35th Tac Fighter Squadron

Gary Retterbush Meets Theo van Geffen, Author of Republic F-105 Thunderchief: Peacetime Operations

Theo van Geffen visited Gary Retterbush on November 9, 2021.  Gary is on the left and Theo on the right.  Theo wrote “I drove from Utrecht, Holland to Eisenstatt, Germany to visit the Retterbush family. During that most enjoyable visit we heard a lot of war stories and I handed F-105 Thunderchief book one to Gary, dealing with its peacetime operations (book two will deal with SEA ops). Gary was the very first USAFE F-105D pilot to land at Bitburg in May 1961 and the very last F-105D pilot to depart USAFE in February 1967, from Spangdahlem. Gary, while TDY to Korat from Kunsan, downed a North Vietnamese MiG-21 on September 12 and one on October 8, 1972. The attached photo shows Gary on the left and me on the right.”

Gary is a fighter pilot’s fighter pilot.  See his article called “Gary Retterbush 2 – North Vietnamese Air Force 0.”

2021-12-24T16:59:58-07:00By |0 Comments

F-4E JV 268 MiG Killer

I just ordered the F-4E model shown below.  Dan Autrey, my roommate at Korat Air Base, Thailand, in 1972, turned me on to it.  Get it at Pete’s Collectibles.  The text of the sales page that mentions Dan and his front seater Gary Retterbush.  We were in the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron TDY from Kunsan Air Base, Korea, as part of Operation Linebacker I.  The text says:

“Air-Commander’s New F-4E Phantom, Paper Tiger, 67-0268, 35th TFS, 388th TFW, USAF, 1972 1/72 Die Cast Model, Limited Edition Worldwide!! Introduced in late 1960 with the U.S. Navy, the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II has been an incredibly versatile and effective aircraft for numerous national militaries around the world. The multipurpose fighter saw extensive combat duty during the Vietnam War, including serving as Major Gary L. Retterbush, the pilot of Finch 3, an F-4E Phantom II. Finch flight was a flight of four Phantoms led by Lt. Col. Lyle Beckers, the squadron commander of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron. The 35th TFS was permanently based at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, but was on temporary duty (TDY) at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, to assist in Operation Linebacker I. On September 12, 1972, Major Retterbush and Lt Daniel Autrey took down a MiG-21 using the M61A1 20mm automatic gun. Both were awarded the Silver Star for their kill.”

Read Major Retterbush’s article on his two MiG kills called “Gary Retterbush 2 – North Vietnamese Air Force 0.”

2019-11-11T18:24:07-07:00By |0 Comments

Video: 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron TDY to SEA 1 Apr 72

One of the guys in my F-4 Phantom squadron, the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, in 1972 made a video about the squadron’s deployment to Southeast Asia.  I was reviewing old compact discs and found the video.  I can’t remember who made it or how long it has been sitting in my closet on the CD. 

After I published this post Ray Seymour sent me the following message:

“Dave Lowder and I supplied the photos and I put it together for the Rats Phoenix convention in May of 2012. That’s when Joe Lee Burns organized a mini reunion of the 35th in memory of Jim Beatty. No credit needed. Be well. On a separate note, Gene Doyle’s son Eric is the commander of the Blue Angels.

2020-05-25T09:09:33-07:00By |2 Comments

The Fireball

I’m writing this article for two audiences: my weekly Madison County Carrier readers and a website developed by a lawyer in Phoenix, Rick Keyt. In his website (keytlaw.com), Rick has developed an extensive link, “Flying the F-4 Phantom,” primarily about the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron from 1972-73. One of Rick’s articles is called “GIB LADD” about a crash on takeoff that many of us witnessed, so I’m giving you my perspective from what I recall.

It was late March 1973 and our squadron had returned five months earlier from the war in Southeast Asia to our home base at Kunsan, Korea. We (3rd Tactical Fighter Wing) were receiving an ORI – Operational Readiness Inspection – from our parent command, the Pacific Air Forces. On this morning, we were called on to fly a simulated nuclear mission, a single heavy bomb drop at Kooni Range, about a hundred miles north of Kunsan.

I was flying that morning with Gary “Stump” Corbett, a classmate from USAFA 1970. We were just a couple of lieutenants doing our thing on a brisk winter morning. Our F-4D configuration was three external fuel tanks (for a total fuel load of 21,000 pounds) and a 2100 pound BDU-8 practice bomb on the left inboard station. The jet was pretty close to maximum gross takeoff weight of 58,000 pounds.

As I recall, our call sign was Deben 93. Our mission called for us to takeoff to the south and turn left; fly a 20 minute low level route at 500 feet, 420 knots; accelerate to 500 knots at the initial point (IP) south of the range; and attack the scored offshore target with our BDU-8, delivering the bomb from low level. It was a typical attack profile for our nuclear mission.

So Corbett is taxing our jet and I have my head down in the rear cockpit tuning the radar and checking our timing, mission details, etc. Our UHF radio is tuned to the tower frequency, normal for ground operations.

Somewhere along that taxiway near the north end of the airfield, I hear a call from the tower, “Deben 91, you’re on fire.” Now to be honest, I was so engrossed in my work (don’t forget, this is an ORI) that all I heard or registered was the call sign (Deben) and the word “fire.” This is not comforting when you’re riding in an F-4 filled with jet fuel. I might add that JP-4 was a particularly volatile fuel mixed with naphtha (fortunately no longer in use by Air Force fighters).

So I pull my head out of the cockpit and start looking at instruments, warning lights, and mirrors to see if we are the Deben on fire. Then I hear Stump exclaim over the intercom, “Oh my God; they’re going to crash.” I swiveled my head to about 9 o’clock and see a mushrooming fireball of 21,000 pounds of jet fuel being consumed. The conflagration was off the south end of the runway over water and no chutes (parachutes which would indicate the crew ejected) were visible.

I have been to many aircraft accident sites investigating why jets crash, but this is the first and only one I witnessed as it was taking place. It was both eye-watering and sobering. Neither Corbett nor I were enthusiastic about flying at that point.

We taxied our jet out to the end of the runway, 2 miles from where all the action was. Our takeoff was delayed and we listening on Tower to all the discussion. From my lineup card, I figured out that Deben 91 was being flown by Chuck Banks and Ron Price. Ron and I were supposed to have left that day at the conclusion of our 13 month assignment … but our departure was delayed to fly for the ORI.

At some point, we learned from the radio calls that both Chuck and Ron had successfully (but barely) escaped the burning jet and were in their individual life rafts off the south end of the runway. Whew.
After about 20 minutes of waiting, we were given clearance to takeoff and fly our mission. We blasted off to the south overhead of our squadron buddies and turned left to point the jet toward Kooni to the north. Our TOT (time over target) was blown because of the delay. We threw the low level route away and I gave Stump and straight vector to the IP. I swear, he never pulled the throttles out of military (100 percent) power. We streaked over the Korean countryside low level at more than 600 knots. We actually had to slow down in order to drop the bomb, which is counter-intuitive.

How close was our bomb to the target? I have no idea. A couple of days later, I was on the “freedom bird” departing Korea, returning to my young family and getting ready for another overseas assignment. Price was on the same aircraft home. He was OK. Chuck was a little more banged up than Ron. We deduced their centerline tank leaked, pouring raw jet fuel into the engines through the open aux air doors. After several similar accidents, the emergency procedure for fire on takeoff was amended to include jettisoning the centerline tank.

Even after more than forty years, I’m pretty sure of most of the details. You don’t forget things like that.

2016-04-26T07:19:09-07:00By |0 Comments


by Joe Boyles

A while back, a friend suggested that I write a column about dogs, ‘man’s best friend.’  With the replacement of horses by horsepower, I reckon that dogs are man’s most useful and versatile animal.  With that in mind, let me tell you the story of a dog I knew many years ago named Roscoe.

It was late June of 1972 and I had arrived at Korat Airbase in Thailand.  I had about 60 combat missions under my belt from three months of arduous flying at DaNang.  Shortly after arriving, I was introduced to the mascot of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, namely Roscoe.

Roscoe was a yellow mongrel of no particular breed and above average size.  He didn’t start his life in Thailand but rather, Okinawa.  He was named for an F-105 Thunderchief pilot who died in a landing accident and cared for Major Ray Lewis.  Lewis smuggled Roscoe with him down to Korat.  On July 20, 1966, Ray Lewis was shot down over North Vietnam and Roscoe became an orphan.  (Note: The name of Colonel Merrill Raymond Lewis, Jr. may be found on the Vietnam War Memorial, panel 9E line 048.)  Roscoe was promptly adopted by the wing and given the honorary rank of colonel.

Roscoe had two homes – wing headquarters and the officer’s club.  Those locations were about a mile apart, but Roscoe didn’t walk from one to the other; he rode.  He would stand on the curb and wait for a ride.  If you were driving a vehicle and saw Roscoe waiting for his ride, you had better stop.  Roscoe didn’t ride in the back either; he rode ‘shotgun.’  Whoever was in the front next to the driver needed to open the door and get out because Roscoe was coming in.  That’s just the way it was.  The dog was important and he knew it.

Wing headquarters at Korat was a cluster of buildings called Fort Apache.  The central building contained Intelligence and our flight planning area.  There was one theater-style main briefing room that seated about 80 as I recall.  We used it for our ‘mass-gaggle’ Linebacker briefings in 1972 to learn the details of our missions over North Vietnam.  On the first row was a seat marked for the wing commander.  The seat next to it had Roscoe’s name on it.

The superstition was that if Roscoe slept through the briefing, then it would be a milk run with relatively light enemy opposition.  But, if Roscoe was wide awake and alert, look out.  Everyone would listen to the briefing, glance at the audio-visuals, and keep an eye on Roscoe.  Was the superstition true?  I’m not really sure, but … we didn’t leave anything to chance.  As I recall, Roscoe slept a lot … which was good.

Roscoe’s other ‘home’ was the officer’s club, and he had plenty of girlfriends (in Thai, known as ‘tee loc’) waiting for him.  Roscoe was all male and not shy in the least.

Roscoe had a hankering for ham.  So here’s the scenario: I’ve just finished a nice plate of fresh pineapple and now I’m ready for a hearty breakfast of ham and eggs.  Just as I’m about to bite into my first taste of ham, I hear a “grrr” not far away.  There’s Roscoe next to the table and my ham slice is as good as gone.  No use in trying to fight it – the dog had a direct line to the wing commander.  Just fork it over and get on with what is left of breakfast.  I lost a lot of ham before I figured out that bacon was the answer.

