Korean War fighter pilot is still missing in action
A white stone grave marker standing in Baltimore National Cemetery under an ancient oak tree is all that remains to remind passers-by of the life of Ensign Edwin Nash Broyles Jr.
Broyles, a Navy fighter pilot from Guilford in North Baltimore, was killed in the final hours of the Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire 60 years ago Saturday.
Broyles, 27 and the pilot of a F2H-2 Banshee fighter jet, was last seen July 26, 1953, as his plane descended in a 40-degree dive at 6,000 feet, after a bombing raid on Hoeryong Air Field in North Korea.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Bedford Place, Broyles studied at Gilman School, Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., and the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., from which he graduated in 1946.
When Broyles was a student at Yale, from which he graduated in 1950, he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon and the Book and Snake, a secret society.
Broyles was on the staff of The Baltimore Sun when he joined the Navy in the early 1950s. After being trained as a fighter pilot, he was assigned to the carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt and participated in NATO operations Mainbrace and Longstep.
He transferred to Fighter Squadron VF-22 aboard the carrier USS Lake Champlain, where, because of his newspaper background, he also served as the squadron's public information officer.
Ordered to Korea in 1953, the carrier arrived at the naval station in Yokosuka, Japan, in June and launched its first combat sortie over Korea in support of ground forces on June 13.
Early on the morning of July 26, Broyles and three other Banshee pilots roared off the deck of the Lake Champlain on a mission that would take them far into North Korea, north of Hungnam.
Joining Broyles were Lt. Cmdr. Stanley M. Montunnas, the flight's leader, Ensign W.K. "Monk" McManus and Lt. William M. Russell.
In the configuration of planes, Broyles' was the last — "Tail-end Charlie," as naval pilots called it — which made it particularly vulnerable to enemy anti-aircraft fire.
The fliers spotted a dam and went in for what should have been a routine kill.
"When we pulled out and I looked back, there was a hell of an explosion at the target with lots of yellow flame at the bottom. I exclaimed, 'Stan, you got a great secondary explosion there,' " Russell told The Baltimore Sun in a 2003 interview.
As they regrouped, Broyles' plane was not among them.
"It was a pretty traumatic experience," recalled Russell. "I must say, there wasn't much doubt in my mind but that Ed was killed right off the bat when we went in."
The pilots continued circling the area until they were forced to return to the carrier.
At 10:01 a.m. July 27, delegates meeting at Panmunjom signed the truce that ended all combat operations. It also "prevented an extended search for the young officer," reported The Sun at the time.
In the 2003 interview, Russell described Broyles as a "wonderful guy."
"Real class. Smart. Good-looking. Bright. Wonderful aviator. Personable. A real class act," he said.
Broyles' body was never recovered and a memorial service was held Jan. 15, 1954, at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church. On Aug. 20, 1954, the Navy "presumptively" declared him dead.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.
Engraved on the stone are the words "Missing in action," along with the coordinates of the pilot's final mission: "Lat 40 46 35 North. Long 128 27 20 East."
This week, the Defense Department POW/Missing Personnel Office announced that the remains of Army Sgt. Clement Thibodeaux Jr., 18, of Baton Rouge, La., who had fought in Korea with the 25th Infantry Division, had been identified and will be buried Friday in Church Point, La.
The Defense Department reported that more than 7,900 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War.
Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.