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I love this documentary about heroic men who flew the single seat F-105 Thunderchief, aka the “Thud,” in the air war over North Vietnam in 1966. I first saw the film in the fall of 1970 when I was in Officer Training School (OTS) at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. I was in awe then just as I am now watching these men talk about flying combat missions over the most heavily defended area in the history of aerial warfare.
The Thud drivers in the movie were flying in operation Rolling Thunder. “There is a Way” was filmed at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, the same base my squadron, the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, flew from in 1972 during operation Linebacker I. The Thud pilots in “There is a Way” were in the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing.
Legendary American hero 1st Lt. Karl W. Richter explains why he volunteered to fly an additional 100 missions over North Vietnam after flying his first 100 missions. It was standard operating procedure for Thud drivers to be returned to the United States after they completed 100 missions over North Vietnam because the 100 mission quota was so difficult to achieve. When Lt. Richter was flying combat missions 43 percent of F-105 pilots were either killed or declared missing in action before they completed 100 missions over North Vietnam. Lt. Richter was single and did not have any children and he loved flying the Thud so he asked to stay at Korat and fly a second 100 missions over North Vietnam.
Lt. Richter beat the odds and successfully completed his second 100 missions. Unfortunately on July 28, 1967, Karl Richter was killed in action when his airplane was shot down by flak. Richter was rescued by a helicopter, but died on the chopper before it could get him to a hospital. In another article I wrote about Richter I said:
“There is a statue of Karl Richter at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, on which is inscribed, the following words from the prophet Isaiah: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here am I. Send me.” Lt. Richter gave his life in the service of his country. Karl Richter’s spirit and sacrifice will live on in the annals of the United States Air Force and American history. The December 1992 issue of Air Force Magazine contains an article called “Here Am I. Send Me” about Karl Richter. Read Lt. Col. Hank Brandli’s article called “Karl Richter’s Last Mission” to learn more about this American hero.”
Associated Press: “The last of thousands of F-4 Phantom jets that have been a workhorse for the U.S. military over five decades are being put to pasture to serve as ground targets for strikes by newer aircraft, the Associated Press reports. The U.S. Air Force will hold a ‘final flight’ retirement ceremony today [December 21, 2016] at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, where the last F-4s are still flying for the U.S. military. . . . McDonnell Douglas – now part of Boeing Corp. – built more than 5,000 F-4s for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. It first flew in the late 1950s, and production ended in 1985.”
VOANews: “The U.S. Air Force says a shortage of fighter pilots has become so dire that it is struggling to satisfy combat requirements abroad. ‘We have too few squadrons to meet the combatant commanders’ needs,’ Major General Scott Vander Hamm, the general in charge of fixing the fighter pilot crisis, said in an exclusive interview with VOA. The Air Force is currently authorized to have 3,500 fighter pilots, but it is 725 fighter pilots short. And with fewer pilots, the number of fighter pilot squadrons have also dropped, from 134 squadrons in 1986 to 55 in 2016.” See: “Air Force Has Too Few Fighter Squadrons to Meet Commanders’ Needs.”
The first video shows two F-4s making a formation take off then making passes at an air show.
The following videos are from an F-4 pilot’s helmet cam. They give you a feel for how great it is to fly the Phantom.
The F-4 Phantom II’s final flight in US military service at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, is open to the public. The last flying U.S. F-4s are in the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron (Det 1). The squadron announced the F-4 will fly for the last time on December 21, 2016. The public is invited to see this legendary fighter roar into the skies one last time.