Point of contention here — my good buddy Karl Eschmann claims that Roscoe preferred steak.  Maybe he did at dinner, but for breakfast, it was ham.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Besides, Karl is an Aggie, so that’s an automatic disqualifier.

A few years later, the war was over and the USAF was pulling out of Korat, turning the base over to the Thai Air Force.  What to do with Roscoe?  If left behind, he might have ended up in a soup pot!  I’m told there was an extensive plan to have him moved through quarantine to Luke Air Force Base just west of Phoenix, but Roscoe died before the plan could be implemented.  Too much rich ham I suppose.

I’m told on good authority (Eschmann?) that Roscoe is buried near the front entrance of the O Club and the Thai Air Force faithfully maintains his grave site to this day.  I’d end this little tale by telling you that Roscoe was a good dog, but since he didn’t know he was a dog, how can that be?  How ‘bout this: he was good people.

For more about Roscoe read “USAF Officer Training School 1970” and “Roscoe – Top Dog at Korat.”  A newspaper published a story in 1975 called “Dog’s Death Saddens Pilots.”

2017-01-20T19:03:11-07:00By |2 Comments

What I Miss about Flying the F-4

I was very lucky to have been able to fly the F-4 Phantom for five years in the United States Air Force from 1971 – 1976, including three years teaching men to fly the F-4 while an instructor at George Air Force Base, California.  I loved flying the Phantom.  There is something very special about flying a supersonic jet fighter that is hard to put into words.  No matter how eloquent the speaker may be, words just cannot describe the out of this world experience of flying a fighter.

Video, however, is more than a picture worth a 1,000 words.  Below I am linking to two videos that give the non-fighter pilot viewer a true-life glimpse into what best described in the poem “High Flight.”

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds –
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of –
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious burning blue.
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God.

The above sonnet was written by John Gillespie Magee, an American pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War. He came to Britain, flew in a Spitfire squadron, and was killed at the age of nineteen on 11 December 1941 during a training flight from the airfield near Scopwick, England.

Flying the A-10 Warthog

Flying the F-16 Falcon

The second video shows F-16 Falcons from the 35th Fighter Squadron at Kunsan, Korea participating in Red Flag exercises in Alaska in 2014.  This is my old squadron from Korat Air Base, Thailand (1972) and Kunsan Air Base, Korea (1973).  We were the Panthers (see the picture on the squadron patch at the top of this page), but now the squadron’s nickname is Pantons.  According to the Urban Dictionary “panton” means:

Noun or adjective – Some one who is full throttle, to push it up, or lights their hair on fire. Also a good dude; a current or former member of the technically, tactically, strategically, aesthetically, and especially socially superior fighter squadron.

2017-01-20T19:03:11-07:00By |0 Comments

Joe Boyles Remembers Fallen Comrades

Everyone who has been to war has stories they retain for the remainder of their lives.  Some are told; others are just ‘filed away’ in a forgotten part of our mind, maybe to be awakened by a reminder.  Some are tragic; some funny; some ironic.  A friend sent me an e-mail last week with a website called “The Virtual Wall” where more than 58 thousand names of Vietnam casualties are cataloged.  I looked up a couple of names I recall and they reminded me of some “war stories” from long ago.

One name was Captain Tom Amos.  On Saturday, April 1, 1972, the phone rang at an early hour in the upstairs dayroom of the ‘Few Q,’ the modulux dorm that housed the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron Panthers.  Nearly all the Panthers were sound asleep, hung over from a ‘wild and crazy’ party on Friday night.  The fellow who wasn’t hung over was Tom Amos who had just arrived at Kunsan AB, South Korea the day before.

Tom answered the phone and a voice on the other end said, ‘This is the command post.  Wake everyone in your building and have them report to squadron operations in 30 minutes.  This is a silent recall.’

So Tom Amos walks through the building, opening doors (we never locked anything) and informing everyone within earshot of the message.  Now picture this scenario: it’s April Fool’s Day about 5 in the morning; you’re hung over; a stranger just opened your door and said something about a silent recall.  Would you buy this or conclude it was a prank from the neighboring squadron, roll over and go back to sleep?

When no one showed for the recall, the Director of Operations Colonel Tyler G. Goodman stormed into the Few Q and the recall wasn’t silent anymore.  My squadron mates told me (I was off-station in Seoul that weekend and sober as a judge) that his greeting was both loud and traumatic.

The gist of the silent recall was that two days prior, the North Vietnamese had launched their largest ground invasion yet, and the 35th was executing Operation Commando Fly to augment Air Force fighter units in Southeast Asia.  No one I knew of had ever heard of Commando Fly before that morning.

Two weeks or so later, I’m at DaNang Airbase temporarily assigned to the 421st Black Widows along with Tom Amos as fill-ins to replace combat losses.  After a week of hard flying, I’m DNIF (duty not to include flying) for a couple of days and assigned as night duty hog, running the Ops desk at the squadron.  One of my jobs is to check the sign out log which was our method in combat of filing a flight plan.  I notice that Larry “Howdy Doody” Trimble and Mase Burham didn’t sign out when they went to fly.

When Trimble and Burnham return from their mission to sign in, I inform them of their infraction and the penalty – one case of beer for the squadron bar.  This was not a major financial setback since beer cost 10 cents a can in the war zone.  Major whining ensues.  Then Trimble’s light bulb goes off: “Hey Joe, is there any rule that we can’t drink the beer we just bought?”

My cogent reply: “No, but you’ve got two strikes against you.  First, its 7:30 in the morning and second, no way you two are going to down a case of beer.”

Trimble thinks this over for a moment and comes back: “Well, we’re coming off duty so we can start drinking, and three can drink more beer than two.  When’s your shift over?”  “In 30 minutes,” I reply.  “Great says Howdy; Mase and I will get a head start and you can join us when your relief shows up.”

A half hour later, I’m sitting on a bar stool joining my friends for a Budweiser breakfast.  We started strong but gave up after consuming about half the case.  Yawns were followed by heavy slumber.

I realize that these war stories might damage my reputation with my tee-totaling friends.  I would offer in defense that it was a long time ago; I was young; it was war; yada, yada, yada.

Within a week, all three of these fellows were dead.  Larry Trimble’s jet was hit by a SAM over Dong Hoi, North Vietnam.  His backseater was able to eject, survive, captured, and repatriation a year later, but Larry was not so fortunate.  Tom Amos and Mason Burnham were killed during a night bombing mission over Laos.  Their bombs hit the target, followed immediately by a fireball at 12 o’clock.  Our maps for this area were very inaccurate, especially the heights of the surrounding mountains.  Also, it was very easy to become disoriented during night dive-bombing.  It could happen to anyone.

I never had the opportunity to fly with any of these fellows in the short three weeks I knew them.  They were each considered to be excellent aviators.  So there you have a couple of stories from long ago, containing humor, irony and tragedy.  So goes war.

2017-01-20T19:03:11-07:00By |0 Comments

Farewell Sky King

In the military section of the Treasures of Madison County Museum is a group photograph around an F-4D Phantom II. The picture was taken in May 1972 at DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam. About twenty members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron “Panthers” are included in the photo including yours truly. In the cockpit of the jet is the squadron commander, Lt. Col. Lyle L. Beckers.

Lyle recently died at the age of 81 in Gainesville, Georgia from the effects of Alzheimer’s. Four decades ago, we knew him by his moniker “Sky King” as a fearless fighter pilot leader. Where did that name come from? Some of you might recall the children’s television adventure Sky King from the 1950s.

I served under a variety of fighter squadron commanders in Korea, Vietnam, England, and Germany as well as a couple stateside. Some were better than others, but as a whole, they were fine leaders and taught me a great deal. Lyle Beckers stands out though. He was a highly experienced fighter pilot in both the F-100 Super Sabre as well as the F-4 Phantom. He was also a graduate of the Fighter Weapons School, literally graduate school for “jet jockeys.”

I arrived at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea in mid-March 1972 for my first duty assignment out of flight training. I spent the next couple of weeks in-processing, and before I knew which way was up, my squadron was sent south to the war in Southeast Asia. What prompted this sudden change of course was the North Vietnamese had launched their Easter Offensive on March 29 with 200 thousand invading troops. The only way to halt this invasion was with air power. We were the first outside unit to respond; many more would follow.

Initially, our people and jets were split between two bases, DaNang in South Vietnam and Ubon in Thailand. We filled in to replace combat losses but before long, the squadron was reunited at DaNang under our own flag. The two lieutenant colonels in the 35th were the commander, Lyle Beckers, and operations officer Bill Mickelson. They were both experienced fighter pilots with previous combat tours and complimented each other well. Beckers was the leader while Mickelson was the ‘people person.’

Lyle Beckers led the toughest missions. In mid-May, Operation Linebacker began and we regularly flew high risk missions into the industrial heartland of North Vietnam. I can never recall a Linebacker mission where Beckers was not the flight lead of our first 4-ship. He led from the front. Frequently, I was on his wing in another jet, usually the number four aircraft. His decision making was precise and flawless.

Do you recall a couple of years ago when some official in the Obama Administration said that the United States was leading the coalition against Libya “from behind?” Lyle Beckers wouldn’t understand that; it wouldn’t compute. A leader is in front and never asks his troops to do anything he isn’t willing to do himself. That was Lyle Beckers’ style of leadership and we all looked up to him.

Most of our missions into North Vietnam were air-to-air missions meaning we were there to protect the strike flights from MiG attacks. On May 23rd, Beckers was leading our squadron when the flight was jumped by MiGs. He used an AIM-7 Sparrow missile to shoot down a MiG-19. The number 3 aircraft shot down a MiG-21 with the 20mm canon. Number 2 registered a probable kill with an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. Altogether, a very successful mission.

Three months later in September, Beckers registered his second MiG kill, this time against a MiG-21 using an AIM-9 and the gun. MiG kills in the Vietnam War were infrequent and hard to come by. Only a handful of pilots registered more than one kill. Lyle Beckers was one of the few who did.

Colonel Beckers was an imposing fellow, probably taller than 6’1”, and he was possessed with all-American looks. It pains me to think of a strong leader felled by Alzheimer’s, but he is well now and at peace. Let us pray: “Father of all, we pray to you for Lyle, and for all those whom we love but see no longer. Grant to them eternal rest. Let light perpetual shine upon them. May his soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

Read “The Tale of Gator 3” about an F-4 mission lead by Colonel Beckers.

