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On May 24, 1973, President Richard Nixon hosted the largest dinner party ever given at the White House. The dinner honored the 590 men who were captured by North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, tortured and returned with honor after the U.S. signed the Paris Peace Accord in January of 1973. Over 1,200 people attended the dinner hosted by President Nixon and his wife.
Forty years later on May 24, 2013, the Richard Nixon Foundation hosted a second reunion of the former POWs. Over 200 former POWs attended the reunion.
The video below is President Nixon’s address to the dinner guests.
On May 25, 2014, the Richard Nixon Foundation hosted a panel of former Vietnam War POWs. The extraordinary panel consisted of Cmdr. Everett Alvarez (USN), 8-year POW; Lt. Col. Tom Hanton (USAF), President of NAM-POWs, 9-Month POW; Capt. Mike McGrath (USN), 6-year POW; Cmdr. Paul Galanti (USN), 6-year POW and Roger Shields, Nixon White House POW/MIA coordinator. Frank Luntz, President of Luntz Global, moderated.
July 11, 1972
I turned off my Big Ben alarm clock at 0230, the usual wake-up time for our Linebacker mission. When the scheduling board simply indicated “Special”, we knew it would be a 0400 mass briefing at Wing Headquarters for a bombing mission over North Vietnam. We wouldn’t know our target until the mission briefing. The schedule was normally posted at the end of each day’s flying, and the previous day I had seen my name listed for the number four position in Jazz Flight for today’s Special. My Weapon Systems Officer would be Bill Woodworth.
F-4 pilots quickly become creatures of habit mixed with ritual, and I walked the short distance to the Ubon Officer’s Club to have my standard breakfast: cheese omelet, toast with butter, and coffee. I had successfully flown thirty-one Counters – missions over North Vietnam – and I wasn’t about to change anything without a pretty compelling reason. A few weeks earlier, the Thai waitress had misunderstood me when I had ordered, and brought me a plain Omelet. I politely ate it, and the mission on that day was the closest I had come – up until then – to getting shot down.
After breakfast, I walked to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing Headquarters building, and performed my usual routine of stopping by the Intel desk and checking the Shoot-down Board. The Shoot-down Board was a large Plexiglas-covered board that listed the most recent friendly aircraft losses, written in grease pencil. We could tell, at a glance, if any aircraft had been shot down the previous night, the call sign, aircraft type, and survivor status. There were no friendly aircraft losses over North Vietnam to enemy action in the previous day.
That was not surprising. The Special for the previous day had been canceled when the strike leader, my Squadron Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Brad Sharp, crashed on takeoff when his left tire exploded at 160 knots. He aborted, taking the departure end barrier, and his aircraft caught fire when pieces of the shredded tire pierced his left wing fuel tank. Brad’s emergency egress was delayed when he got hung up by his leg restraint lines. As he sat in his seat, seeing the canopy melting around him, his WSO, Mike Pomphrey, ran back to the burning aircraft and pulled him out, saving his life. As Mike dragged him to a drainage ditch 100 yards away to hunker down, the ejection seats, missiles and, eventually, bombs cooked off. Ubon’s only runway was out of commission, and the entire Linebacker mission, for all bases, was canceled. Overnight, the runway at Ubon was repaired, and our mission was on for this day.
Air & Space: “In December 1972, the B-52 bombers that North Vietnamese missile crews had been waiting for came to Hanoi. Night after night. Over virtually the same track. I had come to Hanoi to research my second book about the air war over North Vietnam: the story of the December 1972 B-52 bombing of Hanoi, known as Linebacker II. I had arrived with the standard U.S. understanding of the raids. In early December 1972, President Richard Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, faced a political defeat. The North Vietnamese had broken off negotiations in Paris. It was clear that they were waiting for an anti-war U.S. Congress to return in January, cut off funds for the war, and give them a victory. To force the North Vietnamese to sign the agreement, Nixon decided to bomb Hanoi. After initial heavy U.S. losses, B-52s were able to attack with relative impunity and, after 11 days of raids, the North Vietnamese returned to Paris to sign the agreement they had rejected in December.”
