Joe Lee Burns

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II Corps Close Air Support May 1972

Not sure of the exact date, but late in the DaNang AB (366th TFW “Gunfighters”) part of the TDY by the 35th TFS (F-4Ds) from Kunsan AB, South Korea. (DaNang became a “turn” base in July of 1972; 35th moved to Korat RTAFB (388th TFW.))

The approximate date would be May 22nd or 23rd 1972. The mission was what we called a “Bien Hoa double turn”.

Launch from DaNang, work with assigned airborne FAC (O-2/OV-10) for Close Air Support (CAS) mission (usually helping US or SVN Army units engaged with enemy ground forces) or a fixed target identified by the FAC (usually a Viet Cong truck park, troop formation, small AAA activity, etc.). Land at Bien Hoa for gas and rearm; launch again and recover at Bien Hoa; then launch and recover at DaNang. Armament load was normally 10 MK 82 HiDrag 500# bombs (called Snake Eye, Snake or Shake) and 6 Napalm canisters (called Napalm or Bake). (Usually called ‘Shake and Bake’.)

This mission was the first mission of the day for our 4 ship, call sign “Bullet”, I believe. Capt Will Mincey was the scheduled flight lead. We were briefed a “standard” FAC mission with a couple of other options depending on where we were sent after takeoff. The procedures applied for all 3 scheduled sorties. As you might imagine, some in-flight procedure revisions (audibles) were often required. Normal items covered: bingo fuel to Bien Hoa by drop region (Corp area); bomb pattern (altitude, dive angles, right hand wagon wheel, FAC called roll-in headings, only 2 passes with any ground fire, bombs ripple, then napalm ripple, etc.); visual overhead pattern recovery, weather permitting; weather drop options, diverts, airborne emergencies, etc.

An unknown (unremembered) Lt was #2. Jim Beatty was #3 and I was #4 (As a SEFE, I may have been giving a tactical or instrument check to someone in the flight.)

After 0730 takeoff, contact was made with Hillsboro (?) control who passed the flight off to a Covey (?) FAC in II (two) Corps. Covey briefed a TIC (troops in contact) situation; mixed USA and ARVN forces under fire from Viet Cong holding a line of 10 to 15 huts/hutches along a north-south segment of road WSW of Qui Nhon. Covey is in contact with ground FAC, who states they are in trouble and are receiving heavy automatic gunfire from 50 to 100 Viet Cong. Due to location of friendly forces, our run-in is restricted from the east to west (good, since sun will be behind us; but, bad because the road and line of low buildings run north/south) and between 260 to 300° release heading. As we arrive in the target area, Covey marks (2.75” FFAR white smoke rocket) the northern most hut.

Lead calls ‘tally smoke’; echoed by 2, 3, 4. Given the friendlies’ situation and the perpendicular attack heading to the line of huts, Will, the flight lead, calls “pairs”.

The Lt missed the “pairs” call, apparently, and holds high and dry after his pre-briefed 2 passes. His strings of 10 Snake and 6 Nape ran a ‘little’ long to the west of the road and made the friendlies hunker down.

The 3 remaining of us (all target arms) give a text book demonstration of FWS Grad accuracy low angle weapon employment. The Covey FAC would occasionally move our aim point up and down the road based on the ground FAC’s info on where the automatic gunfire was coming from. Our 15 MK82 High Drag releases decimate the huts along the road with some surprisingly large secondary explosions. The Covey FAC is pretty cool, telling us the ground guys are jumping up and down in glee as we wipe out the enemy. A couple of times we could hear the ground FAC’s excited voice over Covey’s radio.

(On about our 3rd bomb pass, I was a little too close behind Beatty on his pass, so I moved my aim point to a remaining hutch toward the north end of the line. As I am lining up for my run-in, I check #3 to see if he’s taking any ground fire. What I do see is one of Beatty’s 2 MK82s come off in “slick” configuration, i.e., the fins on one bomb did not open up and cause it to decelerate – it was sailing along pretty close to Jim’s F-4. I called “Beatty, pull up, bomb went slick.” He snatches the jet up and away from the frag pattern (I don’t think there was any damage to the jet). Whew!

Not sure now if Will called singles for the napalm, but we all dropped singles, burning what was left of the structures along the road. Covey’s feedback to us during and after our drops was really heartwarming. He and the ground FAC made us feel like superheroes for ‘saving’ our US and ARVN troops from serious casualties. The BDA report (as I remember) from the ground was ~ 5 buildings, 11 structures destroyed and 79 KIAs.