2017-01-20T19:03:11-07:00By |2 Comments

RIP Lyle Beckers, Fighter Pilot

Sad news from Jeannie Beckers on September 24, 2014, about the passing of her husband Lyle C. Beckers.  Col. Beckers was the commander of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron when it went TDY from Kunsan AB, Korea, to Da Nang AB, South Vietnam and Korat AB, Thailand in 1972.  Lyle lead many 35th TFS strike escort missions into Route Pack VI and shot down two MiG-21s.

Jeannie sent a message to family and friends that said:

“It is with a very sad heart I am writing to let you know my precious Lyle passed away this morning at 5:AM EST.    He died peacefully with Lisa, Laurie, Rob and I at his side.  Patti will be here Saturday.  A private Memorial Service will be held in our home Sunday morning.  His final internment will be at a later date in Arlington Cemetery.  He was a brave Warrior to the end.  We shall miss him always.”

Joe Lee Burns sent an email message in which he said:

“Lyle was a hero to me, a role model.  I wanted to be able to fly as good as he could, and he tried to teach me that. I love him and started missing him before now. Godspeed, Sir.  Save me a seat.

I will share one Lyle Story: 81ST TFS out of Hahn AB, W Germany. We were at Wheelus AB, Libya for gunnery camp to escape bad weather in Germany in December (1968). Major Lyle Beckers was flight lead (I think I was Comet . . er . .I mean, #6 – flight lead of the last 4 jets) for the Saturday morning 9 ship departure (one jet was hard broke for parts) to Aviano AB, Italy and then back to Hahn in time for Christmas. Our Callsign was something like “Panther 21” flight.

Lyle briefed the takeoff sequence, rejoin ground track, and final flight check in before departing Wheelus airspace. Flight lead took off single ship from runway 29; flew about 2 miles, made a loose 180 degree turn for rejoin. The rest of the Phantoms took off as 2 ships and rejoined in trail. After another 180 degree turn the fight requested a flyby at 1,000 feet AGL, which was approved. Our formation was a single followed by 4 line-abreast 2 ships.

Abeam the tower, Lyle calls, “Santa Flight Check.”  As briefed, he followed with “Rudolph,” the next two ship responded “Dasher,” then “Dancer,” followed by “Prancer” and “Vixen,” then “Comet” and “Cupid,” and then “Donner” and “Blitzen.”  Tower clicked its microphone switch twice in response (probably because of the laughter in the tower). Before changing to Departure Control frequency, Lyle called, “Wheelus Tower, ‘Santa Flight’ departing your airspace, Merry Christmas, ‘Ho Ho Ho’”.!!!”

Jeannie replied: “Lyle said ‘HO HO HO!’ when he read it….said he was sorry he couldn’t add anything to your remembrance, but he knows you are right!!! Best love, Jeannie Beckers for Lyle.”

The F-4E flown by Lyle Beckers and Lt. Thomas Griffin on September 12, 1972, when Col Beckers got his second MiG-21 is now on static display at Soesterberg Air Base.

Here’s a 1972 group photo of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron taken at Da Nang with Col. Lyle Beckers, the commander of the 35th TFS, in the front seat.  See the bigger version of this picture with names of the guys.  Note: Joe Lee Burns photoshopped himself into the top row.

2017-01-20T19:03:11-07:00By |2 Comments

Operation Linebacker

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?

2017-01-20T19:03:12-07:00By |2 Comments

Steve Mellenthin Remembers Japan, Korea & Southeast Asia

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

Steve Mellenthin

2017-01-20T19:03:12-07:00By |2 Comments

The Tale of Gator 3

This is a war story from my service in Vietnam. Although the incident happened 40 years ago, the details are still fresh in my mind. It was June 1972. My fighter squadron, the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, had just transferred from flying combat at DaNang to Korat Air Base in Thailand. On this day, I was assigned to fly in the rear cockpit of the third aircraft in Gator Flight piloted by my flight commander, Captain Charlie Cox. Our Linebacker target for the day was significant – the Thai Nguyen steel factory located about 30 miles north of Hanoi.

Gator Flight’s responsibility was to bomb the rail marshal yards adjacent to the factory. Each of our four F-4D Phantoms were armed with twelve 500-pound bombs carried on MERs (multiple ejector racks) located on the outboard stations.

Our Phantoms were grossed out at the maximum takeoff weight of 58,000. That meant that our takeoff roll would be longer than usual and because our center of gravity was shifted forward by the bombs on stations 1 and 9, our nose wheel liftoff speed and takeoff speed would be nearly identical and quite fast.

Everything was fairly uneventful through preflight, engine start and taxi. When tower gave us our clearance, we wheeled four aircraft on the runway, checked engines, and released brakes. With combat loads, we took 20 second spacing between aircraft so 40 seconds after our leader released brakes, Gator 3 began to rumble down Korat’s 10,000 foot runway. Even with 34,000 pounds of thrust from our two J-79 engines, it took a while for our speed to build.

As advertised at 185 knots, the nose wheel lifted off the runway. A few seconds later the aircraft began to fly and the main landing gear struts extended. What happened next was not as advertised – stray voltage was sent to the jettison circuits on stations 1 and 9 and both loaded MERs departed the aircraft.

Fighter aircraft have jettison circuits to release external stores in case of an emergency; however these circuits are disabled when the aircraft is on the ground. A squat switch runs through the main landing gear; when the struts extend the jettison circuit is armed.

In the cockpit, we had no idea what was happening behind and underneath the aircraft because the underside of the wing is not visible. But since we had just jettisoned about 15 percent of our gross weight, the aircraft accelerated like a banshee!

There were a lot of puffy cumulous clouds that day, and when we joined formation on our leader’s left wing, no one gave us a look as they navigated around the clouds. A minute or so later, we heard from the fourth aircraft as he joined the flight: “Gator 3, this is 4; you lost all your bombs on takeoff.”

Well, to say that came as a shock would be an understatement. Our leader was squadron commander Lyle “Sky King” Beckers and he immediately snapped his head in our direction and confirmed that we were missing both MERs and their bombs.

About a minute later when Cox and I had sorted out all that we knew and our pulse was under control, we called back to lead, “Boss, there’s not much point in us going with you.” Now that was an understatement – there’s little to be gained by taking a bomber to the target if he can’t do anything more than sight-see.

We got a chuckle out of that logic and Beckers cleared us to leave the formation. I dialed-in the frequency for Fort Apache (Korat’s command post) and we heard quite a commotion in the background. At this point, the incident caused by our takeoff was only about 5 minutes old.

When the noise died down, we called in and requested permission to RTB – return to base. An excited controller called back, “Negative, negative Gator 3, we’ve been bombed. The runway is closed. Divert to another base!”

We patiently explained that we had more than an hour of fuel remaining, that our aircraft would be impounded upon landing and it would be a much better plan to land the jet at our home base rather than another airfield. After some consultation, Korat agreed and about an hour later, they announced that the runway was reopened. We received clearance to land and did so uneventfully.

Of our 12 bombs, three exploded in a low-order detonation which damaged a couple of aircraft on the field but fortunately, no one was hurt. Poor old Gator 4 had been lumbering down the runway at about 60 knots when this entire conflagration occurred in front of his aircraft. He swore that when he took off with his right wheel in the dirt, but we later determined that his tire, although off the runway, was still on asphalt.

Initially, maintenance could not duplicate the stray voltage problem which energized the outboard jettison circuits, and the wing commander ordered the jet sent back to our home base in Korea. About two months after our little incident, the same aircraft jettisoned two 370-gallon wing fuel tanks from stations 1 and 9. Because stray voltage is here one moment and gone the next, it is very difficult to trace.

In retrospect, our saving grace was that the two bomb racks released simultaneously. Had they come off asymmetrically, we would not have been able to stop the roll into the heavy wing at barely 200 knots and … well I wouldn’t be writing this column right now.

So ends the saga of Gator 3 and the day I bombed my own airfield.

2012-04-04T19:40:05-07:00By |6 Comments

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”.


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


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


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).


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.

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

Veins 2 Shot Down & Crew Rescued 25 May 72

The following is the text of an email message I received from Dennis VanLiere, the backseater in Veins 2, a two ship flight of 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron F-4s flying a close air support mission in Military Region 1, the northern most sector of South Vietnam:

I was TDY to the 35th TFS from late April 1972 into October 1972, from the 36th TFS. I was a WSO and flew a replacement F-4 in shortly after the squadron arrived in DaNang, and then joined them a couple of weeks later. Along with Gene Doyle, we left a previously perfectly good F-4 in a rice paddy near and around the Qua Viet River on May 25, 1972 as part of Veins flight two ship.

We landed around 8:30 a.m. near some South Vietnamese Marines who were not supposed to be there, walked, then rode out on an APC after talking to the US Marine Captain advisor who had been coordinating with the FAC. He told us he thought he saw a trail of smoke away from the aircraft when he heard the explosion which blew part of a stabilator off. The airplane stopped flying soon after that and we punched out immediately.

The APC took us to a rear area where we talked to a USMC Lt Col, Major and CMSGT who were manning bunker with the first TOW ground missiles being used in the war. They showed us a North Vietnamese Army tank trying to hide under a palm tree while they worked other F-4s on it. We flew out of there with a USMC chopper to Hue. Met the Air Force command team at Big Control and gave them a short debrief. The Colonel there took us on a jeep tour of the city and saw an Army Colonel friend of his warming a chopper up on a pad and asked him to take us to Phu Bai, a few minutes away. He did and took us up to their ready room and showed us some trophies they had gotten from tanks and armored vehicles they had taken out with helicopter missiles.

While there someone came and asked if the Air Force guys wanted a ride back to DaNang, and if so, they needed to get down to the flight line where a USAF chopper was warming up. We made that flight and landed in front of Gun Fighter Village on the flight line at about 4:30 p.m. . . . out of touch with home the whole day. After debriefing, we made a quick stop in the squadron where someone had written on the beer refrigerator Doyle/VanLiere – $16,000,000 at $.25 apiece for beers. If you forgot to sign out to fly, you had to buy throw in $4.00 for 16 beers for the squadron beer supply. I guess losing an F-4 (Unit price of an F-4D was $4Million) was more serious than not signing out.

