Navy Capt Mike McGrath Recalls the Hanoi Hilton

Captain Mike McGrath spoke at the at the United States Air Force Academy’s 2019 annual National Character and Leadership Symposium (NCLS).  He talked about his six years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi, North Vietnam.  The NCLS is the USAFA’s flagship event on character and leadership. It brings together distinguished scholars, military leaders, corporate executives and world-class athletes to motivate and equip participants for honorable living and effective leadership.

 

2021-03-07T10:50:41-07:00By |0 Comments

F-4 in Combat Books

Here are three F-4 in combat in the Vietnam War books you can buy on Amazon:

  • The Vietnam Air War: From The Cockpit Col. Dennis Ridnouer.  The Vietnam War is one of the most misunderstood military conflicts in twentieth-century America. Showcasing seventy-two true stories told by American servicemen who fought from the skies, this unique and historically significant collection is a stunning record of the air war in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and 1970s.  There is no political agenda. There is no partisan opinion. There is no romanticizing. These are simply tales from the thick of an endlessly complex conflict, raw and uncut, told directly by the men who were foisted into its napalm- and sweat-soaked clutches.  Occasionally funny, sometimes tragic, and often harrowing, these true accounts bring new and personal perspectives to one of the most studied and most maligned wars in America’s history, revealing with no Hollywood glamorizing what the war was really like for members of the US Air Force of all ranks and myriad functions who answered the call to fight.  They saw no choice but to follow the orders they were given. And for better or for worse, by the time they returned, each of them would be changed forever.
  • The Vietnam Air War: First Person Col. Dennis Ridnouer.  As Dennis M. (Mike) Ridnouer writes in the foreword of his new oral history, The Vietnam Air War: First Person, over five million missions were flown in the Vietnam War. The many pilots, crew, and support personnel who risked their lives daily don’t deserve to fade into obscurity. Unhappy with the lack of first-person retellings of the war, Ridnouer made it his new mission to preserve these men’s tales of bravery and duty.  The result is more than one hundred stories from the front lines of the war. Air Force Fighter Pilots, Weapon Systems Operators (WSOs), and Electronic Warfare Officers (EWOs), recount their stories of air-to-air engagements, near misses, successes, and failures.  A pilot explains why he buys a drink for every tanker driver he meets. An airman explains what a Thud is. A veteran vividly describes his homecoming.  These stories and others provide a much different account of the war than those found in history books. The pages come alive with perilous missions and skilled maneuvers. Airmen from all walks of life were united during the war, and their tales include stirring accounts of friendship and comradery.
  • Green Ink: Memories of a Fighter Pilot by Rear Admiral H. Denny Wisley.  The biography of a navy fighter pilot who started out from immature, shaky beginnings. He found himself in the navy while growing up during Vietnam. He was the first to shoot down two enemy airplanes and flew 350 combat missions during three deployments aboard USS Kitty Hawk. The ledger he kept will bring you right there with him as he recounts many of those more than exciting missions including being shot down near Hanoi. He flew F4 Phantom to 85,000 feet during operational test flights at the McDonnell-Douglas factor in St Louis. Later at VX-4 in Pt Mugu, California he tested the F 14 Tomcat and flew the MiG 21 from Area 51. He went on to command a Fighter Squadron from USS Midway home-ported in Japan and then went on to be Flight Leader and Commanding Officer of the Blue Angels. He went on to Command the aircraft carrier John F Kennedy.
2019-03-17T07:55:51-07:00By |0 Comments

Harlan Elseth’s Video of His 148 Missions in SEA

Then Lt. Harlan Elseth made a great video of pictures he took in 1967 – 1968 when he flew 148 combat missions in the F-4 as a member of the 13th and 555th Tactical Fighter Squadrons during the Vietnam war.  He had 100 missions over North Vietnam and 48 missions over Laos while flying out of Ubon & Udorn Air Bases, Thailand.

2019-06-15T05:42:56-07:00By |0 Comments

Distinguished Wings Over Vietnam

This video made by PBS channel KPBS is about four men who flew aircraft in the VIetnam War.  One man was a helicopter gunship pilot.  Another was a Huey helicopter pilot.  The last two men were fighter pilots – a Navy A-4 pilot and a USAF F-100 pilot.  The intro to the video says:

The honest, personal accounts of four combat pilots during the Vietnam War. From helicopters to jets, these men reveal how they felt risking their lives in a war that was confusing and unpopular, to say the least. They share their missions, the close calls, and how they were treated when they came home. Saving lives by taking lives, changed them forever.”

2017-10-15T08:30:23-07:00By |0 Comments

The Last Flight of Hobo 28

By Timothy Karpin & James Maroncelli

Ok, this article is not about flying the F-4 in combat, but as a person who sat on nuclear alert at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, in 1972 and 1973 with a nuke bomb on my F-4 I found it very interesting.  Here is the beginning of the article:

“Major Alfred D’Amario thought the worst was over after his violent ejection from the dark and smoky cockpit of his Boeing B-52G Stratofortress. The bomber he had abandoned was diving in flames toward the nearby ice-covered Bylot Sound off Thule Air Force Base in northwestern Greenland. D’Amario knew that the one-point safe bombs would not go “nuclear” in a crash. As he descended, the major sighted an orange fireball eight miles to the west. Suddenly, an intensely bright white light outshone the orange jet fuel blaze as the high explosives in four hydrogen bombs in the bomb bay detonated from the shock of impact. A supersonic blast wave tore outward in all directions into the subfreezing arctic air. In several seconds, D’Amario’s easy downward drift was interrupted. As he recounted in his book Hangar Flying: “I watched it [the bright light] for a few seconds and, suddenly, all Hell broke loose. My parachute and the life raft both took off to my right leaving me what looked like ten or fifteen feet to the left of them. Then, I started swinging back and forth between them.” D’Amario and five of his fellow crewmen made it safely to the ground. One crew member did not. Thus began one of the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command’s worst “Bro­ken Arrow” nuclear incidents of the Cold War.”

2017-10-14T09:44:35-07:00By |0 Comments

Richard Keyt’s Thoughts on Ken Burns Vietnam War Series

Below is the text of a comment I posted today in the comments section of an article entitled “The tragedy of the PBS-Ken Burns version of the Vietnam War.”  I just finished episode 7 of the 10 episode series.

I worried that the series would be slanted and biased, but so far I think it is evenly balanced.  I like the series.  It takes me back to that period of time and has made me re-examine my feelings about the U.S. involvement in the war.  I highly recommend the series, but it does bring back the pain of losing 58,200 Americans, 2 million civilians on both sides, 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters and 200,000 – 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers.

One of the comments to the above article was from an F-4 pilot who started his comment with:

“In 1971 and 1972, I flew 120.5 sorties in the F4E out of Da Nang AB. I have a BA in Asian Studies and I have lived in Asia and the Pacific 5 times.

Like Burn’s Civil War ‘history’ the Vietnam War series also promotes false leftist narratives such as the claim that Tet uprising and the Easter Offensive were American defeats.”

What follows below is the text of my reply to the above comment.

I too flew F-4s in Southeast Asia in 1972. My squadron was the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron at at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand. We were TDY from Kunsan Air Base, Korea.

I just finished episode 7 of Ken Burns series. My impression is the series is neutral. You said “the Vietnam War series also promotes false leftist narratives such as the claim that Tet uprising and the Easter Offensive were American defeats.” I haven’t gotten to the Easter Offensive yet, but the series did not portray Tet as a victory for the north. To the contrary. The series clearly said Tet was a major defeat for the north and that the north lost 40,000 – 58,000 people.

