United States Air Force
(As related by his sister, Patricia Flanagan Arthur)
Family bonds and affection are never illustrated more vibrantly or are more heartfelt than when a younger sister remembers the character and personality of her older brother. Such is the case when Patricia Flanagan Arthur talks about her older brother, Sherman E. Flanagan, Jr.
Sherman was killed in Vietnam on July 21, 1968 making a strafing pass at a target while flying his F-100 as part of the 355th Tactical Fighter Squadron. He left behind a wife and two young children as well as a mother, father, sister and brother. Although it is hard to dwell on how Sherman died, it is understandable. It is, however, the way he lived his life and what he achieved that his sister Patricia remembers fondly.
Sherman was born April 8, 1930, the second child of Sherman and Elizabeth Flanagan. The Flanagans were a tight-knit family who enjoyed being together, traveling extensively around the country and Canada. Games were a favorite pastime. “We played a lot of bridge,” Patricia remembers. Sherman attended Westminster High School and Charlotte Hall Military School, graduating in 1947. He then went to the University of Maryland majoring in business administration. He was also a part of the ROTC program at the school. When he graduated he went into the Air Force, serving one year in Korea as a jet pilot. He flew more than 50 missions.
Before going to Korea, he married his girlfriend Virginia, who was a nurse. When he left the Air Force, he and Virginia settled in Westminster, Maryland. He led a very full and hectic life. During the day, he worked at his father’s insurance company. At night, he went to law school at University of Maryland. This was in addition to taking care of his growing family (a daughter Donna was born in 1957 and a son, Sherman III, was born in 1960). He served as a captain in the Air Force Reserves and, eventually, as a major in the 121st Tactical Fighter Squadron in the District of Columbia National Guard.
Sherman graduated from law school in 1960 and took a position with the legal firm, Cable and McDaniel in Westminster. Patricia remembers proudly that her brother passed the bar exam on his first attempt. Sherman continued to fly. As Patricia remembers, “he loved his country and loved to fly.”
Following the seizure of the USS Pueblo by North Vietnam, Sherman was one of those called up to active duty by President Lyndon Johnson. He was attached to the 113th Tactical Fighter Wing.
During the morning hours of July 21, 1968 Sherman, took off in his F-100 Super Sabre along with two other aircraft from Phu Cat Air Base, located about 20 miles northwest of the city of
Qui Nhon. It was in a 10-mile lowland that stretched northwest from the South China Sea to the Central Highland mountains. Their target was located in the A Shau Valley in the northern part of South Vietnam. It is less than six miles from Laos and between two mountain ranges. The valley was a communist stronghold and had served as a launching point for the Tet Offensive on the northern provinces earlier in the year.
At 8:18 a.m., while making a strafing pass at the target, his aircraft was struck by hostile gunfire from the ground. The pilots of the other planes watched while Sherman’s plane crashed. He did not eject, nor was there any radio communication from him. He is believed to be the first Guardsman called to duty during the period to have died in Vietnam.
A ground search to recover his remains was not possible because of the hostile activity in the area. He is listed as one of 26 Maryland POW/MIAs having served in Vietnam.
Sherman was scheduled to return home the following week. He was posthumously awarded the Air Medal and Purple Heart.
The Flanagan family pulled closer together after Sherman’s death. As Patricia recalls it was a difficult time for the family. In October, Sherman’s father died of a heart attack while on a cruise through the straits of Gibraltar.
Sherman’s mother, Elizabeth did all she could for her daughter-in-law, Virginia, and grandchildren. Virginia never remarried. Sherman Flanagan III graduated law school and is now a lawyer following in his father’s footsteps.
In Sherman’s honor, the Westminster, Maryland Rotary Club has a memorial scholarship that awards two two-year scholarships each year. Sherman is also remembered at several Vietnam monuments around the country including the memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Punchbowl Cemetery in Hawaii.
Looking back at that tumultuous period, Patricia says, “When he [Sherman] was in Vietnam, I felt he was there for the right reason.”
~ CHIP BERTINO