I flew combat missions almost
daily and spent the rest of my time running the squadron. We flew missions in Laos, and Cambodia, but
primarily in North Vietnam. When the
weather was good in the northernmost portion of Vietnam, around the Hanoi area,
we would fly four to eight aircraft from each of three squadrons, to targets in
the Hanoi area.
They were very rough
missions. The anti-aircraft guns were
so numerous they were uncountable. The
entire area was covered with Russian surface-to-air-missiles called
additionally many, many Migs in the immediate area. We were very heavily loaded with fuel and bombs and were very
vulnerable to the Migs. Those missions
were "white knucklers" - to say the least. Our Wing and our sister Wing would usually average losing at
least one aircraft on every strike in the Hanoi area. It was hard on our aircraft inventory but was brutal on our pilot
It was very frustrating
to all of us flying missions to North Vietnam, that the White House and
specifically President Johnson and his side kick (that thought he knew so
much), McNamara, had full and final say on the targets we could hit.
We were severely restricted and could not
bomb any worthwhile targets. The port of Haiphong was strictly off limits as
were the power plants, and the dikes and dams in the delta region of North
Vietnam. The city of Hanoi and much of the populated surrounding area was lower
in elevation than the surrounding water table. We could have flooded them out!
It was a hell of a way to run a war.
Pay the military to train and conduct a war with the always-expected
outcome of total and swift victory, and then not use them. It was insane. Our never changing enroute flight plan to the Hanoi area took us
within 15 miles of the Thai Nuign steel complex that was the only steel
manufacturing facility in North Viet Nam.
It was only just before my shoot down in May of 1967 that we were
allowed to hit that plant. The Mig
bases were strictly off limits to us and we would fly over the 3 main bases,
look down and see the Migs on the ramp, and couldn’t do a damn thing about
them. Johnson was afraid we would drive
them across the border into China and would end up like we did in Korea with
the Migs in China. One good
concentrated effort coordinated with the Navy, and there would not be any Migs
left to fly to China!
Another sore subject was
the route we were directed to take inbound and outbound to the target areas of
Hanoi. They were dictated by 7th
Air Force in Saigon, and they were the same exact routes in and out every
mission AND always at the same time of day in the morning and in the
afternoon. The North Vietnamese could
look up and if they saw white sky, they could set their watches on our arrival
times. It would be business as usual
until our two arrivals times each day.
More insanity. Something else
tied in with this that added to my unhappiness with the situation. When I was assigned to the 469th
Squadron, there was a Lt. Colonel senior to me that I assumed would take
command of the Squadron. He had been
assigned to Republic Aviation for three years prior to Korat, as an Air Force
acceptance pilot and had approximately 2,000 hours flying the F-105. Every time he was targeted to North Vietnam,
he found some excuse to abort the mission, claiming maintenance problems. He simply was afraid to fly combat and would
not turn in his wings. The Wing
Commander said he and his staff were too busy to handle the paperwork to ground
him and that Personnel should transfer him off the base immediately so that the
base could get on with the war. Where
should he be transferred to but to 7th Air Force Headquarters in
Saigon! To “put icing on the cake”, he
was assigned to the targeting and planning team for all missions to the Hanoi
area as the OFFICER IN CHARGE OF THE SECTION!
He was now telling us how and when and where we would fly our missions! Still more Insanity!
We were required to fly
100 missions in North Vietnam to complete our tour. I had about 20 missions in Laos and Cambodia (which didn’t
count), and was on my 95th mission in North Vietnam flying against a target in
the Hanoi area when my life and future took a drastic downward turn.
On the 4th of May, I
received a call from the Director of Operations office to report to the theatre
to talk to General Ryan. He informed us
that the President had just released a number of targets that the Pentagon had
been wanting and that now “we” could end the war in 6 months.
The next day, the 5th of May 1967, I was scheduled to fly to
Hanoi with the pilot who was to replace me as the squadron commander, on my
wing. Several minutes out of the target
area I noticed his aircraft was smoking a little bit but he was able to stay up
with us. His radio was out and he was
unable to transmit his difficulties, but signaled that he was O.K. to
continue. I rolled into my dive and
delivered my bombs. When we came off a
target, we were going in excess of Mach 1 (about 760 MPH) and moving our
aircraft continually to avoid giving the gunners on the ground an easy target
to shoot at. As I was joining up with
the other two aircraft in our flight of four, I looked back towards the target
and could see my wing man in the far distance at our
same altitude but smoking badly - and apparently unable to keep up with
us. I told the other two to orbit their
immediate area (which was outside the severe SAM and antiaircraft guns) and
that I would go back and escort him out.
As I approached his
aircraft, I saw his canopy fly off and, immediately thereafter, he
ejected. His parachute opened and I
radioed the rest of my flight that he had ejected, had a good chute and that I
would join up with them right away. I
was in afterburner to increase my speed and had just completed turning around
when a tremendous explosion shook the aircraft. It was evident that a SAM had exploded with a proximity fuse
towards the rear of my aircraft. The jolt
was tremendous and was so hard, that it blew the glass faces off most of my
instruments and blew so much dust and debris up that I could hardly see for
several seconds. I was at about 4,000
feet at the time and was in a slight dive.
I pulled back on the stick to increase my altitude and found that my
stick was like a limp noodle. I had no
pitch (up and down) control of my aircraft.
At about that time I noticed that I had an engine overheat light on (in
excess of 570 degrees centigrade) and my fire warning light was on. My engine was still running and I was
reluctant to take the engine out of afterburner for fear that the engine might
blow up. I was about 3 minutes from the
jungle area in which a rescue could be attempted if I could just stay with the
plane a little while longer. I was
descending towards the ground and attempted to raise the nose of the plane by
dropping the gear (it wouldn't go down due to the high speed but might cause a
slight pitch-up). As my hydraulics were
out, it was a useless effort. I
attempted to drop my flaps which should cause a nose-up of the plane, but that
didn’t work either. By this time I was
passing through 1,000 feet above the ground and was doing about Mach 1.1 (over
800 MPH) and the ground was coming up awfully fast. It was obvious I had to get out NOW and I reached for the
ejection handle to blow the canopy and eject.