Goforth, Oscar Lee, Capt

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Primary Unit
1958-1960, 1521A, 343rd Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Medium, Electronics
Service Years
1956 - 1960

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Casualty Info
Home Town
Sardis, OK
Last Address
Brize-Norton Royal Air Force Base, England

Casualty Date
Jul 01, 1960
Hostile, Died
Air Loss, Crash - Sea
Cold War Incident - Korean Air Lines Flight 007
Location of Interment
Arlington National Cemetery - Arlington, Virginia
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Memorial Section B Site 17

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Navigator Observer (basic)

 Unit Assignments
55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing343rd Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Medium, Electronics
  1958-1960, 1521A, 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing
  1958-1960, 1521A, 343rd Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Medium, Electronics
 My Aircraft/Missiles
RB-47 Stratojet  
  1958-1960, RB-47 Stratojet
 Additional Information
Last Known Activity

U.S. AIR FORCE RB-47 - - 1 JULY 1960 - - BARENTS SEA


Summary of Incident

. On 1 July 1960, an RB-47 aircraft stationed at Brize-Norton AB, England,  assigned to the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, carrying a crew of six, was shot down by a Soviet fighter during conduct of a reconnaissance mission. American search and rescue efforts recovered no survivors or remains. A Soviet trawler picked up two survivors, Captains John R. McKone and Freeman B. Olmstead. They were imprisoned in the Soviet Union until January 1961 when they were repatriated. A Soviet search and rescue crew also recovered the body of the pilot, Captain Willard G. Palm. Captain Palm�??s body was returned to U.S. authorities on 25 July 1960. In October 1960 the Soviets recovered but did not repatriate the body of Major Eugene E. Posa. Major Posa and the remaining two crew members are unaccounted for. An official report of death was issued on the unaccounted-for crew members on 30 June 1961 (Tab A).

Personnel Involved

PALM, Willard G., MAJ Remains repatriated

MCKONE, John R., CAPT Survived/Repatriated

OLMSTEAD, Freeman B. CAPT Survived/Repatriated

POSA, Eugene E., MAJ Unaccounted for

GOFORTH, Oscar L., CAPT Unaccounted for

PHILLIPS, Dean B., CAPT Unaccounted for

. RB-47 crew

U.S. position

. The U.S. position prior to the establishment of the Joint Commission was that the plane was on an electromagnetic research flight over international waters when it was shot down. When the case was presented to the Russian side of the Commission in 1992, the U.S. position was that the plane was on a reconnaissance flight and was shot down over international waters.

Russian position

. The Russian side included this case on their original list of ten Cold War incidents which they presented at the second Plenary session in September 1992. They acknowledged shooting down this plane after it allegedly violated Soviet airspace.

Work of the Commission

Live sighting reports   None

Archival records

. The U.S. side included the issue of those unaccounted-for from the 1 July 1960 shootdown as an agenda item at the Joint Commission�??s first formal session in Moscow, in March 1992. To further the work of the Commission, the U.S. side presented a case study to the Russian side in 1993 (Tab B). As reviewed in the second through fifth sections, the Commission has researched archival records related to this incident and has interviewed participants in the shootdown and the search and rescue operations which followed. The current status of the Commission�??s work on this incident is presented in Current status.


A document provided by the Russian side indicates that the body of Major Eugene Posa wasrecovered from the Berents Sea by a fishing trawler in October 1960. According to this document thebody was to have been transferred on 17 October 1960 to Severomorsk. At technical talks held inMoscow in February 1996, the Russian co-Chairman of the Cold War Working Group read from adocument which stated that Major Posa�??s remains had, in fact, been transferred to Severomorsk (seeCurrent status section).

Another document, a written statement from Captain Poliashov of the fishing trawler �??Yalta�??,dated 25 October 1961, indicates that, on 13 October 1961 a Soviet trawler raised �??part of a humanleg, one boot and a sock.�?? This was badly decomposed and was thrown back into the sea by thetrawler�??s captain.

The documents provided by the Russian side to date make no mention of survivors other thanCaptain McKone and Captain Olmstead.The documents from the Russian archives which have been provided to the U.S. side in thework of the Commission are as follows (with translations - at Tab C):

Incident map


Statement: confirmation of transfer dated 25 July 1960

Report to Commander in Chief of Air Defense Forces dated 22 September 1960

Letter to Khrushchev from Shelepin dated 17 October 1960

Resolution of Presidium CPSU dated 25 January 1961

Resolution on closing the case dated 28 January 1961

Explanation of Captain Poliashev from Fishing Trawler �??Yalta�?? dated 25 October 1961