Here’s the schedule:
- 8 am – La Luz Gate** opens to attendees (attendees will be directed to designated parking areas and then bused to the event)
- 8 am – Community expo opens to include static aircraft such as the QF-4 and QF-16
- 10 am – F-4 Phantom II takeoff and final flight (tentative)
- 11:30 am-12 pm – F-4 Phantom II retirement ceremony
- 1 pm – Event conclusion
**The La Luz gate is the only gate open for non-DOD cardholders and public access.
Airshow Stuff: “We met up with likely the last ever USAF F-4 pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Ron “Elvis” King of the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron, Detachment 1, while he was displaying one of the 21 remaining Phantoms at the Spirit of St. Louis Air Show & STEM Expo on May 14-15 2016. Lt. Col. King was kind enough to talk with AirshowStuff about the status of the target drone program, flying the F-4, and his job overseeing the final days of the famed Phantom.
by Major Bob Hipps (USAF, Ret)
Bob writes about the two days in November 1972 when he and Captain Alexander H. (Sandy) Murchison III flew missions to rescue the two crew members of a downed F-105 Wild Weasel.
“Right around briefing time, we were informed by the command post that a weasel crew had been downed by a SAM the previous evening somewhere north of Vinh and Blue Chip wanted us to head up there and see if they could raise them on the radio. Turned out the crew was nowhere near the position we got from 7th Air Force (7AF). In fact, we didn’t even have a map of the area where we eventually found them. Anyhow, we launched with our wingman and headed north through Laos and hit our first tanker of the day. The weather steadily worsened the further north we flew and we thought there was no way the survivors could be recovered if they hadn’t been captured already.”
On May 10, 1972, USAF Captain Roger Locher and his front seater Major Bob Lodge were shot down over North Vietnam in 1972 shortly after they downed their third MiG-21. Bob Lodge elected not to eject and went down with the F-4D. Roger Locher ejected and survived, but knew not to get on the radio because it would tip off the North Vietnamese that he was alive and where he was located.
During the intelligence briefing before the mission that day the aircrews were told that their mission over North Vietnam that day would to too far inside of North Vietnam so helicopter rescue would be impossible. Roger knew his only chance to avoid capture or death was to walk west until he arrived at a location where he could be rescued.
Roger spent a record 23 hair-raising days evading capture and walking west before he was rescued and returned to Udorn Air Base, Thailand. In this video from October of 2015 Roger Locher describes the mission that day, getting shot down, evading and being rescued.
October of 2014 World Word II fighter pilot Colonel Clarence “Bud” Anderson spoke at the American Fighter Aces Association about his life and shooting down 16 and one half German airplanes.
On November 14, 2015, retired USAF Brigadier General Steve Ritchie one of the most highly decorated fighter pilots of the Vietnam War spoke at the Museum of Flight.
by Joe Boyles
On occasion, I write an article about my past that is related to the life of military men and women. That’s what this story is about – more than four decades ago on my first operational assignment. I was on a remote tour without my family, half a world away in South Korea. I was only 23 years old and kind of bummed about being away from my young wife and baby daughter.
My assignment would last for 13 months, but (saving grace) I would be allowed to take a 30-day leave during the assignment between the fourth and ninth month. Linda and I carefully planned this before I left her behind in Florida that I would do my best to be home for Christmas.
I left Tampa on March 10, 1972. As I recall, I traveled by commercial air to Minneapolis then Seattle; caught a bus to McChord AFB near Tacoma and boarded a military contract flight through Alaska, to Japan and then into Korea. It was a long, exhausting trip, but … when you’re young, you can put up with almost anything.
I arrived at my new home at Kunsan AB, Korea, and was assigned a room in our squadron dormitory. I immediately went to sleep. It was the weekend, so I had a good opportunity to rest.
So Monday morning, I’m refreshed and make my way down the flightline to the south end of “the Kun” and to the operations building of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron “Panthers.” I spent the next hour or so walking through the building introducing myself to some fifty aviators who were my new squadron mates. Since I’m the ‘new guy,’ it is incumbent on me to introduce myself.
At some point, I find my way to the office of my Operations (Ops) Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Mickelson. The Ops Officer is the number two fellow in a fighter squadron, backing up the commander. Colonel Mickelson was well liked – the lieutenants referred to him as “Uncle Bill.”
