Pilot Killed in Crash at Sea Was POW in Vietnam War

From Associated Press

Retired Navy Capt. Charles Gillespie Jr. of San Marcos, who was shot down over Vietnam and spent 5 1/2 years in the “Hanoi Hilton” POW prison, was identified Thursday as the pilot killed in a civilian plane crash, officials said.

Gillespie, 60, was flying a turboprop plane 80 miles northwest of San Diego for Flight International Inc., a defense contractor, at the time of Tuesday’s accident. He had retired from active duty in June, 1983.

The crash occurred minutes after Gillespie finished maneuvers intended to simulate hostile aircraft during war games involving Navy air traffic control students tracking planes from ships, Navy officials said.

“He was doing what he loved,” said his wife, Helen. “I used to tease him about always having to flag him out of a plane, get him to land, just so I could see him. He was always flying.”


Wreckage and the pilot’s remains were found just before dusk Tuesday, seven hours after the plane plunged into the ocean.

“We really know very little. It went into a dive and just never came out,” Gordon James, a Flight International executive vice president, said from the company’s headquarters in Newport News, Va.

Gillespie was a native of Meridian, Miss. He won his wings a year after graduating from the Naval Academy in 1951. He was a pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Coral Sea when his F-4 Phantom jet was shot down over North Vietnam on Oct. 24, 1967. He bailed out and was captured.

Gillespie endured 5 1/2 years in the North Vietnamese prison before being released March 17, 1973. In the years afterward, he sometimes talked about the harsh prison existence in appearances before church and civic groups and about how his religious faith sustained him.


During his military career, Gillespie won a Silver Star, the Legion of Merit and two Purple Hearts.

Besides his wife, Gillespie is survived by a daughter and a son.