Monday, June 7, 2010

1st Lt. Kurt Michael Wilbrecht, USMCR, KIA 7 June 1970

1st Lt. Kurt Michael Wilbrecht, USMCR, KIA in Vietnam 7 June 1970

Kurt Michael Wilbrecht was born 14 February 1944 and died on 7 June 1970, at the age of 26,  when he was killed in action in Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam.  His remains were not recovered.

Kurt was flying a close air support mission when he failed to pull out of a low angle, low level bombing run.  It is believed that his aircraft was struck by enemy ground fire rendering him incapacitated.

His RIO, 1st Lt. William T. Pepper ejected just as the aircraft struck the tree tops and was safely recovered.  He reported that he felt two “thuds” before he ejected, and that Kurt said nothing after that.

Kurt was the second of my assigned pilots and the second of my roommates to be killed in Vietnam.

Kurt had been my roommate briefly when he first joined the squadron.  He became my assigned pilot after my then pilot and roommate, 1st Lt. Michael Breeding, was killed on 12 February 1970.  Kurt was my pilot on my 100th mission on 18 February 1970.

At the time of Kurt's death I was on assignment as a Forward Air Controller with 1st Battlion, 7th Marine Regiment.

Link to Memorial Wall entry for Kurt.

Photos top to bottom

1. Ramsey High School, Class of 1962
2. Kurt Wilbrecht.
3. Me and Kurt celebrating my 100th combat mission.
4. Kurt and William Pepper, upper right corner, in the ready room of the hot pad at Chu Lai air base.
5. DC-08 - The aircraft that Kurt was flying at the time of his death.  I had flew 17 missions in that very plane.

6. 1st Lt. Michael Breeding

7. William Pepper with his wife and child after we returned to "the world".  I understand he has since passed away.

“But thy eternal summer shall not fade
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. David, I had no idea. I hope you and his family find some comfort in your tribute. Maybe some day he will finally come home. God Bless both of you.

  3. A very thoughtful presentation.

    Your mom

  4. Mike Breeding and I received our pilot wings at the same ceremony in Jan '69. Kurt and I went through F-4 transition training at VMFAT-201/NKT together and were squadron mates in VMFA-451. Our wives were fast friends. Then we both deployed and lost contact. I think of Mike and Kurt often and imagine their lives had they survived. Joe Griffin

  5. what a great read!
    i was a rio with 314 and commenced my fac tour with the 1st marines on 1 august 1970.
    ed flanagan

  6. This is some great information. I purchased 1st Lt. Kurt Michael Wilbrecht's MIA/POW bracelet when I was 11 years old through the encouragement of my teacher, Mrs. Dohls. I promptly lost the bracelet, after all I was 11. I am currently 32 years old and was watching Vietnam in HD on the History Channel and Kurt's name quickly came to mind. After 21 years I have not forgotten.

    Chad Michaels

  7. I was the A1 on scene commander for the SAR involving Kurt and his RIO William Pepper. After “parking” the war for many years, like many others, I began to read about the air war and wonder about many of the missions I flew. Time has both hindered and aided my searches due to the internet. Your website allowed me to better understand a mission that I was decorated for, proud of, and always left wondering about. Now, I can put names and faces to memories that are forever stamped in my life. I have a very close friend who was a Marine F4 pilot who never ended up in Vietnam, but not because he did not make every effort to do so. He would ask me about my experiences and I would always have difficulty explaining what I felt. Only a couple of months behind Kurt in the pipeline, my friend could have been there with Kurt and his unit. Our friendship and these thoughts make what happened to Kurt very personal to me, even though I never really knew him. We got William out that day and he lived until the year 2000 from what I have learned. I only wish it would have been possible to do the same for Kurt. I feel for Kurt and all those who loved him and are proud of his service. If you will allow me…Semper Fidelis

    Don Engebretsen

    1. Thank you for your service, and sharing this experience. Welcome home. Semper Fi.

  8. Kurt Wilbrecht was a pilot in our neighbor squadron, VMFA 122 and a great guy. I was a RIO in VMFA 115 and I had this cheap guitar I bought and dragged back from the Philippines and Kurt had actually played folk guitar with groups in Greenwich Village coffee houses so he was giving me lessons. We’re sitting in my hootch, at night on June, 6th, and Kurt’s teaching me how to play “Four Strong Winds”. Private Maylander knocks and comes in and says “hey Lieutenant Wilbrecht, they need you to fly.” So Kurt leaves and I sat there practicing C, F and Gs.
    At breakfast June 7th I hear that Kurt was shot down and his RIO, Bill Pepper ejected. Pepper and I went through the training command and I knew both him and his wife Jolene. My squadron, 115 was on the rescap mission and they were going to try to drop gas on the VC so the helicopters could get in to get Pepper. Dropping gas was low and slow and very risky but I tried to get one of the assigned RIOS to switch with me so I could help rescue Pepper. I didn’t get to fly the rescap but flew a close air support with “the Goose”, Jeff Nelson and when we got back, I found out Pepper was safe but my guitar lessons were over. Kurt didn’t make it. Stan Mysliwiec, M-9

  9. I was with Kurt in Camp Pendleton when we were awaiting orders to either go to OCS and Flight School or sent to some enlisted school. We were contemporaries in OCS and The Basic School. I went to Air Force Flight School because of a special program that opened up as I finished Basic School. I lost contact with Kurt after that until I heard about his death for Bill Pepper.

