Michael John Kustigian
Killed In Action - Body Not Recovered
SYNOPSIS: Seaman Apprentice Michael J. Kustigian and Torpedoman's Mate Chief Petty Officer Harry E. Mitchell were crewmen assigned to the Guided Missile Cruiser USS Long Beach (CGN-9) on station in the Gulf of Tonkin. On May 6, 1968, the two were observed to be absent from their assigned work details. A complete inspection of every compartment in the ship was completed and it was found that Kustigian and Mitchell were missing. An in-depth investigation established that Kustigian and Mitchell were last seen aboard ship at about 9 p.m. on the night of May 5th on the after part of the ship's main deck.
The exact circumstances of their disappearance are not known. None of the lookouts saw any indication of a man overboard situation during the night. A search of the entire area was conducted by the USS Long Beach, USS Truxton and aircraft from the USS Yorktown, but was terminated with negative results.
The ship's course tracked 20-25 miles off the coast of North Vietnam (although some USG reports state that the Long Beach was forty miles offshore). The weather was fair, seas calm and visibility good. Inspection of personal effects of both men disclosed one set of swim fins, face mask and snorkel tube missing from Mitchell's personal locker. Kustigian and Mitchell were known to be good friends. One strong possibility is that both individuals disappeared over the side in some fashion to avoid "Man Overboard" reports from lookouts. However, official records do not place the two in the same incident file because it is not clear that the two disappeared together. Due to the insufficient evidence to substantiate a determination of death after leaving the ship, the casualty status was changed from Missing to Unauthorized Absentee (UA). On September 13, 1979, a Status Review Board pronounced a finding of Death on Kustigian and Mitchell, based on no specific information that they were alive.
It seems incredible that Kustigian and Mitchell would decide to jump ship, swim from twenty to forty miles to take their chances in North Vietnam. Mitchell's and Kustigian's names have gone on and off the official lists of men missing for years. They are among a handful of those listed missing whom the U.S. cannot seem to decide whether they are missing or they deserted. Regardless, their families agonize over them and their fates.
In 1986, Harry Mitchell's name made international news in an article stating that he had been sighted several times in captivity, and that one report stated he had been seen in the United States in 1979.
There over 2300 Americans prisoner, missing or otherwise unaccounted for from the Vietnam war. Until serious negotiations are conducted to free those alive, and return those who are dead, there can be no end to the war in Vietnam, and certainly not Peace With Honor.
The facts are not in on Harry Mitchell and Michael Kustigian. If Kustigian and Mitchell jumped ship, perhaps one day their families will hear from them. It would be good to know that they are in Vietnam because they want to be. If they met with misadventure, or were captured, their names should be cleared of any wrongdoing and they should be brought home.
Michael J. Kustigian was promoted to the rank of Chief Petty Officer during the years he was maintained missing.