If you’re a regular viewer of CBS’ reality series “Amazing Race,” you know that the current program is being filmed in Vietnam. The show raised the ire of many last week when the contestants visited a war memorial in Hanoi to look for a clue. The war memorial was the wreckage of an American B-52, shot down in December 1972 where two airmen died. Apparently, the program showed little if any regard or reverence for the sacrifice of two American patriots for their country.
The next week, the show and their parent company apologized for their cavalier approach to veterans and those of us who served in Vietnam, in particular. The incident took my memory back to an earlier time four decades ago. It was the spring of 1972 and I was flying combat missions from DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam. In early May, we received the orders to “take the gloves off” and go after the North Vietnamese who had escalated the war by ignoring a cease-fire and invading South Vietnam in late March.
The air offensive was code-named Operation Linebacker and would continue unabated for the next five months. Our targets were key combat infrastructure points that the north used to move war materials to their troops in the south. This included railroads, truck parks, bridges, ferries, airfields, communications, etc. These and the north in general had been off-limits to our airpower since 1968. In that four year hiatus, the North Vietnamese had built up their defensive infrastructure of fighters, missiles, guns and radars so that flying north was much more difficult and hazardous.
My squadron (35th TFS Panthers) was permanently based in Korea and filled with very experienced pilots. Our commander only sent highly experienced crews on Linebacker missions because they were more demanding and dangerous than normal combat flying. The pilot I was crewed with was a North Carolinian named Charlie Cox. Charlie was my flight commander; had a previous combat tour; more than 2000 hours in the Phantom; and was a Fighter Weapons School graduate. In fact, we had eight weapons school grads in the 35th, which might be a record.
Linebacker missions were complicated affairs requiring as many as a hundred or more aircraft flying from as many as five different bases. Most were fighters like the F-4 my unit flew, but there were also air refueling tankers; electronic combat aircraft; airborne weapons controllers; etc. Standing by on alert were rescue helicopters and their escorts in the case of an aircraft loss which frequently occurred.
On one missions I recall, there were 12 flights of four (48) fighters just from our base, not counting support aircraft. I’m sure there were more than 200 aircraft scheduled for that mission. At Korat (the second base we flew from), we had a single taxiway and runway. Anyone with either steering or brake problems was instructed to taxi off the taxiway into the dirt to keep the traffic flow moving.
These missions were flown over long distances and involved flying between 3 to 5 hours depending on the route. Since we couldn’t carry that much fuel, we nearly always refueled before entering North Vietnamese airspace and tapped the tanker upon exit before returning home. The tanker we used was the KC-135 (same design as the old Boeing 707) which incidentally, is still being used by the Air Force.
I have no idea how many Linebacker missions I flew that summer. Of my 121 combat missions, 43 were flown over North Vietnam, but not all of those were in support of Operation Linebacker. All the remainder were flown over South Vietnam, generally close air support (CAS) missions. In my six month tour, I didn’t fly against any targets in either Laos or Cambodia, although we often overflew those inland countries transiting to and from our base in Thailand.
In early October 1972, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger was sure he had a peace accord with all parties. The Linebacker missions were halted and my squadron deployed back to our home base in Korea. It had been more than six months since we deployed. Then the deal fell through. Two months later, Linebacker II began in mid-December, but this was much more intense. Now, B-52 bombers went north to join the fighters in taking the air war to the North Vietnamese.
The campaign lasted only 11 days but did the trick. Fifteen B-52s were shot down including the one that Amazing Race visited, but the bombers packed quite a wallop. At the end of the Linebacker II, the north was literally defenseless. They ran back to the bargaining table to beg for peace and an end to hostilities. We had to wonder – if President Johnson had done this seven years earlier in 1965, how many lives and tragedy on both sides would have been avoided?