The series did show that the U.S. media portrayed Tet as a U.S. defeat, including Walter Cronkite’s famous TV editorial in which he said the U.S. should exit the war.

One segment that really struck home with me was former Chief of Staff of the USAF General Merrill McPeak’s statements about his experience dropping bombs from his F-100 and being a Misty FAC in 1968 and 1969. He said dropping bombs in South Vietnam was a waste, but bombing trucks on the Ho Chi Minh trail was very effective.

McPeak mentioned BDA, bomb damage assessments, and what a joke it was.  He said “at the end of any sortie where we dropped bombs on what we called “trees in contact” because there was nothing important down there we would always get bomb damage assessment” such as “twelve supply sources destroyed, two structures collapsed.”  He said the BDA “was phony, just a waste of time.”

After each of my bombing missions with a FAC the FAC gave our flight BDA. For example, the FAC might say, 2 military personnel KIA, four military structures destroyed and 2 military pack animals destroyed. This meant we killed two people and destroyed four thatched huts and two water buffaloes.

I believe we did good work when we dropped our bombs to defend troops in contact, i.e., bombed the bad guys who were attacking the good guys. Sometimes, however, we did bad work. For those who never dropped dumb bombs from a high speed jet fighter you should know that accurate bombing was very much an acquired skill of each pilot. A huge factor was the wind because the wind blew the bombs while they were descending. A pilot could do everything perfectly to hit the target, but where the bombs actually landed depended on the wind.

We sometimes dropped bombs use a procedure we called “sky puking.” This was not dive bombing. It was flying straight and level at altitude and releasing the bombs. I remember one night in 1972 somewhere over the northern part of South Vietnam the weather was so bad we were not able to dive bomb. The airborne command post directed my four ship flight of F-4s to rendezvous with an F-4 that had a loran bombing system.

When our four airplanes joined the loran F-4 there were four Navy F-4s in a line on one side of the loran F-4. My flight lined up on the other side of the loran F-4. We were probably 15,000 – 20,000 feet high, nine Phantoms in a line abreast. There was a cloud under-cast so the steady lights from the airplanes caused the clouds below to be illuminated with an eerie light.

As we approached the target (we had no clue what the target was) the loran F-4 alerted us to get ready to “pickle.” Pickle was the term that meant press the bomb release button. When the loran F-4 said pickle all eight F-4s released 12 Mark 82 five hundred pound bombs. I remember watching the 96 bombs disappear into the soup below. I prayed we did not kill any innocent civilians.

I believe the F-4’s purpose in 1972 was to repel the North Vietnamese Army’s invasion of South Vietnam in April of 1972. We accomplished that goal. Unfortunately the goal of the U.S. through out the entire nine year war was not to defeat North Vietnam. The goal of the U.S. was to kill North Vietnamese and Viet Cong until they stopped fighting.

One segment of Ken Burns series is about the battle for Hill 875.  U.S. Army men climbed Hill 875 because they knew tons of enemy were at the top.  The North Vietnamese spent a month digging trenches and bunkers and preparing for the battle.  After four days the Americans “captured” the summit at a cost of 115 men killed and 156 wounded.  Helicopters quickly flew the “victors” from the summit and the U.S. left Hill 875 forever.  One hundred fifteen brave American men gave their lives on Hill 875 for what?

The only thing General Westmoreland cared about was the body count. How many enemy did the U.S. or the ARVN kill in a battle? If we had small losses compared to the enemy’s large losses we won the battle.  The goal of Westmoreland and President Johnson was to kill massive numbers of people and outlast North Vietnam rather than win the war as quickly as possible with the least loss of life.

There is an excellent September 23, 2017, interview with General McPeak. The following text is from the interview:

“In the Burns and Novick film, McPeak says that U.S. forces faced an impossible challenge in the Vietnam War because ‘we were fighting on the wrong side.’

In retrospect, McPeak edits that comment. ‘What I should have said is, when you get involved in somebody else’s war, you’ve got to pick the right side.’ The U.S. was supporting South Vietnam, and the documentary provides ample evidence of what McPeak says, namely, that the government there was corrupt, and lacked the support of the people.

‘It was blindingly obvious to me, and to a lot of other people in my squadron, that we were trying to prop up a government that had almost no chance of surviving on its own,’ McPeak says.

Had the South Vietnam government been closer to a true democracy, there might have been a chance at victory, McPeak says. Lacking that, he recalls, ‘This was not going to ever be a winning effort. I saw that quickly, and anybody with eyeballs could see it.’

The U.S. decision to fight using conventional means also made victory impossible, McPeak says. ‘I mean, we could have nuked Hanoi, and game over. That’s a win, if you think that’s a win.’

McPeak continues, ‘Given the limitations that we imposed on ourselves there, there was no way we could win.’

By the time McPeak arrived in Vietnam, he says, the U.S. government was so heavily committed that ‘it had become a matter of our prestige,’ and ‘we had to save face. So, we continued an idiotic intervention on behalf of a corrupt regime.’

I agree with the General.  Why did our leaders sacrifice so much precious blood and treasure without ever intending to win the war?

What do you think about Ken Burns series?  Please leave your comments below.

2017-10-02T07:11:56-07:00By |0 Comments

13 North Vietnamese MiG Pilots Meet U.S. Pilots in San Diego

Former Navy Commander Dick Nelson got a message from former Commander J.B. Souder in which Commander Souder wrote about meeting with thirteen former MiG pilots in San Diego, California, on September 21, 2017.  Commander Nelson wrote:

J.B. was, by all accounts, one of the Navy’s top RIOs in the F-4 Phantom II. He received the Silver Star for one of his missions, in which he saved several friendly aircraft by his tactical expertise, during a large MIG engagement. He flew over 300 combat missions, and crewed an F-4 that shot down a MIG. Ironically, a flight leader’s bad judgment resulted in J.B. and his pilot being shot down by another MIG, and he spent a tour in the Hanoi Hilton.

He recently attended a get-together with a dozen former North Vietnamese MIG pilots and U.S. pilots with MIG kills—a gathering of eagles. His narrative of this unusual meeting is truly fascinating. This is a little long, but well worth the read:

Below is the text of J.B. Souder’s very informative and interesting account of the meeting between the former adversaries.

I’m cruising along at 37,000 feet some place over Arizona. I’m headed back to Port Orange after a fantastic adventure in San Diego with some of my old fighter squadron friends and others from my days at NAS Miramar. I’ve decided to write a little recap of the event for a bunch of friends with different backgrounds so the language will vary for the benefit of those who have combat or aviation experience and others who don’t. The “facts” I’m reporting are subject to my diminished hearing and my failing memory.

About 8-10 months ago a retired Marine colonel named Charlie Tutt assembled a group of aviators to go to Hanoi, Vietnam, to meet with some Mig pilots from the war. They went, had a great time, and decided to invite the Mig drivers to come to the USA. The Mig drivers accepted the invitation and arrived in San Diego on September 20th.

Nine American former pilots and one RIO hosted the meeting with thirteen Vietnamese pilots. The Americans went out on the internet and invited any/all of us who had tangled with Migs during the war, or who were just interested in it, to attend the meeting both to get good looks at the Mig pilots “up close and personal” and to add to the stories. I went. There were about 25—30 American former aviators in all. Among the Mig pilots were guys who had flown the Mig-17, the 19 and the 21, and among them were three retired Lt Generals. Two of the Lt Gens were aces with six kills each, and the other one had four. Most of the other ten pilots had American kills. Among the Americans were navy F-4 pilots and RIOs, USAF F-4 pilots and WSOs, F-105 pilots, and two navy guys who’d flown the A-1 and A-4. Our navy Phantom crew who made ace, Randy Duke Cunningham and his RIO, Willy Driscoll, were there. Six American former POWs were there too, four Air Force and two navy. My dear friend Bob Jeffery was there. Bob was a USAF F-4 pilot who got smoked on his FIRST mission on December 10, 1965, and spent the next 7 & 1/2 years in Hanoi. Some of the Viets brought their wives as there were five or six women there too.

