ROBERT L. LEDBETTER, III, LT, USNR
Robert Ledbetter, III '69
Date of birth: June 13, 1947
Date of death: October 15, 1985
From the 1969 Lucky Bag:
Bob was a chaplain attached to the 26th Marine Amphibious Unit when the CH-53D he was riding in crashed immediately after taking off from USS Guadalcanal (LPH 7) on October 15, 1985.
From Pop A Smoke:
Camp Lejeune, NC Marine Helicopter Crash, Oct 1985
MARINE 'COPTER DOWN IN SEA.
DIVERS NEARBY -- TOO LATE TO SAVE 15 IN ATLANTIC.
Jacksonville, N.C. (AP) -- A team of divers hovering overhead was able to "immediately" reach a helicopter that crashed into the ocean after taking off from a ship, but 15 Marines aboard died in the corps' second-worst aircraft accident, officials say.
Four others were rescued Tuesday when their twin-rotor, Marine CH-46D "Sea Knight" helicopter with 19 people aboard, crashed and sank on takeoff from the USS Guadalcanal.
"This is the second-worst aircraft accident in Marine Corps history," said Gunnery Sgt. John Simmons. "The worst was a CH-53D crash in the Sea of Japan" in May, in which all 17 people aboard were killed.
The helicopter was participating in an exercise with the 26th Marine Amphibious Unit, he said. The CH-46 is the principal assault helicopter of the Marine Corps and also is used extensively by the Navy to carry cargo and passengers between ships and shore.
"It's a very safe aircraft for us. It's real good. It's been in the inventory since Vietnam," Simmons said, adding he had no details of the crash. "It left the ship flying over the water and crashed," he said.
Simmons said a search-and-rescue helicopter with divers aboard was in the air over the ship when the helicopter crashed early Tuesday, so divers were able to get to the wreckage "immediately."
Simmons said 12 of the casualties were Marine troops aboard the helicopter and three others were crew members.
Four Marines were pulled from the choppy waters around the Guadalcanal and one body was found. Navy and Marine divers searched for the 14 missing Marines, whose bodies were found Tuesday afternoon, Simmons said. The bodies were taken to the naval hospital at Camp Lejeune.
The helicopter wreckage would be removed from the ocean floor and taken to either New River Air Station or Cherry Point Marine Air Station for examination by the Marie Aircraft Mishap Board, he said. "They will dismantle it and look at it with a fine-tooth comb."
Early this morning, all the injured were in good condition at a medical dispensary aboard the Guadalcanal, said Sgt Pamela Vajner.
The passengers and crew are based at Camp Lejeune and its New River Air Station, said Staff Sgt. Terry Ruggles, also of the Camp Lejeune public affairs office.
The accident occurred not far from the Marine Corps' Onslow Beach, just east of Camps Geiger and Camp Lejeune, where Marines practice beach landings, but the Marines said the ship's exact location wasn't known.
From the January/February 1986 issue of Shipmate:
Lt. Robert Lee Ledbetter III, CHC, USNR, was killed 15 October along with 14 Marines in the crash of a Marine CH-46 helicopter from the USS Guadalcanal, during maneuvers off Onslow Beach, Camp LeJeune, N.C. Chaplain Ledbetter was serving with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. He leaves a wife, the former Patsy Kelly of Annapolis, and three children, daughters Corrie, 9, and Karen, 7, and son Daniel, 6.
Born in Watseka, Illinois, he was raised in Norfolk where he graduated high school. He received an appointment to the Naval Academy with the Class of '69. Upon graduation and commissioning on 4 June 1969, Ensign Ledbetter reported to the oceangoing minesweeper USS Skill out of Charleston. He was next assigned to the recommissioning crew of USS Luce (DLG-38) in the yards at Philadelphia, but ultimately homeported in Newport. During 1973 and 1974 he assisted with the inception of the Navy's race relations program in Washington, D.C. After a year at the Pentagon, he resigned his commission.
During his hiatus from active duty, he worked as staff representative of the Officers' Christian Fellowship at the Naval Academy ('75-'77) and at the Coast Guard Academy ('77-'81), and subsequently as youth pastor of First Baptist Church of Wellsboro, Pa., while also serving on the staff of His Thousand Hills Youth Ranch ('81-'82). He earned a Masters of Theological Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., in 1979, and a Masters of Divinity from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1984. While completing this later degree, he was awarded a fellowship to work in the Clinical Pastoral Education program at Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia.
In 1983 Mr. Ledbetter received his (conditional) commission as an ensign in the Theological Student Program and attended the Chaplains School Basic Course in Newport, R.I. during the summer. Upon completion, and ordination, he was commissioned as a Lt. (j.g.) CHC, USNR and was recalled to active duty in June 1984 to serve with 3/4 at Camp LeJeune.
Besides his wife and children, Chaplain Ledbetter is survived by his parents, Cdr. and Mrs. Robert L. Ledbetter, Jr. USN (Ret.) '46, residing in Norfolk; a grandmother; and three sisters. Chaplain Ledbetter was a member of the Officers Christian Fellowship since Midshipman days. A memorial fund in his name has been established with the officers' Christian Fellowship, P.O. Box 1177, Englewood, Colo. 80150.