As I was going back to the quarters, the night crews were just getting ready to go to the squadron. My roommate, Joe Boyle was just coming out as I was coming in. I was muddy and more than a little bedraggled. He said “What happened to you? You look like you got shot down!” As I passed him to go to bed I replied “I did.”

The 35th was a special group, a good bunch of flyers with great leaders who did more than their share of damage to the enemy cause. I was also the squadron intel guy, combing through the daily intel reports for results of our missions.

FYI:  I have an audio tape made by John Huwe who was in the back seat of Veins 1 when Veins 2 was shot down.  The crew of Veins 2 is heard trying to get a visual on Veins 1 when one of them says something like “Nice secondary.”  He saw a big fire ball on the ground and at first thought it was an ammunition supply exploding after being hit by a Mark 82 500 pound bomb.  The fireball, however, was the F-4 exploding when it hit the ground.  One of the crewmen then sees the two parachutes and then realizes that Veins 2 was shot down.

2017-01-20T19:03:13-07:00By |0 Comments


One morning during the winter of 1973 I left the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron building located adjacent to the center of the Kunsan AB, Korea, runway.  Four of us were on our way to the south end of the runway to sit on air defense alert.  During my time at the Kune the wing always had two F-4s on air defense alert to intercept any unidentified airplanes that approached the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).  We had to be airborne within ten minutes from the time the bell rang – literally there was a very loud bell sound that when activated caused us to run to the airplane, do a cartridge start and blast off into the sky and follow the instructions from the air traffic controller who vectored our two F-4Ds to the target.

I will never forget this particular morning because the four of us watched as one of our F-4D models crashed and burned trying to make a heavy weight take off.  The D model had three external tanks with full fuel plus a simulated B-43 nuke bomb (2,060 or 2,120 lbs).  I don’t have the D model weight stats handy, but a block 50 E model with this configuration would have been 57,120 lbs.  That is a heavy takeoff weight!

The airplane didn’t crash entirely because of its weight.  The Phantom crashed primarily because it had an engine fire right after max abort speed and never got enough airspeed to stay in the air.  The Phantom was on fire as it got airborne.  I could see the flames coming out of the airplane as it passed me a few hundred feet off of the ground.  We watched as the airplane disappeared behind a small island at the south end of the Kunsan runway.  The airplane descended behind the small hill on the little island.  We then saw a big orange and black fire ball, but no chutes.  I remember the awful feeling I had at the time watching two of my friends die.  Fortunately both guys ejected safely behind the small hill on the little island, but we could not see their chutes.

Chuck Banks, the pilot, told us later that he realized he was on fire immediately after getting airborne plus the tower told him on the radio.  As Chuck was reaching for the panic button to blow everything off the airplane he was distracted when the Phantom lost all electrical power while just a few hundred feet above the runway.  The loss of power got the crew’s attention.  Instead of pushing the panic button anyway (it had a battery backup) Chuck put the RAT (ram air turbine) out to get electrical power.  He then became distracted by the stalling airplane and never did hit the panic button.  The heavy weight of the airplane and the loss of power caused by the engine fire meant that the airplane did not have much airspeed and was unable to climb.  As the airplane slowed and started to descend because of no power the frontseater gave the eject order.  I recall the backseater telling us later he said “I’m out of here” as he pulled the ejection handle.

The reason the airplane was configured with the tanks and two nuke bombs is because that is how it was configured when the Operational Readiness Inspection team landed at Kunsan.  The airplane and crew were on nuclear alert when the ORI team arrived so during the ORI they were going to be tested by flying a low level mission in the same configuration and dropping their bombs on target +/- two minutes of their TOT.

Joe Boyles says Chuck Banks was the pilot.  Ron Price was the GIB.  I recall us laughing in the squadron building when the crew returned because Ron Price said they busted their ORI check ride because Chuck attempted a GIB Ladd that was 100+ (or however many miles Kunsan was from the bombing range) miles short of the target and he was not within 2 minutes of the TOT.  The low angle drogue delivery (LADD) was one of two bombing profiles USAF F-4s used to drop nuclear bombs.

Click on the title above to see Chuck Banks’ comment to this story.

2017-01-20T19:03:13-07:00By |11 Comments

James M. Beatty, Jr. – American Hero & Fighter Pilot

On January 3, 2012, Nadine S. Pearish wrote the following to friends of her father, James M. Beatty, Jr:

It is with a sadden heart that I am sending you this e-mail.  I am writing to inform you of James M. Beatty’s Jr passing today, January 3, 2012.  I found your addresses among my father’s belongings and felt that the closeness that was shared in life would be continued in his death.  As the tears stream down my face there are many names that I remember from my childhood days and other names that I have heard my father speak fondly of.  I know he will be missed by many.”

Joe Lee Burns wrote the following about his good friend and comrade in arms:

’66 –  Ubon – Jim Beatty story  – Does anybody remember when the Base Commander brought Robert Mitchum into the O’Club bright and early one morning and how we greeted him and what occurred after that?  I do.  As Mitchum entered the club one of our fearless leaders (I believe it was Bob Ashcraft) shouted out “lets say hello to Robert Mitchum“; to which we all replied (as taught to do by our elders) “hello Arz-hole,” then came the call to say hello to the ‘Arz- hole’ to which we all replied “hello Mitchum“.  WE then asked him to please join us at our table which he did, excusing himself from the Base Commander by saying he wanted to get to know us a little better. This occurred at about 0830. From that point on until about 1100, we tried and successfully accomplished getting him thoroughly shiffassedon his favorite drink of gin and tonic.  After several unsuccessful attempts by the Base Commander to rescue him, which he declined, we all ended up in front of the club having pictures taken with him. By that time his eyes, which are normally squinted, were barely slits. I remember being amazed as to how well-informed he was and his sincerity in talking to us. . He was a pretty much down to earth guy.  Just another day in an otherwise dull combat tour for us!!

’72 DaNang – 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 well guarded with AAA!!!!  Jim always says he snuffed out his Benson and Hedges cigarette in his palm when they 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.

’72 DaNang May – Close Air Support – Troops in Contact with the enemy – (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).

’72 Korat 20 July – Jim was also my wingman when I ‘accidentally’ got shot down departing North Vietnam.”

Read Joe Lee Burns detailed description of the mission in which he was shot down, ejected and rescued by the Navy in the Gulf of Tonkin called “A Ridge to Far.”

Joe Moran wrote:

“We were in the 35 TFS TDY to Danang from Kunsan. Jim was #3. Rolled up and found 2 MiG 21s 4,000′ directly below him same direction. Barrel rolled back, stoked the AB’s and started across the circle. Claims he did not go supersonic. Unable to get AIM 9Js to growl. Closing fast went to guns. He was in an old E model (no pinkie switch). MiGs broke. He pulled pipper in front for high angle shot. KILL. Over g when he pulled up. Egressed at speed of stink. No truth to the rumor that airplane never flew again. Jim claims low altitude butter fly dart sorties in the FWIC syllabus prepared him for that shot. He always went down and away to get there the quickest (with the greatest angles). This was end of April 1972. First gun kill in an F-4E. Handley’s book claimed he was the first in May. I talked to Phil ’bout that and he concedes Jim was the first but his book was already out and ‘you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube’.

Here is the obituary of Major James M. Beatty, Jr.

Maj. James M. Beatty Jr. was one of America’s unsung heroes. He flew 229 combat mission, 147 in North Vietnam, and during one of those missions got a confirmed gun kill on a MIG 21. Maj. Beatty earned the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 14 Air Medals among many other awards and decorations during his combat flying. He had 3,250 hours in the F-4 and F-15 aircraft. Maj. Beatty was a recognized expert in aerial combat, and culminated his Air Force career as the Air-To-Air Test Project Manager in the Fighter Weapons test Group, Nellis AFB, Nevada.

After leaving the active Air Force, he continued to serve his country as an F-15 academic and simulator instructor for more than 22 years at Tyndall AFB, Panama City, Fla. His service in the U.S. Air Force and his vast experience was essential in developing future Air Force warriors. As an instructor pilot and simulator instructor, he trained more than 1,000 F-15 pilots and air Battle Managers for the combat air forces during his time at Tyndall. His superior instructional skills enabled the 325th Fighter Wing to meet pilot and air battle manager production goals.

Maj. Beatty was born in Eau Claire, Pa., and had lived in Panama City since 1988. He was a graduate of Grove City College, and served in the USAF from 1963 to 1976.

He is survived by his wife, Mary C. Beatty of Panama City; his children, Natalie L. Hauck and husband, Raymond, of Panama City, Nadie S. Pearish of Panama City, Lisa M. Campbell of Butler, Pa., and John W. Fecich III and wife, Patty, of South Hampton, N.J.; his grandchildren, Alecia N. Mills and husband, Jeremy, Thomas E. Hager III and wife, Julia, Samuel J. Hauck, Jacey L. Hauck, Jolene L. Eiler, Joseph M. Eiler, Troy S. Pearish, Kristopher R. Pearish, Christopher J. Campbell, Jacob F. Campbell and John W. Fecich IV; his great-grandchildren, Serenity A. Murphy, James J. Murphy, Lena M. Mills and Ayden C. Hager; his brother, Dean G. Beatty and wife, Carol, of Eau Claire, Pa.; his sisters, Gail Buzard and husband, Jack, of Eau Claire, Pa., and Faye Herman and husband, Ken, of Pittsburgh, Pa.; and numerous nieces and nephews.

No services will be held locally. Funeral arrangements in Pennsylvania will be handled by H. Jack Buzard Funeral Home, 201 S. Washington St., Eau Claire, PA 16030,

2017-01-20T19:03:13-07:00By |1 Comment

Rocket City

Thirty-eight years ago, I stood on the tarmac of DaNang Air Base, the northern-most fighter base in South Vietnam. DaNang had the unenviable reputation of absorbing frequent rocket attacks, hence the nick-name “rocket city.”

My base of assignment was in South Korea, but the North Vietnamese changed that when they began their Easter 1972 offensive by attacking the South with more than 200 thousand troops. Since the American ground presence had been drastically reduced since 1969 and the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) was quickly overwhelmed, the only way to stop the onslaught was with airpower. My squadron, the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) “Panthers,” was the first (of what turned out to be many) to deploy to augment the fighter units already operating from South Vietnam and Thailand.

