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PoW Christmas

Former PoW Col. Gordon Swede Larson, USA Today Hotsite


Biography of: Col. Gordon "Swede" Larson - Page Three

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 "SAMS".

There were 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 inventory!


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.

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