September 29, 1934 (Norwalk, CT) – April 19, 1966; 31 years old
Married to the former Marilyn Gould on December 23, 1955 in Sacramento
Two daughters Karen and Laura
Last local address: 5 Harvard Street, Norwalk
Enlisted on May 9, 1955; Air Force Specialty Code: 1023C, Pilot
Tour Start Date: March 22, 1966
Service number: 54195
Unit: 7th Air Force, 505th Tactical Air Control Group, 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron, Detachment 3
Born to George E. (1909-1977) and Pauline M. Pimbell Brown. The marriage ended sometime between 1934 and 1940 where Pauline is listed as the head of the house at 12 Leonard Street in the 1940 census. Pauline remarried on July 3, 1943 to Gilbert Scofield in Norwalk. She passed in 1987 at 71 years old. Captain Brown had one sister, Margaret (Marge) Ann (1935-), one year younger. Captain Brown’s cousin, TSG James Stephen Brown was a gunner on a B-17 in WWII and was shot down and killed.
Casualty Location: near Na Pho in Khammouane Province, Laos
Awarded the Air Medal and Purple Heart Medal
Personal testimony of Maggie Gunzy of Bethel, CT; sister of Joseph Brown, from telephone conversation on September 12, 2019
“Joey” as Maggie referred to him, was 2 years her senior. He loved to play golf and was friends with Jerry Courville Sr., Connecticut State Amateur Golf Champion in 1968, and member of the Connecticut Sports Hall of Fame. He joined the Air Force right out of high school at 17 years old. Captain Brown was flying B-52s in the Strategic Air Command but volunteered to fly the smaller planes. When his squadron deployed to Vietnam, he was left behind for reasons Mrs. Gunzy is unaware of. She went on to say that Captain Brown paid his own way to catch up to his squadron so he could fly with them. Finally, Mrs. Gunzy shared a story told to her with the source lost to time, that the wing of Captain Brown’s plane was used as a blackboard in a school in Laos near the crash site. His interment location is misreported in one place as Arlington National Cemetery and in another place as Long Island National Cemetery. His remains are with his daughter who lives in California.
The final mission of Captain Joseph O. Brown
In Southeast Asia, all tactical strike aircraft had to be under the control of a Forward Air Controller (FAC), who was intimately familiar with the locale, the populous, and the tactical situation. The FAC would find the target, order up U.S. fighter/bombers from an airborne command and control center, mark the target accurately with white phosphorus (Willy Pete) rockets, and control the operation throughout the time the planes remained on station. After the fighters had departed, the FAC stayed over the target to make a bomb damage assessment (BDA). The FAC also had to ensure that there were no attacks on civilians, a complex problem in a war where there were no front lines and any hamlet could suddenly become part of the combat zone. A FAC needed a fighter pilot’s mentality, but was obliged to fly slow and low in such unarmed and vulnerable aircraft as the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog, and the Cessna O-2. On April 19, 1966, an O-1F Bird Dog and a A-1E Spad were lost near Na Pho in Khammouane Province, Laos. Listed as “shot down just south of the Mu Gia Pass in Eastern Laos” in another source (Royal Lao Air Force / Ravens: Cessna O-1s, Leeker). Their precise missions are not clear from public records, and in fact, the Air Force cannot determine the unit assignment of the O-1F pilot, Capt Joseph O. Brown. Both Brown and the A-1 pilot, Capt Richard J. Robbins were lost in hostile situations, and both are listed as Killed in Action, Body Not Recovered. The Air Force reports that Brown’s aircraft was on a FAC mission when his aircraft was struck by hostile fire. Brown then radioed that part of the right horizontal stabilizer had been blown off, and that he was going to a higher altitude. The aircraft was observed to roll twice while in a steep dive and crash. No parachute was seen, but white smoke was seen to rise from the crash site.
Unspecified evidence was received by the Department of the Air Force on April 24, 1966 to confirm that Capt Brown died at the time of the incident. A joint U.S.-Lao Team excavated the crash site in April 10, 1995 and recovered personal effects, aircraft date plate, and human remains. The remains were identified on November 18, 1998. Anthropological analysis of the remains and other evidence by the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory Hawaii established the identification of Capt Brown. [Narrative taken from pownetwork.org; image from wikipedia.org]
In reference to the first paragraph below, Ken Davis from The Coffelt Database Group, provides additional firsthand knowledge (used with permission); from an e-mail to the author on September 12, 2019
On April 19, 1966, an O-1F Bird Dog and a A-1E Spad were lost near Na Pho in Khammouane Province, Laos. Listed as “shot down just south of the Mu Gia Pass in Eastern Laos” in another source (Royal Lao Air Force / Ravens: Cessna O-1s, Leeker). Their precise missions are not clear from public records, and in fact, the Air Force cannot determine the unit assignment of the O-1F pilot, Capt Joseph O. Brown. Both Brown and the A-1 pilot, Capt Richard J. Robbins were lost in hostile situations, and both are listed as Killed in Action, Body Not Recovered.