After F-4 RTU at George AFB, several of us had our orders changed at the last moment from DaNang to Misawa.AB Japan in Jan 70. I was assigned to the 391st along with a couple others including Jeff Feinstein who was a WSO ace in 72, 555th out of Udorn. The wing was the 475th and if I recall correctly, the other two squadrons were the 392nd and 67th. For a time we also had the 16th TRS and their RFs. We pulled alert and flying out of both Taegu and Kunsan, Kunsan was nuke as well as air defense, Taegu was air defense only. Seems like we spent close to 179 days in Korea in one and two week increments.
At the time the wing was in the process of picking up the D models out of SEA, prior to that the 475th was little more than a flying club. Had an ORI which we busted mainly due to bad comm between Kunsan and Misawa. The name of the game was that we kept one squadron at Kunsan and if the red balloon went up, maintenance generated planes and we flew them to Korea to for the main event. Early in 1971 it was announced that the planes would be leaving Japan for Korea. By April the planes had left, guys who had a SEA tour were sent to Kadena with the C models out of Yokota, Those of us who hadn’t were sent to Kunsan. Initially the wing was designated the 3rd TFW. The three Misawa squadrons were designated the 35th, 36th, and 80th, the 391st becoming the 80th and the 36th going to Osan. Shortly thereafter the wing picked up the 8th TFW designation.
I was one of the initial Juvats, the name coming from a part of the rocker for the 391st patch “Fortuna Estes Juvat” which seemed to refuse to come off when the patches were ripped off flight suits.
I believe that Misawa then Kunsan were the operational test and initial deployment sites for the Combat Tree birds.which then went to Kunsan. We flew a lot there and I suspect I flew all the Tree birds at one time or another.
Those of us who had lots of Misawa TDY time had our tours curtailed and I then went to Holloman AFB in Feb 72. Was there only for two months and was enroute to a Crested Cap orientation in late April when we got recalled and were informed the wing was going to SEA TDY, destination **classified** duration unknown! We ended up ferrying the whole wing, four squadrons, to Takhli three days after announcement, a squadron per day. I was assigned to the 8th TFS Blacksheep and was in the second wave. We got designated the night squadron and routinely flew three turn missions mainly out of DaNang but a few to Bien Hoa.
DaNang was sucky but Takhli was even worse save for the rockets – saw the fireworks several times nights and spent several days there with a sick bird. A lot of us lived in tents initially because the old barracks were unfit for human habitation. The night squadron got four to a room air conditioned hootches. We stopped off at Korat once for an oil pressure problem – it was more like an R&R rather than a RON. I tried to follow what was going on with the Kunsan guys and planes. Heard one of the Tree birds was shot down shortly after arrival in April but then had some success with them hunting MiGs.
I had just gone through a divorce and elected to stay in SEA when the wing redeployed in Oct back to Holloman. For a short time I was assigned to the DaNang unit, 421st, that was sent to Takhli as DaNang was phasing down. The 421st had lost so many planes and crews that the decision was made to redistribute the planes and crews elsewhere. Most ended up at Udorn;’ I went to Korat after a 30 day leave trip to CONUS. You guys had redeployed back to Kunsan by then but left one plane with maintenance issues behind. I offered my services to fly it back to the Kun but I guess you guys wanted to send a crew so they could collect their combat pay and tax exemption.
In going through your crew lists I saw quite a few I recognized and/or flew with. Will Mincey was in the 80th when I was there and a couple others. I knew many of the 35th guys as well. One of the 80th guys who left Kunsan, went to Seymour Johnson then TDY back to SEA in 73 and was flying the last plane to be shot down, in Cambodia, in summer 73 just before the final end of the conflict on Aug 15. His name is Jack Smallwood and so far as I know is still MIA but presumed to be KIA. For a long time I thought our flight had dropped the last bombs of the war at 1150, but an A-7 flight claimed the “honor” expending at 1157. Then it was all over at 1200. My final mission count was 279 with 119 of them in NVN, probably half in RP6. thanks to all the flying out of Takhli, I logged over a thousand hours of combat time. In 73, the Fast FAC program was started up.again at Korat so I flew a lot of five hour, road recce sorties as well as Spectre escort on the trails.