Initially I was assigned to the 421st TFS “Black Widows” to help replace their combat losses. I quickly learned that the “widows” were appropriately named – their losses resulted in frequent funerals. They were poorly led – the squadron commander was a glory-seeker. I vowed to get out of that unit as quickly as I could. Three weeks after I arrived, the Panthers were reunited as an integral unit. I had survived my short stint with the Black Widows.

As opposed to the home-based units, my squadron was very well led. For one thing, we had far more experience – eight of our pilots were graduates of the Air Force Fighter Weapons School, the graduate school for fighter pilots. Our commander Lyle “Sky King” Beckers was one of those graduates and very professional. Our operations officer Bill Mickelson was extremely good with people. Together, they made a good team.

The fellow I flew most often with was North Carolina State graduate Charlie Cox. Charlie was my flight commander, had 2,000 hours in the Phantom, and a previous war tour. Charlie was a very demanding pilot who pushed me quite hard. I would follow him into a fiery furnace.

I turned 24 shortly after arriving at DaNang. With my 65 hours of Phantom experience, I was pretty typical of the young lieutenants in my squadron. We had to grow up fast.

Our squadron was assigned to the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing “Gunfighters” and we lived in Gunfighter Village. It was pretty crowded – my room was built for two, but I had three other roommates, two of whom were subsequently shot down (but fortunately rescued). The food was rotten. Our dining options were limited and none of them were good. I got food poisoning more than once.

I said that DaNang was often called rocket city. There was a North Vietnamese artillery battalion within a dozen miles of the base and they would launch an attack at least weekly and always at night. A minor attack would be five 122mm Kutyusha rockets and a heavy attack would be 15, all in the span of five minutes. The Kutyusha was an unguided rocket with a five inch warhead – if it ever hit anything, it would cause significant damage. I only recall one ever hitting Gunfighter Village, exploding just outside the building next to mine. It hurt a couple of fellows pretty bad.

I spent 11 weeks at DaNang before our squadron was sent to another base in Thailand. In that time, DaNang lost 13 Phantoms and many other aircraft as well. We flew a lot – in May, I flew 41 missions. In some cases, we were attacking targets within 15 miles of the base; the enemy was that close. All of my missions were flown against targets in either South or North Vietnam; I never flew a single mission into either Cambodia or Laos.

In mid-June, the 35th packed its bags and headed for Korat Air Base in Thailand. It was a huge change. Korat was a paradise – the food was much better; we didn’t have to worry about getting rocketed at night; our living conditions were improved; and the nearby city of the same name was a mecca of exotic sights and sounds. The missions were quite long (some as long as 5+ hours which is a long time to be strapped into an ejection seat) and frequently hazardous, but coming home made it worthwhile.

I spent four more months flying combat until mid-October when the Panthers returned to our home base of Kunsan, South Korea. By that time I had flown 121 combat missions, 43 of which were over North Vietnam. We had helped to blunt the Easter attack and bring the enemy to the negotiating table. A few months later, an armistice was signed and our POWs began to return home. It was a hard job well done.

2017-01-20T19:03:14-07:00By |0 Comments

Rick Keyt’s Photos

These are Richard Keyt’s pictures  taken while he was a member of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron while TYD from Kunsan Air Base, Korea, to Korat Air Base, Thailand in 1972.

Click on the first photo to enlarge it.  You many then click on the >> or << symbols to move forward or backwards in picture viewer.

2023-12-08T13:51:53-07:00By |7 Comments

35th Tactical Fighter Squadron MiG Kills

On April 1, 1972, while members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, slept, an early morning phone call summoned USAF Colonel Tyler G. Goodman to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing command post.  After communicating with 5th Air Force headquarters in Japan via the secure “walk-talk” teletype system, Colonel Goodman instituted the squadron’s silent recall procedure, which was designed to reduce the chances that nonessential personnel would know of the recall.

Thus began the April Fool’s day deployment of the 35th TFS to Vietnam and Thailand to participate in the “Southeast Asia War Games” and Operation Linebacker I.  Later that day, 14 F-Ds departed Kunsan Air Base for Clark Air Base, Philippines.  On April 5, 1972, 35th TFS crews began flying combat missions from Ubon Air Base, Thailand.  The following day, other 35th TFS crews began flying combat missions from DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam.

Some of the 35th TFS Guys Pose for a Group Photo in front of the Squadron Building Just Prior to Departing Kunsan AB, Korea, for Southeast Asia.

The 35th TFS soon consolidated the squadron and moved all of its men and F-4Ds to Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, where I joined it.  During the summer and fall of 1972 as part of Operation Linebacker I, the 35th TFS conducted strike escort missions into Route Pack VI, the most heavily defended area in the history of aerial warfare.  Each strike escort mission consisted of four 35th TFS F-4s flying in “fluid four” formation on the perimeter of the strike force (the F-4s carrying bombs) as the strike force ingressed and egressed the target in Route Pack VI.  The strike escorts usually flew the F-4E armed with four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat seeking missiles, 3 or 4 AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles and one six barreled 20MM gatling gun.  When a strike escort carried only three Sparrows, it was because a single AIM-7 missile was replaced by an ALQ-119 jamming pod that jammed enemy SA-2 Guideline surface to air missile (“SAM”) radars.

The SA-2 SAM was a 32 foot long flying supersonic telephone pole.  The radar guided missile could fly Mach 3.5 (three and one half times the speed of sound) and had a range of 25 miles and a maximum altitude of 60,000 feet.  It was a formidable weapon and responsible for the loss of many U.S. aircraft over North Vietnam.  The missile had a warhead that weighed 195 kg (130 kg of which is high explosive) and could detonate via proximity (when it got as close as it was going to get), contact and command fusing. At the altitudes F-4s flew over North Vietnam, the missile had a kill radius of approximately 65 meters, but anything within 100-120 meters of the detonation would be severely damaged.

The strike escort F-4s were the second line of defense if enemy MiGs got past the MiG CAP (combat air patrol) F-4s.  The job of the strike escorts was to engage and destroy MiGs that threatened the strike force.  If the MiGs got too close to the F-4 bombers, the bombers would be forced to jettison their bombs and take evasive action to avoid being shot down.

In the hierarchy of flying, the jet fighter is the pinnacle, but aerial combat is the fighter pilot’s ultimate experience.  Tom Wolfe said that fighter pilots “have the right stuff” in his best selling book of the same name.  Tom also wrote a short story called “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.” It is about a Navy F-4 crew that took off from a US aircraft carrier and got shot down by a surface to air missile (a “SAM”). The crew was rescued from the Gulf of Tonkin by a Navy helicopter and ate dinner that night in the officer’s mess / ward room or whatever the Navy guys called it.  I believe the short story is in Wolfe’s book called “Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine.”  It was first published in a magazine, but I cannot remember which one.

In 1980 I was working on a masters degree in tax law at New York University School of Law.  Tom Wolfe gave a talk to the students about his book “The Right Stuff.”  I attended and found it very interesting.  Tom spoke about a chapter he wrote for the book, but his editor didn’t let him put in the final version because it didn’t have anything to do with the rest of the book.  Wolfe spent a lot of time researching “The Right Stuff” by hanging out with fighter pilots on Air Force and Navy bases.  The deleted chapter was all about fighter pilots and what it was like to fly fighters in the US military. Tom said that his research showed that most fighter pilots were white Anglo Saxon protestants who were first born sons.

After Tom finished the speech he came into the audience and talked to people and signed autographs. I approached him from behind and waited for a chance to get his attention. I finally called out “Mr. Wolfe,” but he did not turn around. I then said “I am a white Anglo Saxon protestant first born son who flew F-4s in Vietnam.” That got his attention. Tom turned around and we had a lively discussion for an extended period of time about flying fighters. Tom told me that I should read “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.”

A few weeks later, I was wasting time in the library.  I grabbed a volume of bound magazines off the shelf and thumbed through it.  By chance I came across “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.”  Excellent story.  What are the odds of randomly finding the story?  I searched for the story on the net tonight, but only found references to it.

But, I digress.  This is about the men of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron who achieved the ultimate fighter pilot dream, to engage and destroy an enemy MiG in aerial combat.  The vast majority of military pilots who flew in the Vietnam war were not fighter pilots so they never had a chance to engage a MiG.  Most fighter pilots who flew in the Vietnam war never flew into North Vietnam where the MiGs were.  Most of the fighter pilots who flew into North Vietnam never engaged a MiG.  The fraternity of Vietnam era fighter pilots who actually engaged a MiG in life or death aerial combat is very small and very elite.

Lt. Colonel Ferguson’s F-4D that he flew back to Kunsan AB, Korea, in October 1972 when the 35 TFS RTBd.
Ask Joe Lee Burns or Gary Rettebush Why 8 Air to  Air MiG Kills  are Listed
Official USAF Records Credit the 35 TFS with 6 MiG  Kills

My squadron had a lot of members of the aerial combat fraternity because it was tasked with the strike escort mission in Route Pack VI.  The following table lists the members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron who were credited with MiG kills during the time we were TDY to Korat Air Base, Thailand, in the summer and fall of 1972.  When they made their kills, all of the aircrews were flying the F-4E with the internal 20MM six-barrel gatling gun.

  • Capt. James Beatty Jr. & Lt. James Sumner
    Call sign: Balter 03
    MiG-21 with the 20MM cannon
  • Major Gary Retterbush & Lt. Daniel Autrey
    Call sign: Finch 03
    MiG-21 with the 20MM cannon
  • Major Gary Retterbush & Capt. Robert Jasperson
    Call sign: Lark 01
    MiG-21 with the 20MM cannon

Read Gary Retterbush’s article on his MiG kills called “Gary Retterbush 2 – North Vietnamese Air Force 0.”

*Major Lucas was a 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron pilot.

Dan Autrey was my roommate.  Dan and Gary Retterbush were awarded the Silver Star for their kill.  Dan made a great tape recording of a mission north of Hanoi during which he and Gary Retterbush had a spoofed SAM launched at them while they were attacked by two MiG-21s from low and behind that each fired two Atoll heat seeking missiles at them.  Dan told me after the mission what it felt like when he heard Lt. Col. Beckers in Lark 01 call “Lark 3 break left.”  Dan looked to his F-4’s seven o’clock position, saw four supersonic missiles coming at him and said “oh shit, left, left, left.”  I have the tape and will soon write a story about that close encounter of the frightening kind.