This was the most personally gratifying combat mission I ever flew. I was proud to have helped out our Army brothers. (And eternally grateful to be an Air Force jock instead of an Army platoon leader on the jungle floor.)

From Jim Beatty:

I clearly remember the call to pull up as it scared the living s–t out of me. Thank God you called or I would probably have been a mort. If there had been a bitchin’ Betty in the jet she would have been a-squawkin’. I think the LT’s name was” Larry Taylor” but wouldn’t swear to it… I do know we all jumped in his chili for not paying attention to lead as to what he wanted and when, plus putting the friendlies at undue risk. It was surely a gratifying mission as we accomplished what CAS is all about and did so in a very accurate and professional manner. Considering the experience level of at least three of us, one would expect nothing less. God, it is so great to remember the good things we accomplished. It made it all worth while and I am sure we would all gladly do it all over again “no questions asked”.

Jim

The author is Joe Lee  Burns, USAF Fighter Pilot & Colonel, USAF retired

2017-01-20T19:03:12-07:00By |1 Comment

Joe Lee Burns & Friends on the 35th TFS, Its MiG Kills, Flying the F-4 in Combat & Duty, Honor & Country

Compilation of 35th TFS Stories – Kunsan / DaNang / Korat – Circa ’72

This is in response to Emails from Doyle Glass (author) and Rick Keyt (Webmaster 35th TFS F-4 site).  I plan to share this document with my kids and grandkids.

Joe Lee writes: 4/30/07 in response to an Email on several subjects

Doyle,

Do you have a framework for question topics or is it free-flowing experience??  I am a Texan and proud of it.  I’d fly on Lyle Becker’s wing anywhere, anytime. (Big fighter pilot compliment.) Come to think of it, I guess I already have flown on his wing everywhere. (81st at Hahn AB, Germany and 35th Kunsan/DaNang/Korat, SEA)

Joe Lee writes: 5/3/07 in response to interview – clarifications

If you can, let me know how Lyle sounds next week. He’s been under the weather.  I thoroughly enjoyed being in the same squadron with him at Hahn (81st TFS) and then the 35th.  If he sounds too “tight” tell him I told you what his middle name is . . . . . He always used to say his name was Lyle “f-ing” Beckers.  I have to hook you up with another 35th Panther – Jim Beatty.  He shot down a MiG-21 with the F-4E 20 mm gun.  Break, Break.

Some names of Air Force people who had a direct, strong influence on my growth as a fighter pilot in roughly chronological order:

  • Capt Jim LaChance (ex-F-100 pilot) – Emergency Procedure Officer in my T-37 pilot training squadron at Reese. ‘64
  • Capt Dave Connett – my AC at George and Ubon. Taught me lots about flying. ‘65-‘66
  • Capts Bob Hutton and Bob Ashcraft at George and Ubon. Represented what a fighter pilot should be. Smart and fun-loving. ’65-‘66
  • Majs Mike Kidder, Bob Foster, Wally Aunan, Gary Retterbush and Lyle Beckers at Davis-Monthan and Hahn. The tricks (and hard work) of being a good fighter pilot. Living through flunked ORIs. I wanted to do good, so these guys would be proud of me. ’67-‘70

DID NOT want to be like 49th Wing CC at Holloman Col “Black” Jack Bellamy. He “led” by using fear and intimidation on his troops – not very effective. Aunan & Beckers were at Holloman, too. ’70-‘71

35th TFS – Lt Col Lyle Beckers, Maj Retterbush; and contemporaries: Capts Jim Beatty, Joe Moran, Will Mincey, George Lippemeier – I was in the company of fighter pilot heroes. And my hope for the future AF, Lt Jack Overstreet who I took under my ‘wing’ at Kunsan/DaNang/Korat. ‘72.  LtCol Boots Boothby, Ted Laudise, Jerry Nabors, Maj Randy O’Neill – great leaders at Nellis 64th FWS Aggressor Squadron. ’72-‘74

Joe Lee writes: 6/27/07 Recap of Telephonic Interview

Doyle,

Sep 1971 – Oct 1972.  Personnel “toads” wanted to send me to SAC flying Bombers! after FWS graduation.  I fought it very hard. I won, BUT got sent “remote” to Korea as retribution.  Kunsan AB, Korea – 35th TFS, “Panthers” – F-4D (close to Chonju and Iksan )  Weapons Flight Commander. We sat nuke alert for a few months, then it was cancelled. (Yea!)  3rd Tac Ftr Wing Stan Eval / Flight Examiner (Standardization Evaluator/Flight Examiner).  Lyle Beckers was a friend and a damn good SQ/CC.