The documents on this case provided by the Russian side deal primarily with the repatriation of the survivors, the repatriation of Major Palm�??s remains and the transfer of the body of Major Posa. The Soviets shot down the plane north of Cape Svyatoy Nos (Holy Nose). The Soviets stated that the plane had violated Soviet airspace within the 12 mile limit. The American survivors contended that they were a full 50 miles off the Soviet coast when the attack took place. Soviet maritime vessels picked up the two survivors and Major Palm�??s body from the Barents Sea. Captains McKone and Olmstead were taken to Moscow and put in Lubyanka Prison, where they were interrogated at great length by Soviet security services. Captains McKone and Olmstead were subsequently tried and found guilty of espionage. They were released from prison in January 1961. Major Palm�??s body was found on 4 July 1960 and was returned to U.S. authorities on 25 July 1960.: transfer of body of Captain Palm dated 25 July 1960


The Soviet contention that the RB-47 had violated the airspace of the Soviet Union was heardin the United Nations Security Council from 22 July 1960 to 26 July 1960. The texts of the Soviet draftresolution and the statements by U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge are attached at Tab D.

The documentary record on the U.S. side is fairly complete. A detailed summary of the case is contained in the USAF Report of Death (Tab A). The Soviet government first announced they had picked up and were holding two survivors of the crash in an account of the incident given on 11 July 1960. This Soviet announcement opened an extensive exchange of diplomatic correspondence between the United States and Soviet governments. In the diplomatic exchange, the United States government repeatedly requested the release of the two survivors. On 25 January, in a political overture to the new American administration of President Kennedy, the Soviet Union released the two imprisoned flyers.

Summary of U.S. Holdings

Fact Sheet

Editorial Note

State Department Bulletin excerpts dated 1,8,15 and 22 August 1960

Summary of USAF RB-47 lost in Barents Sea 15 August 1960

Aide-Memoire from Soviet Government to US Government dated 21 January 1961

Telegram to SecState from Ambassador Thompson dated 21 January 1961 10:06 am

Telegram to Ambassador Thompson from State Department dated 23 January 1961 5:57 pm

Aide-Memoire from US Government to Soviet Government dated 23 January 1961 6:56 pm

Declassified NSA documents 3 - 6 July 1960

Eyewitness statements

The recollections of the two surviving American crew members from this plane, CaptainMcKone and Captain Olmstead are documented in the book, The Little Toy Dog, (White, William L.,The Little Toy Dog, E.F. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, 1962.) While descending into the sea afterejecting from the plane, Captain Olmstead recalled seeing three open parachutes in addition to his own.Captain McKone recalled seeing two in addition to his own. Neither of the survivors saw any of theother crew members after the incident.

The Commission has interviewed more than twenty Russian citizens who had some knowledgeof this incident. Those interviewed include participants in the shootdown incident and participants in thesubsequent search and rescue operations.

The pilot of the plane which shot down the RB-47, Vasiliy Polyakov, was interviewed on 31May 1995. He stated that on 1 July 1960 he was on strip alert when he was scrambled to intercept an intruding plane. He approached the plane and identified it visually as an American bomber. He wavedthe wings of his plane in an attempt to signal the American plane to land. When the American plane gave no response, the ground navigator gave the command to destroy the aircraft. Polyakov fired, the RB-47 burst into flames and began to sharply roll upside down. Polyakov observed the RB-47 until itdescended into the clouds. He did not see any parachutes, nor did he see the plane crash into the sea.

Information on the possible location of the remains of Major Posa was gained in an interviewwith Retired Admiral Lev Garkusha, a former commander of the naval headquarters at Gremikha, abase at which Major Posa�??s remains were said to have been. In the fall of 1960, Admiral Garkushawas informed by a duty officer that a trawler had recovered parts of a plane and bodies. He personallysaw the bodies and remembered there were more than two, perhaps three or four. He received anorder to send the bodies and airplane parts to Northern Fleet Headquarters in Severomorsk. Theywere sent there on Patrol Boat #72 after being at Gremikha for about two hours. Several days later, Admiral Garkusha was informed by telephone that the bodies had been received at Severomorsk andsent from there to Moscow. He did not know exactly where in Moscow the bodies were sent.

The Commission has also received information from a former crew member on a Soviet fishingtrawler, Mr. Georgiy Gurinovich who reported that in late July 1960 he personally recovered a leg fromthe water near the RB-47 crash site. The leg was tangled in the fishing net of his trawler, had a boot onit and was wrapped in parachute lines. The trawler�??s captain had the leg buried at sea.

Field investigations


Current status

As a result of the work of the Joint Commission, the US side has had the opportunity toexamine the loss of the RB-47 in some detail. Archival data and interviews with Russian citizens havecontributed to the information available to the Commission.Efforts to locate witnesses to this incident who might clarify the fate of those unaccounted forfrom the crew of the RB-47 continue. Additional documentation is also being sought on this incident.At technical talks held in February 1996, the Russian co-Chairman read from a document which statedthat the remains of Major Posa were, in fact, transferred to Severomorsk. The Russian side agreed toreview the document for declassification and release. The Russian side has also volunteered toundertake a review of the criminal proceedings against the two American survivors in an attempt tolocate additional information relevant to the fates of those still unaccounted for. The U.S. side continues to pursue leads on the possible location of the remains of Major Posa and other crew members.Paramount in the efforts of the Commission is the question of survivors. Other than CaptainMcKone and Captain Olmstead who survived and were later repatriated, there have been noreferences to survivors in archival evidence from either side, nor do the results of more than twentyinterviews indicate that there were survivors of the shootdown incident.