    I spoke to Bill several months after Kurt's plane went down. He told me the whole story of their mission because he knew Kurt and I were close friends. I no longer remember all of the particlulars of the flight but I wanted to relate what Bill told me, because the write up here doesn't do justice to kurt's life or memory.

    Kurt and Bill were on a close air mission with troops being overrun. Kurt was scheduled to provide close air support to Marines who were in a world of trouble. I believe Bill said they made five or six runs with snakes and they could tell the ground troops were in a bad situation. Kurt decided to start making dry runs at the enemy positions, trying to make them hold their postions to keep the Marines from being overrun. Kurt would roll and simulate a bombing run with no ammo to drop and at the normal release point he would light his burners to make the enemy think he had dropped something. Kurt was trying to hold the enemy down until another aircraft could get on station. Bill said he thought it was on their 8th dry run that Kurt took a 30 cal round through the chest. Bill punched out and you know the rest of the story.
    Somehow the write up on this site just doesn't do justice to what Kurt was trying to do and it doesn't do justice to the spirit of the Marines who served in those years.

    Thanks, Dennis Olszewski

    1. Dennis. I served with Bill until the end of our Vietnam tour, and again at El Toro. He never shared with me the details you set out in your comment. It seems odd that they would make five or six runs with snakes, since you would normally pickle them on the first run.

      Sorry you were not satisfied with my blog.

      David Dunn

  10. I typed the letter of condolence to Kurt's parents and wife. Colonel R.E. Howard had me work on it for 2 days until it was as perfect as he thought it should be. I will always remember Kurt buying me a coke the morning of his last flight. My initials are below Col. Howards. My initials are "rem" and were below "REH".

  11. I was a Cpl in VMFA-451 and a Cpl/Sgt in 122/MAG-13. I remember you, Sir. You snatched me up at CLAB and 'instructed' me never to salute an officer in a combat zone. I never did again.
    I remember every name mentioned in this memorial, and have had post-war contact with some of them. I was on duty when Kurt went MIA. Bill Peper (one "P", please) told me they kept 'going around', trickling their ordnance on the enemy ground troops to keep their heads down until more aircraft could arrive. On the last run Bill felt DC8 lurch and got a blast of air thru the "windows" btwn the fwd and rear cockpits. He saw the fwd canopy blood-streaked and Kurt didn't respond to his ICS. Bill punched out both seats at very high speed, which beat him up pretty badly. He caught a glimpse of Kurt hanging limp under a good canopy just before the ground took his attention away. He didn't see where DC8 went. On the deck, Bill lost Kurt's direction and heard voices approaching. He ducked into some thick scrub and cocked his .38 S&W Airweight as several enemy soldiers passed very near by him. He told me he would have refused to be taken POW if they had found him. His most anxious moments were when SAR arrived and everyone tried to beat the enemy far enough away to let him get to the rescue craft. He was grounded for many days recovering from cuts and very livid bruises from the eject. He spent a lot of time standing at the hanger and hot pad doors, just staring silently at the mountains and watching each sortie that left and returned. We got no word about Kurt. When I RTD'd in 1971 I stopped in Iwakuni and had a painting made of DC8, B/N 151478, with (nearly)-accurate ordnance. Kurt's name is on the canopy. It has hung in the living room of every house I've lived in for the past 45yrs, along with rubbings of Kurt's and Lts Breeding and Bradshaw's names from The Wall.
    I tried to find Bill Peper recently and was saddened to learn he had died in Anaheim in Feb 2000. He's buried at Riverside Nat'l Cemetery, plot 50.0.4271.
    I remember Cols Cochran and Howard, and Maj Chaimison. SgtMaj Brians, Top Odom (RIP), Maj Allinder, Lt Braithwaite, Wild Pete Mabey (FAC), Hank Fortinberry, Gunner Ziegler, Gy Donahue (Maj/ret), Gy Hagen, Sgt Sammy Bounds, SSgt Joe Fox (RIP), Sgt Richard D Brown (RIP), Sgt Pete Zucco (RIP), SSgt Lackey, Cpl Billy Youngblood (RIP) and you, Bob McLoed, without whom nothing would have ever got done; no promotion, no RTD orders, no BARCAP reports, no payday, no mail, no Civic Action Platoon, no POD.
    The aircrew and ground crew of 122 set records for the F4B which have never been equaled or exceeded. I stayed in the Corps and retired, and served in VMFA-122 at Kbay in 1973 along with Sammy Bounds. We two were proudly called forward together on the parade deck at Kbay to represent the Crusader combat efforts while we received the CMC-approved awards and battle standard streamers earned at ChuLai; Naval Unit Citation, Meritorious Unit Citation, RVN Civic Action Colors 1st class w/palm & frame. I thought of the men we lost during my tour as they decorated us at the MAG-24 formation.
    Rest, 1stLt Wilbrecht. You've earned it. We each have our own memories of you, and I understand your hometown has dedicated a park to your honor.