Went to RAF Lakenheath after Korat and sadly my flying career came to an end as I was diagnosed with a kidney disease. Eventually I ended up at Wright-Patt as a design development engineer. Worked on the new engines for the F-15, F-16, KC-135R, and B-1. Also worked on F-22 and was a part of the initial B-2 deployment team.
Presently retired from 34 years combined civilian and military time with the USAF in Central TX NW of Austin, TX
In 1964, British pop star Petula Clark went to the top of the charts with her hit song “Downtown.” If you’re my age, then the tune is familiar but the song is a classic and various forms are trotted out periodically. There is a current commercial which uses “Downtown” as its background musical theme.
About the same time that the song was first released, Operation Rolling Thunder was initiated in the skies over North Vietnam. For three years, the Johnson Administration sent Air Force and Navy fighters over North Vietnam to bomb selected targets. The theory behind Rolling Thunder was that we would send a message to Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese communists that we were really serious and if they would stop their aggression against South Vietnam, we would stop the bombing. Rolling Thunder lasted for three years until early 1968 and was unsuccessful in its political objective.
The Pacific Command (PACOM) air planners divided North Vietnam into six regions which they named Route Packages. They were numbered sequentially from south to north. Route Pack VI was the large industrial heartland of North Vietnam, bisected by the Red River Valley. This route package was divided into two sub regions: Route Pack VI Bravo included the port city of Haiphong and was the primary responsibility of the Navy and their 7th Fleet air wings.
Route Pack VI Alpha included the capital of Hanoi and was the primary responsibility of the Air Force wings operating from bases in South Vietnam and Thailand. The fighter pilots who flew into VI Alpha to attack targets around Hanoi referred to this as “Downtown.” It had the reputation as the most heavily defended air space in the history of warfare, protected by a layered system of interceptors, surface to air missiles, and anti-aircraft artillery.
After three years, LBJ halted Rolling Thunder in an effort to bring the North Vietnamese to the bargaining table. Over the next four years, we stayed out of North Vietnamese airspace, however when the Communists launched their Spring Offensive with 200,000 troops in 1972, the only way to stop the onslaught was with airpower.
At the time, I was a lieutenant newly assigned to the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron “Panthers” at Kunsan AB, South Korea. On April Fools Day, our 18 F-4D Phantoms deployed to Southeast Asia, the first of many Air Force, Navy and Marine squadrons to join the fray.
Our supposedly “quick” period of temporary duty lasted 196 days. We flew first from DaNang AB, South Vietnam until mid-June and then moved to Korat AB, Thailand. During that period of time, I flew 121 combat missions, 78 of which were flown over South Vietnam primarily in close air support of ground units in contact with the enemy. I flew 43 missions over North Vietnam including 16 “Downtown.” Without exception, these Linebacker missions over Hanoi were the most hazardous I faced.
Generally we flew at about 15 thousand feet and kept our speed above 480 knots where our energy gave us good maneuverability to defeat the SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missiles. If we carried a centerline fuel tank, we drained that first and jettisoned the sluggish tank. As a result, our jet was cleaner, lighter and more maneuverable.
Most of my missions “Downtown” were escort missions for the bombers, so we were light and maneuverable, ready to tangle with any MiGs that might interfere. On the few occasions where we carried bombs, we were quite heavy until the ordnance was cleaned off the aircraft. We would ripple all twelve 500-pound bombs on a single attack; our motto was “one pass and haul a**.”