JTF-FA reports are specific in stating the wreckage of each aircraft was found in “Boulapha District, Khammouan Province”. Respective reports put Robbins went in 2 KM due north of Brown’s crash site. Ban Na Pho is in Saravane Province, Laos, well south of where Brown and Robbins went down. There is no “center point” for the Mu Gia Pass.
“We use the grid ref for the point at which the road (Route 12 in Laos) crosses the VN/LA border – WE815535 as depicted on 1:50K map sheet 6144-II. By this measure, Brown went down at 189 degrees, 14 KM from the border crossing. This is 3 KM east-southeast of Ban Langkhang, Laos. Robbins went down at 192 degrees, 12 KM from the border crossing. This is 1 KM east-southeast of Ban Langkhang, Laos. Ban Langkhang, Laos, is depicted on map sheet 6144-III. It is on Route 23 about a kilometer south of the intersection with Route 12. Robbins’s JTF-FA report mentions the village of Ban Thongkham, which lies a few kilometers to the west.
Their missions ARE clear. Per Colonel Budway’s letter Brown was hit while developing targets for a fast mover strike. Per Robbins’s JTF-FA report, he was hit while making a low pass over Brown’s crash site as part of the search and recovery effort. Brown was serving as a FAC “with a detachment of the 12th Tactical Air Support Squadron, 505th Tactical Control Group”. Brown was assigned to Det 3, working out of Nakon Phanom RTAFB. NKP was (and still is) on the Mekong River about 35 miles due west of where Brown went down.
Finally, “in Southeast Asia, all tactical strike aircraft had to be under the control of a Forward Air Controller”. Mostly correct with respect to South Vietnam and Laos, but I never saw a FAC in North Vietnam – the Air Force did run “fast FACs” in Route Package I, but I never worked that area – always further north. In South Vietnam, “Sky Spot” radar-directed missions didn’t use airborne FACs, nor did the A-6 AMTI and “beacon bombing” missions. In Laos, airborne FACs directed all visual strikes, but once again the A-6s were cleared into an area and left to their own devices.
Condolence letter from Colonel George Budway, Commander, 377th Combat Support Group to Pauline Scofield, mother of Joseph Brown
DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE
Headquarters 377th Combat Support Group (PACAF)
APO San Francisco 96307
Office of the Commander
25 April 1966
Mrs. Pauline Scofield
Dear Mrs. Scofield,
Please accept my deepest sympathy on the untimely death of your son, Chaplain Joseph O. Brown, United States Air Force. I always have a feeling of close personal loss when informed that a member of my command has lost his life while serving so far from home.
The circumstances that led to his death are: Joseph was serving as a Forward Air Controller with a detachment of the 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron, 5605th Tactical Control Group, supporting a special Air Force reconnaissance and strike mission. This is a mission of the greatest importance in the conduct of the present conflict. On the morning of 19 April 1966 at approximately 8:00 a.m., Joseph was directing fighter aircraft on targets in Southeast Asia. In a manner that typified Joseph’s reaction to a demanding and dangerous job, he proceeded to his assigned area and while performing his duties, marking targets for incoming aircraft, his aircraft sustained heavy ground fire. Joseph’s wingman advised him he had observed white smoke (flak) near the tail of his aircraft. Joseph acknowledged his wingman’s call and stated that part of his horizontal stabilizer had been shot off, but he had control of the aircraft and was attempting to climb to a safer altitude, he was hit again by automatic weapons ground fire. His aircraft was observed to roll into a steep dive and impact the ground. A third aircraft entered the area to assist in rescue efforts and was engulfed in intense ground fire, subsequently, further observation is the area ascertained that Joseph had not survived the crash.
Your son’s enthusiasm for his work and the courageous manner in which he performed his duties was in the highest tradition of the United States Air Force. He was a brave and courageous Air Force officer. If I can be of any further assistance to you, please do not hesitate to call upon me.
GEORGE BUDWAY, Colonel, USAF
In October 2021, the City of Norwalk has added Captain Brown’s name to the plaque of those who died during service in Vietnam. It’s a fitting final tribute to an exceptional Airman and a native of our City.
Captain Brown’s remains are with a family member.
Honored at the Courts of the Missing, Court A, National Memorial Cemetery, Honolulu, Hawaii. While his body was recovered, the name remains on the memorial with a small rosette next to it, indicating he was recovered.