Bobby Gene Vinson

NO. 17575  •  

Missing in action in Vietnam on 24 Apr 1968, declared dead on 12 Sep 1977. Body never recovered.


SHOULD WEST POINT begin retiring football jerseys, a good one to start with would be number 44. Bobby wore this number for 4 years, having made the 'A' squad in plebe year on a national championship team. A native son of Nederland, he grew up in the rough and ­ready world of Cajuns, oil field workers, and longshoremen in East Texas. He learned how to play and fight, when necessary, with the toughest and was the Outstanding High School Football Player in Texas in his senior year. Bobby turned down a full scholarship to Rice in order to compete in the last year of the Davis-Blanchard era. Probably his most notable football feats were a 98-yard intercepted pass return in 1948 and a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the 1949 Army-Navy game. He was number one in the plebe class in physical aptitude and could take on the best heavyweights in boxing and wrestling. Anyone would rue the day that he stood next to Bobby on "bloody Tuesday" in Bill Cavanaugh's boxing class.

Bobby also was an outstanding student, with particular talents in mathematics and science. It was amazing to see him return from a rough football practice and focus on academics with consistently outstanding results in the classroom the next day.

Bobby entered Air Force flight training just as the Korean War began and he quickly grasped the essentials of this new challenge. It came as no surprise when he was selected to be a jet fighter pilot. Combat skills were honed at the Fighter Gunnery School at Nellis AFB, NV, and he was soon on his way to Korea. Aircraft losses were heavy during the winter of 1951-­52, particularly for fighter-bomber pilots, but Bobby flew 100 combat missions in F­84s the same way he played football - with 100% commitment, 100% fearless. On one memorable mission, he spotted a North Korean tank. When his rockets failed to fire, Bobby recycled armament switches while continuing the attack. The tank was destroyed, but the F­84 kissed the ground during his pullout. A bushel basket of dirt, grass, and brush was retrieved from the F-84 after returning to home base.

In between flying 100 combat missions, Bobby learned skeet shooting. (In those days, the Air Force thought skeet shooting improved aerial gunnery skills.) Two years later he represented Tactical Air Command in the National Championships.

After the Korean War, Bobby was assigned to George AFB, CA, as a fighter pilot and met Joan McKinney while vacationing in Mexico. Bobby and Joan were married in September 1953 and raised 4 handsome and extremely bright children: ­Chuck, Robert, Victoria, and Laura.

The following years brought a series of tactical assignments interspersed with annual returns to West Point as assistant football coach. Later, while stationed at Wheelus AFB, Libya, Bobby learned scuba diving and water skiing - sports he pursued for the rest of his life. The Vinsons returned to Langley AFB, VA, where Bobby joined TAC Headquarters. Next came Armed Forces Staff College and the Pentagon.

Charlie Gabriel, classmate and retired Air Force Chief of Staff, remembers Bobby as a staff officer of unparalleled integrity who would challenge the system to provide absolutely objective staff studies. Charlie also notes that Bobby was the best fighter pilot he knew.

The years spent in Washington are remembered by their many friends for fun-­filled gatherings at their home in Northern Virginia, especially the "Vinson Backyard Olympics" where one and all tested aging skills in a variety of games and contests. In 1965, the Vietnam War intruded. Bobby became increasingly involved in staffing fighter operations for combat. In 1967, he returned to the cockpit.

After a brief training period in F- 4s, he joined the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at DaNang. "Skipper" Scott, classmate, fellow football player, and later Superintendent at the Air Force Academy, recalls that in their earlier assignment to the same fighter wing, Bobby was the top fighter pilot, able to beat everyone, including a top Korean War ace, in "dog fights" -- simulated aerial combat. LTC Vinson was quickly checked out to lead combat missions; the most challenging being night attack missions under flares in North Vietnam.

The April afternoon before Bobby's last flight, he enjoyed his favorite sport - scuba diving for lobsters in the Gulf of Tonkin. He told Skip Scott that they would cook lobsters upon his return from a night attack mission against the Ho Chi Minh Trail in North Vietnam. His aircraft apparently was hit while making a second firing pass under flares. His wingman reported the aircraft explosion, and Bobby was never heard from again.