My closest encounter with the enemy came during a late summer mission. We escorted Oak Flight from Ubon that dropped seven laser-guided 2000 pound bombs on Gia Lam just east of Hanoi. We made a wide sweeping turn north of Hanoi over the lake where John McCain went swimming five years earlier. The gun positions on the south side of the lake put up a lot of flak, but no one in our flight was hit. Exiting the target area to the southwest, my radar warning receiver lit up indicating a SAM was headed our way. The cumulous clouds below us made picking up the missile difficult. At the last possible moment our lead aircraft saw the streaking SAM and called for Finch 4 (my aircraft) to break right. Our 5-G barrel roll was successful in dodging the missile. Close but no cigar!
So go downtown, things will be great when you’re Downtown – don’t wait a minute for Downtown – everything’s waiting for you.
This video is a tribute to Air Force and Navy pilots who flew north of the Red River in the northern most part of North Vietnam during the Vietnam war. People who flew north of the Red River were eligible to join an exclusive club called the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association and called River Rats. The north Vietnamese propaganda machine and Jane Fonda called them Yankee Air Pirates. See the River Rats Facebook page.
We wait. We hope. For You to Return. My favorite commercial aired during the 2013 Super Bowl was the one that paid tribute to our brave military personnel. Oprah Winfrey narrated the commercial.
On May 10, 1972, the USAF and Navy shot down 11 North Vietnam MiGs in the skies over North Vietnam at a cost of two USAF and two Navy F-4s shot down. Jeffrey Ethell and Alfred Price wrote a great book about this day called “One Day in a Long War, May 10, 1972, Air War, North Vietnam” that describes in detail events of that day. I recommend this book. It’s in my collection of books written about the Vietnam air war. A lot of people I know are mentioned in the book or the appendix that contains the names of all USAF and Navy F-4 air crews who flew north that day. F-4 drivers of the Vietnam war era will probably recognize a lot of names.
“One Day in a Long War recounts firsthand accounts of almost one hundred eye witnesses, analyzes cockpit voice recordings and draws from official documents, many declassified for the first time, to tell its story. During May 10 an elite corps of American fighter pilots – many of them first-generation Top Gun graduates – flew more than 330 sorties against major transportation centers around Hanoi and Haiphong. But the Vietnamese fought back with 03 ground to air missiles and 40 MiG fighters.
What words are spoken in the cockpit of a Phantom as the crew prepares to engage MiGs closing in at nearly 1,000 miles per hour? What thoughts go through the mind of a pilot struggling to hold his crippled plane in the air for one minute longer, to get clear of enemy territory so he and his crewmen can parachute into the sea? How does it feel to be in a Phantom running in to attack the notorious Paul Doumer Bridge at Hanoi with laser guided bombs as missile after missile streaks through the formation? And what tactics would enable a force of 16 of these fighter bombers to carry out such an attack without the loss of a single plane?
One Day in a Long War is a definitive reconstruction of the most intensive air combat day of the Vietnam conflict.”
We welcome our latest F-4 veteran and author Joe Boyles, Colonel, USAF (retired). Joe wrote the following newly added articles:
1. The Tale of Gator 3 – Joe and Charlie Cox dropped 12 Mark 82 500 pound bombs on Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand. We should have given Joe and Charlie a 1 Mission Over Korat patch!
2. Rocket City – DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, was frequently the target of rocket attacks.
3. Gone, but Not Forgotten – Joe remembers his nine USAFA classmates killed in Southeast Asia.
4. Rockin’ Robin – Robin Olds was the commandant of cadets the last three years of Joe’s four years at the Air Force Academy.
These pictures are from Joe Lee Burns collection. Click on the first photo to enlarge it. See Joe Lee Burn’s bigger version of the Da Nang AB picture of the 35th TFS guys with arrows going from the names to the people in the picture plus a list of guys in the squadron the day the picture was taken who missed the photo op.
You many then click on the >> or << symbols to move forward or backwards in picture viewer.
Jeannie Beckers, Lyle Becker’s wife, found this video that all fighter pilots must watch. I personally don’t know anybody like the retired fighter jock in the video. Here are some of my favorite lines:
- I flew jets – the supersonic attack jet known as the F-4 fighter-bomber, mostly bomber. It does have a tendency to make women swoon.
