corwin in 1941, the same year Cully left home to begin his high school years at Culver as a boarder. Cully thrived at Culver, both academically and at various intramural sports.

When he graduated, West Point appointments were hard to come by because of the war, but Clark facilitated Cully's placement by sending him to Sullivan's Prep in Washington, DC for a year. There Cully placed third out of a thousand examinees on the Presidential Appointment Exam.

Cully became a plebe in 1946 and was a little more prepared than many of his classmates for the discipline of military life. Although recognized for his intellect, he also was known for taking the time to explain or review an academic problem; to demonstrate a military procedure; or to sit down and listen to a problem and consider it with thoughtfulness. He was, however, a notorious teaser, to the extent that he mortified people at times. His roommate, just married and preparing to leave on his honeymoon, found a letter from a former girlfriend conspicuously planted amongst his belongings.

Cully did well at West Point and his desire to fly led to his commission into the Air Force. While attending Basic Pilot Training in Sherman, Texas, he and his cohorts often went to Dallas. During this time he began to date Colleen Hill, whose mother, Irene, was occasionally serenaded late in the evening with "Goodnight Irene" by Cully and his buddies. In August of 1951, with new  wings on his unifonn, he and Colleen were married.

By February of 1952 Cully was assigned as a B‑29 pilot to the 50th Bomb Squadron, 9th Bomb Wing, Travis Air Force Base, California, and became a part of Strategic Air Command (SAC) and its expanding nuclear deterrent. At the onset, he not only demonstrated that he was a fine pilot and a promising young officer but also showed tremendous dedication. He took advantage of opportunities to do more, volunteering to serve as the squadron ground training officer and as the squadron security officer. After he and his B‑29 crew achieved combat ready status, they began frequent overseas deployments for training and nuclear alert operations.

By the mid 50s, Cully and his young family were stationed at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho where Michael and Shelly were born. Mary Elizabeth, the eldest, had been born in Dallas while Cully was away on a mission. Cully was assigned to the 9th Bomb Wing, which was transitioning to the all‑jet B‑47 bomber, the centerpiece of SAC's nuclear deterrent force. Cully worked hard with his crew and they achieved the highest crew level within SAC Select Crew Status. Cully advanced from assistant squadron operations officer to squadron adjutant to aircraft commander, demonstrating his excellent abilities as a pilot and as a resourceful leader of men.

The nature of Cully's assignments and his inherent talents led to his interest in the acquisition process for both the advanced manned strategic aircraft and the advanced ballistic missile systems. When he became eligible for career diversification, he was selected to attend the University of Michigan where he received his masters, with honors, in astronautical and aeronautical engineering in 1961.

His next assignment was to Air Force Systems Command Ballistics Systems division in Los Angeles and then San Bernardino, California as a management systems officer. He was appointed by Headquarters, AFSC as a primary team member to define the AFSC management approach to systems definition, earning him the Air Force Commendation Medal and recognition by his commanding officer as "the most outstanding officer of his grade in the entire organization."

Cully's love of flying never diminished, however, and with the expansion of US involvement in Vietnam in 1963, he decided to volunteer as an Air Force advisor and B‑26 pilot. Cully was keenly aware that many of his classmates had served in the Korean War, and he felt that his military career would not be complete without combat experience.

Cully left his family on 14 November 1963 to join the Air Command Squadron at Bien Hoa, Vietnam where he began flying combat missions in support of friendly ground forces. His last mission. with his co­pilot, Vincent J. Hickman, and their Vietnamese observer, was on 14 January 1964. It was subsequently recorded by Lieutenant Lee Kaster in a letter dated June 1964 as follows:

"On 14 January 1964, Cully and Vince were scrambled at 1800 and instructed to rendezvous with their Forward Air Control for a strike on VC structures. At 1810, the FAC marked a target with smoke and told them to drop napalm on it. Cully dropped two cans squarely on it. During the pass, the FAC noticed groundfire about 100  meters north of the target. He told CulIy and Vince about it, and Cully answered. "Roger, we'll come around and hit it." As he started his final approach. the plane nosed in and crashed into the jungle."

Cully was posthumously awarded the nation's second highest medal for valor, the Air Force Cross, and the citation read:

"Major Carl B. Mitchell distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism during low‑level flight operations against heavily defended enemy positions. Despite heavy machine gun fire, which repeatedly struck his aircraft, Major Mitchell aggressively continued his efforts to locate and destroy the machine gun installations until his badly damaged aircraft crashed and burned."

The death of a man in his prime is never easy to understand, and Cully had much to live for ‑ to see his children grow up, to return to his "old Kentucky home" and to farm. He was a dedicated and accomplished Air Force officer who gave his life for what he believed in, and that is a privilege. He has been loved and missed by many for the past 30 years.

-Prepared by classmates and family