2017-01-20T19:03:14-07:00By |2 Comments

Gary Retterbush 2 – North Vietnamese Air Force 0

by Gary Retterbush, USAF Fighter Pilot

My First MiG-21, 12 Sep 72


On September 12, 1972, I was a Major in the United States Air Force and the pilot of Finch 3, an F-4E Phantom II.  Finch flight was a flight of four Phantoms led by Lt. Col. Lyle Beckers, the squadron commander of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron.  The 35th TFS was permanently based at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, but was on temporary duty (TDY) at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, to assist in Operation Linebacker I .

Finch flight was part of a large strike package of aircraft flying in the general area of Hanoi, in Route Pack VI, North Vietnam.  The strike force consisted of:

  • F-4 fighter bombers carrying bombs
  • F-4 strike escorts whose job was to prevent the MiGs from attacking the strike force
  • F-4 chaff bombers whose job was to drop small pieces of tin foil along the route to the target to degrade the enemy’s radar
  • F-105 wild weasels whose job was to troll for SA-2 Guideline surface to air missiles (SAMs, which were 32 foot long flying telephone polls with a speed 3 times the speed of sound) and destroy the SAM sites, and
  • F-4 hunter killers, who flew with the wild weasels and whose job was drop general purpose bombs and cluster bomb units (CBUs) on the SAM site.

While we were heading to the target, several North Vietnamese MiG-21s jumped the strike force.  The MiG’s came from high and behind my flight and dove down through us firing their missiles as they came. It was a rather chaotic time!

During the maneuvering that followed, our flight broke apart and we ended up as two elements of two F-4s.  I maneuvered to the six o’clock position behind a MiG-21 and Dan Autrey, my backseater, got a good radar lock on the MiG.  Conditions were excellent; almost text book.  I fired two AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles, which did not guide.  They simply went ballistic and did nothing except alert the MiG pilot to his impending peril.

I had a lot of overtake and continued to close on the MiG.  I changed my armament switches from the AIM-7 to the AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking infrared missile.  As soon as I was within AIM-9 range (approximately 9,000 feet), I got a good audio tone for the AIM-9’s.  I fired three Sidewinders at the MiG, but they either did not guide or their proximity fuses did not work.

The last missile went close by the cockpit and got the MiG pilot’s attention!  He broke hard and I followed and continued to close on him.  I got in position to use my 20mm canon (a six barreled Gatling gun in the nose that was capable of firing 6,000 rounds/minute) so I fired a couple of short bursts at the MiG.  Some of the bullets hit the MiG’s left wing near where it joined the fuselage.  The MiG started burning immediately.  I was now closing way too fast.  I did a high speed yo-yo.  The maneuver once again put me in position to fire another burst from my gun.  These bullets hit in and around the cockpit and the aircraft pitched up.  I saw the pilot slumped forward in the cockpit.  The aircraft then stalled and snapped down as I flew past it.  I watched the burning MiG until it hit the ground and exploded in a cloud of smoke and fire.

Ground Crew Paints a Red Star on the Side of this F-4 that Killed a MiG


My Second MiG-21, 8 Oct 72


On October 8, 1972, I was the leader of Lark flight, a flight of four F-4E Phantoms flying cover for a flight of four F-4Ds on a bombing mission near Yen Bai Airfield in North Vietnam.  I was also the mission leader of this very small strike package.

My backseater, Captain Bob Jasperson, had a problem getting his canopy to lock just prior to takeoff.  Bob cycled his canopy several times.  He finally pulled it down on the rails and got it to lock.  Bob told me later that he knew this would be his last Southeast Asia flight and he didn’t want to abort on the ground.  Thanks, Bob!

After we refueled from the KC-135 tankers on the ingress route, one of my F-4s in my flight had a mechanical problem.  I sent that airplane and a wingman home.  Under the rules of engagement at that time, I should have aborted the mission since I only had two fighters in my flight, but I chose to continue the mission.

As we approached the border of North Vietnam, “Disco” (the USAF airborne EC-121 warning aircraft orbiting in Laos) warned us that a MiG was scrambling and that we were probably its target.  As we continued inbound, Disco gave us frequent warnings of the MiG’s progress and location.  It was indeed coming our way.

The engagement was almost like a GCI (ground controlled intercept) in reverse.  Disco announced the MiG was at our 10:30 high.  Sure enough, my backseater, Bob Jasperson, pointed out a silver glint in the sun as the MiG turned down on us.  I called a “hijack” and had the fighters jettison their external fuel tanks and light afterburners as we turned into the MiG.  A few seconds later I had the F-4 bomber flight break as the MiG came closer to the bombers.

The MiG dove down trying to attack the breaking bombers.  I was on his tail, but at a very high angle off.  Angle off is the angle between the attacking airplane and the target if you extended a line straight back from the target’s tail and then measured the angle between the attacker and the extended line.  The book said that the AIM-9 Sidewinder would not guide to the target if the angle off at the time of firing was greater than 45 degrees.

I fired two AIM-9 heat seeking missiles at the diving MiG.  I did not expect either of them to guide because the angle off was far beyond the limits.  Both missiles went ballistic as I anticipated.  I then tried to jettison the rest of my missiles including the three AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles.  I was yelling for Bob to give me a caged gun sight because the reticle was completely off of the windscreen due to the high angle off and the high Gs we were pulling.  Bob got the gun sight locked.  I very quickly did a little Kentucky windage estimate, pulled the pipper way out in front of the MiG and high and fired a short burst from my 20mm Gatling gun.

To my pleasant surprise the bullets hit the MiG in the fuselage near the left wing and it immediately burst into flames.  The pilot did not hesitate and ejected immediately.  Then came an even bigger surprise; he had a beautiful pastel pink parachute!  I circled him one time and then regrouped the flight for our trip home.

The entire engagement was visible from the Yen Bai, North Vietnam airfield tower, if anyone was in it at that time.  The engagement lasted only a minute or two from start to finish.  When I landed, I checked the gun and found that I had fired only 96 rounds, including the exciter burst that was probably about the half bullets fired.

I was extremely pleased that I had a gun camera for this mission (not all birds had them) and it had checked out good going in.  When I removed the film pack it looked like it had functioned correctly.  I gave the film to the gun camera guys and told then to really take care in developing it.  About an hour later they came to me with the results and a great film, but all of it was flying straight and level after the refueling.  I tested the gun after leaving the tanker and the camera apparently continued to run after the test firing.  All of the film was used long before the dogfight began. So, unfortunately, I did not have the great MiG kill camera film that I had hoped for!

Check six, Busch.

Simulated Video of Busch’s first MiG Kill

This vidoe is pretty cool.  The text under the video on Youtube says:  “In game video of a YAP2 mission loosely based on an actual gun kill by an F-4E Phantom piloted by Gary Retterbush over N. Vietnam on September 12 1972.  He later went on to earned a second gun kill just a month later.”

2022-07-30T09:14:09-07:00By |2 Comments

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


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.


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

Assisting Caddy 03

by Scott Powell, Colonel, USAF, Retired

I was in the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, in 1972. We were the “Men in Black.” I was a very junior Captain then, but had come directly from a previous assignment at DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam. All USAF squadrons in Southeast Asia seemed to be manned by junior officers. There was usually only one or two patch wearers per base, plus a handful of second tour fighter types, plus a handful of heavy drivers and (old . . . it seemed at the time) Lt. Cols who had avoided a combat tour to that point. Eighty percent were Lieutenants it seemed.

So, by virtue of having been in theatre longer, I was one of the more experienced pilots in my squadron. Fairly soon after Linebacker I commenced in 1972, I found myself leading four ship flights on the North Vietnam air raids. I always brought my flight home intact, did the job to and from the target, and never did anything operationally to embarrass my commander. So, I remained in that role throughout the summer of 1972.

I well remember the arrival of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Korat. They had a more seasoned mix of pilots and had been training operationally in Korea for things they were about to do in combat. The 34th and 469th TFS were mostly comprised of eager, but young talent that only had the benefit of a six month RTU (replacement training unit, i.e., F-4 basic flight training school) before being sent to their war theatre assignment.

Leadership of the 35th was strong. So it was the 469th, by the way. I remain loyal to my leadership in the 34th, but some have said it was a cut below the others. Future Lt. General Chuck Cunningham was one of my Ops Officers, then. He was a top notch combat leader and USAF leader. Anyway, I freely admitted while engaged in all this, that the performance of the 35th turned out to be a cut above the other squadrons. On a per-combat-day basis, they got more positive results than the other two squadrons.

Lt. Col. Lyle Beckers, squadron commander of the 35th TFS, after the war headed the Nellis Air Force Base survey of what the USAF needed to change post Vietnam. The answers turned out to be almost everything, including training, tactics, weapons, human-factor fighter design, visibility and switchology among other things. Because I had exchanged hostile missile fire over the North, I was asked for my input in that survey process. We got Fluid Four ash canned and got a decent air-to-air training doctrine out of it. There are some real Nellis heroes from that time . . . those who fought city hall. The rest is history.

The USAF and the Tactical Air Command under General Momyer at that time, did a good job of preparing RTU students for air to ground operations, but a hellatiously bad job of preparing young fighter pilots for air-to-air combat. I thought many times that the powers that be were legally negligent in failing to adequately train fighter pilots for one of their primary missions. “If I see a MiG, what do I do?” was a common refrain among those who suddenly found missiles on their aircraft instead of bombs. On paper, the USAF thought its fighter pilots were trained for aerial combat, but in reality, we were not.

Strike Escort

As Linebacker I quickly came to be organized, Korat Air Base assumed the “strike escort” role, whereby our flights of F-4Es configured with missiles instead of bombs escorted strike flights. The purpose of strike escorts was to ward off MiG attacks and protect the F-4 bombers going to and from the target area and generally help sound the alarm for threats of all kinds. So, typically, three or more flights of four F-4s of bombers and the same number of strike escorts would travel to and from the target of the day. There were some exceptions, but that role is what most of the missions up North were for the F-4 squadrons based at Korat.

On July 20, 1972, the route of the day to the target in Route Pack VI North Vietnam was over water, with all participants rendezvousing over the South China Sea northeast of Da Nang. We then proceeded north to the drop-off point with ingress from southeast of Hanoi and egress eastbound to the north of Banana Ridge, north of the Red River as it meanders toward Haiphong. A feet-wet post strike refueling gave us enough fuel to make our way back to our respective bases in Thailand.

