Robert O. Goodman is a former A-6 Intruder Bombardier Navigator and class of 1978 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He was shot down over Lebanon on December 4, 1983. Captured upon ejection from his stricken plane, he was held captive for 30 days. His release on January 3, 1984, was facilitated by Reverend Jesse Jackson.
In October 1983 USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) was diverted to Beirut, Lebanon from her planned Indian Ocean deployment, after the Beirut barracks bombing killed 241 US Military personnel of the Multinational Force in Lebanon. The ship spent the rest of that year and early 1984 patrolling the region. On 4 December, in response to two US F-14 aircraft havng been fired upon the previous day, ten A-6 Intruders of VA-85 "Black Falcons" along with A-6 and A-7 Corsair aircraft from USS Independence (CV-62) took part in a bombing raid over Beirut.
While on a bombing mission, the two-man crew from Attack Squadron VA-85 was hit by an infrared homing missile (SA-7 or SA-9) into the engine nozzle upon dropping its bomb-load, while still in a dive through 1,800 feet (554 m) AGL. The fuselage and a wing were immediately engulfed in flames, and then the right side engine erupted.
The pilot, United States Navy Lieutenant Mark Lange, a Naval Aviator, tried to control the aircraft in order to safely eject the crew. After a rapid, low-level descent, the Intruder was seen to pull up and likely stalled, resulting in a crash on a 1,000 AGL [clarification needed] hill, above a village surrounded by Syrian Anti-aircraft artillery positions. Lange ejected both himself and Goodman in the final moment, but his parachute failed to properly deploy by the time he hit the ground. Lange's left leg was severely injured and he died shortly after capture by Syrian troops and Lebanese civilians. Goodman, rendered unconscious, broke three ribs, injured a shoulder and a knee during the landing, but was otherwise stable. He was captured and awakened by the Syrians and taken to Damascus.
Goodman was held for more than a month, during which the U.S. government made numerous attempts to free him. He had a few visitors, including Ambassador Robert Paganelli who brought him Christmas dinner.
In January 1984, Jesse Jackson travelled to Libya and Syria within a party of approximately 20 volunteers including; Wyatt T Walker, Jeremiah Wright and Louis Farrakhan. The mission's peaceful purpose was accomplished, as they secured the release of Goodman.
White House Reception
Reagan said Lt. Goodman "exemplified qualities of leadership and loyalty" and said Jackson's "mission of mercy" had "earned our gratitude and our admiration." In turn, Jackson praised Reagan for sending a letter to Syrian President Assad calling for cooperation in bringing peace to Lebanon.
Following captivity, release, and return to the United States, Lt. Goodman remained in active service.
As a lieutenant commander, Bobby Goodman was featured in an episode of "Wings over the Gulf" (In Harms way, 1992) in which he discussed his experiences in the Gulf War of 1991 with Iraq where he flew the A-6 Intruder.
He retired at the rank of commander in 1995.
- "4th December 1983". The Year 1983. Ejection History. June 23, 2011. Retrieved September 11, 2013. "A-6E TRAM BuNo 152915 coded AC, side number 556 VA-85 "Black Falcons" from USS Kennedy. Near Kfar Salwan, 15 M E of Beirut, Lebanon, shot down by Syrian SAM-7 during bombing Lt. Mark "Doppler" Lange ejected Martin-Baker BN Robert O. "Bobby" Goodman ejected Martin-Baker"
- Walters, Ronald (2007). Freedom Is Not Enough: Black Voters, Black Candidates, and American Presidential Politics (American Political Challenges). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, p. 34. Excerpt at Google Books.
- Martin, Roland (10 April 2008). "New Details Emerge on Polygamy Raid; McCain Makeover?". Election Central (CNN). Retrieved December 9, 2008. "the fact that it was Reverend Wright who accompanied Reverend Jackson to get a Navy pilot, Goodman, out of Syria, who also was on that trip with Louis Farrakhan. Reagan praised that mercy mission for getting the pilot back."
- Stanley, Alessandra. "An Officer and a Gentleman Comes Home". Time Magazine, 16 Jan 1984. Available online.