The event opened with a meeting in the conference room of the Holiday Inn Bayside at 0830 on Thursday the 21st. A rostrum was set-up in the front of the room with a microphone and the American and Vietnamese flags properly displayed. There were several cloth covered round tables which seated ten each situated all around the room, each with note pads and pens at place. There were coffee and ice-water urns in the rear of the room. The Vietnamese pilots and American crews mixed and schmoozed the first half-hour or so until the meeting was formally opened by Charlie Tutt who sort of MC’d the whole day.

The idea was for the pilots who had actually engaged each other in the air to form panels to discuss what happened then to brief all of us on the events after they got all their lies….uh….er….facts straight. Several were able to identify each other so they met at the two front tables and with the aid of interpreters got their stories and events synced up. After about an hour they went to the rostrum and told their stories by one pilot talking a few minutes then the interpreter doing her work, then the other pilot taking his turn talking with the interpreter doing her work again.

The first interpreter was a woman who had to interpret a stranger-than-usual southern Vietnamese dialect into a northern dialect so the other interpreter could understand before translating it into English. Needless to say, that process was laborious and we lost a lot of the meaning, sentiment and emotion while it took place. One interesting thing though, was a long session with 82 year old Sen.Col. Nguyễn Văn Bảy, the most highly decorated Vietnamese Mig-17 pilot. He got 7 kills and became “a national treasure” so Ho Chi Minh pulled him out of combat and limited him to instructing for the next few years. Van Bay was the spittin’ image of Ho Chi Minh himself, incidentally…

After an hour and a half lunch break we had a new interpreter who did a much better job and everybody seemed to enjoy the stories much more. That interpreter was a former Mig-21 pilot, now airline Captain Nguyen Nam Lien who flies 787 Dreamliners for Vietnam Airlines. Before the afternoon session began I introduced myself to him and I was startled to hear him say “Oh yes, I know you, we have met before”. I asked him when-where-and how and he said he’d been the AirBus pilot who flew me and “Jeremy” Morris from Hong Kong to Hanoi back in 2000—-17 years earlier— when Jerry and I went over there trying to meet-up with the guy who Jerry and I helped bag back in 1967. That guy is the infamous (now retired Lt General) Mai van Cuong…one of Vietnam’s three pilots tied for 2nd leading ace of the war.

Jerry and I had stopped to chat with Lien as we were getting off the AirBus in Hanoi and Lien remembered us by name! Lien had written a book in Vietnamese about all the air-battles between the US and Vietnamese and had detailed descriptions of each one (at least as detailed as he could get) from combing through tons of official records in Hanoi, American military libraries and books authored by credible American and foreign writers, as well as personal interviews. It was interesting to have him read about both of my encounters with Mig-21s to me. The one intercepting van Cuong was sketchy but factual and the one which told how Hoang Quoc Dung (pronounced Zoong) intercepted me was virtually the same as which Zoong had told me—but it was a lie. Zoong told both Lien and me that he climbed to about 15,000 feet while heading south to meet us then after sighting me he swooped down to my six (behind me) and smoked me with an Atoll, a heat-seeker missile. I knew it was a lie because the Vietnam Airlines AirBus captain who took Jerry and me back to Hanoi in 2006 knew Zoong personally and he told us what really happened. The truth was that Zoong came at me from a head-on intercept, flying under the almost solid undercast, then did an Immelmann up to my six o’clock and shot me. I’d told people for years that a 2nd Lieutenant on his familiarization-two flight could have shot me down for all the degree of difficulty it was. My flight-leader, the most exalted fighter-pilot the navy had ever known, led us right into a trap and handed us to the Zoong on a silver platter. Anyway, after that “personal” session with Lien he opened the afternoon session and did a great job of translating the interesting facts of the fights.

Before he started the translations Lien took the time and made a special effort to emphasize that “Now we can finally tell the truth…all the records in Vietnam have been opened and studied for the facts and the truth is now exposed. From now on we will finally tell only the truth”. I found that to be interesting because it tacitly admitted that they had been lying in the past…or at least evading or hiding the truth. That also made me wonder why Zoong had lied to us about how he shot me down.

One revealing, and at the same time funny, story was about the lone kill the US got with a Talos missile. The C.O. of the USS Chicago forty years ago has wanted to know for years if the one Talos he fired brought down the entire flight of four Mig-17s he was shooting at that day in May 1972. I’m thinking it was the 12th. The answer is NO, it brought down only ONE Mig; and the guy who it brought down told the story. He was on his very first mission after becoming combat qualified in the Mig-17 and he was #2 in a “loose” flight of four. They were at about 18,000 feet south of Hanoi and headed south. His lead gave him a signal to cross-over to the opposite side of the formation and he did. Just seconds after he did, the missile exploded, tearing his Mig to small pieces. To say the least, he was VERY surprised but ejected successfully. Later, after meeting up with his leader again he accused him of knowing the missile was coming and had crossed him over in order that the missile would guide on him instead of the leader. We all got a big laugh out of that.

Another interesting snippet was that the North Koreans had asked the Vietnamese if they could send some pilots to fly with them so they could get some experience fighting Americans. Yes, but the Koreans had to be under the Viets’ control and fly according to their doctrine. Originally the Koreans sent 16 pilots then sent more later, and the Koreans did indeed fly against the US. There was no mention of a Korean ever shooting an American down, but there is a monument to deceased flyers in Hanoi and there are 20 North Koreans listed on it. I wonder if Kim Jung Un knows about that monument…..?

NO RUSSIANS EVER FOUGHT AGAINST US. The Russians sent instructors to Hanoi and they did fly instructional flights, but none ever flew in combat. It was against Ho Chi Minh’s wishes to get the Russians involved in actual combat. They DID provide all the Mig-21s the Vietnamese flew but they didn’t actually fight against us…except once! They didn’t say where it took place—Kep, Phuc Yen or Yen Bai, but here’s the story:

One of the Viet’s best pilots had been injured, or had been sick, and he was grounded for a while. When it came time for him to “get back in the saddle” he was paired with a Russian instructor to fly an unarmed two-seat Mig-21 to refresh his skills. Shortly after they took off they were jumped by two USAF Phantoms and the Russian was having a terrible time trying to defend against the two Phantoms. The Viet pilot was an accomplished combat pilot and took control of the plane. He masterfully evaded both the Phantoms until (I guess) the F-4s got so low on fuel they had to knock it off and departed the area. The Mig pilot landed the 21 and when they got on the ground the Russian instructor was “shaking like a leaf”. He told the Viet pilot “Alright then, you saved my life, so come on over to my place and I will give you some VODKA!!!!!!” BIG LAUGHS again by both the Viets and the US crews. That is the only recorded time any Russian did air-battle with an American [in this war].

A similar story was that one day the US attacked one of the Migs’ air fields. A 21 pilot went up against them and stayed engaged until the Americans departed. By the time the fights were over and the Americans were gone the Mig pilot realized he was out of gas and wouldn’t have enough gas to fly a regular approach and landing. So he just flew right back to directly overhead the field and ejected.

Another big laugh-getter was a short story by one of the Viets. He said that he had barely gotten into combat when on one of his very first missions he had been shot down. He said he was angry at the American pilot who embarrassed him by bagging him until he realized the truth of the situation. After a lot of thought he was able to adequately mentally insult the unknown pilot. He said he was finally able to imagine saying to the American, “OK, big deal, congratulations, that was a big accomplishment. You managed to shoot-down a private pilot”.

