Virginia's giant Hampton Roads military complex has suffered its first combat casualties in Operation Desert Storm: the two crewmen of a Navy A-6E attack plane based at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach.

The men missing in action were identified by the Pentagon yesterday as Lt. Robert Wetzel, 30, of Virginia Beach, and Lt. Jeffrey N. Zaun, 28. Zaun, of Cherry Hill, N.J., graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1984.

Wetzel and Zaun were shot down while flying a mission from the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, based in Mayport, Fla., and were members of Attack Squadron 35, known as the Black Panthers. Some 40,000 airmen, sailors and Marines from Oceana, Langley Air Force Base, Norfolk Naval Station and other military installations in Hampton Roads are serving in the war against Iraq.

The first combat casualty of the war, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael S. "Spike" Speicher, 33, of Jacksonville, Fla., was officially listed as missing on Thursday, his F/A-18 fighter destroyed by a missile over Iraq. Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney said on television news shows yesterday that Speicher probably is dead.

Four other airmen also were reported missing yesterday -- the two crew members from another A-6E and the two-man crew of an Air Force F-15 fighter -- bringing the total missing to seven.

The Air Force crew was identified as Lt. Col. Donnie R. Holland, 42, of Goldsboro, N.C., and Maj. Thomas F. Koritz, 37, whose home town was not released. Holland and Koritz were based at Seymour John Air Force Base in Goldsboro. The A-6E crew was not identified.

Wetzel, who grew up in Metuchen, N.J., as the fifth of nine children and joined the Navy about five years ago, left on the Saratoga in August, with his parents and other relatives waving a huge American flag from a nearby bridge. In an interview from his parents' retirement home in Vero Beach, Fla., his aunt, Helen Reager, said family members were holding out hope that he may be alive.

"We're very, very optimistic," she said. "We feel that our prayers are going to be answered. It is tough, but I haven't seen my sister shed a tear. She has great faith."

Reager said her sister, Kathleen Wetzel, and brother-in-law, William Wetzel, found out their son was missing at 3:15 a.m. yesterday when a Navy lieutenant and chaplain arrived. The family remains "absolutely" supportive of Operation Desert Storm, according to Reager.

Reager described Robert Wetzel as a soft-spoken man who was "very proud" to be serving his country as his father did in the Merchant Marines in World War II.

"He received an award for being shyest in the {flying school} class -- big smile, handsome young man, very compassionate, very devoted to his family," said Reager.

A woman at Wetzel's Virginia Beach home last night who identified herself as his fiancee, Jackie, said, "I'm not up to talking about it. I just want to be left out of it."

A Vienna man who said he was the woman's father said she and Wetzel were scheduled to be married March 2.

He described Wetzel as "a real good guy."

"We're just waiting and hoping," the father said. "We're not even watching the news anymore. We're just hoping for a phone call from the Navy.

"We don't know what to think. All we know is he's down. The Iraqis are putting out all this propaganda {about capturing American pilots} but they haven't produced anybody, so who knows?"

The president of Zaun's class at the Naval Academy, Blake Ratcliff, of Alexandria, said Zaun "was a good guy -- intense, very thorough. He's bright."

Another classmate, John Harber, said Zaun, who was unmarried, "was kind of a quiet guy, dedicated, very professional." Harber, a captain at the Quantico Marine Base south of Washington, said Zaun was a gymnast -- "quite good" -- who competed on the academy's varsity team.

Outside a 7-Eleven convenience store near Oceana, a man who said he is a ground crew member at the base said he had served with Wetzel and Zaun several years ago on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

"We're all pretty shook up. We're very concerned, but the job has to get done, and there are going to be casualties," said the man, who would not give his name.

The A-6E, a two-seat jet that can carry up to 18,000 pounds of bombs and air-to-air missiles, can fly up to 1,000 miles with a full load.

In the Jacksonville neighborhood of Navy families where "Spike" Speicher lived, American flags came out Thursday when they realized he probably would not be coming home.

"There's a lot of unhappiness around here," said Thomas P. Mills, Speicher's neighbor and godfather to his two children. "He was your stereotypical pilot. I never heard anyone talk so much about flying."

Speicher's F/A-18 Hornet fighter took off from the Saratoga in the Red Sea Wednesday night and was shot down during the first night of U.S. bombing.

The Florida community, which includes three Navy bases, feels especially close to the Persian Gulf War. There are 24 pilots from Jacksonville's Cecil Field serving with a squadron of F/A-18 fighter bombers aboard the Saratoga. When news reports said one Saratoga F/A-18 pilot had been shot down, the Navy wives waited nervously for information.

"The wives are very close-knit," Arlene Mills said. "The phones started buzzing. They were calling back and forth. They play Russian roulette all day: Was it my husband? Was it your husband?"

Speicher's wife, Joanne, received the news at 4:30 p.m., when three Navy officers in dress uniform knocked on her door.

"They didn't need to say anything," Mills said. "We all knew why they were there."

The Millses spoke fondly about their pilot friend, a native of Jacksonville, who graduated from high school there in 1975 and was a swimming star.

Speicher graduated from Florida State University in 1980 and spent three years training other pilots before transferring to a fighter squadron a year ago. He left for the gulf region Aug. 6.

His father, Wallace, who flew with the Army Air Corps in World War II, described his son as a skilled pilot. "I taught him some of my old moves," the elder Speicher said.

Spike Speicher loved to show friends around the Navy base and was delighted when he switched to flying the F/A-18.

"He used to point it out on the runway," Mills said. "And then he'd say, 'Look at it. Just sitting there, it looks fast.' "

Baker reported from Virginia Beach, Parker from Jacksonville. Staff writer D'Vera Cohn contributed to this report.