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

Thud Pilot’s Experiences Over North Vietnam in 1965

This is a video of a fabulous and very informative speech made recently by former USAF Captain Gary Barnhill who talks about his USAF career flying the F-84, the F-100 and the F-105.  He flew the Thud over Route Pack VI during operation Rolling Thunder in 1965 in the Vietnam War.  His stories about Thud missions over North Vietnam in 1965 are incredible.

During one mission Gary was on the tanker getting gas when his wingman told him to eject while flying at 400 knots.  Gary ejected one second before his airplane blew up.  It was six seconds from the time Gary was told to eject to when his airplane blew up.

Gary said that when he first started flying north in 1965 North Vietnam did not have any surface to air missiles (SAMS), but the Russians started building SAM sites in 1965.  It took four months for the SAM sites to be operational during which time U.S. leaders prohibited the USAF and the Navy from attacking the under construction SAM sites.

Shortly after the SAM sites became operational President Johnson authorized U.S. air power to attack the SAM sites.  The first attack was unsuccessful.  It involved 24 Thuds, six of which were shot down.  When our guys got to the SAM site they found out all of the missiles had been removed.  Gary said the reason six Thuds were shot down was because the U.S. alerted the North Vietnamese of the attacks so it could defend the targets.

In a TV interview of Secretary of State Dean Rusk he was asked “It has been rumored that the United States provided the North Vietnamese government with the names of the targets that would be bombed the following day.  Is there any truth to that allegation?” Secretary of State Rusk answered:

“Yes.  We didn’t want to harm the Vietnamese people, so we passed the targets to the Swiss embassy in Washington with instructions to pass them to the Vietnamese government.”

Here are some facts he mentions about Thud missions and pilots in 1965:

  • F-105 pilots averaged getting shot down every 33 missions.
  • 50% of pilots shot down were rescued.
  • 158 Thud pilots were killed in action
  • 105 Thud pilots became prisoners of war.

2020-01-07T08:26:02-07:00By |0 Comments

There Is a Way

I love this documentary about heroic men who flew the single seat F-105 Thunderchief, aka the “Thud,” in the air war over North Vietnam in 1966.   I first saw the film in the fall of 1970 when I was in Officer Training School (OTS) at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.  I was in awe then just as I am now watching these men talk about flying combat missions over the most heavily defended area in the history of aerial warfare.

The Thud drivers in the movie were flying in operation Rolling Thunder.  “There is a Way” was filmed at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, the same base my squadron, the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, flew from in 1972 during operation Linebacker I.  The Thud pilots in “There is a Way” were in the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing.

Legendary American hero 1st Lt. Karl W. Richter explains why he volunteered to fly an additional 100 missions over North Vietnam after flying his first 100 missions.  It was standard operating procedure for Thud drivers to be returned to the United States after they completed 100 missions over North Vietnam because the 100 mission quota was so difficult to achieve.  When Lt. Richter was flying combat missions 43 percent of F-105 pilots were either killed or declared missing in action before they completed 100 missions over North Vietnam.  Lt. Richter was single and did not have any children and he loved flying the Thud so he asked to stay at Korat and fly a second 100 missions over North Vietnam.

Lt. Richter beat the odds and successfully completed his second 100 missions.  Unfortunately on July 28, 1967, Karl Richter was killed in action  when his airplane was shot down by flak.  Richter was rescued by a helicopter, but died on the chopper before it could get him to a hospital.  In another article I wrote about Richter I said:

“There is a statue of Karl Richter at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, on which is inscribed, the following words from the prophet Isaiah:  “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here am I. Send me.”  Lt. Richter gave his life in the service of his country.  Karl Richter’s spirit and sacrifice will live on in the annals of the United States Air Force and American history.  The December 1992 issue of Air Force Magazine contains an article called “Here Am I.  Send Me” about Karl Richter.  Read Lt. Col. Hank Brandli’s article called “Karl Richter’s Last Mission” to learn more about this American hero.”

2019-06-15T05:50:47-07:00By |0 Comments

Wolf FAC

by Major Bob Hipps (USAF, Ret)

Bob writes about the two days in November 1972 when he and Captain Alexander H. (Sandy) Murchison III flew missions to rescue the two crew members of a downed F-105 Wild Weasel.

“Right around briefing time, we were informed by the command post that a weasel crew had been downed by a SAM the previous evening somewhere north of Vinh and Blue Chip wanted us to head up there and see if they could raise them on the radio. Turned out the crew was nowhere near the position we got from 7th Air Force (7AF). In fact, we didn’t even have a map of the area where we eventually found them. Anyhow, we launched with our wingman and headed north through Laos and hit our first tanker of the day. The weather steadily worsened the further north we flew and we thought there was no way the survivors could be recovered if they hadn’t been captured already.”