1 April 1972 APRIL FOOL’S DAY – recall was a disaster!!

The 35th was alerted and deployed to DaNang AB, South Viet Nam. Later moved to Korat RTAFB, Thailand. I didn’t join the squadron in-theater until about 15 April. I flew:

  • 37 missions over North Viet Nam
  • 19 of which were ‘Linebacker’ Route Package Six
  • CAP/escort/strike/CAS missions
  • 48 combat missions South Viet Nam / Laos
  • 20 July 1972, my trusty F-4 was shot down by AAA and we were (finally) rescued by Navy chopper.

Note: Counting both combat tours (assignments), I ended up with 137 total missions over North Viet Nam (18½ missions in Route Package 6) and a total of 257 combat missions.

Apr 1, 1972 – Jun 5, 1972.  Deploy to DaNang AB, South Viet Nam

The 35th was one of the most experienced F-4 squadrons in South East Asia (SEA. Although we had about 8 1Lt aircraft commanders, we had been training them for 6 months prior to deployment. The rest of the squadron averaged over 1800 hours of F-4 time and included 8 Fighter Weapons School graduates. Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Lyle Beckers, Major Walt Bohan, and Captains Charlie Cox, Jim Beatty, Joe Moran, George Lippemeier, Will Mincey, and me. Gary Retterbush was another very experienced fighter pilot with over 1000 hours of F-105 time.)

The 35th TFS was ‘scrambled’ to deploy to DaNang because of the North Vietnam Army’s Tet offensive. Recall was the early morning of Saturday, 1 April, 1972.  It was ‘slow’ at first because of hangovers from Friday Happy Hour(s), AND it WAS April Fool’s Day!  I was home on mid-tour leave at the time, but joined the squadron mid-April.

Capt Jim Beatty gave me my ‘local checkout’ ride (~16 April ’72, I think) – supposed to be a milk-run close air support mission – but, we were diverted into NVN across the DMZ to Route Pack 1 to attack two (2) SAM sites!!!!  Jim always says he snuffed out his Benson and Hedges cigarette in his palm when Hillsboro Control said “the fingers lake area” – it was a known hot spot to avoid if you weren’t going to attack it!!  They shot lots of AAA and an SA-2 at us!!! Jim (who was in my back seat) said I passed the ‘check-out’ “because we didn’t die”.

We flew 2 sometimes 3 times a day, mostly close air support missions – low threat and high satisfaction (the Forward Air Controllers passed on the kind words from the ground commanders).

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2017-01-20T19:03:13-07:00By |2 Comments

Joe Lee Burns’ Pictures

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.

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2019-05-25T08:19:20-07:00By |0 Comments

A Ridge Too Far: Shot Down by AAA & Rescued Off of Haiphong

Background

What can I say?  Happy Hour had been long and exuberant, and now 07:00 hours Saturday April 1, 1972 my squadron, the Black Panthers (35th Tactical Fighter Squadron), and its F-4Ds were on the move from Kunsan airbase Korea to South East Asia (SEA). TDY to Vietnam. (YES! Recall was on APRIL FOOL’S DAY! It was NOT pretty. But, that’s a whole ‘nuther’ story!).  It was just the beginning.  May 1972, hardly unpacked, we left the 366th TFWing at DaNang to join the 388th TFW at the Royal Thai Air Force base at Korat, Thailand.

The 35th was one of the most experienced F-4 squadrons in South East Asia (SEA).  Although we had about 8 1Lt aircraft commanders, we had been training them for 6 months prior to deployment.  The rest of the squadron averaged over 1800 hours of F-4 time and included 8 Fighter Weapons School graduates (Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Lyle Beckers, Major Walt Bohan, and Captains Charlie Cox, Jim Beatty, Joe Moran, George Lippemeier, Will Mincey, and me).

0600 Hours, 20 July 1972

We are being briefed on a mission to Route Package 6;  bombing the underground fuel storage area located about 12 nautical miles southeast of Hanoi.  Our mission is a mini- strike package with 16 of our F-4Ds acting as “iron haulers”.  That is, eight ships ((call signs “Caddy”(1st Striker) and “Buick” (3rd Striker)) each carrying 12 iron bombs (500 pound Mark 82) with delay fuzzes. An additional eight ships ((2nd Striker (“Dodge”) and 4th Striker (“Chevy”)) would be each be carrying 9 incendiary mix CBU 58s.

