Most Americans do not realize that the men and women who serve in the U.S. military frequently risk their lives as a day to day part of their jobs.  Many military jobs are no more dangerous than the jobs of most other Americans.  Some military jobs, however, are inherently dangerous and sometimes can be deadly.

For example, when I was flying the F-4 Phantom supersonic fighter (1971 – 1976) I could not purchase commercial life insurance because my job was too risky.  I actually saw three fighters (two F-4s and one T-38) crash in peace time during the five years I flew fighters in the United States Air Force.  I knew many people who ejected from crippled fighters.  When you throw your body at the ground in a 45 degree dive bomb at 450 knots or engage in mock aerial combat with other airplanes at supersonic speeds, things can happen.

Most of us have heard the term “freedom is not free.”  When we hear that phrase, we usually think of U.S. military personnel dying for our country in war, but it also applies in peace time and to accidents that occur in war time.

American military personnel die all too frequently so that the American people can enjoy the fruits of freedom.  We should always remember our fallen heroes and the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby who lost five sons in the Civil War.  President Lincoln wrote “I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”

Lt. Phil Clark (father) & Lt. Terry Clark (son)

Phil Clark was a 1968 Annapolis graduate and Navy fighter pilot whose A-7 fighter bomber was shot down over North Vietnam on December 24, 1972.  Phil was first declared missing in action and later reclassified to killed in action.  When Phil was shot down, he was married and had a very young son, Terry, and a daughter.

A few years after Phil’s death, Phil’s young wife died and his two young children were raised in Phoenix, Arizona, by their grandparents, Phil and Freda Clark.  The elder Phil is a retired USAF Colonel and former bomber pilot.  Phil and Freda were best friends for years with my parents.  My dad is a retired USAF Major.

Terry Clark graduated from Brophy College Preparatory high school in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1986, and the US Naval Academy in 1990, twenty-two years after his father’s graduation from the academy.  Terry followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Navy fighter pilot.  I remember Terry and his sister visited my office one day for a legal matter shortly after Terry had received  his wings of gold.

On February 18, 1996, Lt. Terry Clark was killed in an F-14 training accident off the coast of San Diego.  I’ll never forget Colonel Phil Clark, Sr., telling me how difficult it was for he and Freda to go to Arlington National Cemetery twice, once to bury Phil and again to bury Terry.  As a father, I cannot begin to imagine the pain and anguish Phil and Freda must have felt to have raised a son and a grandson to go to the Naval Academy, Navy pilot training and then be killed while flying fighters in defense of the United States.  The three generations of Clarks are true American heroes of the highest order.  They served our country quietly with dignity, honor and pride.

Captain Thomas A. Amos and Captain Mason I. Burnham

Tom Amos (35th Tactical Fighter Squadron) and Mason Burnham (421st Tactical Fighter Squadron) were killed in action during an F-4D combat mission over Laos on April 20, 1972.  They were escorting an AC-130 gunship as it struck targets on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  The AC-130s (known as “Spectres”) carried a 20mm six barreled gatling gun and a 105mm Howitzer canon.  The Spectres were extremely effective at destroying military targets on the trail.

The job of the F-4 was to drop bombs on any troops that fired anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) at the gunship.  The F-4 rolled in to attack a gun on the ground.  The crew of the AC-130 saw a fireball on the ground and were not able to contact Tom or his backseater on the radio.  The term used by the intelligence personnel to describe the incident was “no chutes, no beepers.”

I will never forget hearing those words from time to time when I was attending intelligence briefings before flying combat missions over Vietnam.  The phrase meant there was no word on the fate of a downed aircrewman because when the airplane went down, nobody saw any parachutes or heard any beepers from the emergency radios that all aircrewmen carried.  When I flew combat missions over South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Laos in 1972, I actually carried two radios on my person plus a third radio in the survival kit contained in the ejection seat.  USAF F-4s had an emergency radio in the survival kit that could be set to automatically transmit the emergency beeper sound on UHF frequency 343.0 (the emergency frequency monitored by USAF airplanes) when the ejection seat fired.

Tom was the only member of the 35th TFS (my squadron) from Kunsan, Air Base, Korea, killed in action when the 35th TFS deployed to DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, and Korat Air Base, Thailand, in 1972.

See Tom Amos on the Virtual Wall.

Captain Tom Ballard and Lt. Ron Goodwin

Tom Ballard and Ron Goodwin were killed flying an F-4 during a nuclear bomb delivery training mission over Korea on February 16, 1973.  They were on a typical F-4 training mission.  Tom and Ron were tasked to fly a low level route in their F-4D and deliver their first practice simulated nuclear bomb within 1,500 feet of the target plus or minus two minutes of a designated time over the target (TOT).  One of the missions of the F-4 was nuclear bombing so F-4 crews frequently practiced the skills necessary to put a nuclear bomb on target within the designated TOT.  In Korea, we usually flew a low level route 500 feet above the ground at 420 knots for about 30 minutes before reaching the target on the bombing range.

The F-4 had two ways to deliver a nuke bomb, the lay down method and the low angle drogue delivery (LADD) method.  The lay down method is the simplest method.  It involves merely flying straight and level over the target and releasing the nuke bomb at the proper time and place.  The bomb falls away from the airplane, the nose of the bomb falls off to reveal a spike and the bomb floats to the ground in a parachute.

The LADD delivery method involves flying towards the target and at a predetermined distance the pilot pulls back on the stick and begins a steep climb approximating 45 degrees.  At some point in the climb, the F-4’s Weapons Release Computer System releases the bomb.  The nuke bomb then continues in an upward trajectory for a while before falling back to earth.  The parachute on the bomb opens and the bomb then begins to float toward the ground.

The purpose of the LADD is to cause an air burst, i.e., a bomb that explodes above the ground, as opposed to a bomb that explodes on the ground.  The nuke bomb contained a radar altimeter that detonates the bomb at a designated altitude above the ground.  An air burst creates substantially more radioactivity than a ground burst of the same magnitude.

Tom and Ron flew a good low level mission to the Kuni bombing range on the west coast of Korea.  When they flew over the target at 1,000 feet, their bomb did not release.  The most common reason a bomb did not release was because the pilot failed to properly configure all of the switches necessary for the delivery.  We called this a “switchology error,” which meant an error caused by improper setting of weapons switches.  In the F-4 it was actually possible to select the switches in such a way that pressing the bomb release button caused the 20mm gatling gun on the centerline of the airplane to be released like a bomb.  The powers that be were not happy when a pilot accidentally bombed off a gun that cost several hundred thousand dollars.

Tom began a 360 degree turn to make another bombing run so that he could release his bomb within two minutes of the designated TOT.  The accident report speculated that while in the turn at low level (500 – 1,000 feet) the F-4 flew into the water.  Tom was probably checking the switches in the cockpit trying to figure out why the bomb did not release and was momentarily distracted, which allowed the airplane hit the water.  When you fly at high speeds (500 knots is 845 feet per second), there is not much room for error.

Duty, Honor, Country

Each of the above men exemplifies the concepts of Duty, Honor and Country, the foundations on which the U.S. military is built.  I believe that the finest speech ever given is General Douglas MacArthur’s “Duty, Honor, Country” speech that he gave without notes to the West Point corps of cadets on May 12, 1962.  In honor and remembrance of the six men named above and all of our fallen heroes of the U.S. military, I will close with excerpts from General MacArthur’s famous speech.

“Duty, Honor, Country — those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you want to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. . . . I regard

[the U.S. soldier] now, as one of the world’s noblest figures; not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. . . . They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light.”