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

First In Last Out: F-105 SEAD Missions in the Vietnam Air War

The Aviationist:  “During the Vietnam War the main threat to the strike packages was the V-750 (S-75) Dvinathe first effective Soviet surface-to-air missile (SAM). Better known by the NATO designation SA-2 Guideline . . . . To suppress and destroy this threat, the U.S. Air Force countered with the courage and skill of the Wild Weasels, who not only flew some of the most dangerous missions in Southeast Asia but also became pioneers in Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) operations.  As we have already explained, the first Wild Weasel sorties were flown in the fall of 1965 and were planned around the “hunter-killer” concept by using two aircraft: one had to locate the enemy SAM batteries while the other had to physically destroy them.  The first, tasked to hunt the SAM airplane, was the F-100F while the killer aircraft was the F-105.  In January 1966 the two seat F-105F was chosen to replace the F-100F to improve the performance of both members of the team.”

2015-12-06T08:26:31-07:00By |0 Comments

YGBSM -The Best SEA Fighter Website Ever

Craig Baker has the best website by far of all websites about airplanes that participated the Vietnam war.  His site is Craig Baker’s F-105 Site.  Craig did not fly any military airplane, but like many of us he loves the F-105 Thunderchief.  The site has tons of pictures, mission audio tapes, Thud manuals and checklists and first person stories.  Craig is the guy who made my “Dressed for the Aerial Office” picture page.  Bookmark his site because it will take many visits to see and hear everything.

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

Robbie Risner’s Seven Years in the Hanoi Hilton

Nine Feet Tall
By John T. Correll
Air Force Magazine
February 2012

Seven years in Hanoi’s prisons did not dim Robbie Risner’s fighting spirit.

The picture on the Time magazine cover for April 23, 1965, was Air Force Lt. Col. Robinson Risner. The cover story, “The Fighting American,” featured 10 US military members in Vietnam, with fighter pilot Risner—a rising star in the Air Force—foremost among them.

“At the time it was a great honor,” Risner said. “But later, in prison, I would have much cause to regret that Time had ever heard of me.”

On Sept. 16, Risner was shot down over North Vietnam and captured. The additional bad news was that the North Vietnamese had seen Time magazine and knew who he was. “Some good soul from the United States had sent them the copy,” he said, “and they thought I was much more important than I ever was.”

The magazine article told them not only that Risner was an F-105 squadron commander who had led 18 missions against North Vietnam, but also that he was a Korean War ace, having shot down eight MiGs. It also disclosed details about his family. His captors knew they had an important officer and were determined to break him. “The Vietnamese regarded Robbie as their No. 1 one prized prisoner,” said Col. Gordon Larson, a fellow POW. “Robbie was by far the most abused POW there because of who they thought he was.” All of the POWs were tortured and ill-treated, but Risner got an extra portion.

Risner was a leader among the airmen held by the North Vietnamese, first as senior-ranking officer and then as vice commander of the 4th Allied POW Wing formed in Hoa Lo Prison, the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” According to Larson, Risner was “the most influential and effective POW there.

2012-02-16T19:57:46-07:00By |3 Comments

Leo Thorsness, Thud Pilot & His Medal of Honor

The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor


Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel (then Maj.), U.S. Air Force, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Place and date: Over North Vietnam, 19 April 1967. Entered service at: Walnut Grove, Minn. Born: 14 February 1932, Walnut Grove, Minn.


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F- 105 aircraft, Lt. Col. Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lt. Col. Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles, and then destroyed a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In tile attack on the second missile site, Lt. Col. Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the 2 crewmembers abandoned their aircraft. Lt. Col. Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this maneuver, a MIG-17 was sighted in the area. Lt. Col. Thorsness immediately initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG. Because his aircraft was low on fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker. Upon being advised that 2 helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MlGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position. As he approached the area, he spotted 4 MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MlGs, damaging 1 and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a tanker, Lt. Col. Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself, helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely. Lt. Col. Thorsness’ extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.

Read “Commissioned in Hanoi” By Leo K. Thorsness:

Art Cormier, Neil Black, and Bill Robinson showed excellence in the POW camps around Hanoi.

 In 1967, there was a “unit” of approximately 300 Americans fighting the Vietnam War from within a Hanoi prison. The unit—later named the 4th Allied POW Wing—was located in the drab North Vietnamese capital. Within this unit, every man had the same job: prisoner of war.

All—except three enlisted airmen—were officers, including me. Our job description was to continue fighting for the United States while imprisoned.

The three enlisted airmen were SSgt. Arthur Cormier, Amn. Arthur Neil Black, and SSgt. William A. Robinson. All were crewmen on helicopters that rescued aircrews from downed aircraft. The three were shot down in 1965.

They were captured, taken prisoner, and ended up in the Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi (the “Hanoi Hilton,” in POW parlance).

Purchase Leo’s book “Surviving Hell: A POW’s Journey” from Amazon.

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

Thud Driver Beats Robin Olds to the MiG Kill

Norman F. Conant, Jr., sent me an email message that contained a Robin Olds story.  It is David B. Waldrop’s story of the day over North Vietnam when he and his F-105 Thunderchief shot down two MiGs, one of which was moments away from becoming then Col. Robin Olds’ 5th MiG kill.  Here’s Norm’s story:

“About 10 years ago when I was a MD-11 copilot at Delta, I set out on a trip to Tokyo from Atlanta. There were two full crews in the cockpit. The captain I was paired with was a very nice, slender, unassuming guy. We flew the 14 hours in and out of breaks talking about various subjects including both of our backgrounds in fighter aviation. Turns out he was a Thud driver in Vietnam. All four of us were former military with both copilots being current Guard/Reservist and the other captain a Navy pilot in Viet Nam.