- Strapping on a high powered jet is not an easy task, but someone has to do it.
- Have you ever traveled faster than the speed of sound or the speed of stink?
- Have you ever arrived at your destination prior to your departure?
- Have you ever called a tally ho on six bogeys when you knew there were eight in the environment surrounding you?
- This guy is hot. This guy can fly jets like nobody’s business.
- At one point the young lady responds “You have got to be shitting me!”
- I have numerous plaques, trophies and awards that have been strategically placed on my walls.
Craig Baker has the best website by far of all websites about airplanes that participated the Vietnam war. His site is Craig Baker’s F-105 Site. Craig did not fly any military airplane, but like many of us he loves the F-105 Thunderchief. The site has tons of pictures, mission audio tapes, Thud manuals and checklists and first person stories. Craig is the guy who made my “Dressed for the Aerial Office” picture page. Bookmark his site because it will take many visits to see and hear everything.
by John T. Correll
Air Force Magazine
To those who fought there, it seems like yesterday, but it was 40 years ago this August that the US Air Force deployed in fighting strength to Southeast Asia. The Air Force and the Navy flew their initial combat missions in late 1964 and early 1965. The Vietnam War began in earnest in March 1965 with Operation Rolling Thunder, which sent US aircraft on strikes against targets in North Vietnam. Soon, our ground forces were engaged as well. Eight years would pass before US forces withdrew from the war, which had by then claimed 47,378 American lives.
It was a war we didn’t win but one in which the US armed forces performed with honor, courage, dedication, and capability. On the 40th anniversary of its beginning, this almanac collects the numbers, the dates, and the key facts of the US Air Force experience in that war.
The almanac has all major facts about the air war in Vietnam. Here’s a list of some of the facts in the almanac:
- personnel strengths over the years
- organizational charts
- USAF commanders
- order of battle (355 F-4 in SEA 1972 the most ever by 67 aircraft)
- attack aircraft by type
- attack sorties by military branch by year
- map of the route packs
- break down of USAF sorties
- air ops in Laos
- MiG engagements
- battle damage assessments
- ordinance dropped
- enemy order of battle
- casualties & losses (personnel & aircraft)
- sortie loss rates vs. WWII & Korea
- Medal of Honor winners
by Walter J. Boyne
Air Force Magazine
After 42 years, this token of Patrick Wynne’s academy days came home at last. First Lt. Patrick Wynne, a United States Air Force pilot, perished in 1966 in the Vietnam War. He had been flying on Aug. 8 in the backseat of an F-4C during a dangerous raid over North Vietnam. Wynne and the F-4’s pilot, Capt. Lawrence H. Golberg, were shot down north of Hanoi, near China.
Wynne, a 1963 graduate of the Air Force Academy, died wearing his class ring. Though his remains were returned in 1977, his ring was not. It was, in fact, missing and all but forgotten until last year. Then, in an astounding turn of events, it was handed over to a former Secretary of the Air Force—Michael W. Wynne, Patrick’s younger brother.
On that fateful day in 1966, 24-year-old Patrick Edward Wynne volunteered to fly one of the most hazardous missions yet assigned to the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, stationed at Ubon RTAB, Thailand.
Rufus Harris said: “Tan Son Nhut ’68, little remembrance…just arrived in country. Rather than falling in line at the PAX terminal with all the grunts for a C-130 ride to Pleiku and my Spad squadron, which might mean hanging around the airport for a day or two, I went over to base ops to see if I could find my own hop. Sure enough, A C-7 pilot says he’s taking some Purple Hearts up to the 4th Division at Pleiku and I’m welcome to hitch a ride. I’m thinking sure, I can just hold the medals in my lap, so we walk out to the plane as the loadmaster finishes strapping down a 700 pound pallet of Purple Hearts. Whoa, maybe a couple of extra days at Tan Son Nhut wouldn’t be that bad!”