The Long Delay

On that day, the mission briefer at Korat made a very specific point for me to wait until the preceding flight had taken off before doing so with my four ship flight. The ground choreography on that day was as precise and dramatic as any of the other Linebacker launches. We were toward the back of the parade to the runway. There was a relatively inexperienced Lt. Col. leading the flight ahead of me. The Korat arming area was large enough for two flights to arm, with spares. My flight was in position on time, next to the other flight. We armed up and were ready, but the flight ahead of me had a problem and was delayed for a long time. As more and more time passed it become apparent that making our tanker rendezvous at the designated time was going to be very difficult or impossible. The order for me to take off after the preceding flight was so public and so clear that I did not request permission to take off ahead of the preceding flight. Radio equipped supervisors were all over the place, but none of them told me to take off before the other flight. I followed orders, an old and important military tradition. We waited for the flight ahead of us to depart.

Finally, they launched. We followed immediately. I knew then that we would be lucky to even reach the tankers before they departed the track north bound. We pushed it up while we flew the 1.2 hour trek to the refueling track. We did all the normal in-flight systems checks and kept checking watches.

We were the last to arrive and got the tanker cell in sight just as they rolled out north. We cut them off and joined our assigned tanker, but with minimal time for refueling. I called my flight over to squadron common radio frequency and said, “Here’s the plan. One and two will refuel and escort our strike flight on in. Three and four, refuel after we depart. Then, take your two-ship up the coast to the egress point, perhaps you’ll be able to do some good as we’re coming out. Be sure to let the Navy know who and where you are so they don’t start calling you out as MiGs.”

Caddy 3 Goes Down

July 20, 1972, was the day Caddy 3 (Joe Lee Burns in the front and Mike Nelson in the back) got shot down. See “A Ridge Too Far,” for Joe Lee Burns’ first person account of getting shot down. Most of us egressed north of the ridge after the mission as planned, but my memory is that Joe Lee egressed south of the ridge, where he could see (and be seen) by the major line of communication east from Hanoi and its defenses. Joe would remember better, but I think it was a 57mm shell that put a big hole in his aircraft. I remember hearing the emergency beeper on guard frequency after Joe and Mike ejected and some of the radio traffic as it became clear that somebody got hit and went down. Caddy 3 managed to make it feet wet just off the mouth of the Red River in the vicinity of Haiphong. They were among the Karst islands. The rest of us were overflying them in the water on the way out of North Vietnam, but we worried about making it to our post-strike tankers to refuel.

Soon after I heard the beepers on the radio there were two rafts in the water. A fairly large unpowered water craft manned with multiple North Vietnamese from a nearby island was paddling toward our downed airmen. Meanwhile, overhead, my number 3 and 4 were taking control of the SAR (search and rescue) and trying to get the Navy to scramble its rescue resources. My second element saw the incoming sampan and went guns hot. They strafed across the bow of the gomer boat, one pass each. The gomers executed an immediate 180 degree turn and paddled even more furiously back toward their village.

Having probably never strafed over water before, our land-lubber USAF F-4 pilots both said that they almost killed themselves with the overwater strafe. It was hard to judge altitude and distance over water without any good references. As it turned out, it was fortuitous that my second element was too late to the tanker and not able to ingress into North Vietnam because they were waiting at the egress point in case they were needed. On that day, Joe Lee Burns and Mike Nelson needed their help.

Anyway, the Rescue CAP (combat air patrol) was successful. The Navy came through for the endgame and Joe Lee Burns and Mike Nelson lived to fight another day. I mentioned the happenings of the day to my Ops Officer / Squadron Commander from the perspective of my flight, in case “they” inquired about the anomaly, but nobody seemed to care. We all resumed the war the next day – business as usual.

In 1972 at Korat, there was a tactical rebellion among some of the younger F-4 pilots against the fluid four formation and its tactics. Whenever we could, we used a self-invented form of two ship formation and tactics while over North Vietnam. On July 20, 1972, my wingman was somewhat practiced and certainly willing when I told him to “assume the #3 role and position.” The strike leader uttered a negative epithet when I told him that he would be escorted by a flight of two F-4s rather than four on that day. I think we did it better. Fewer aircraft to keep track of, better proportion of resources assigned to the necessary roles, and a better fighting unit should it have been required.

© 2007, Scott Powell, All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of Colonel Scott Powell, Fighter Pilot.

2017-01-20T19:03:14-07:00By |1 Comment

Joe Lee Burns on Being a Fighter Pilot

Fighter Pilot University published an email message written by Joe Lee Burns.  Here are some quotes from Joe Lee:

“I loved flying like a mistress. Flying was first priority in my life after family, just below my love for America. I wasn’t ever the “best fighter pilot” in the world, but I was somewhere in the top ten for a while. What I really wanted to be was the best WINGMAN in the AF. I got to be pretty good. I wanted to be trusted, to be counted upon by my fellow pilots in the air.

 I mentioned camaraderie. I cannot overstate the bond (facing danger, sharing views of mother earth from above, and sharing the excitement of challenge and success in the air) that is formed between fellow pilots who fly together regularly in training. Multiply by ten when you fly together in combat. And, no, it is seldom verbalized at the time. But you can see it in each other’s eyes every time you meet thereafter.”

2017-01-20T19:03:14-07:00By |0 Comments

35th Tactical Fighter Squadron Members in Southeast Asia 1972

The purpose of this page is to assist in finding old friends and squadron mates.  The following people are former members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron or the 80th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, or the 36th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Osan Air Base, Korea, who were sent TDY to Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam, and/or Korat Royal Air Base, Thailand in 1972, and whose address and contact information are known to Rick Keyt:

  • Ed Askins, 35th TFS
  • Dan Autrey, 35th TFS
  • Chuck Banks, 35th TFS
  • Joe Boyles,  35th TFS
  • Joe Lee Burns, 35th TFS
  • Jack Caputo, 35th TFS
  • Tim “CC” Claiborne, 35th TFS
  • Gary Corbett, 35th TFS
  • Charlie Cox, 35th TFS
  • Dave Eastis, 35th TFS
  • Hap Ertlschweiger, 35th TFS
  • Lloyd Golden, 35th TFS
  • Chuck Jaglinski, 35th TFS
  • Bob Jasperson, 35th TFS
  • Rick Keyt, 35th TFS
  • Jim “Killer” Killoran, 35th TFS
  • Phil Lehman, 35th TFS
  • George Lippemeier, 80th TFS
  • Dave Lowder, 35th TFS
  • Doug Malloy, 35th TFS
  • Joe Moran, 36th TFS
  • Mike Nelson, 35th TFS
  • John Ormond, 35th TFS
  • Jack Overstreet, 35th TFS
  • Mike Page, 35th TFS crew chief
  • Ron Price, 35th TFS
  • Jeff O. ‘Pitts’ Pritchard, 35th TFS
  • Carl Scheidegg, 35th TFS
  • Raymond Seymour, 35th TFS
  • Biff Strom, 35th TFS
  • Charlie Sullivan, 35th TFS
  • Jim Sumner, 35th TFS
  • Ron Thomas, 35th TFS
  • Cliff Young, 35th TFS
  • Dennis VanLiere, 36th TFS
  • Jim Wall, 35th TFS crew chief
  • Mickey Wilbur, 35th TFS

If you are a former member of the 35th TFS, 36th TFS or the 80th TFS and want to add your name to the list, or if you want to contact somebody on the list, send an email message to Rick Keyt at [email protected] with your name and contact information.  I’ll add you to the list if you are a former member.  If you are trying to reach somebody on the list, I will forward your email to the person you seek and that person can decide whether to respond to your inquiry.

80th Tactical Fighter Squadron

The 80th TFS Juvats have the Headhunters Association for former and current members of the squadron.  The squadron has regular reunions and is looking for lost Vietnam era Juvats to come to reunions.  See the Headhunter’s website.

Kunsan SEA 1972 TDYers MIA

If you know how to reach any of our guys that are MIA (missing in America) or if you know of names that should be added to the list below, drop me a line at [email protected].

  • Larry Culler
  • Jay Gaspar
  • Ray “Howie” Howington
  • John Huwe
  • Bill Kyle
  • Jeff Musfeldt
  • Jim Pinckley
  • Sol Ratner
  • Carl Scheidegg
  • Dan Silvas
  • Russ Stone
  • Jack Storck
  • Larry Taylor
  • Ray Vogel
  • Don Vogt
  • Phil Winkler

Deceased Comrades in Arms

2022-07-30T09:05:53-07:00By |11 Comments

35th Tactical Fighter Squadron Group Photos 1972

35th TFS Predeployment to Southeast Asia 1 Apr 72

35th Tactical Fighter Squadron in front of squadron building Kunsan Air Base,  Korea, 1 Apr 72

1st row:  Mickey Wilbur, Charlie Sullivan, Ray Seymour, Ed Askins

2nd row standing:  Bill Mikkelson, Jack Caputo,

2nd row sitting:  Don Vogt, Mike Nelson, Jim Pinckley, Jim Sumner

Back row from the left:  Sol Ratner, Gary Retterbush, Charlie Cox, Jeff Pritchard, Dan Silvas, Biff Strom, Ray “Howie” Howington, Jeff Musfeldt, Phil Lehman, Dave Lowder, Phil Winkler, Carl Scheidegg, Jack Storck, Cliff Young

35th TFS at Da Nang AB, South Vietnam, Spring 1972

See Joe Lee Burn’s bigger version of the below picture 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.

35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, May 1972

First Row from the left excluding Lt. Biff Strom in the intake:  Capt.. John Huwe, Lt. Carl Scheidegg (2nd), Lt. Ray Seymour (3rd), Major Bill Kyle (4th), Capt. Chuck Jablinski (5th), Capt. Bill Tuttle (6th), Capt. Charlie Cox (7th), Major Ernie Leuders (8th), Lt. Boyle( 9th) and Lt. Ray Vogel (far right on the MK 82 bomb)

Front Seat:  Lt. Col. Lyle Beckers, Squadron Commander

On the wing from the left:  Lt. Ron Price, Lt. Phil Winkler (5th)

First row on the top of the airplane from the left:  Lt. Mike Nelson, Lt. Larry Culler (2nd), Lt. Hap Ertlschweiger (3rd, but first guy standing on the wing), Lt. Jay Gaspar (4th standing up), ? (5th and far right standing up)

Back row on the top of the airplane from the left:  Lt. Jeff Pritchard, Capt. Bob Jasperson (2nd), Lt. Ed Askins (3rd), Lt. Phil Lehman (4th), Lt. Jim Sumner (5th), Capt. Joe Lee Burns (6th – but digitally added by a certain high tech fighter pilot),

2017-01-20T19:03:15-07:00By |0 Comments

F-4 Close Air Support Combat Missions 1972

I was fortunate to have been able to fly the F-4 Phantom II supersonic (mach 2+) fighter bomber for five years from 1971 – 1976.  Although I joined to United States Air Force to avoid being drafted into the U.S. Army and going to Vietnam, fate ultimately sent me to Vietnam.