The ‘plan’ calls for Caddy and Buick flights to break open the earthen revetments with their 500 pounders and Dodge and Chevy flights to ignite the exposed fuel.  Our MIG cover would be provided by eight F-4Es (“Pistol” and “Saber” flights) armed with Sparrow (radar guided) and Sidewinder (heat seeking) missiles, plus the internal 20mm Gatling gun.  Each of the F-4s carried a radar jamming pod.  All the aircraft and spares would be flying out of Korat.  Support missions would include the mix of Wild Weasels, tankers and Command and Control aircraft.

Weather is reported to be scattered clouds in the target area, with a scattered to broken cloud deck to the east along our exit route toward the North Vietnam coast “feet wet”.  Intelligence warns us about a potential ‘new’ Surface-to-Air (SAM) missile site just north of Thud/Phantom ridge, roughly half way between Hanoi and the coast line to the east.

After ‘wheels-up’ the 24 ship strike force and spares are to join up and proceed to `Purple’ Tanker orbit abeam of  the city of Vinh out over the Gulf of Tonkin.  After mid-air refueling we would cross the North Vietnam coast (`feet dry’) North  East of Thanh Hoa.  Our Initiation Point would be Minh Binh and from there to the target.  After the strike we would egress NE then east just North of Thud/Phantom Ridge to feet wet, then South to Purple tankers and RTB (Return To Base – for us, back to Korat).

The Mission Commander, Caddy 1, is Major Walt Bohan and I, Caddy 3, am the Deputy Mission Commander.

The rest of the mission briefing is ‘normal – normal’.  Well, except for this.  Sometime during the mission brief, out of the corner of my eye, I notice that “Roscoe”, the Korat fighter pilot dog-warrior-mascot gets up and leaves the briefing room.  “Aw, heck”, says me.  That’s just a superstition, isn’t it? It probably doesn’t really mean this will be a “tough” mission (i.e., lose an aircraft).  Heck, sometimes a dog just has to take a whiz!

All 24 aircrews and spares ‘step’ at 9:15 for a 10:30 takeoff.

(Now here’s where the hair on the back of your neck should start bristling – as in: “oh oh”, things aren’t going “as briefed”!!  I know MINE did!)

Shortly after engine start Caddy 4 ground aborts Air Refueling Door Failure), dashes to a ground spare, but it ground aborts also.  A ground spare replaces Caddy 4.  (Capt. Jim Beatty in F-4D with 500 pounders, who had attended the Caddy flight briefing.)  Taxi as 4 ship.  At EOR (End Of Runway checkpoint) Caddy 2 ground aborts for a massive hydraulic leak.  Caddy Flight takes off on time as a flight of three with the rest of the strike force in tow.

(Did I ever tell you about Jim Beatty’s ‘world renown’ May ’72 supersonic Mig-21 gun kill while flying an F-4E out of DaNang.  Supersonic?  Yep!  He and his pitter had pretty sore necks as their F-4E went through ‘mach tuck’ and hit jet wash just as the Mig burst into flames!!  Pegged the G meter!!  The jet was down for a few days, too! )

Rendezvous with tankers in Purple orbit uneventful – gas passed in reverse order (i.e. – 4, then 3, then 1) per briefing – except for Caddy 1 who keeps getting disconnected.  He backs out so Caddy 3 and 4 can top off and then tries again. At about this time, an air spare joins Caddy flight. It’s an F-4E with CBUs from the 421st TFS, flown by Captain Sammy Small.  He tops off after Caddy 4.  Caddy 1 can’t get his Flight Control Augmentation System  (CAS) to stay on line, is VERY sensitive in the pitch axis and can’t take any more gas. He aborts, making Caddy 3 the mission commander.

(I’ve never been on a mission with this much ‘trouble’ BEFORE we even get to the target!!) 

Due to armament, flight call signs are rearranged.  Caddy check in is “Caddy 3 check”, “2” (Jim Beatty F-4D with bombs), 4″ (Capt. Sammy Small F-4E with CBUs).

(I am often questioned about proceeding with the mission as a 3 ship.  Best I can remember there was a Wing policy that covered going on a mission with less than the fragged number of aircraft, armament different from fragged, etc.  However, comma, the original Caddy 1 seemed to have been going to target with 3 jets; we had 12 ‘bombers’ and 8 ‘escorts’ right behind us; AND the target dictated delayed fused bombs to expose the POL followed by CBUs to assure the POL caught fire. “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!”)

After drop-off from tankers, ingress proceeds as briefed: feet dry NE of Thanh Hoa, IP (Initial Point) at Ninh Binh to target.  Slight weaving along route at an altitude of 18,000 to 22,000 feet.