Jack McTasney responded: ” Why were you in such a hurry to get to Plieku? Good to see you are still out there enjoying old age like the rest of us. Actually I remember going to DaNang in a C-130 hauling ammunition, and wondering what would happen if we were hit? When we landed and taxied in the “Hillsboro” C-130 hulk was still on the ramp from the rocket attack in July 1967. I sort of wondered if I was getting into trouble ; but then the good old AF started building bunkers, revetments and having us sandbag our hootches. Once you moved to the bottom bunk on the ground floor you didn’t even put your helmet on when the rockets came in, but the guy in the top bunk hit the deck and the “Gunfighters” on the top floor usually went to the bunkers. Then again we were probably just stupid and lucky.”
Nine Feet Tall
By John T. Correll
Air Force Magazine
The picture on the Time magazine cover for April 23, 1965, was Air Force Lt. Col. Robinson Risner. The cover story, “The Fighting American,” featured 10 US military members in Vietnam, with fighter pilot Risner—a rising star in the Air Force—foremost among them.
“At the time it was a great honor,” Risner said. “But later, in prison, I would have much cause to regret that Time had ever heard of me.”
On Sept. 16, Risner was shot down over North Vietnam and captured. The additional bad news was that the North Vietnamese had seen Time magazine and knew who he was. “Some good soul from the United States had sent them the copy,” he said, “and they thought I was much more important than I ever was.”
The magazine article told them not only that Risner was an F-105 squadron commander who had led 18 missions against North Vietnam, but also that he was a Korean War ace, having shot down eight MiGs. It also disclosed details about his family. His captors knew they had an important officer and were determined to break him. “The Vietnamese regarded Robbie as their No. 1 one prized prisoner,” said Col. Gordon Larson, a fellow POW. “Robbie was by far the most abused POW there because of who they thought he was.” All of the POWs were tortured and ill-treated, but Risner got an extra portion.
Risner was a leader among the airmen held by the North Vietnamese, first as senior-ranking officer and then as vice commander of the 4th Allied POW Wing formed in Hoa Lo Prison, the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” According to Larson, Risner was “the most influential and effective POW there.
The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
THORSNESS, LEO K.
Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel (then Maj.), U.S. Air Force, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Place and date: Over North Vietnam, 19 April 1967. Entered service at: Walnut Grove, Minn. Born: 14 February 1932, Walnut Grove, Minn.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F- 105 aircraft, Lt. Col. Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lt. Col. Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles, and then destroyed a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In tile attack on the second missile site, Lt. Col. Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the 2 crewmembers abandoned their aircraft. Lt. Col. Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this maneuver, a MIG-17 was sighted in the area. Lt. Col. Thorsness immediately initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG. Because his aircraft was low on fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker. Upon being advised that 2 helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MlGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position. As he approached the area, he spotted 4 MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MlGs, damaging 1 and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a tanker, Lt. Col. Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself, helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely. Lt. Col. Thorsness’ extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.
Read “Commissioned in Hanoi” By Leo K. Thorsness:
Art Cormier, Neil Black, and Bill Robinson showed excellence in the POW camps around Hanoi.
In 1967, there was a “unit” of approximately 300 Americans fighting the Vietnam War from within a Hanoi prison. The unit—later named the 4th Allied POW Wing—was located in the drab North Vietnamese capital. Within this unit, every man had the same job: prisoner of war.
All—except three enlisted airmen—were officers, including me. Our job description was to continue fighting for the United States while imprisoned.
The three enlisted airmen were SSgt. Arthur Cormier, Amn. Arthur Neil Black, and SSgt. William A. Robinson. All were crewmen on helicopters that rescued aircrews from downed aircraft. The three were shot down in 1965.
They were captured, taken prisoner, and ended up in the Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi (the “Hanoi Hilton,” in POW parlance).
Purchase Leo’s book “Surviving Hell: A POW’s Journey” from Amazon.