There was one Mig-19 pilot in their group, Lt.Col. Phùng Văn Quảng. He had only one kill and nobody there had fought a 19 so Quang gave us a brief on the 19. He said it was grossly underpowered and on a hot day they had to turn it into the wind to help get it started. He said he had a couple of occasions to chase Phantoms and F-105s out of the Hanoi area but he could never catch up to them—-he could never close the gap. He seemed a little embarrassed to be a 19 pilot. He said all the 19s came from Russia except one which they got from China. And if I heard it correctly, all the Mig-17s the Viets flew came from China too.

A lot of the afternoon was taken up by an interview with Lt General Pham Phu Thai, a four-kill Mig-21 driver. He was very animated and smiled a lot and was told a good story. He had been the Chief of Staff of the Viet Air Force at one time as was in on a lot of the “big thinking”. He said at one time too many Viet pilots were claiming kills which they could not substantiate. So, in order to keep the pilots honest, if they claimed a kill their bosses told the pilots to “bring me the tail of the airplane”. They literally had to get a piece of the plane they’d shot down. He said after they made that rule the claims died down a lot.

I told LtGen Thai that we Americans did tours in Southeast Asia then returned home, but the Viet pilots were at home and stayed at home. I asked him if he had stopped counting missions or if he knew how many he’d flown, expecting to hear a sum of several hundred. To my surprise he said he’d flown only 215 missions. I asked about engagements and he said he’d had 25 engagements, only 20 of which he would consider true dogfights. I had 334 missions in three cruises, so I still don’t understand the reason for the big difference in numbers. I did not get to talk to Thai again or I would have asked him to ‘splain….

Someone asked Thai who the Viets preferred to fight, the USAF or the NAVY. He was ever the diplomat and said they preferred the USAF as (1) they had to fly a long time from Thailand in order to get to targets in Vietnam so hopefully they were tired when they got there, (2) they brought a LOT of airplanes with them which provided more to pick-on, and (3) they stayed in the area longer providing more opportunities for fights. He said the navy just came screaming in, did their bombing job and dashed back out across the coastline to the safety of the water…much better chance for a rescue in case the plane went down. He also said a navy plane going down in the water “made it a lot harder to get the tail of the airplane”. BIG LAUGH there. At the end of his talk, in whispered tones from the corner of his mouth, he also said, “Navy more difficult”.

During another brief interview, a Viet pilot said his most dreaded adversary was the navy F-8 Crusader, that it was the hardest to fight against as it had a gun. That made me wonder if the era the Mig pilot referred to was before TOP GUN came along [when the F-4 community finally learned to dogfight].

FLASH BACK: During that first meeting back in Hanoi one of the navy guys had asked the question of the most senior officer in the group, himself a six-kill Mig-21 pilot, Lt General Nguyễn Đức Soát, (pronounced “Swat”) who were the better adversaries, the USAF or the NAVY. Soat gave a diplomatic answer too, but while the group was laughing or otherwise distracted, he whispered to the questioner, “I think we both know the answer to that”.

After that session there was a three-hour break before the “From Dogfights to Detante” night on the USS Midway Museum and another long Q & A session for the public. I’d had enough by 3:30 so I took the rest of that day off and rejoined them around noon the next day at MCAS Miramar for the air show.

The commanding general of the Third Marine Air Wing, Major General Wise and CO of the air station, Colonel Woodward, invited the Viets and their hosts to watch the air show in the “BIG TENT”. I had been invited by the CO, Marine Air Group Eleven, Colonel Simon “Simple” Doran, a long-time and highly valued friend, to do the same. There were plenty of tables with programs and there was a delicious buffet set up and a bar complete with beer, wine and whiskey, and a photo booth for souvenir photographs. They also had a huge tub of vanilla ice cream with a myriad of toppings for dessert. The Viets were all over, most of them sporting TOP GUN ball caps which Cunningham had given them, and they were scurrying back and forth to get good views of the airplanes and the jet-powered truck. Bob Jeffery and one of his side-kick pals from his Viet squadron days was there and I explained basic differences in US Navy/Marine Corps and US Air Force philosophy/policy/doctrine/viewpoints/ways of doing things to them. They both understood our ways but found it hard to believe and accept.

When the Blues took off the Viets were all eyes to the skies and you could see by their smiles and gestures that some of them were flying right along with the Blues. I sat with Lt Gen Nguyễn Kim Cách another six-kill Mig-21 pilot and I pointed out to him the tail hooks down on the F-18s as they came by inverted or during the dirty loop, and I gestured to him that I snubbed my nose at the USAF guys in the tent. He understood and we laughed. He was a charming fellow and I decided that from his stories the day before and his animated conduct now he was the most mischievous of all the Viets.

After the air show—around 5—we went over to the O-Club and Bob and his pal were once again “wowed”. Bob said he’d never seen an O-Club like that before. I told him there were none. I saw retired Lt General Tom Conant who had been the Commanding General of the Third Marine Air Wing at Miramar a few years back and who is now working for Lockheed Martin in the F-35 program. It was GREAT to see Tom again after about six-seven years and he invited us to fly the F-35 simulator they had set up in the club’s dining room. I told Tom that Bob had been cooped up in Hanoi for 7+ years so I’d really like to see Bob fly it. Bob flew it. He liked it, but he claims he just FORGOT to try for a carrier trap. Heh-Heh…..Sure…

I took Bob into the WOXOF room (a bar) and he could hardly believe the decor. The Marines have made it look like a bunker compete with one wall of sand bags and large, carved wooden plaques displayed all over the place (each time a Marine squadron goes on cruise they have a plaque made which depicts their squadron and its theme, mission and personnel). We had a grand time reuniting with old friends and around six the Viets showed up and a few minutes later the Blues showed up. They had a mutual-friends-society back-slapping session in one of the back rooms then they all came out to have some libations in the main bar and on the back patio—both of which were packed! I met the incoming BOSS of the Blues, Commander Eric “Popeye” Doyle, a long-time and close friend of Simple’s, and I took the opportunity to give him some learned advice on leading the Blues next year; I told him to not F it up! He said that was the best advise he had gotten so far and I told him I normally gave out advice too younger and lesser experienced aviators…and there wasn’t even a charge for it. He looked at me kinda funny.

The Viets left and the Blues mingled and I drank two-three-seven too many more Jack ’n Cokes and kept schmoozing, then around 9:30 I left too…and I sure was glad I had a designated driver.

I thoroughly enjoyed both the days I spent with the Mig drivers and the events were well planned and superbly executed…the host aircrew did great jobs making things happen “behind the scenes”. I must mention, however, that our pal Jack—Fingers—One Gun—Ensch seemed to do the heavy-lifting because he was everywhere at one time. I didn’t see him much but every time I looked up I could tell he’ d been there because I could see his smoke. He was in and out of minimum burner the whole time, darting all over the place assuring that things were going as intended and on schedule. At one point I did hear him say the day at the Miramar air show reminded him of taking the kids to Disneyland. I suspect Jack’s work and “attention to detail” was the primary cause the event went so well and was so much fun for the rest of us. Just like 44 years ago in Hanoi, Jack’s great personality and sense of humor made it a lot easier—-not fun—-but a lot easier—-for us to be there.

Well, we’re over east Texas or Louisiana now and my memory—-and my fingers—-are about exhausted. I wish more of my old squadron mates, the Fighter Squadron 143 Pukin’ Dogs, would have come to that interesting and “awesome” meeting with our former enemies, but they didn’t. I also wish they had come to the O-Club for reunions with some of our old navy buddies (I saw several from the two reserve F-4 squadrons at Miramar in the early ‘70s) but they didn’t. I felt very selfish having all that fun to share with only Bob Jeffrey, but I just soldiered on and endured it.