Defense policy was to list pilots lost in combat as MIA until their true status could be determined.  Joan Vinson became a national leader in the movement to account for MIA-POWs. She was and is a wonderful wife and mother who kept the family together after the loss of Bobby.

COL Bobby Gene Vinson was declared KIA on 12 Sep 1977. From the "fields of friendly strife" at West Point to the skies over North Vietnam, he served his country with  pride and distinction. Check Six, 44! 

- His roommates Rufus Smith and Dick Leavitt

William Frederick Nelson

NO. 18007  •  11 April 1926 – 29 January 1954

Declared dead 28 January 1954; missing in action in Korea, aged 27 years. Body never recovered.

WILLIAM FREDERICK NELSON was born 11 April 1926 at Windom, Minnesota to  Mr. and Mrs. Clarence T. Nelson. He enjoyed a very close relationship with his parents, and often spoke of trips with his father to sporting events.

Bill attended public school in Windom until his final year of high school, which he completed at Kemper Military Academy, Booneville, Missouri, with graduation in 1944. He then entered the Navy V‑12 Program to serve at Minot, North Dakota, until his appointment to the United States Military Academy. He entered West Point in the summer of 1945 with the Class of 1949.

Bill played on a strong plebe football team that fall. He tackled the football better than he did the academics, and ultimately was turned back to the Class of 1950. His new classmates were very glad to have him, and he, in turn, contributed a great deal to them. For the next four years "Nellie" was at the center of class and company athletic and social activities. Due in great part to his efforts, Company K­2 twice won the Bankers Trophy, symbolic of intramural supremacy. Bill also started at halfback for the Goats in the class struggle with the Engineers.

At his first plebe Christmas in 1945, Bill met Joyce Ann Barlow. A romance flourished through the cadet years which culminated in marriage at New Haven, Connecticut on 8 June 1950. Bill's classmates Detherow, Earnhart, Griffin, and Todd were ushers. Joyce and Bill had a delightful honeymoon at Sea Island, Georgia, in company with four other Class of '50 couples.

Bill chose Airborne Infantry, and after graduation on 6 June 1950 he was assigned to the 11th Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In August he and Joyce joined many classmates and brides at Fort Benning, Georgia, where Bill had his parachute training before reporting to Fort Campbell. There he was assigned to the 188th Airborne Infantry Regiment. It was to be about a one – year assignment and saw the birth of a son, Carl. They left Fort Campbell and returned to Fort Benning, where Bill attended the Infantry Company Officer Course and then received orders to Korea. Before he departed, Bill, Joyce, and Carl spent a very enjoyable Christmas in 1951 with his parents in Minnesota.

In Korea, Bill went right to a line unit, the 65th Infantry, and became a platoon leader. He performed so well that the battalion commander gave him the company, and it was in the capacity of rifle company commander that Bill was missing in action. Bill took "B" Company to occupy Kelly Hill, a key terrain feature, on 18 September 1952. That night the Chinese assaulted the hill with an estimated 600 men. They swarmed over the position and Bill was last seen fighting in the vicinity of his CP. The fighting was severe, and only 19 of the 200 officers and men of "B" Company survived the action to retreat to friendly lines. Efforts to retake the hill failed and the Korean War ended with Kelly Hill still in enemy hands. A handful of "B" Company men were captured, including an officer who fit the description of Bill. However, this officer turned out to be the artillery forward observer who was later released. It was his belief that Bill had been killed in the attack. This belief was shared by most of the survivors, but could never be confirmed.

Joyce Nelson gave birth to their daughter on 1 September 1952. Bill talked to Joyce by telephone from Japan shortly after the birth. Seven days later he was missing.

On 28 January 1954, Bill was declared dead by the Department of the Army and was subsequently awarded the Purple Heart.