After a couple of minutes of chit-chat, I get to my point: “I’d like to apply for my mid-tour leave.” Uncle Bill gives me a quizzical look and then breaks into a grin: “You’re getting a little ahead of yourself young fella since this is your first day on the job.” “Yes sir,” I reply, “but I want to ask for the date now before others do later.” He repiles, “Okay, I’ll bite: when do you want to go on leave?”
I request to take leave from December 10 to January 9. Now, if you do the arithmetic, you’ll see that my request fit to the back end of the eligibility period. Colonel Mickelson duly noted my legitimate request and booted me out of his office with the admonition, “go to work.”
Now, fast forward seven months or so: it is mid-October 1972. The 35th TFS has been in Southeast Asia nearly the whole time, flying and fighting. Our period of temporary duty is finished and we have arrived back at Kunsan-by-the Sea. I’m now one of the ‘old heads.’ Well over half the squadron has turned over. Colonel Mickelson has moved on; his successor has as well; and my new Ops Officer is John “WC” Keating.
We’re in a squadron meeting and WC says, “A lot of you guys want to go on leave back to the States to see your families over Christmas, and obviously, I can’t let everyone leave during that period, because we have a mission to accomplish here. So those of you who want to do that, come see me today in my office and we’ll get this figured out.”
I’m standing in line outside the Ops Officer’s office and then it is my turn: “Okay Boyles, you want to go on leave over Christmas, right.” “Yes sir, I do.” “Did you ask either Colonel Mickelson or Major Lueders for this before?” Yes sir I did.” “When did you request leave for the Christmas period?” Deep breath: “I asked Colonel Mickelson for Christmas leave on my first day in the squadron, March 13th.”
Needless to say, I had the earliest request for leave of anyone who met with WC that day – and I got it! My foresight and temerity had paid off. In actuality, those of us who had been a Panther for that long got to go on leave over the Christmas period. After all, we were at the end of our eligibility period.
Leave is an important time for military families to reconnect. The separation has led to growing apart; now they must find a way to reunite and become an integral family again. In looking back over a 27-year career, while I missed many birthdays, anniversaries, and other holidays, I was with my family for every Christmas but one. For that, I am grateful.
I’m writing this article for two audiences: my weekly Madison County Carrier readers and a website developed by a lawyer in Phoenix, Rick Keyt. In his website (keytlaw.com), Rick has developed an extensive link, “Flying the F-4 Phantom,” primarily about the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron from 1972-73. One of Rick’s articles is called “GIB LADD” about a crash on takeoff that many of us witnessed, so I’m giving you my perspective from what I recall.
It was late March 1973 and our squadron had returned five months earlier from the war in Southeast Asia to our home base at Kunsan, Korea. We (3rd Tactical Fighter Wing) were receiving an ORI – Operational Readiness Inspection – from our parent command, the Pacific Air Forces. On this morning, we were called on to fly a simulated nuclear mission, a single heavy bomb drop at Kooni Range, about a hundred miles north of Kunsan.
I was flying that morning with Gary “Stump” Corbett, a classmate from USAFA 1970. We were just a couple of lieutenants doing our thing on a brisk winter morning. Our F-4D configuration was three external fuel tanks (for a total fuel load of 21,000 pounds) and a 2100 pound BDU-8 practice bomb on the left inboard station. The jet was pretty close to maximum gross takeoff weight of 58,000 pounds.
As I recall, our call sign was Deben 93. Our mission called for us to takeoff to the south and turn left; fly a 20 minute low level route at 500 feet, 420 knots; accelerate to 500 knots at the initial point (IP) south of the range; and attack the scored offshore target with our BDU-8, delivering the bomb from low level. It was a typical attack profile for our nuclear mission.
So Corbett is taxing our jet and I have my head down in the rear cockpit tuning the radar and checking our timing, mission details, etc. Our UHF radio is tuned to the tower frequency, normal for ground operations.