That meeting with the Mig pilots made me think of when Jerry Morris and I went back to Hanoi that second time in 2006 when we had that terrific experience of meeting with Hoang Quoc Dung: it was surreal. This meeting was a lot more fun since we got to do more than just talk and it was a lot more laughs with 13 of them. It felt GREAT to have a kind of “cathartic experience” with Zoong and it was really fun to watch the other Americans in the group as they intermingled and interrelated with the Vietnamese. All our exchanges were cautiously friendly and respectful, although you could tell there was that ever-present “fighter pilot playfulness” and people felt free to joke and tease each other a little and laugh a lot. If anyone reading this has an opportunity to mix with some former Vietnamese enemies I highly recommend you meet them and get to know them and have fun with them…they aren’t our enemies any more…

Jaybee Souder….somewhere in the free skies above the USA…

Visiting VN Pilots:

1. Lt.Gen. Nguyễn Đức Soát MiG-21 6 victories
2. Sen.Col. Nguyễn Văn Bảy MiG-17 7 victories
3. Sen. Col Lê Thanh Đạo MiG-21 6victories
4. Lt.Gen. Phạm Phú Thái MiG-21 4 victories
5. Sen. Col. Ha Quang Hung MiG-21
6. Sen.Col. Nguyễn Thanh Qúy MiG-21
7. Lt.Col. Phùng Văn Quảng MiG-19 1 victory
8. Sen.Col Từ Đễ MiG-17
9. Lt.Col. Nguyễn Sỹ Hưng MiG-21
10. Lt.Gen. Nguyễn Kim Cách MiG-21 6 victories
11.Sen. Col. Lữ Thông MiG 17/21
12 Lt.Col. Vũ Phi Hùng 921st Fighter Regiment
13. Mr. Nguyễn Nam Liên 910th Fighter Regiment—Interpreter

US Host Aircrews:

1. Curt Dose’ USN F-4J, 1 victory
2. Jack Ensch USN F-4B, RIO, POW, 2 victories, 1 loss [received the Navy Cross with Mugs McKeown ’61 as his RIO]
3. Rick Hartnack USMC F-4B
4. Jim Hoogerwerf USAF C-130B, TAC Airlift
5. Clint Johnson USN A-1, 1 victory
6. John Ed Kerr USN F-4J
7. Pete Pettigrew USN F-4J, 1 victory
8. Dave Skilling USAF F-100, Misty FAC
9. Charlie Tutt USMC F-4B

Some Others attending:

1.Winston Copeland USN F-4N, 1 victory
2.Denny Wisely USN, 1 victory
3.Jaybee Souder USN RIO, POW (the only one there to win 1, lose 1)
4. John Cerak USAF F-4 pilot, POW1 loss
5. Tom Hanton USAF F-4 WSO, POW 1 loss
6. Chuck Jackson USAF F-4, POW 1 loss
7. Bob Jeffery USAF F-4, POW 7 1/2 years
8. Jim Fox USN RIO, F-4J
9. Matt Connelly USN F-4J, 2 victories”

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2017-09-29T08:02:50-07:00By |0 Comments

The F-4’s AN/APR-25 & 26 Radar Homing & Warning System

The radar homing and warning system (RHAW) was a very important black box installed in F-4s that flew in combat in the Vietnam War.  The device gave crews audio and visual input whenever a radar beam struck the Phantom.  The three main components of the RHAW system were the threat display unit (TDU), the round cathode ray tube (CRT) and the audio sounds the RHAW system made in the headset.

The TDU was a small rectangular box with two rows of lights.  When a radar beam struck the F-4 the frequency of the beam caused a light on the TDU to illuminate with the type of radar.  For example, the light might be AAA for a gun radar or AI for a MiG radar.  The lights nobody wanted to see were the two flashing lights that said MISSILE and LAUNCH.

Each type of radar also caused a tone to be played in the crew’s headset.  The pitch of the tone varied depending on the type of radar beam that struck the Phantom.  Crews could determine the type of radar by the pitch of the tone.

The CRT was a round little TV screen about the size of a travel alarm clock.  This device displayed three items of information: (1) the type of radar beam that hit the airplane such as a solid line, a dashed line, dots or a line and dot, (2) the relative strength of the radar by the length of the display, and most importantly the clock position of the radar.  If the display was a solid line from the center of the screen going towards 6 o’clock the radar was at the 6 o’clock position.

There was also a little red light at the top right of the CRT that had the letters A/S to the left of the light.  The A stood for “azimuth” and the S stood for “sector.”  The SA-2 control van had several radars on it.  One radar went left then right, back and forth.  Another radar went up and down repeatedly.  The A/S light would illuminate if the F-4 was in the intersection of the SA-2 surface to air missile (SAM) left and right (the azimuth) radar and its up and down (the sector) radar.  To track an F-4 the target had to be in the intersection of these two radar beams.  We called the A/S light the “awe shit” light because if it came on it meant the bad guys were about to fire a 35 foot long supersonic flying telephone pole at the F-4.

Watch the video to learn more about this life-saving black box.

P.S.  Some guys in my squadron would fly into Route Pack VI with their RHAW gear turned off because they said it created “information overload” and could distract from radio traffic and situational awareness.

2019-06-15T05:55:38-07:00By |0 Comments

Linebacker II Documentary

On December 16, 1972, for the first time in the nine year old Vietnam War the B-52 bombers entered Route Pack VI to drop bombs on North Vietnam.  On the first night 129 Buffs launched to attack targets at Kép, Phúc Yên and Hòa Lạc and a warehouse complex at Yên Viên.  The second and third waves of B-52s struck targets in Hanoi.  Three B-52s were shot down and one crew was rescued.

On the second night 93 B-52s launched to attack targets at the Kinh No Railroad and storage area, the Thái Nguyên thermal power plant, and the Yên Viên complex.  No Buffs were lost.

On December 20, 1972, the third night of B-52s flying the same headings at the same altitudes and making the same 140% post bomb release turn North Vietnam shot down 8 B-52s and only two of eight crews were rescued. 

This 38 minute movie was made by the son of Brigadier General Glen Sullivan, the commander of the B-52 Unit at Guam.  He called SAC headquarters and told his commanders that he would not order his men to fly any missions unless SAC eliminated its copy-cat tactics.  The Buff crew members interviewed in the movie explain the stupid tactics ordered by SAC the first three nights of Linebacker II. People interviewed in the movie include Ed Rasimus, BC Connelly, Jeff Duford, Bud Day and Jeremiah Denton.

Air Force historian Earl Tilford wrote the following about the first three nights of Linebacker II,

“Years of dropping bombs on undefended jungle and the routines of planning for nuclear war had fostered a mind-set within the SAC command that nearly led to disaster. . . Poor tactics and a good dose of overconfidence combined to make the first few nights of Linebacker nightmarish for the B-52 crews.”

 

"Sully: A General's Decision" from Peachtree Films on Vimeo.

An original film about operation Linebacker II that brought an end to America's involvement in the Vietnam war. The filmmaker encourages comments from everyone and for sure those who have served our country.

In good faith, this film contains copyrighted and non-copyrighted material for non-commercial & nonprofit educational purposes. The producers have neither monetized this work nor sought any profit from its distribution.

Please view in HD and full screen by using buttons on bottom right of screen.