The Nelson family has received numerous letters from members of the 65th Infantry, including Bill's battalion commanding officer, but the letter that brings to mind the Bill Nelson I will always remember is one written by a contemporary, Lieutenant St. Clair Streett, Jr., Class of'49. Extracts of that letter follow:

"Dear Mrs. Nelson,

"Bill is the epitome of fine America - besides being a personal friend, he was an example not only for his subordinates, but for his contemporaries ‑ like myself. Bill was a fine officer ‑ conscientious and enthusiastic in his work. I hope that I can do as well as he. I know if Bill were able to communicate with you ‑ he would say, 'Don't worry.' Of course, ‘ missing in action' is an uncertain term ‑ the only thing we can do is keep faith and pray.

"I returned home‑lucky beyond words‑and believe me, I'm thankful. Nevertheless, the thought of “Wild Bill”, your son, and of others who were killed in action saddened my Christmas aspects. Certainly those men had sacrificed that we might better enjoy our country and family."

Bill Nelson was a close and loyal friend to those fortunate enough to know him well. He never forgot his parents and wrote to them almost daily. He proved himself a devoted husband and father during the short time he had with his family.

Bill loved West Point and is a true credit to the Long Gray Line.

-A Classmate

George Everett Foster

NO. 17446  •  

Missing in Action since December 2, 1950 at Chonjin (Chosin) Reservoir, Korea.
Officially declared Dead as of December 31, 1953, aged 25 Years.


George, "Georgie" as he was generally known, and as "Porgie" among his childhood mates, was born at Cayey, Puerto Rico, March 4, 1928, the son of then Lieutenant and Mrs. Roy M. Foster. Practically all of his boyhood was spent at Army stations, where he always was one of the gang, making new friends, whom he never forgot. From the time that he was old enough to walk, when his mother or father would have to rescue him from out in front of the 20th Infantry Band, at marchIng practice, where he was beating on a cooking pan with a spoon, the environment and atmosphere of Army life was ever complete to him.

Throughout his Elementary School days and into High School, George was an outstanding student. He was quick to grasp and keen at organizing his thoughts, enabling him to make the honor roll of his Class, except for his last two years of High School, at Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Maryland, where he seemed to lose interest. However, at Chevy Chase, Georgie made his closest and lasting friendships, with boys who later remained as close to him as his classmates at West Point. From his childhood, Georgie had a devoted love and respect for the Almighty, his parents, sister and brother, and toward all people, that made him admired and loved by all. He was always ready to accept responsibility and no task was too small or too big for him.

From the time Georgie was old enough to know of West Point, he had the desire to be a West Pointer. When a principal appointment to Annapolis or a 2nd alternate appointment to West Point was tendered him, his decision was West Point. Upon graduation from High School, Georgie entered Sullivan's Preparatory School, and under Sully he really found himself. He stood very high on the Presidential List, and through West Point, no one meant more to George than Sully. Georgie, in his devoted love for West Point, and toward his brother, Bob, hoped that Bob would be able to prepare under Sully and make the Point. With Bob's entering in the Class of '58, through Congressman Herlung of Florida, after the briefest of preparation under Sully, it seemed a miracle through earnest prayers. Georgie was able to take the Point in stride and beyond doubt lived it as the four greatest years of his life, graduating with a very fine record. His class standing enabled him his choice of branch, and with his roommate, Larry Birk, who stood very high in the Class, they chose the Cavalry (Armor).

Graduation leave was a heavily occupied and delightful period for George, attending classmates' weddings, helping his mother and Bob to settle near Washington, D. C., after their sailing orders to Japan had been canceled, and visiting at San Antonio with his roommate, Falkner Heard, and Falkner's parents, Colonel and Mrs. Falkner Heard. During his cadet life, Georgie really felt that his second home was with Colonel and Mrs. Heard. George's original assignment orders upon graduation were to Europe, but, with his father being stationed in Japan, his orders were changed to the Far East. This had pleased him, as he planned to accompany his mother and Bob to the West Coast and then hoped to sail concurrently with them to Japan, stopping over to visit with his other roommate, Larry Birk, and Larry's parents at Klamath Falls, Oregon. With the war breaking in Korea, the planned voyage to Japan was canceled, and George, with classmates, was flown from Camp Stoneman via Alaska into Japan.