. Documents related to the incident from U.S. holdings are (at Tab D):
Published Sunday, July 19, 1998

Quest to find lost remains of Forbes flier still baffling


The Capital-Journal

It was the most promising lead Topekan Maria Goforth McAtee had gotten in years about where the remains of her late husband might be located.

An American with the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on POW/MIA had called and told her that a team planned to dig up two unmarked graves in a tiny cemetery in the far northern reaches of Russia.

"He told me there were eight graves and that British and Canadians were buried in the cemetery and that two of the graves were unmarked," McAtee said in an interview.

The small cluster of graves, called the Severomorsk Military Cemetery, wasn't too far from where a Forbes Field-based RB-47 airplane was shot down by fighters of the former Soviet Union over the Barents Sea on July 1, 1960.

McAtee's husband, Capt. Oscar Lee Goforth, was among six airmen on the plane, which had been modified into a reconnaissance aircraft. Goforth and two other officers were in the cramped modified bomb bay of the six-jet bomber working to pick up radio intercepts with their electronic eavesdropping gear when the plane was attacked. The plane was assigned to the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Forbes Air Force Base, which was a busy Strategic Air Command base during the 1960s and 1970s.

The RB-47 went into a flat spin to the left after being hit by cannon fire from a Soviet MiG fighter and reportedly blew up over the sea.

Two members of the crew, then-Capts. John R. McKone, the navigator, and Freeman B. Olmstead, the co-pilot, survived the shootdown and were picked from the frigid Barents Sea by a Russian trawler. They spent six months in Moscow's infamous Lubyanka prison before being freed in January 1961 as a Russian gesture of good will toward the new presidential administration of John F. Kennedy.

One body from the RB-47, that of Maj. Williard G. Palm, the pilot, was recovered from the sea and turned over to American authorities on July 25, 1960.

The body of another of the crewman, Capt. Eugene Posa, supposedly was recovered by the Russians in October 1960 and taken to the Severomorsk area.

But no bodies, nor any remains, of Goforth and the sixth member of the RB-47 crew, Capt. Dean Phillips, have ever been found.

Despite its promise, the Severomorsk Cemetery lead was a false alarm.

"They told me they were Russians," McAtee said last week of the two bodies that were exhumed from the cemetery. "One had been buried for 16 years and one had been there longer, and that one had on his uniform."

It was a big letdown for the Topeka woman who has waited 38 years to find out what happened to her first husband.

"I was disappointed," she said. "But I'm fine. There's nothing much I can do.

"But these people who are working for the American-Russian Commission, they're wonderful. The officer who called said there is another cemetery over there that they have people checking into. It's in the general vicinity, but on the other side of a bay.

"They are buried in Russia somewhere and I said to this guy, 'You know somebody knows,' and he said, 'I know somebody knows where they're at.' There are a lot of people who have come forward."

The widow of Capt. Phillips, Pat Phillips, reached at her home in Sacramento, Calif., said she also was disappointed at the news from the U.S-Russian Commission representative who contacted her.

"Well, you know, your hopes get up and then they go down," Phillips said. "You try to tell yourself, 'Well, don't get your hopes up on the roof.' But I'm doing all right. My daughter lives with me and we fortify each other."

Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Pentagon POW/MIA office, said: "Even when it's not always the answer you want to hear, we want people to know what we're doing, where we're going, that we're not doing anything undercover here.

"We are always hopeful, that's why we do this. The reason we went to the cemetery is because we had a lead from a Russian autopsy report that said they buried an individual who wasn't Captain Goforth."

Greer declined to identify either of the bodies that were exhumed. But Maria Goforth said she thinks they were looking specifically for the body of Eugene Posa, whose remains were reportedly sent to the Severomorsk area after it was recovered but which have never turned up.

Maria said she thinks the U.S-Russian Commission team exhumed the graves looking for Posa, hoping it would lead them to the bodies of her husband and Dean Phillips.

Greer said there was other anthropological evidence recovered from the grave that solidified the conclusion that the remains were those of Russians and not Americans.

Greer said the other cemetery across the bay from the burial plot that was exhumed "is a tenuous lead."

"Our concern is that there's not even a village left to point at. But we're going to check it out," he said. "Based on cursory observation of it, the cemetery that is allegedly there is no longer there.

"But we're not going to turn anything down."

McAtee and Phillips say that attitude gives them hope that their long wait to find out what happened to their husbands may finally be drawing to a close.

"I feel very positive about this," Phillips said. "I feel maybe we got let down this time, but there are people who are working and plugging away.

"And Maria feels the same way I do. Maria told me, 'I think something positive is going to happen.'"

Copyright 1998 The Topeka Capital-Journal

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