2017-12-24T21:03:38-07:00By |0 Comments

U.S. F-4 Phantom Retired December 21, 2016

Associated Press:  “The last of thousands of F-4 Phantom jets that have been a workhorse for the U.S. military over five decades are being put to pasture to serve as ground targets for strikes by newer aircraft, the Associated Press reports. The U.S. Air Force will hold a ‘final flight’ retirement ceremony today [December 21, 2016] at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, where the last F-4s are still flying for the U.S. military. . . . McDonnell Douglas – now part of Boeing Corp. – built more than 5,000 F-4s for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. It first flew in the late 1950s, and production ended in 1985.”

2016-12-21T23:17:19-07:00By |0 Comments

USAF Needs More Fighter Squadrons & Fighter Pilots

VOANews:  “The U.S. Air Force says a shortage of fighter pilots has become so dire that it is struggling to satisfy combat requirements abroad.  ‘We have too few squadrons to meet the combatant commanders’ needs,’ Major General Scott Vander Hamm, the general in charge of fixing the fighter pilot crisis, said in an exclusive interview with VOA. The Air Force is currently authorized to have 3,500 fighter pilots, but it is 725 fighter pilots short. And with fewer pilots, the number of fighter pilot squadrons have also dropped, from 134 squadrons in 1986 to 55 in 2016.”  See: “Air Force Has Too Few Fighter Squadrons to Meet Commanders’ Needs.”

See also “Attrition: Fighter Pilots Threatened On All Sides.” and “Fighter Pilots Aren’t Flying Enough to Hone the Skills of Full-Spectrum War.”

 

2017-01-05T19:09:09-07:00By |0 Comments

Ace Fighter Pilot Bud Anderson

October of 2014 World Word II fighter pilot Colonel Clarence “Bud” Anderson spoke at the American Fighter Aces Association about his life and shooting down 16 and one half German airplanes.

2019-06-15T06:09:47-07:00By |0 Comments

Christmas Leave

by Joe Boyles

On occasion, I write an article about my past that is related to the life of military men and women.  That’s what this story is about – more than four decades ago on my first operational assignment.  I was on a remote tour without my family, half a world away in South Korea.  I was only 23 years old and kind of bummed about being away from my young wife and baby daughter.

My assignment would last for 13 months, but (saving grace) I would be allowed to take a 30-day leave during the assignment between the fourth and ninth month.  Linda and I carefully planned this before I left her behind in Florida that I would do my best to be home for Christmas.

I left Tampa on March 10, 1972.  As I recall, I traveled by commercial air to Minneapolis then Seattle; caught a bus to McChord AFB near Tacoma and boarded a military contract flight through Alaska, to Japan and then into Korea.  It was a long, exhausting trip, but … when you’re young, you can put up with almost anything.

I arrived at my new home at Kunsan AB, Korea, and was assigned a room in our squadron dormitory.  I immediately went to sleep.  It was the weekend, so I had a good opportunity to rest.

So Monday morning, I’m refreshed and make my way down the flightline to the south end of “the Kun” and to the operations building of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron “Panthers.”  I spent the next hour or so walking through the building introducing myself to some fifty aviators who were my new squadron mates.  Since I’m the ‘new guy,’ it is incumbent on me to introduce myself.

At some point, I find my way to the office of my Operations (Ops) Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Mickelson.  The Ops Officer is the number two fellow in a fighter squadron, backing up the commander.  Colonel Mickelson was well liked – the lieutenants referred to him as “Uncle Bill.”

After a couple of minutes of chit-chat, I get to my point: “I’d like to apply for my mid-tour leave.”  Uncle Bill gives me a quizzical look and then breaks into a grin: “You’re getting a little ahead of yourself young fella since this is your first day on the job.”  “Yes sir,” I reply, “but I want to ask for the date now before others do later.”  He repiles, “Okay, I’ll bite: when do you want to go on leave?”

I request to take leave from December 10 to January 9.  Now, if you do the arithmetic, you’ll see that my request fit to the back end of the eligibility period.  Colonel Mickelson duly noted my legitimate request and booted me out of his office with the admonition, “go to work.”

Now, fast forward seven months or so: it is mid-October 1972.  The 35th TFS has been in Southeast Asia nearly the whole time, flying and fighting.  Our period of temporary duty is finished and we have arrived back at Kunsan-by-the Sea.  I’m now one of the ‘old heads.’  Well over half the squadron has turned over.  Colonel Mickelson has moved on; his successor has as well; and my new Ops Officer is John “WC” Keating.

We’re in a squadron meeting and WC says, “A lot of you guys want to go on leave back to the States to see your families over Christmas, and obviously, I can’t let everyone leave during that period, because we have a mission to accomplish here.  So those of you who want to do that, come see me today in my office and we’ll get this figured out.”

I’m standing in line outside the Ops Officer’s office and then it is my turn: “Okay Boyles, you want to go on leave over Christmas, right.”  “Yes sir, I do.”  “Did you ask either Colonel Mickelson or Major Lueders for this before?”  Yes sir I did.”  “When did you request leave for the Christmas period?”  Deep breath: “I asked Colonel Mickelson for Christmas leave on my first day in the squadron, March 13th.”

Needless to say, I had the earliest request for leave of anyone who met with WC that day – and I got it!  My foresight and temerity had paid off.  In actuality, those of us who had been a Panther for that long got to go on leave over the Christmas period.  After all, we were at the end of our eligibility period.

Leave is an important time for military families to reconnect.  The separation has led to growing apart; now they must find a way to reunite and become an integral family again.  In looking back over a 27-year career, while I missed many birthdays, anniversaries, and other holidays, I was with my family for every Christmas but one.  For that, I am grateful.

2016-05-30T07:54:05-07:00By |0 Comments

SR-71 & F-18 Ask Center for Groundspeed Check

Tribunist:  “There were a lot of things we couldn’t do in an SR-71, but we were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact. People often asked us if, because of this fact, it was fun to fly the jet. Fun would not be the first word I would use to describe flying this plane. Intense, maybe. . . . ‘Los Angeles Center, Aspen 20, can you give us a ground speed check‘?”

2016-01-10T13:26:28-07:00By |0 Comments

Roscoe

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

Ghost Rider B-52 Brought Back to Life from the Boneyard

Foxtrot Alpha:  “U.S. Air Force serial number 61-0007, a B-52H known by its nose art as ‘Ghost Rider,’ was brought out of seven years of storage at the Defense Department’s boneyard in Arizona. Its new mission? To replace an active B-52H that was badly damaged by fire while on the ground at Barksdale Air Force Base and make the USAF arms treaty-dictated fleet of 76 B-52s whole once again.

2015-02-24T14:38:57-07:00By |0 Comments

Joe Boyles Remembers

We welcome our latest F-4 veteran and author Joe Boyles, Colonel, USAF (retired).  Joe wrote the following newly added articles:

1.  The Tale of Gator 3 –  Joe and Charlie Cox dropped 12 Mark 82 500  pound bombs on Korat Royal Thai Air Base,  Thailand.  We should have given Joe and Charlie a 1 Mission Over Korat patch!

2.  Rocket City – DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, was frequently the target of rocket attacks.

3.  Gone, but Not Forgotten – Joe remembers his nine USAFA classmates killed in Southeast Asia.

4.  Rockin’ Robin – Robin Olds was the commandant of cadets the last three years of Joe’s four years at the Air Force Academy.