Somewhere along that taxiway near the north end of the airfield, I hear a call from the tower, “Deben 91, you’re on fire.” Now to be honest, I was so engrossed in my work (don’t forget, this is an ORI) that all I heard or registered was the call sign (Deben) and the word “fire.” This is not comforting when you’re riding in an F-4 filled with jet fuel. I might add that JP-4 was a particularly volatile fuel mixed with naphtha (fortunately no longer in use by Air Force fighters).
So I pull my head out of the cockpit and start looking at instruments, warning lights, and mirrors to see if we are the Deben on fire. Then I hear Stump exclaim over the intercom, “Oh my God; they’re going to crash.” I swiveled my head to about 9 o’clock and see a mushrooming fireball of 21,000 pounds of jet fuel being consumed. The conflagration was off the south end of the runway over water and no chutes (parachutes which would indicate the crew ejected) were visible.
I have been to many aircraft accident sites investigating why jets crash, but this is the first and only one I witnessed as it was taking place. It was both eye-watering and sobering. Neither Corbett nor I were enthusiastic about flying at that point.
We taxied our jet out to the end of the runway, 2 miles from where all the action was. Our takeoff was delayed and we listening on Tower to all the discussion. From my lineup card, I figured out that Deben 91 was being flown by Chuck Banks and Ron Price. Ron and I were supposed to have left that day at the conclusion of our 13 month assignment … but our departure was delayed to fly for the ORI.
At some point, we learned from the radio calls that both Chuck and Ron had successfully (but barely) escaped the burning jet and were in their individual life rafts off the south end of the runway. Whew.
After about 20 minutes of waiting, we were given clearance to takeoff and fly our mission. We blasted off to the south overhead of our squadron buddies and turned left to point the jet toward Kooni to the north. Our TOT (time over target) was blown because of the delay. We threw the low level route away and I gave Stump and straight vector to the IP. I swear, he never pulled the throttles out of military (100 percent) power. We streaked over the Korean countryside low level at more than 600 knots. We actually had to slow down in order to drop the bomb, which is counter-intuitive.
How close was our bomb to the target? I have no idea. A couple of days later, I was on the “freedom bird” departing Korea, returning to my young family and getting ready for another overseas assignment. Price was on the same aircraft home. He was OK. Chuck was a little more banged up than Ron. We deduced their centerline tank leaked, pouring raw jet fuel into the engines through the open aux air doors. After several similar accidents, the emergency procedure for fire on takeoff was amended to include jettisoning the centerline tank.
Even after more than forty years, I’m pretty sure of most of the details. You don’t forget things like that.
Tribunist: “There were a lot of things we couldn’t do in an SR-71, but we were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact. People often asked us if, because of this fact, it was fun to fly the jet. Fun would not be the first word I would use to describe flying this plane. Intense, maybe. . . . ‘Los Angeles Center, Aspen 20, can you give us a ground speed check‘?”
The Aviationist: “During the Vietnam War the main threat to the strike packages was the V-750 (S-75) Dvina, the first effective Soviet surface-to-air missile (SAM). Better known by the NATO designation SA-2 Guideline . . . . To suppress and destroy this threat, the U.S. Air Force countered with the courage and skill of the Wild Weasels, who not only flew some of the most dangerous missions in Southeast Asia but also became pioneers in Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) operations. As we have already explained, the first Wild Weasel sorties were flown in the fall of 1965 and were planned around the “hunter-killer” concept by using two aircraft: one had to locate the enemy SAM batteries while the other had to physically destroy them. The first, tasked to hunt the SAM airplane, was the F-100F while the killer aircraft was the F-105. In January 1966 the two seat F-105F was chosen to replace the F-100F to improve the performance of both members of the team.”
by Joe Boyles
A while back, a friend suggested that I write a column about dogs, ‘man’s best friend.’ With the replacement of horses by horsepower, I reckon that dogs are man’s most useful and versatile animal. With that in mind, let me tell you the story of a dog I knew many years ago named Roscoe.
