Tom Joseph Cress

United States Navy
07 March 1934 - 06 January 1961
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Panel 01E Line 004


A-4 Skyhawk

Naval Aviator

The database page for Tom Joseph Cress

29 Jan 2003


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Notes from The Virtual Wall

On 09 Sep 1960 USS CORAL SEA departed on her first Western Pacific cruise since the Korean War. During the last three months of 1960 she operated in various parts of WestPac, but as the crisis in Laos grew she was directed to take up station in the South China Sea. In December 1960 a military coup overthrew the Laotian government and open civil war began. The North Vietnamese, who needed unrestricted access to the road and trail network along the Lao/NVN and Lao/SVN borders to support the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, assisted the Pathet Lao in setting up a Communist enclave in the Plaine des Jars area, and the Soviet Union began providing supplies via airlift to the Pathet Lao. CORAL SEA's airwing, which included Skyraider and Skyhawk ground attack aircraft, provided the basis for immediately available military support for the pro-Western elements in Laos.

Little information regarding Lieutenant Cress' loss is generally available and what there is doesn't agree. The 1993 casualty file says he died of wounds resulting from a hostile aircraft incident ashore in Vietnam while other sources indicate he died in a carrier landing accident.

The Virtual Wall has obtained a copy of the CORAL SEA's deck log for 06 Dec 1961. It starts by saying the carrier battle group was steaming off the south coast of Honshu Island, Japan, conducting normal at-sea and flight operations. The entry specific to LT Cress's loss is quoted:

"1922 A4D BuNo 142918 of VA-153, Pilot LT T. J. CRESS, USN, 545311, crashed on deck and went into the water, port side. Pilot is missing at present. Major damage to three (3) a/c parked forward port side flight deck. Further casualties to follow. Notified ships in company to begin search. Flight operations ceased, remaining a/c directed proceed to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan."
Unofficial sources indicate that two other airwing personnel were killed in the incident. Although LT Cress's name was added to the Wall in November 1989, the names of the other two men were not.

LT Cress was a graduate of the NROTC unit at Marquette University, and the NROTC memorial there correctly indicates that he was killed in a carrier landing accident. Although the CORAL SEA deck log says his body was not immediately recovered, and some other sources indicate it was never recovered, the VA gravesite database says he is buried in plot MA-0-1, Wood National Cemetery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 29 Jan 2003
Last updated 02/01/2008