2012-04-07T10:16:18-07:00By |0 Comments

A Day in the Life of a Retired Fighter Pilot

Jeannie Beckers, Lyle Becker’s wife, found this video that all fighter pilots must watch.  I personally don’t know anybody like the retired fighter jock in the video. Here are some of my favorite lines:

  • I flew jets – the supersonic attack jet known as the F-4 fighter-bomber, mostly bomber.  It does have a tendency to make women swoon.
  • Strapping on a high powered jet is not an easy task, but someone has to do it.
  • Have you ever traveled faster than the speed of sound or the speed of stink?
  • Have you ever arrived at your destination prior to your departure?
  • Have you ever called a tally ho on six bogeys when you knew there were eight in the environment surrounding you?
  • This guy is hot.  This guy can fly jets like nobody’s business.
  • At one point the young lady responds “You have got to be shitting me!”
  • I have numerous plaques, trophies and awards that have been strategically placed on my walls.

2019-06-15T06:24:58-07:00By |0 Comments

Please Add Your Comments to Posts

We encourage readers to comment on our articles.  The more the merrier.  If you can add your memories or thoughts to a post, please do.  Just enter your name, email address and subject then type your comments at the end of an article.  You will automatically receive an email when other people comment on your comment.

2012-02-17T07:22:19-07:00By |5 Comments

The Vietnam Air War Almanac

by John T. Correll
Air Force Magazine
September 2004

To those who fought there, it seems like yesterday, but it was 40 years ago this August that the US Air Force deployed in fighting strength to Southeast Asia. The Air Force and the Navy flew their initial combat missions in late 1964 and early 1965.  The Vietnam War began in earnest in March 1965 with Operation Rolling Thunder, which sent US aircraft on strikes against targets in North Vietnam. Soon, our ground forces were engaged as well. Eight years would pass before US forces withdrew from the war, which had by then claimed 47,378 American lives.

It was a war we didn’t win but one in which the US armed forces performed with honor, courage, dedication, and capability. On the 40th anniversary of its beginning, this almanac collects the numbers, the dates, and the key facts of the US Air Force experience in that war.

The almanac has all major facts about the air war in Vietnam.  Here’s a list of some of the facts in the almanac:

  • maps
  • personnel strengths over the years
  • organizational charts
  • USAF commanders
  • order of battle (355 F-4 in SEA 1972 the most ever by 67 aircraft)
  • attack aircraft by type
  • attack sorties by military branch by year
  • map of the route packs
  • break down of USAF sorties
  • air ops in Laos
  • MiG engagements
  • battle damage assessments
  • ordinance dropped
  • enemy order of battle
  • casualties & losses (personnel & aircraft)
  • sortie loss rates vs. WWII & Korea
  • aces
  • Medal of Honor winners
  • chronology
2017-01-20T19:03:13-07:00By |0 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.”

2019-06-15T06:33:34-07:00By |2 Comments

College & the Military Draft

In the fall of 1969, I was a senior at Penn State University enjoying my last year of college and fraternity parties.  The U.S. Army was drafting young men to fill its need for soldiers in Vietnam.  Because I was a full time student in college, I had a student deferment that had kept me out of the draft for three years.  The deferment would terminate on my graduation in June of 1970, and I would then be eligible to be drafted.  My draft number was 183, a number selected at random by the U.S. Selective Service System by putting 366 birthdays in a jar and picking them out one by one.  My birthday was the 183rd pick, which gave me a draft lottery number of 183.

Each local draft board was given a quota of the number of draftees that were to be selected by the draft board to be inducted into the Army.  People who had a draft deferment for reasons such as college or medical problems were not eligible to be drafted.  From the pool of eligible potential draftees, the draft boards were obligated to draft starting with people whose draft lottery numbers were started at 1 and then proceed in order to lottery number 365 if necessary.  Because my number was in somewhat in the middle of lottery numbers, I was in a gray area.  I could not predict if I would be drafted or if my number was high enough to avoid the draft.

I decided to hedge my bet by applying for admission to USAF flight school.  If I got drafted and if I got into flight school, I would have the option to join the USAF and fly instead of being drafted into the Army and possibly being sent to Vietnam.  If I were drafted, I would have to serve two years in the Army.  I could also avoid the draft by volunteering for the Army and get a choice of what my job would be.  By volunteering, I could get a “safe” job such as computer programmer or cook, but volunteers had a three year active duty service commitment.  The Air Force commitment was three months of Officer Training School, one year of  flight school followed by five years of additional active duty.

The application process for becoming an Air Force officer and airplane driver was intense and took many months.  I first completed a lengthy application.  I passed the first round of cuts and had to take several tests such as an aptitude test, general knowledge and eye-hand coordination.  After passing the second round of tests, I was given a very comprehensive flight physical, including an eye exam.  A common mis-conception is that you cannot become a military pilot if you do not have 20/20 vision.  Only a select few (such as Air Force Academy cadets) know that it is possible to get a waiver of the 20/20 requirement from the Surgeon General of the Air Force.  I also had to complete a detailed Department of Defense questionnaire about my entire life, which would be used by the FBI to investigate me to determine if I was eligible to hold a Top Secret security clearance.  After passing the FBI background check, the last stage of the process was to be selected by a selection board.

I began the USAF application process in the fall of 1969, but did not get notice of my acceptance until May of 1970, about the same time I got a notice from my draft board to report for a draft physical.  When an Army recruiter told me that I had a good chance of being drafted into the Army and being sent to Vietnam, I elected to accept my USAF slot and go to Officer Training School and flight school.  I goofed off the summer of 1970 in Westport, Connecticut, were my parents lived.  In early September of 1970, I took the oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States and became an E-4 (for pay purposes) and reported to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, for three months of OTS.

2012-04-07T15:24:26-07:00By |2 Comments

USAF Officer Training School 1970

Officer Training School in 1970 was a cross between college and military boot camp.  We were assigned to squadrons of new Officer Trainees (“OTs”).  Each squadron had an Air Force officer who acted as a low key drill instructor.  I got up each day except Sunday at about 5:30 a.m., made my bed in the USAF way, showered, shaved, got dressed and marched to the mess hall for breakfast.  We had to march everywhere outside.  If we went any where on the OTS campus, one OT had to be the flight leader who gave the marching commands to the other OTs (or sometimes a single OT) who marched in single file or in a column of two.

Breakfast, like all meals, was quick and we could not talk.  We only had between 5 – 10 minutes to eat our food so everybody woofed it down.  Then it was back to the barracks to study for class.  A typical day consisted of mostly class room instruction on military subjects like how to be an officer, the structure of the USAF, and military history.  An hour or two each day was devoted to exercising and physical education.  We ran a lot, and I’m not big on running long distances.  We also played team sports like football, softball and a strange game called “Flickerball,” which was a combination of basketball and football.

I don’t remember OTS as being very difficult, certainly it was nothing like Marine boot camp.  I do remember making a lot of good friends and having a lot of good times.  We always seemed to find something to laugh about.  I distinctly remember getting the feeling that I was getting converted to the Air Force way of thinking.  I also remember seeing movies in the big auditorium, which we affectionately called the “master bedroom” because when the lights went out in it, a lot of us nodded off to sleep.

Every Saturday morning at OTS the cadet wing of OTs had a parade and marching competition.  The first six weeks I was at OTS, I marched in the parade.  The marching skill of each squadron was graded.  The quarters of each squadron was also graded.  The squadron that scored the highest combined score won the weekly prize.  The last six weeks I was at OTS, I was one of the OTs who graded the squadrons’ marching at the parade.  The only time I ever marched or participated in a parade was when I was at OTS.  I never marched or participated in parades on active duty.

I’ll never forget watching an Air Force made short movie called “There is a Way.”  The movie was about men my age and a little older flying combat missions over North Vietnam in F-105 Thunderchief (the “Thud”) fighter bombers out of Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand in 1966.  Lt. Karl Richter was featured in the movie because he epitomized the heroic young American warrior of the Vietnam air war.  Lt. Richter had survived 100 missions over Route Pack Six, the most dangerous area of all aerial combat of the Vietnam war, and he volunteered to fly another 100 missions.

