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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See my article called II Corps Close Air Support May 1972.

Joe Moran remembers a quote from a FAC on a close air support mission led by Maj Walt Bohan. Covey FAC told Walt on UHF, “I’ve never seen such good (accurate) bombs from an F-4!”

Jun 6, 1972 – Sep 1972.  Re-Deploy from DaNang AB, SVN to Korat RTAFB, Thailand (Korat)

The 366th TFW ‘Gunfighters’ was split up as DaNang converted to a ‘turn’ base. “Turn” base – No fighters stationed there, but all the support to fuel, do minor repairs, reload weapons and feed the crews before they re-launch for another combat mission.  Some of their F-4s went to Tahkli. The 35th TFS was sent to Korat to join the 388th TFW (F-4s and F-105s ). F-105 Thunderchief – workhorse of the air war over North Viet Nam. Also called “Thud” for the sound made when hitting the ground – due to the high loss rate in Viet Nam. See

We started flying more combat missions into Package 5 and 6 in North Viet Nam – we also flew some Hunter-Killer missions with the F-105 ‘Wild Weasel’ SAM depression guys. Key players: Lyle Beckers, Walt Bohan, Jim Beatty, George Lippemeier, Joe Moran, Charlie Cox, Will Mincey, Sammy Small, Gary Retterbush, Jack Overstreet, backseaters Mike Nelson, Charlie Sullivan, Jeff Pritchard and Bob Jasperson.

Jul 20, 1972.  Shot Down near Cam Pha, North Viet Nam by 57MM AAA.

See ‘A Ridge Too Far‘ for whole story.  Spent a LONG hour in the Gulf of Tonkin east of Cam Pha. U.S. Navy chopper picked up Mike Nelson and me. Only minor injuries . See: Joe Lee RescueNavy.jpg. (Ended up on the USS Kitty Hawk late afternoon. Met on board by the CAG Captain (Navy O-6) Doc Townsend; later some AF exchange duty officers show up.  I had met Capt Tim Mikita at Hahn AB before – less than a year later he and I end up in the new 64th FWS Aggressor squadron. Capt Jose’ Oberle was on Navy exchange at Miramar and also was a 64th Aggressor Charter member.  Good to be alive and free!!!!!  Flew 10 more combat missions before I returned to Korea for Permanent Change of Station (PCS) stateside.

Joe Lee exchanges Emails: 6/27/07 to 7/5/07 Multiple traffic for names on 2 x 35th TFS pictures

Inputs from Bob Jasperson, Mike Nelson, Jim Beatty, Joe Moran, Gary Retterbush, Jeff Pritchard, Jack Overstreet, Don Vogt, . . . .

From Jeannie and Lyle Beckers:

Dear Joe Lee:

Thank you so much for your kind letter, it brought tears to both Lyle and my eyes.  It did another thing, got him talking about his flying days and he went on for over two hours, it was lots of fun seeing him remember and getting so excited. I wanted to share it with our ole friend Ron Maunder back in Chesapeake Bay, it was 11:30pm his time, but I knew he would be up and the two of them talked almost an hour. Ron then talked to me and said he was shocked at the names and flights he remembered so well….who knows one of these days soon he may be up to an interview with Mr. Glass.  I do think we should wait until after this month, when he will be getting a CatScan and MRI within the next few days. Then meeting with his Neurologist and Neuropsychologist later in the month.

Best love to all of you,

Jeannie B

Jack Overstreet writes: 7/10/07 in response to my sending 35th DaNang photo and “A Ridge Two Far.”

Thanks….very entertaining. I’d forgotten about Mike shooting his radio…..a classic!  BTW…in the DaNang photo…I noted that 6 of the 8 FWIC grads are missing besides me and Charlie Sullivan and others. I assume it must have been taken on a day we went north on either a Strike Escort or BARCAP mission…..know why? ’cause the Boss is in the photo and he didn’t go on either….only on MIGCAP as I recall (although my memory is hazy here….he sure as heck wouldn’t go on the BARCAP missions…that I DO know).

