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.”
The backseater who ejected from this F-4 is a pilot named Kenny Boone. Kenny was one of my instructor pilots when I went through F-4 replacement training unit (RTU) at Luke AFB, Arizona, 1971 – 1972. Kenny was a pilot flying in the back seat on an orientation mission over the Ho Che Minh trail over Laos on November 18, 1968. Kenny’s airplane was hit by AAA while bombing the trail. Ray Battle, the aircraft commander, thought the airplane was going to crash so he told Kenny to eject. The frontseater recovered the airplane and landed it after Kenny departed.
Kenny landed in high trees in Laos. He was 200+ feet above the ground. Kenny heard the bad guys shooting and and acted as a tree-borne forward air controller. Kenny decided he would be safer in the trees so he did not use his tree lowering device to let down to the ground. It was getting dark and the search and rescue guys told Kenny they could not rescue him until the morning. Kenny stayed atop the trees in his parachute harness all night. The next morning the Jolly Green helicopter dropped Kenny a tree penetrator and lifted him from the trees to safety.
Kenny is the only instructor pilot I remember from my F-4 RTU. One day in 1972 Kenny’s brother talked to my class about his experience as a slow forward air controller flying the O-2 Skymaster in southeast Asia. He had recently finished his FAC tour and returned to the U.S. I distinctly remember 8 mm movies Kenny’s brother showed us taken during some of his FAC missions.
What follows is Ray Battle’s comments on the mission:
Kenny Boone and I were flying a fast mover FAC mission along the Ho Chi Min trail in Laos. It was an orientation ride for Kenny as he was newly assigned to my unit. We were at 4,000 feet and Kenny was flying the airplane when I heard an explosion, the aircraft shuddered and the front windscreen was covered in what turned out to be hydraulic fluid.
My sensation was that the aircraft as out of control and I ordered Kenny to eject which he did. Instinctively, I took the stick and throttles in hand and to my amazement, the aircraft as flyable. I called for help for Kenny and headed back for Thailand where we were stationed. I was given the option of ejecting or landing gear up as the landing gear would not come down.
I elected to land gear up and catch the runway wire with my tail hook. I have 150 aircraft carrier landings and thought I could easily make and arrested landing on the runway. I pulled the power off just as I touched down and the aircraft settled onto the wire cutting it.
The aircraft slid down the runway and veered off to the right before fish-hooking to the right and stopping. It caught on fire and I jumped out safely. As you know Kenny was recovered after spending a nervous night hanging in a tree in Laos In retrospect, My ordering Kenny to eject was a mistake which I have always regretted. I felt at the time I was saving his life and I intended to eject after he did. We both survived the incident for which I am grateful.”
The picture below is B flight of the 311 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron at Luke AFB 1972. I’m in the back row 6th guy from the left. Kenny is in the front row third from the left.
More About Kenny Boone
After attending Undergraduate Pilot Training at Reese Air Force Base, Lubbock, Texas, F-4 Replacement Training, Air Force Survival Training and Jungle Survival Training, he was assigned to the 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron ‘Night Owls’, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing ‘Wolfpack’, Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand in 1968 as a Weapons System Operator (WSO) aka Guy In Back (GIB) flying the F-4D, Phantom II.
On November 18, 1968, just six days after the first Wolf mission was flown out of the 8th TFW, Ubon RTAFB, Major Benjamin Ray Battle (433rd TFS) and 1st. Lt. Robert Kenneth ‘Kenny’ Boone (497th TFS) while flying a 433rd TFS aircraft were hit in Southern Steel Tiger. A 37mm impacted the radome and entire radome was blown off.
Sgt. Joey Hill was the crew chief of the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron‘s F-4D tail number 650784 on February 21, 1972, when Major Robert Lodge & Capt. Roger Locher got their first of three MiG kills. Watch these two videos Joey made with his pictures and the two mission audio tapes given to him by Roger Locher and Bob Lodge. The audio tapes are the actual cockpit voice recordings of the two missions during which Lodge & Locher shot down their first and second of three MiGs.
