Air Force Maj. Eugene P. Beresik, an elite flight instructor and decorated combat pilot during the Vietnam War, was piloting a plane that was shot down over the Gulf of Tonkin almost exactly 52 years ago.
This Memorial Day weekend, a new generation of Americans can learn his story of sacrifice thanks to a Texas high schooler who went above and beyond for a class project this semester, despite some turbulence from COVID-19.
Eddie Scott, a 17-year-old finishing up his coronavirus-interrupted junior year at Westlake High School in Austin, put together a touching 13-minute tribute video for his English class. He later shared it on Twitter.
“It’s the biggest project of the spring semester, and it takes a couple months,” he told Fox News.
Scott's project turned out to be more than just a homework assignment in his effort to tell the story of Beresik, who overcame the death of his father at a young age and went on to become an elite Air Force fighter pilot.
Beresik repeatedly earned praise from his superiors and a reputation for being an unshakable, skilled pilot -- at times working up to 85 hours a week and still volunteering for additional flight duties beyond that, Scott found during his research for the project.
Beresik oversaw courses at multiple bases on American soil and spent time stationed overseas in places that included England and Japan.
But in 1967, when the U.S. needed more pilots in Vietnam, he volunteered to go for a 100-mission deployment, despite strict rules of engagement and high risk, according to Scott.
“He loved his country, and at that moment, his country needed him,” Scott said.
On his 73rd combat mission, Beresik took to the sky. It was May 31, 1968.
After completing the primary objective -- destroying a surface-to-air missile site -- Beresik and his wingman joined two other F-105s to attack another enemy position on Tiger Island, Scott explained.
Hostile fire struck his plane. Other pilots reported seeing him eject, but a search-and-rescue mission never found him.
Westlake High School has a decades-long tradition of honoring Vietnam War veterans who lost their lives in the line of duty, Scott said.
It began in the 1990s when students put together poster presentations about servicemen whose names appear on the Vietnam War Memorial in the nation’s capital, according to Kristy Robins, Scott’s English teacher. With today’s technology, it has evolved into video format. Projects from past school years can be found in a virtual Vietnam Memorial.
She said Paul B. Jansen, the youngest of Beresik’s sons, heard of the annual project and reached out to ask her if she could assign his father’s story.
Robins said she had a number of strong students to choose from. She decided on Scott, a bright student-athlete who describes himself as very patriotic, appreciative of the military and veterans, and a passionate environmentalist.
“Ultimately I chose Eddie because of his strong work ethic, his strong communications skills, and his empathetic personality,” she told Fox News. “He also has impeccable manners and a vivid writing style.”
Scott said he was partly inspired by a video his parents made for his own grandfather, James Marlin Taylor Sr., who spent more than 25 years in the Navy and serving the Department of Defense as a nuclear engineer during the Cold War.
Robins put Scott in touch with Jansen, who shared his story with the teen over the Internet.
“His design and music choices also gave it a sensitivity that, to be honest, made me cry buckets as I watched his video,” Robins said. “I hear that Mr. Jansen and others that knew Major Beresik were also touched by the memorial that Eddie created.”
Jansen told Fox News that the final product impressed everyone he showed it to, including his 98-year-old aunt, who is Beresik's only surviving sibling, and a number of Air Force veterans who had flown with him in Vietnam.
“Eddie Scott did an amazing job," he said.
The video ends with poignant remarks from Jansen about his father’s last moments.
“After exiting the plane, Dad was descending peacefully in a clear sky with the vast Pacific Ocean underneath him,” Jansen said. “He was over international waters, the enemy wasn’t shooting at him, nor were they waiting for him when he landed. He was a free man, a free American.”