Upon reaching the hotel in Tokyo, it was decided that we would adjourn to the crew lounge with the beer vending machine for a cold one. The Navy pilot was anxious to get my captain speaking about the old days for some reason. Finally, Dave Waldrop relented and told us the story about his phone call from then Col. Robin Olds. [Note: This is the way I remember the story. Reality may be nothing close, or maybe a reasonable facsimile thereof. Fortunately for me, I don’t GAS (give a shit).]

Dave said that he was heading North in a large formation of Thuds. They had been told on several missions during that time frame that they were supposed to have F-4’s show up at some point, but it was hit or miss if they did. Just South of Hanoi, he looked over and saw a MiG closing in behind one of the other aircraft in the flight. He shouted in the radio for the Thud to break right for a MiG. This caused the entire alpha strike to break right with many cleaning off the jets. Dave’s gunsight light didn’t work so, just as I had done on occasion years later in my F-4, he had made a grease pencil mark for the estimated mil depression of his planned drop angle and altitude. Not very useful on this occasion.

Instead, he closed on the MiG and filled his wind screen up with MiG before pulling the trigger. The MiG blew up and he was going to fly through the debris causing him to pull up hard and fly into the overcast. The 1Lt was on one hand very exhilarated to have just shot down a MiG, but on the other hand, he was currently upside down in the clouds having to ease his way back into the VMC world with pure chaos below him. He said that he eased his way out of the clouds after what seemed like a long time (may have been seconds) and as he gained visual to the fight. He was still upside down, canopy to canopy with another MiG- only slightly behind the MiG who didn’t see him. He pulled the power back and eased the nose over while righting the ship. Again, he filled the wind screen up with MiG and pulled the trigger. Another MiG blew up in front of him. The fight was over as fast as it started and 1Lt Dave Waldrop flew back to his base in Thailand as fast as he could.

Back at the base, while partying and debriefing, Dave got the message that there was a phone call he had to take. When he got to the phone, a deep gruff voice said, “Waldrop, are you the SOB who got my MiG?” Dave said, “I don’t know what you mean sir?” Then the man introduced himself as Col. Robin Olds and went on to explain that he was arriving at the melee at the same time as the MiG’s and quickly found a MiG to hunt down. As he was about to let an AIM-9 fly, some crazy bastard in a Thud comes out of the clouds upside down right in the same field of view of the sidewinder! Col. Olds congratulated the 1Lt and hung up. Later Col. Olds even had to vouch for the kill when the Air Force didn’t want to credit it to Dave. That MiG would have been Col. Olds 5th kill in Viet Nam making him an ace and the only double ace including WWII and Viet Nam. It also could have been a Thud that was shot down had Olds shot the missile a second or two earlier! Col. Olds never got another chance for that 5th kill.”

See an August 27, 1967, newspaper story about Lt. Waldrop’s MiG kills.

2012-04-07T10:12:40-07:00By |3 Comments

Thuds, the Ridge, and 100 Missions North

By Carl Posey, Air & Space magazine, March 2009

“How the Republic F-105 got good at a mission it was not designed to fly.  At the 1854 Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War, British cavalry were ordered to attack withdrawing Czarist artillery brigades. By the time the order cascaded down the chain of command, however, it misdirected the British horsemen into a hail of fire from Russian guns. The debacle caused a furor in England, and inspired Alfred, Lord Tennyson, to pen ‘Charge of the Light Brigade,’ with its mournful refrain: Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred.

Just over a century later, something like that infamous charge was performed in modern dress, this time with airplanes, and with the Russian weapons hidden in the forests of North Vietnam. And this time the action was not completed in a single day, but recurred, every morning and afternoon, weather and politics permitting, for more than three years. Charge of the Light Brigade, meet Groundhog Day.”


2017-10-08T11:29:05-07:00By |0 Comments

Thud Pilots Talk about Route Pack 6

Thunderchief pilots faced three formidable enemies over North Vietnam: antiaircraft guns, SA-2 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and MiG-17s and -21s. On a recent visit to the National Air and Space Museum retired Air Force Generals Spence “Sam” Armstrong and Michael Nelson recalled what it was like to face those enemies. During the Wild Weasel missions that Nelson describes, the F-105s deliberately tried to smoke out one of these threats. Once they were targeted by enemy radar used to guide SAMs to their airplanes, the F-105 pilots would fire missiles that homed on the enemy signals and destroyed the SAM site. Armstrong also describes one technique he used to escape MiGs: leading them to the “SAM ring.” Knowing the dangers of flying within reach of the SAM’s radar, the MiG pilots would break off their pursuit.

2012-04-07T15:34:04-07:00By |0 Comments
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