They got their third MiG on May 10, 1972, but were immediately shot down by an unseen MiG. Major Lodge elected not to eject because on that day Intel briefed the aircrews that their mission would take them deep into North Vietnam into an area where helicopter rescue was not possible. Major Lodge had told people that he would never become a prisoner of war. Roger Locher ejected safely and escaped and evaded on the ground for 22 days before getting on his radio and calling for help. Roger knew he had to walk west far enough to an area where the helicopters could get to him. For more about Locher’s incredible story in his own words and Brig. Gen. Steve Richie’s story of the rescue read “Roger Locher Describes Shooting Down a MiG, Getting Shot Down by a MiG-19, Ejecting & Evading Capture on the Ground in North Vietnam for 23 Days.”
On May 11, 1972, General Vogt, Commander of the 7th Air Force, cancelled all strike missions into North Vietnam and dedicated over 150 aircraft and USAF resources to rescuing one American. Although many risked their lives that day the USAF did not suffer a single loss. Contrast the importance the U.S. gave to saving American lives in 1972 to the dishonorable mindset and abandonment of the four Americans who died in the Benghazi, Libya, consulate on September 11, 2012, when President Obama refused the doomed American’s cries for help. General Vogt spared no resource to save Roger Locher, but President Obama chose to ignore Ambassador Steven’s pleas because the President had to go to Las Vegas.
The following video contains the audio of the February 21, 1972, MiG kill mission.
On May 8, 1972, Major Robert Lodge, gave another combat mission audio tape to Sgt. Hill. On this day Bob Lodge and Capt. Locher shot down their second MiG 21 while flying F4_D 650784.
Listen to the actual combat missions to hear Bob and Roger talking intra-cockpit and the radio transmissions made by other aircrews in the strike force and Red Crown, the Navy airborne warning ship in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Here is a translation of some of the jargon used by the aircrews and Red Crown:
Falcon 62 = Lodge & Locher’s call sign on the February 21, 1972 mission.
Oyster 01 = Lodge & Licher’s call sign on the May 8, 1972, mission
triple A or AAA = antiaircraft artillery = guns on the ground shooting at F-4s
mach = airspeed in relation to the speed of sound where mach 1 = the speed of sound, which is 700+ miles per hour depending on the altitude and other factors
beeping noises = various types of radar energy hitting Falcon 62 and picked up and decoded by the radar homing and warning aka RHAW gear
on the nose = at the airplane’s 12 o’clock position
Red Crown = Navy ship in the Gulf of Tonkin that could detect all airplanes airborne over North Vietnam and identify them as friend or foe. Red Crown warned US aircraft of approaching MiGs and vectored US airplanes to MiGs to shoot down the MiGs.
Disco = USAF equivalent of Red Crown, but it was an EC-121 radar airplane airborne over Laos.
Bandit = enemy MiG airplane
Blue Bandit = enemy MiG-21 airplane
Bulls-eye = Hanoi, North Vietnam aka “downtown.”
067/22 = location of a Bandit where the first number “067” is the radial (bearing off of downtown Hanoi and the second number “22” is the number of nautical miles the Bandit is from downtown Hanoi.
Guard = UHF radio frequency 243.0, a radio frequency monitored most of the time by airborne F-4s and used in emergencies such as when somebody got shot down and was calling for help on the personal radio all aircrew men carried.
pecker head = enemy MiG airplane
SAM = surface to air missile, a 32 foot long Soviet made SA-2 radar guided flying telephone pole missile
shit hot = shit hot
overtake = knots at which your airplane is approaching another airplane – two airplanes heading directly at each other at 500 knots each have an overtake of 1,000 knots.
These pictures are from Joe Lee Burns collection. Click on the first photo to enlarge it. See Joe Lee Burn’s bigger version of the Da Nang AB picture of the 35th TFS guys with arrows going from the names to the people in the picture plus a list of guys in the squadron the day the picture was taken who missed the photo op.
You many then click on the >> or << symbols to move forward or backwards in picture viewer.
On April 1, 1972, while members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, slept, an early morning phone call summoned USAF Colonel Tyler G. Goodman to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing command post. After communicating with 5th Air Force headquarters in Japan via the secure “walk-talk” teletype system, Colonel Goodman instituted the squadron’s silent recall procedure, which was designed to reduce the chances that nonessential personnel would know of the recall.