(Another bad sign!  When the flight switches ‘Master Arm On’, one of Caddy 2’s bombs just sorta falls off its rail!  Cripes!  Hope it doesn’t hit those Navy ships!!)

In bound route is eerily quiet.  My ‘pitter’ Lieutenant Mike Nelson and I discuss target area responsibilities again.  There is very little activity on the Radar Homing and Warning System (RHAW); only occasional, short beeps from various enemy radars (Ground Control Intercept (GCI), Fansong SAM (Surface-to Air Missile), and the larger Anti – Aircraft Artillery (AAA) tracking radars).

The ‘new’ Caddy 4, rightfully, since he was not in Caddy’s briefing, asks from which direction was roll in and moves to right combat echelon as we approach the target area.

I can see the target area is almost free of clouds – some scattered ones at 8 to 10,000 feet – a heavier, layered deck appears to cover the egress route.

For an underground fuel storage site, this one is fairly easy to identify from altitude due to good intelligence target photos of the dirt roads.  As Caddy flight approaches the roll in point, a single 85-mm AAA gun starts shooting in the vicinity of the target area – dense black flak balls widely scattered at 15 to 18,000 feet.  It’s 1145 hours.

“Caddy, check switches hot – Caddy has target in sight – Lead’s in.”

Ground level winds in the target area were forecast from the NE and it looks about right to me from the movement of low clouds and smoke from ground fire.  Briefed aim point for Caddy’s bombs and Dodge’s CBUs was the SW half of the target area, so that Buick and Chevy flights could target the NE half of the target area without being hindered by smoke from Caddy and Dodge’s ordinance (and, hopefully, secondary explosions).

Caddy 1 is thundering ‘down the chute’ at 500+ miles per hour in a 60-degree dive.  I stop the wind drift with the ‘pipper’ (aiming device) directly on the target and ‘pickle’ off my deadly weapons at 14,000 feet.  (Funny how the ‘light, sporadic 85 mm flak seems MUCH heavier during the pass!!)  All bombs off, I start a hard 6 ‘G’ pull, jink left, and then jink hard right as we bottom out about 7000 feet. I continue in a hard right turn climbing toward 10,000 feet and heading for the north side of Thud/Phantom Ridge.

Coming off target, Mike and I crane our necks against the G forces scanning the ground and skies for SAMs, AAA and Migs. I notice several 37 or 57 mm AAA guns joining in the defense of the target area – but still only at the ‘moderate’ level.  As I look back over my right shoulder, I see my two wingmen below and inside my turn – no immediate threat to them or us, says my fearless pitter, 1/Lt Mike Nelson.  As the join up to combat spread formation ensues, I get a look at the target area some 10 – 15 miles away.  Black, heavy smoke, with fires visible at the ground, rising to some 18,000 feet as the second wave’s ordinance starts to impact.  (Sierra Hotel!!  We won’t have to come back to bomb THIS fuel dump for a while!!)

(That feeling of knowing that the bombs are on target is wonderful.  The fact is our bombs didn’t always hit the target, or that if they hit the target, the ‘target’ really wasn’t there anymore – i.e., no secondary explosions.  So far on THIS mission, it appeared the mission objective is accomplished and things look pretty good!)

As Caddy 2 and 4 join to combat spread (I’d been turning enough in a high-speed climb to give them cutoff), we see the thickening cloud deck to the East from 5 to 12,000 feet.  This observation, plus the intelligence briefing on a possible new SAM (Surface-to Air Missile) site, makes me decide to drop down and egress at 500 feet Above Ground Level (AGL).

(YES, the thought also crosses my mind that a few MIGs might be lurking at low altitude to snipe at us along our egress route.  Specially since I had just been on our Wing DCO’s wing the day before when he went out north of Thud/Phantom Ridge at low altitude!!  Mike was busy fine tuning the radar in search of low altitude ‘bogies’.)

I hear a little UHF radio chatter as the following flights come off target, rejoin and start their egress.  It sounds like we got lots of bombs on target with good secondary explosions and big fires.  Not much activity on the RHAW scopes, but there is a SAM (Surface-to Air Missile) radar warning call from one of the flights exiting the area above 20,000 feet.  I am maintaining my easterly heading at 500 to 1,000 feet AGL, in a slight weave with my wingmen in Vee formation.  Mike splits his time between the radar scope, visually searching the skies for threats, and checking our geographical egress route.  We are cross checking our location by counting the smaller north – south oriented ridges coming off the main East – West ridge.  I radio the flight for a fuel check.  All 3 of us have good fuel status.

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2017-01-20T19:03:14-07:00By |8 Comments