Michael Estocin (April 27, 1931 – April 26, 1967) was a U.S. Navy pilot who flew the A-4 Skyhawk in Operation Rolling Thunder during the Vietnam War. He won the Medal of Honor for heroism, and was shot down in 1967.
Estocin was an A-4 pilot on the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga. He specialized in “Iron Hand” missions, missions against North Vietnamese SAM sites. On April 20, 1967, during a strike against thermal power plants in Haiphong, Lt. Commander Estocin destroyed three SAM sites in spite of the fact he was hit between the second and third attacks. Badly damaged and low on fuel, he managed to perform an aerial refueling, a hundred-mile flight, and a perfect landing back on the Tico.
On April 26, Estocin was tasked to support another mission to Haiphong. He was escorted by an F-8 Crusader piloted by John “Pirate” Nichols. Besides protecting Estocin against MiGs, Nichols was to strafe threatening SAM sites with his four 20 mm cannons after Estocin had hit them with his Shrike missiles. Before departing, both pilots had briefed to expect trouble from Site VN-99, a SAM battery NNW of the target area. The main strike proceeded as planned, with the North Vietnamese radars remaining quiet. As the strike planes were leaving the area, however, VN-99 went active, and launched a SAM. Both planes took evasive action, but the missile hit Estocin’s A-4, setting it aflame. The plane plunged nose first into the ground, and no ejection was seen. It was thought for a time that he might have survived and become a POW, but when the American POWs were returned in 1973, Estocin was not among them. Two decades later, the Joint Casualty Resolution Committee investigated, and in 1993, concluded that Michael Estocin had in fact never ejected, and died in the crash.
Estocin was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on April 20 and April 26, the only Navy jet pilot to be so honored during the Vietnam War. In 1978, a guided missile frigate was commissioned in his name.
John Nichols survived the war, although the Estocin incident haunted him for a long time. He served a second tour of duty aboard the Tico in 1968, and scored an aerial victory in July, a MiG-17, for which he was awarded the Silver Star. He would later write a book about his experiences called On Yankee Station.
- Medal of Honor Recipients
- Fast Movers: Jet Pilots and the Vietnam Experience, by John Darrell Sherwood, St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1999