It was late June of 1972 and I had arrived at Korat Airbase in Thailand. I had about 60 combat missions under my belt from three months of arduous flying at DaNang. Shortly after arriving, I was introduced to the mascot of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, namely Roscoe.
Roscoe was a yellow mongrel of no particular breed and above average size. He didn’t start his life in Thailand but rather, Okinawa. He was named for an F-105 Thunderchief pilot who died in a landing accident and cared for Major Ray Lewis. Lewis smuggled Roscoe with him down to Korat. On July 20, 1966, Ray Lewis was shot down over North Vietnam and Roscoe became an orphan. (Note: The name of Colonel Merrill Raymond Lewis, Jr. may be found on the Vietnam War Memorial, panel 9E line 048.) Roscoe was promptly adopted by the wing and given the honorary rank of colonel.
Roscoe had two homes – wing headquarters and the officer’s club. Those locations were about a mile apart, but Roscoe didn’t walk from one to the other; he rode. He would stand on the curb and wait for a ride. If you were driving a vehicle and saw Roscoe waiting for his ride, you had better stop. Roscoe didn’t ride in the back either; he rode ‘shotgun.’ Whoever was in the front next to the driver needed to open the door and get out because Roscoe was coming in. That’s just the way it was. The dog was important and he knew it.
Wing headquarters at Korat was a cluster of buildings called Fort Apache. The central building contained Intelligence and our flight planning area. There was one theater-style main briefing room that seated about 80 as I recall. We used it for our ‘mass-gaggle’ Linebacker briefings in 1972 to learn the details of our missions over North Vietnam. On the first row was a seat marked for the wing commander. The seat next to it had Roscoe’s name on it.
The superstition was that if Roscoe slept through the briefing, then it would be a milk run with relatively light enemy opposition. But, if Roscoe was wide awake and alert, look out. Everyone would listen to the briefing, glance at the audio-visuals, and keep an eye on Roscoe. Was the superstition true? I’m not really sure, but … we didn’t leave anything to chance. As I recall, Roscoe slept a lot … which was good.
Roscoe’s other ‘home’ was the officer’s club, and he had plenty of girlfriends (in Thai, known as ‘tee loc’) waiting for him. Roscoe was all male and not shy in the least.
Roscoe had a hankering for ham. So here’s the scenario: I’ve just finished a nice plate of fresh pineapple and now I’m ready for a hearty breakfast of ham and eggs. Just as I’m about to bite into my first taste of ham, I hear a “grrr” not far away. There’s Roscoe next to the table and my ham slice is as good as gone. No use in trying to fight it – the dog had a direct line to the wing commander. Just fork it over and get on with what is left of breakfast. I lost a lot of ham before I figured out that bacon was the answer.
Point of contention here — my good buddy Karl Eschmann claims that Roscoe preferred steak. Maybe he did at dinner, but for breakfast, it was ham. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Besides, Karl is an Aggie, so that’s an automatic disqualifier.
A few years later, the war was over and the USAF was pulling out of Korat, turning the base over to the Thai Air Force. What to do with Roscoe? If left behind, he might have ended up in a soup pot! I’m told there was an extensive plan to have him moved through quarantine to Luke Air Force Base just west of Phoenix, but Roscoe died before the plan could be implemented. Too much rich ham I suppose.
I’m told on good authority (Eschmann?) that Roscoe is buried near the front entrance of the O Club and the Thai Air Force faithfully maintains his grave site to this day. I’d end this little tale by telling you that Roscoe was a good dog, but since he didn’t know he was a dog, how can that be? How ‘bout this: he was good people.
I was very lucky to have been able to fly the F-4 Phantom for five years in the United States Air Force from 1971 – 1976, including three years teaching men to fly the F-4 while an instructor at George Air Force Base, California. I loved flying the Phantom. There is something very special about flying a supersonic jet fighter that is hard to put into words. No matter how eloquent the speaker may be, words just cannot describe the out of this world experience of flying a fighter.