Lt. Karl Richter was shot down and killed in action on July 28, 1967, after completing his second 100 missions over North Vietnam.  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.  This article starts with “Richter flew 100 missions in a Republic F-105 over North Vietnam, then flew another 100 before he was tragically killed on a milk run.”

The movie includes footage of a mongrel dog named “Roscoe,” which had a special purpose and place at Korat.  Roscoe attended all the early morning briefings given to the aircrews that were to fly into the dangerous Route Pack Six area in North Vietnam.  The briefings were held in an auditorium at Fort Apache, the intelligence building on the flight line at Korat.

Roscoe had a reserved seat at the briefings in the front row.  Because the Route Pak Six briefings were usually very early in the morning, Roscoe liked to sleep.  Sometimes, however, Roscoe woke up.  Korat fighter pilots believed that if Roscoe slept through the briefing then nobody would get shot down.  If Roscoe woke up during the briefing, the fighter pilots believed that it was a bad sign that somebody was going to be killed or captured that day.  For more information about Roscoe, see the story written by Col. William C. Koch, Jr. USAF (Ret).

Roscoe was adopted by all the fighter pilots at Korat.  The youngest flying officer was given the additional duty of “Roscoe Control Officer.”  His duty was to take care of Roscoe’s needs and transport him around the base and make sure Roscoe was present for the big Route Pak Six mission briefings at Fort Apache.

In the summer of 1972 when I arrived at Korat, Roscoe was still alive and living the life of top dog on base.  I saw Roscoe most every day while I was at Korat.  He was usually at either the Officers Club or Fort Apache, which was the intelligence building where aircrews planned and briefed combat missions..  One day I was waiting outside the Officers Club for the shuttle bus to take me to the flight line and a pickup truck pulled up and stopped in front of me. A bird Colonel got out of the truck, opened the door and Roscoe jumped out and sauntered into the club.

Sunday night at the Officers Club was “cook your own steak night.”  The Club always made sure that Roscoe got a steak Sunday night.  I frequently ran into Roscoe while on the shuttle bus.  When Roscoe wanted to go someplace, he would wait at the bus stop until the shuttle bus arrived.  The drivers all knew Roscoe and stopped to pick him up and let him out.

2017-01-20T18:52:21-07:00By |0 Comments

F-4 Replacement Training Unit (RTU)

After graduating from USAF Officer Training School (OTS) at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, I was commissioned as a brown bar Second Lieutenant in December of 1970.  I spent a year earning my wings.  I finished high enough in my class to pick the F-4 Phantom as the airplane I would fly for the next five years.  After a two week romp in the beautiful mountains of Washington state where I attended survival school followed by a couple of weeks at water survival school outside of Miami, Florida, I reported in November of 1971 to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, for six months of F-4 RTU.

2nd Lt. Richard Keyt is in the back row, 6th guy from the left.
Capt. Buddy Mizel, 1st guy on left in the back row.
Capt.  Kenny Boone (Instructor Pilot) kneeling 3rd from the left.

RTU stood for “replacement training unit.”  It was called RTU because we were being trained to replace other F-4 guys in Vietnam after they finished their one year tour of duty.  Since I was young  pup, I had dreamed of flying a jet fighter.  When I drove onto Luke AFB for the first time and saw the sleek Phantoms lining the ramp, it was a dream come true.  It gave me a chill to see row after row of camouflaged F-4s.

It was a very exciting time.  I was 23 years old, single and ready for adventure.  I got an apartment at the Oakwood Garden Apartments at 40th Street and Camelback Street in Phoenix, Arizona.  Although it was a 45 minute drive one way to the base, my apartment complex was well worth the long commute.  I picked Oakwood for several reasons:  a lot of Luke F-4 pilots lived there and recommended it, the apartments were far from the base so I could live like a civilian, it was close to the night life, and the amenities were great.

Oakwood at the time was singles only.  It was and still is a large apartment complex.  It had a beautiful large pool, tennis court and tennis pro, sand volleyball courts, six pool tables in a big recreation center, live bands on Friday nights, an activities director and a lot of young adults.  I roomed with two other F-4 students in a two bedroom apartment.  We had black lights and liked to play music with the black light on at night and talk and talk and talk.

I was assigned to the 311th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, which consisted of approximately 10 – 15 F-4 instructor pilots and about 40 students.  The course lasted six months and included three primary phases.  We generally spent half the day in an academic class and the other half of the day flying.  We also squeezed in about twenty 1.5 hour missions in the F-4 simulator.

The classes were just like college, except we weren’t studying political science, English or chemistry.  We had text books for each subject and nightly reading assignments.  The F-4 instructors taught classes in aircraft general, formation flying, basic fighter maneuvers, aerial combat maneuvering (dog fighting), bombing theory, weapons delivery, nuclear weapons, combat mission planning, electronic warfare and countermeasures, and weapons computer delivery system.  From time to time in each course we had tests, including final exams.  Anybody who flunked an exam risked losing their wings.

We spent a lot of time learning and studying about the F-4 and its systems.  We were issued a large book about an inch thick called a dash one, which is the equivalent of the owners manual for the airplane.  It was filled with page after page of information about all the unclassified systems of the Phantom.  We studied the dash one religiously and were constantly being quizzed on F-4 trivia.  The Phantom is a complex machine with a lot of systems and it demands your full attention.

Before we could fly, we had to learn about the Martin Baker ejection seat and the finer points of surviving emergency air and ground egress.  The Martin Baker ejection seat is a rocket propelled ejection seat that had an excellent record of saving lives.  It is known as a “zero, zero” seat, which means that it is supposed to safely eject a man when the airplane has zero altitude and zero airspeed.  In theory, if a man was strapped into the ejection seat in the F-4 sitting still on the ground and the ejection seat fired, the man and seat would be blown 300 feet in the air, the parachute would open and the man would parachute back to earth safely.  The nice thing about flying with an ejection seat is that you can always leave the airplane if you don’t like what is happening.  It gives you a false sense of security.

The ejection seat, however, was a very dangerous device that required the utmost care.  There were a number of accidents, usually involving maintenance personnel who were working inside the cockpit and accidentally fired the seat.  Most seat accidents were fatal.  I was very careful to check my ejection seat from top to bottom before getting in the cockpit.  The seat had seven safety pins stuck in various parts, all of which had to be removed for the seat to fire.  The seven pins were all attached to a long nylon cord.  Normally when the airplane was not in use, all seven safety pins were in the seat.  Just before a scheduled flight, the crew chief would remove six of the safety pins and put them in the safety pin bag and lay it on the top of the seat.

My first flight in the F-4 was a blast, literally and figuratively.  Standard USAF procedure before flying the F-4 was for all the crewmembers in a flight to have a mission briefing two hours before scheduled takeoff.  F-4s usually flew in flights of two or four.  The briefings lasted an hour during which the flight leader would follow a briefing checklist and discuss the mission from A to Z.  He briefed us on the weather, time to start engines, radio procedures, flight check in time, taxi procedures, arming area procedures, type of take off such as single ship or formation, departure procedure, route to the restricted flying area, how to perform the mission such as dive bombing, strafing,  intercepts, dog fighting, return to base, ground emergency procedures and emergency air fields.

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

Vietnam War Military Aviation Links

If you know of any good websites or air war stories on the web that you think should be added to this list, tell us by sending us a link to the web page in the comment box at the end of the links.

Web Sites about F-4 Phantoms

USAF & Navy Aircraft Used in Vietnam

2019-05-25T07:32:15-07:00By |0 Comments
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