Thunderbird returns to Nellis for final farewell

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) -- A Thunderbird pilot killed in Southeast Asia and listed as missing in action for more than 40 years returned to the location of his last Air Force assignment Jan. 14 for a celebration of his life among a sea of family and peers.

"Today, we welcome Maj. Russell C. Goodman home," said Brig. Gen. Russell J. Handy, the 57th Wing commander during a funeral service with full military honors at the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron hangar at Nellis Air Force Base.

"We welcome him home to the United States, welcome him home to Nellis Air Force Base, and welcome him home to the Thunderbirds," he said.

Major Goodman served as Thunderbird No. 8, the team's advance pilot and narrator, from 1964 to 1965. While assigned to squadron, he was selected to serve as a liaison officer between the Air Force and the Navy.

On Feb. 20, 1967, just days after completing a combat mission for which he earned the Silver Star for saving a downed aircrew, he and his weapons systems officer, retired Cdr. Gary Thornton, were flying an F-4 Phantom fighter from the USS Enterprise during a bombing mission against a railroad siding in North Vietnam. At a point about eight miles south of the city Thanh Hoa, they were struck by enemy anti-aircraft fire and their plane exploded. Commander Thornton was able to eject at just 250 feet altitude, but Major Goodman did not escape. Commander Thornton survived and was held captive until his release in 1973.

"That day, a husband, a father and a friend was lost, said Commander Thornton as he recounted his time with Major Goodman during the service. "I lost a mentor and my professional big brother. I am honored to be here to see him come home. We welcome home a hero, a professional and a patriot."

"Major Goodman represents the thousands of American heroes who have put their name in to serve and sacrifice so others won't have to," General Handy said. "Today the numbers of missing service men who gave their lives in service of our nation are now one lower, now that he is home."

With Major Goodman's return, there are now 556 Airmen, 550 Soldiers, 369 Sailors, 213 Marines and 32 civilians still unaccounted for who served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam era.

"America has long honored the pledge of leaving no man behind," said Maj. Rick Goodman, the current Thunderbird No. 5 lead solo pilot and organizer of the funeral service, who is not related to Major Russell C. Goodman. "The U.S. government, Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force have a mission to account for those who sacrifice; that mission includes bringing these heroes home to their families."

Major Goodman is survived by three children: Sue Stein of Soldotna, Alaska; Christine Stonebraker, of San Diego; and Russ Goodman of Butler, Ind. There also are seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His wife and high school sweetheart, June Goodman, passed away Nov. 10 just six days before the family was notified that Major Goodman's remains had been positively identified.