Video, however, is more than a picture worth a 1,000 words. Below I am linking to two videos that give the non-fighter pilot viewer a true-life glimpse into what best described in the poem “High Flight.”
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds –
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of –
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious burning blue.
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God.
The above sonnet was written by John Gillespie Magee, an American pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War. He came to Britain, flew in a Spitfire squadron, and was killed at the age of nineteen on 11 December 1941 during a training flight from the airfield near Scopwick, England.
Flying the A-10 Warthog
Flying the F-16 Falcon
The second video shows F-16 Falcons from the 35th Fighter Squadron at Kunsan, Korea participating in Red Flag exercises in Alaska in 2014. This is my old squadron from Korat Air Base, Thailand (1972) and Kunsan Air Base, Korea (1973). We were the Panthers (see the picture on the squadron patch at the top of this page), but now the squadron’s nickname is Pantons. According to the Urban Dictionary “panton” means:
Noun or adjective – Some one who is full throttle, to push it up, or lights their hair on fire. Also a good dude; a current or former member of the technically, tactically, strategically, aesthetically, and especially socially superior fighter squadron.
by Dick Francis, 523rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, Vietnam Prisoner of War
Following completion of my training as a Weapons Systems Officer in the F-4 Phantom, I was assigned to the 523rd TFS at Clark AB, Philippines. However, as a result of North Vietnam’s invasion of South Vietnam in March of 1972, my squadron had been deployed to the 432nd TRW at Udorn RTAFB, Thailand to participate in the Operation Linebacker airstrikes over North Vietnam. Having arrived in theater only about two weeks earlier, I had flown a couple of lower risk missions into Route Pack 1 (the part of North Vietnam just north of the DMZ) and a few missions into Laos and South Vietnam. However, I kept worrying about how I would hold up once I had to go “downtown” to Hanoi. At that time, Hanoi was the most heavily defended city in the history of aerial warfare. Somewhat nervous about the situation, I wondered if I would survive this temporary duty assignment (TDY) of unknown duration. Normally aircrew members stationed in Southeast Asia (SEA) either flew 100 missions over North Vietnam or served a combat tour of one year, whichever occurred first.
Then one morning my flight was scheduled to fly north so we attended the Wing briefing in the Deputy Commander for Operations (DCO) complex. When the briefing officer pulled the curtain back, the map showed the order of battle for a raid on the Hanoi rail yards. As the briefing progressed a feeling of dread and anxiety began to creep over me. Upon completion of the briefing, I ducked into the men’s room on my way back to the squadron. Taking temporary refuge in a toilet stall just to calm my nerves, I noticed some graffiti on the door that provided some comic relief that helped reduce some of my anxiety.
It said, “I’ve got 364 days left on my tour and it seems like I just got here yesterday.”
Editor’s Note: Captain Francis was shot down by a SAM over Hanoi on 27 June 72. He was captured, spent 274 days in the Hanoi Hilton and Zoo prisons, and was repatriated 28 March 73. See Gavin Francis’ article in which he remembers his father getting shot down and returning to his family in 1973. Dick’s frontseater that day, Lt. Col. Farrell Sullivan, the 523rd Tactical Fighter Squadron’s squadron commander, was killed in action by the SAM.
Foxtrot Alpha: “U.S. Air Force serial number 61-0007, a B-52H known by its nose art as ‘Ghost Rider,’ was brought out of seven years of storage at the Defense Department’s boneyard in Arizona. Its new mission? To replace an active B-52H that was badly damaged by fire while on the ground at Barksdale Air Force Base and make the USAF arms treaty-dictated fleet of 76 B-52s whole once again.