During the summer and fall of 1972, I was a member of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron flying combat missions over South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Laos.  The 35th TFS was based at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, but was on temporary duty (TDY) from Kunsan Air Base, Korea.  We brought our F-4D models from Korea, but we also flew the F-4E models based at Korat.  The primary difference between the D and E models was that the D model did not have a 20mm canon and the E model had a 20mm canon built into the nose.

During the summer and fall of 1972, the 35th TFS had two primary missions:

  1. Strike escort missions as part of operation Linebacker I into Route Pack VI, the most heavily defended area in the history of aerial warfare.  Each strike escort mission consisted of four 35th TFS F-4s flying in “fluid four” formation on the perimeter of the strike force (the Phantoms carrying bombs) as the strike force ingressed and egressed the target in the Route Pack VI area of North Vietnam.  The strike escort F-4s were the second line of defense if enemy MiGs got past the MiG CAP (combat air patrol) F-4s.  The job of the strike escort was to engage and destroy MiGs that threatened the strike force.  If the MiGs got too close to the F-4 bombers, the bombers would be forced to jettison their bombs and take evasive action to avoid being shot down.

  2. Close air support missions primarily in the northern part (Military Region 1) of South Vietnam.  These missions consisted of dropping bombs (usually Mark 82 500 pound general purpose bombs – slick, with fuse extenders and snake eye, but sometimes cluster bomb units “CBUs”) under the direction and control of a forward air controller.  These missions were in defense of the good guys who were being attacked by Viet Cong or North Vietnamese army men.

When I arrived at Korat in the summer of 1972, the 35th TFS was divided into two groups.  One group, the older and more experienced guys, flew daily Operation Linebacker I missions into Route Pack VI and the other group flew close air support missions.  Because I was a young, inexperienced and very green 1st Lt., I was assigned to the close air support missions.  I did not mind too much because the Route Pack VI missions were much more dangerous.

Although I did get to fly combat missions into Route Pack VI, most of the combat missions I flew were close air support missions at night in the northern part of South Vietnam or Laos.  I usually flew two missions a night.  After dropping all my bombs on the first target, my flight of two F-4s landed at DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, to rearm and refuel.  I then rendezvoused with another Forward Air Controller and dropped another load of bombs on the bad guys and returned to Korat.

My typical bomb load was twelve Mark 82 500 pound general purpose bombs.  It was common for six of the bombs to have fuse extenders.  Every bomb had at least one fuse, which was the device that caused the bomb to detonate.  A fuse extender was a three foot metal tube that screwed into the nose of the bomb with the fuse on the tip of the tube.  The purpose of a fuse extender was to cause the bomb to detonate three feet above the ground for maximum blast effect against troops in the open.  Each bomb had a nose and a tail fuse that was selected by the pilot before dropping the bomb.  If a building or a structure was the target, the tail fuse was preferred because it would cause the bomb to detonate after the bomb first penetrated the structure so that the full force of the blast would occur inside the structure.

A Normal Day at the Aerial Office

My normal work day consisted of waking in the late afternoon then showering, shaving and getting dressed in my nomex green fire retardant flight suit.  I then rode the shuttle bus or hitched a ride to the Korat Air Base Officer’s Club for breakfast just before dark.  After eating, I went to Fort Apache (scroll to the bottom of the page for two pictures of Fort Apache taken by Col. Grady Morris), the intelligence building on the flight line, to plan and brief my mission for the night.

Mission briefings usually started two hours before take off.  First, an intelligence officer briefed all the crews on recent events in the ground and air war and specific information about my target area.  We also got a weather briefing.  Next, the flight leader of each flight of two or four F-4s conducted individual briefings for his flight.  Most of the night missions involved flights of two F-4s.

During the briefing, we talked about the types of weapons delivery to be used to drop our ordnance, emergency air fields, search and rescue procedures, missing wingman procedures, rendezvousing with the forward air controller, and return to base (“RTB”) procedures.  I usually had 10 – 30 minutes after the briefing to prepare to go to the airplane.

This 10 – 30 minutes of inactive time was when I was most afraid because the idleness allowed me to think about what I was preparing to do — use a multi-million dollar supersonic flying machine to drop bombs on fellow human beings who were trying to kill me at the same time I was trying to kill them.  It was during this time I always went to the bathroom at the insistence of my nervous bowels.

My Flying Gear

About fifteen minutes before station time (the time designated to depart Fort Apache for the flight line and my airplane) I dressed for aerial combat.  I put my wallet, money and all personal affects in my locker.  The only identification I carried when I flew combat missions was my Geneva convention card and my US Department of Defense military ID card.

The G Suit

While flying the F-4, I wore a G suit or technically I suppose it was an “anti-G suit” because its purpose was to allow me to withstand Gs when turning hard in the F-4.  The normal force of gravity we all experience is called “one G” or one gravity force.  When a fighter turns hard, it can cause the airplane and its occupants to experience multiple gravity forces.  During normal combat maneuvers, the F-4 frequently “pulled” 4 or 5 positive Gs.  Five Gs means that the pilot’s body weights five times its weight.  Moving while pulling 4 or 5 Gs is difficult, especially turning the head around to check the five or seven o’clock positions.  While pulling Gs, I sometimes had to use my arm to push my head backwards so I could look behind the airplane.

The purpose of the G suit is to help fighter pilots pull more Gs before they gray out (lose peripheral vision) or black out (become unconscious).  The G suit looks like an ugly weird set of pants and is worn over the flight suit.  It zips on around each leg and the abdomen.  The G suit has air bladders over the stomach, around the thighs and the calves of each leg.  It also has a hose that plugs into an outlet in the cockpit.  When the G forces increase, the airplane pumps air into the bladders in the G suit.  More Gs means more air pumped into the suit.  When the Gs decrease the air pressure in the G suit decreases until there is no air pressure in the G suit when the G force equals one.  The G suit increases a pilot’s ability to withstand G forces because it constricts the lower half of the body and makes it more difficult for blood to flow from the upper body to the lower body.  The result is that it takes more G forces to push blood from the brain thus giving the pilot the ability to withstand greater G forces before graying or blacking out.

My G suit was also a place to store items that otherwise could not be carried in the cramped cockpit of the F-4.  My G suit had a pocket on the inner thigh in which I carried a USAF issued switchblade knife tied to a lanyard that was secured to the G suit.  One end of the knife was always open because it was a special hook shaped blade the sole purpose of which was to cut four parachute lines to make the parachute more maneuverable.  I also had a large jungle knife in a sheath with a sharpening stone attached to my G suit.  I made sure I had several strips of gray USAF tape on the thigh area of my G suit.  I used the tape to cover instrument lights that were too bright when I flew at night.

The Survival Vest

Next I donned my survival vest made of light-weight nylon material.  It contained the following survival gear: two two-way radios, 50 rounds of .38 caliber ammunition, compass, tourniquet, first aid kit, two smoke flares (to make a lot of colored smoke) and several pen gun flares (to be fired into the sky). When I flew, I also wore a parachute harness into which the parachute straps contained in the ejection seat connected.  The parachute harness had two under arm life preserver units (lpus) to be inflated if I ejected over water and three hundred feet of nylon line in a pack on the back of the harness.  Because much of Southeast Asia was covered by thick jungles with trees over 200 feet high, the nylon line in the parachute harness would allow me to slowly lower myself to the ground if I ejected and my parachute got stick in the trees.

I took special care to check the two radios I carried in my survival vest.  I made sure each radio worked properly and that the batteries were fully charged.  I also put two extra radio batteries in my anti-G suit pocket along with two plastic bottles of ice.  If I were shot down, the only way I would be rescued would have been to make contact with US forces on one of the three radios I carried (two in my survival vest and one in the survival kit in my ejection seat).

The last thing I did after putting on my survival vest, anti-G suit and parachute harness was to check out my Smith & Wesson .38 caliber Combat Masterpiece revolver from the survival gear people.  I then grabbed six .38 caliber bullets from the big tin of bullets and loaded my little pea shooter and inserted it into the holster strapped to my leg.  Although I had an additional 50 rounds of bullets in two bandoliers on my survival vest, the weapon was no match for an enemy soldier with an AK-47, but it might be useful for self defense against tigers and cobra snakes than inhabited the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Arriving at the Airplane

An hour before take off a USAF step van took us to the airplanes.  The first thing I did was put my gear in the cockpit and do the Preflight Checks that consisted of:

  1. Before Exterior Inspection Check
  2. Exterior Inspection Check
  3. Before Entering Cockpit Check
  4. Cockpit Interior Check
  5. Before Electrical Power Check
  6. After Electrical Power Check
Checking the Ordnance

During the Exterior Inspection Check, I inspected each ordnance item.  I made sure the ordnance was securely fastened to the airplane and that each fuse had a safety wire in it.  The fuses had little propellers on their tips.  The bombs were not armed (ready to explode) unless they had a fuse and the fuse was active.  Before a fuse could become active, the propeller on the fuse had to spin in the wind fast enough to cause the fuse to become active.  The purpose for the fuse, the propellers and the arming of the fuse was to prevent a bomb from colliding with another bomb when released and detonating under the airplane or from simply detonating spontaneously when released.

Before bomb release, the propellers on the fuses could not spin in the wind because they had a safety wire inserted in the propeller that prevented the propeller from spinning.  When the bomb was released, the safety wire remained attached to the airplane and pulled free from the propeller.  With the safety wire removed, the little propeller spun in the wind and armed the fuse.  Once armed, the bomb would detonate when the fuse was “jostled.”

My airplane usually carried three AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles and one ALQ-119 jamming pod in the four missile bays on the bottom of the fuselage.  There were no MiGs in the South Vietnam airspace so the AIM-7s were not needed.  Although there were a few SA-2 Guideline surface to air missiles (“SAMs”) in the northern part of South Vietnam during the NVA’s Easter 1972 offensive, I do not recall one being fired at me outside of North Vietnam.

2017-01-20T19:03:15-07:00By |6 Comments
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