Thus began the April Fool’s day deployment of the 35th TFS to Vietnam and Thailand to participate in the “Southeast Asia War Games” and Operation Linebacker I. Later that day, 14 F-Ds departed Kunsan Air Base for Clark Air Base, Philippines. On April 5, 1972, 35th TFS crews began flying combat missions from Ubon Air Base, Thailand. The following day, other 35th TFS crews began flying combat missions from DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam.
Some of the 35th TFS Guys Pose for a Group Photo in front of the Squadron Building Just Prior to Departing Kunsan AB, Korea, for Southeast Asia.
The 35th TFS soon consolidated the squadron and moved all of its men and F-4Ds to Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, where I joined it. During the summer and fall of 1972 as part of Operation Linebacker I, the 35th TFS conducted strike escort missions into Route Pack VI, the most heavily defended area in the history of aerial warfare. Each strike escort mission consisted of four 35th TFS F-4s flying in “fluid four” formation on the perimeter of the strike force (the F-4s carrying bombs) as the strike force ingressed and egressed the target in Route Pack VI. The strike escorts usually flew the F-4E armed with four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat seeking missiles, 3 or 4 AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided missiles and one six barreled 20MM gatling gun. When a strike escort carried only three Sparrows, it was because a single AIM-7 missile was replaced by an ALQ-119 jamming pod that jammed enemy SA-2 Guideline surface to air missile (“SAM”) radars.
The SA-2 SAM was a 32 foot long flying supersonic telephone pole. The radar guided missile could fly Mach 3.5 (three and one half times the speed of sound) and had a range of 25 miles and a maximum altitude of 60,000 feet. It was a formidable weapon and responsible for the loss of many U.S. aircraft over North Vietnam. The missile had a warhead that weighed 195 kg (130 kg of which is high explosive) and could detonate via proximity (when it got as close as it was going to get), contact and command fusing. At the altitudes F-4s flew over North Vietnam, the missile had a kill radius of approximately 65 meters, but anything within 100-120 meters of the detonation would be severely damaged.
The strike escort F-4s were the second line of defense if enemy MiGs got past the MiG CAP (combat air patrol) F-4s. The job of the strike escorts was to engage and destroy MiGs that threatened the strike force. If the MiGs got too close to the F-4 bombers, the bombers would be forced to jettison their bombs and take evasive action to avoid being shot down.
In the hierarchy of flying, the jet fighter is the pinnacle, but aerial combat is the fighter pilot’s ultimate experience. Tom Wolfe said that fighter pilots “have the right stuff” in his best selling book of the same name. Tom also wrote a short story called “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.” It is about a Navy F-4 crew that took off from a US aircraft carrier and got shot down by a surface to air missile (a “SAM”). The crew was rescued from the Gulf of Tonkin by a Navy helicopter and ate dinner that night in the officer’s mess / ward room or whatever the Navy guys called it. I believe the short story is in Wolfe’s book called “Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine.” It was first published in a magazine, but I cannot remember which one.
In 1980 I was working on a masters degree in tax law at New York University School of Law. Tom Wolfe gave a talk to the students about his book “The Right Stuff.” I attended and found it very interesting. Tom spoke about a chapter he wrote for the book, but his editor didn’t let him put in the final version because it didn’t have anything to do with the rest of the book. Wolfe spent a lot of time researching “The Right Stuff” by hanging out with fighter pilots on Air Force and Navy bases. The deleted chapter was all about fighter pilots and what it was like to fly fighters in the US military. Tom said that his research showed that most fighter pilots were white Anglo Saxon protestants who were first born sons.
After Tom finished the speech he came into the audience and talked to people and signed autographs. I approached him from behind and waited for a chance to get his attention. I finally called out “Mr. Wolfe,” but he did not turn around. I then said “I am a white Anglo Saxon protestant first born son who flew F-4s in Vietnam.” That got his attention. Tom turned around and we had a lively discussion for an extended period of time about flying fighters. Tom told me that I should read “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.”
A few weeks later, I was wasting time in the library. I grabbed a volume of bound magazines off the shelf and thumbed through it. By chance I came across “Jousting with Sam and Charlie, the Truest Sport.” Excellent story. What are the odds of randomly finding the story? I searched for the story on the net tonight, but only found references to it.