Everyone who has been to war has stories they retain for the remainder of their lives. Some are told; others are just ‘filed away’ in a forgotten part of our mind, maybe to be awakened by a reminder. Some are tragic; some funny; some ironic. A friend sent me an e-mail last week with a website called “The Virtual Wall” where more than 58 thousand names of Vietnam casualties are cataloged. I looked up a couple of names I recall and they reminded me of some “war stories” from long ago.
One name was Captain Tom Amos. On Saturday, April 1, 1972, the phone rang at an early hour in the upstairs dayroom of the ‘Few Q,’ the modulux dorm that housed the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron Panthers. Nearly all the Panthers were sound asleep, hung over from a ‘wild and crazy’ party on Friday night. The fellow who wasn’t hung over was Tom Amos who had just arrived at Kunsan AB, South Korea the day before.
Tom answered the phone and a voice on the other end said, ‘This is the command post. Wake everyone in your building and have them report to squadron operations in 30 minutes. This is a silent recall.’
So Tom Amos walks through the building, opening doors (we never locked anything) and informing everyone within earshot of the message. Now picture this scenario: it’s April Fool’s Day about 5 in the morning; you’re hung over; a stranger just opened your door and said something about a silent recall. Would you buy this or conclude it was a prank from the neighboring squadron, roll over and go back to sleep?
When no one showed for the recall, the Director of Operations Colonel Tyler G. Goodman stormed into the Few Q and the recall wasn’t silent anymore. My squadron mates told me (I was off-station in Seoul that weekend and sober as a judge) that his greeting was both loud and traumatic.
The gist of the silent recall was that two days prior, the North Vietnamese had launched their largest ground invasion yet, and the 35th was executing Operation Commando Fly to augment Air Force fighter units in Southeast Asia. No one I knew of had ever heard of Commando Fly before that morning.
Two weeks or so later, I’m at DaNang Airbase temporarily assigned to the 421st Black Widows along with Tom Amos as fill-ins to replace combat losses. After a week of hard flying, I’m DNIF (duty not to include flying) for a couple of days and assigned as night duty hog, running the Ops desk at the squadron. One of my jobs is to check the sign out log which was our method in combat of filing a flight plan. I notice that Larry “Howdy Doody” Trimble and Mase Burham didn’t sign out when they went to fly.
When Trimble and Burnham return from their mission to sign in, I inform them of their infraction and the penalty – one case of beer for the squadron bar. This was not a major financial setback since beer cost 10 cents a can in the war zone. Major whining ensues. Then Trimble’s light bulb goes off: “Hey Joe, is there any rule that we can’t drink the beer we just bought?”
My cogent reply: “No, but you’ve got two strikes against you. First, its 7:30 in the morning and second, no way you two are going to down a case of beer.”
Trimble thinks this over for a moment and comes back: “Well, we’re coming off duty so we can start drinking, and three can drink more beer than two. When’s your shift over?” “In 30 minutes,” I reply. “Great says Howdy; Mase and I will get a head start and you can join us when your relief shows up.”
A half hour later, I’m sitting on a bar stool joining my friends for a Budweiser breakfast. We started strong but gave up after consuming about half the case. Yawns were followed by heavy slumber.
I realize that these war stories might damage my reputation with my tee-totaling friends. I would offer in defense that it was a long time ago; I was young; it was war; yada, yada, yada.
Within a week, all three of these fellows were dead. Larry Trimble’s jet was hit by a SAM over Dong Hoi, North Vietnam. His backseater was able to eject, survive, captured, and repatriation a year later, but Larry was not so fortunate. Tom Amos and Mason Burnham were killed during a night bombing mission over Laos. Their bombs hit the target, followed immediately by a fireball at 12 o’clock. Our maps for this area were very inaccurate, especially the heights of the surrounding mountains. Also, it was very easy to become disoriented during night dive-bombing. It could happen to anyone.
I never had the opportunity to fly with any of these fellows in the short three weeks I knew them. They were each considered to be excellent aviators. So there you have a couple of stories from long ago, containing humor, irony and tragedy. So goes war.