Upon reaching Japan, George was assigned to the 7th Division, then in the embarking phase for the Inchon Landing. At this time, he was assigned to Company C, 32d Infantry. Although he regretted having to replace the sabers with crossed rifles he felt that basically he was better qualifed for combat duty in the Infantry than with Armor.


Letters to his parents from officers of his unit - Regimental Commander, Company Commander, and others – said that Georgie performed remarkably as a leader in combat, that he repreesented the true ideals and traditions of West Point, and that his father and mother could be proud to call him "Son". Among associates who knew of him in combat, it was said that he was liked and admired to the highest by all. At the battle of Seoul, he was given a platoon and, after one month of duty, was recommended for promotion by his Company Commander, but the promotion was held up in accordance with the policy requiring completion of six months' commissioned service before the promotion could be made. Georgie's last letter to his father, written on the 28th of November 1950, at the Chonjin (Chosin) Reservoir, seemed to reveal him as in high spirits, and he said was counting the days until he could be back in Japan with his mother, Bob, and father.

Other than the report of his M.I.A. status as of 2 December 1951, no information has been found, except that he had been wounded in an arm on 1 December 1950, and, on 2 December 1950, had led his platoon down a steep cliff into a valley or canyon to break a road block. With the Department of the Army notifying his parents of his presumed death as of 31 December 1953. It may be said, true to the traditions of West Point, that George's duty and honor in battle are worthy of the highest tribute, "Well Done".

- R.M.F.

Thurston Richard Baxter

NO. 17722  •  9 December 1928 - 31 December 1952

Missing in action. Changed to: killed in action 31 December 1952, aged 24 years.


DICK BAXTER was born 9 December 1928 at Fort Sam Houston Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. His parents, Lieutenant Thurston H. Baxter and Mina O'Bryan Baxter were stationed at Brooks Field, Texas where his father was assigned as a flying instructor. Dick's childhood was spent at various Army Air Corps stations until, in 1939, his father was assigned to the office of the chief of the Air Corps, and Dick became a Washingtonian. There he reached the senior rank in scouting, Eagle Scout, in only two years, and in 1946 he graduated from St. Alban's School.

This background had several effects on Dick's future life. First of all, not yet 18 when he entered, lie was one of the youngest members of the Class of 1950, a class that had a large number of older and experienced veterans. If, in the competitive environment of cadet life, this put him at some disadvantage, his background also gave him two offsetting advantages. One was an excellent academic preparation, so that was never a serious problem to him. The second, and more important, advantage was his driving determination that he would fly as an officer in the Air Force.

An intensely private person, only his roommates really came close to knowing him. They recall his keenly competitive nature, a puckish sense of humor, and a determination to be himself. One roommate recalls his competitive nature in a situation which arose as to who should have the right to pursue the affections of a blonde model who had attracted their attention. The matter was settled by a race over the obstacle course in the gym. Dick won by a few seconds, but it soon turned out that Dick hadn't been that interested in the young lady to begin with.

Then there was the time he returned from leave with a stuffed teddy bear, which he decreed would be displayed on the mantlepiece as his mascot. The Tac, however, on an inspection when Dick was not room orderly, made it clear that there was a penalty associated with this display of individuality. His roommates, especially the one who had absorbed the gig, negotiated a treaty with him that the mascot would occupy its place of honor only when Dick was room orderly. Thereafter, with some circumspection as to when the Tac was likely to be around, the mascot continued to hold its post during Dick's turns as room orderly.

After graduation, Dick achieved his lifetime ambition, entering the Air Force, completing basic flight training, and going on to advanced training in F-51 Mustangs at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Alabama. While at Craig, he met and married Anne Jo Ross. After only a month of married life he left for Korea and duty with the 39th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 18th Fighter Wing. There, on 21 December 1951, on a dive­bombing mission, his aircraft impacted the ground, presumably as a result of ground fire, in a crash that he was unlikely to have survived. No report of him as a prisoner of war was ever received, and no remains were returned. He was declared dead on 31 December 1952.

His memorial is a plaque in the Chapel of St. Alban's School. Its inscription reads:

"They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old.

"Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

"At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

"We will remember them."

The thought that can be added to that is that Dick Baxter died in the achievement of his life's ambition.

- Frank King