But, I digress. This is about the men of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron who achieved the ultimate fighter pilot dream, to engage and destroy an enemy MiG in aerial combat. The vast majority of military pilots who flew in the Vietnam war were not fighter pilots so they never had a chance to engage a MiG. Most fighter pilots who flew in the Vietnam war never flew into North Vietnam where the MiGs were. Most of the fighter pilots who flew into North Vietnam never engaged a MiG. The fraternity of Vietnam era fighter pilots who actually engaged a MiG in life or death aerial combat is very small and very elite.
Lt. Colonel Ferguson’s F-4D that he flew back to Kunsan AB, Korea, in October 1972 when the 35 TFS RTBd.
Ask Joe Lee Burns or Gary Rettebush Why 8 Air to Air MiG Kills are Listed
Official USAF Records Credit the 35 TFS with 6 MiG Kills
My squadron had a lot of members of the aerial combat fraternity because it was tasked with the strike escort mission in Route Pack VI. The following table lists the members of the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron who were credited with MiG kills during the time we were TDY to Korat Air Base, Thailand, in the summer and fall of 1972. When they made their kills, all of the aircrews were flying the F-4E with the internal 20MM six-barrel gatling gun.
*Major Lucas was a 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron pilot.
Dan Autrey was my roommate. Dan and Gary Retterbush were awarded the Silver Star for their kill. Dan made a great tape recording of a mission north of Hanoi during which he and Gary Retterbush had a spoofed SAM launched at them while they were attacked by two MiG-21s from low and behind that each fired two Atoll heat seeking missiles at them. Dan told me after the mission what it felt like when he heard Lt. Col. Beckers in Lark 01 call “Lark 3 break left.” Dan looked to his F-4’s seven o’clock position, saw four supersonic missiles coming at him and said “oh shit, left, left, left.” I have the tape and will soon write a story about that close encounter of the frightening kind.
35th Tactical Fighter Squadron in front of squadron building Kunsan Air Base, Korea, 1 Apr 72
1st row: Mickey Wilbur, Charlie Sullivan, Ray Seymour, Ed Askins
2nd row standing: Bill Mikkelson, Jack Caputo,
2nd row sitting: Don Vogt, Mike Nelson, Jim Pinckley, Jim Sumner
Back row from the left: Sol Ratner, Gary Retterbush, Charlie Cox, Jeff Pritchard, Dan Silvas, Biff Strom, Ray “Howie” Howington, Jeff Musfeldt, Phil Lehman, Dave Lowder, Phil Winkler, Carl Scheidegg, Jack Storck, Cliff Young
35th TFS at Da Nang AB, South Vietnam, Spring 1972
See Joe Lee Burn’s bigger version of the below picture with arrows going from the names to the people in the picture plus a list of guys in the squadron the day the picture was taken who missed the photo op.
35th Tactical Fighter Squadron, DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam, May 1972
First Row from the left excluding Lt. Biff Strom in the intake: Capt.. John Huwe, Lt. Carl Scheidegg (2nd), Lt. Ray Seymour (3rd), Major Bill Kyle (4th), Capt. Chuck Jablinski (5th), Capt. Bill Tuttle (6th), Capt. Charlie Cox (7th), Major Ernie Leuders (8th), Lt. Boyle( 9th) and Lt. Ray Vogel (far right on the MK 82 bomb)
Front Seat: Lt. Col. Lyle Beckers, Squadron Commander
On the wing from the left: Lt. Ron Price, Lt. Phil Winkler (5th)
First row on the top of the airplane from the left: Lt. Mike Nelson, Lt. Larry Culler (2nd), Lt. Hap Ertlschweiger (3rd, but first guy standing on the wing), Lt. Jay Gaspar (4th standing up), ? (5th and far right standing up)
Back row on the top of the airplane from the left: Lt. Jeff Pritchard, Capt. Bob Jasperson (2nd), Lt. Ed Askins (3rd), Lt. Phil Lehman (4th), Lt. Jim Sumner (5th), Capt. Joe Lee Burns (6th – but digitally added by a certain high tech fighter pilot),
Fighter Pilot University has a group photo of the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron (Satan’s Angels) taken in 1966. The picture includes the following 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron guys: Joe Lee Burns, Joe Moran and Charlie Cox. George Lippemeier (80th TFS) is mentioned on the page, but not named in the photo.