In fact, if I came back from the FRAG meeting and we got the MIGCAP flight….he was a happy camper. If we got Strike Escort, he grumbled…. A LOT…and one of you target arms led the mission. If we got BARCAP, he didn’t talk to me for a couple of days.  This was a challenge….cause we had three day squadrons and three missions…’d kinda figure we’d get MIGCAP about every third mission north. But, not the Boss.

In fact, I remember having to “try out” with the Boss in order to go to RP6. Flew on his wing on my first mission there….got the “fighting wing” decorum lecture: “if I overshoot… overshoot! etc. etc.” And then, ON THE WAY HOME…….put me in fighting wing and wrung me out for about 10 minutes……and told me on landing: “okay….you can go north.” For a long time, I was the only front seat lieutenant cleared……I was pretty proud of that because I thought it was an honor to fly with you guys. You got that opportunity the ‘old fashioned” way, Shoes; you earned it! – Joe Lee

You know it’s funny, but when you think about the generation ahead of you in fighters and the guys you looked up to and who taught you….it’s all guys who are only about 6-8 years older (with the exception of the Ops Officer and the Boss). A very compressed generation gap….for fighter pilots. Pretty astute observation, Shoes; did your wife point that out to you???  Everyone knows she’s the smart one!! Heh heh.


Joe Lee writes: 7/12/07 Recap of Phone Interview with Doyle

I was going over in my mind our interviews so far and felt I needed to clarify my sometimes getting emotional on certain subjects when on the phone.  And it’s not that I don’t think you understand, but I wanted to see if I could explain it to my own satisfaction.  It’s not concise, but best I can do for now.

When I get choked up talking about friends who were killed or were tortured as POWs, it’s not abject sorrow. No, it’s a sadness of what they missed. Of how much they would have enjoyed these years hence had they been as lucky as I was. The joy and fulfillment of flying in the military – and how much we might have accomplished together. And how much we would have appreciated each others’ company/friendships/experiences/life.

I think each of them would accept their fate as one of the known, potential consequences of raising your right hand to swear to serve your country, uphold the constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic. After all, our Code of Conduct states clearly that we will ” . . .defend our nation and protect our American way of life, and I am prepared to give my life in their defense.” I miss/missed them, but with pride in their accomplishments and sacrifices.

When I get choked up about things that happened, or during my descriptions of these events, during wartime, it’s not from remembering the ‘washed out’ feeling in my stomach or any fear. It’s from the realization that we were all doing what we had been trained to do (sure), but also what we WANTED to do. Part of successfully facing perils, our own fears or the unknown is knowing you are not alone – that someone you know (Mike Nelson, Jim Beatty, Gary Retterbush, Lyle Beckers, George Lippemeier, etc.) or someone you don’t know (the A-7 pilots from the Kitty Hawk coming to bomb any boats in my area; Scott Powell whose F-4E flight strafed a boat a couple of miles away while we were in our yellow dinghies; the Navy enlisted Para-rescue-Jumper (PJ) and his pilots and crew members) will do everything in their power to rescue us – no matter what. (Research the numbers of awards and decorations for bravery earned by all the U.S. military Search and Rescue forces.) Even if Mike and I had been captured or killed, we would have known these fellow warriors would have, and in fact might have, busted their asses to have gotten to us in time to save us. It’s respect for them, respect for the U.S. military, respect for the brotherhood of combat veterans . . . . and pride in being a small part of this honest, hardworking, goal-oriented team – the U.S. military.  I love these guys!!!!!!

I may have already made the comparison between football and the military in peacetime and at war.  War sucks, good people die in war, it hurts to lose friends (injury) or to lose a battle (game).  In peacetime you would practice all year long in your practice uniform/gear; occasionally you would have a controlled scrimmage (day-to-day flight training) between your team’s offense and defense on the practice field; maybe once a year you would have a controlled scrimmage (Operational Readiness / Higher Headquarters Inspection) against the closest other football (inspection) team and then review the game film (ORI Out-Briefing) to assess why you won or lost (ORI grade – Outstanding/Satisfactory/Marginal/Unsatisfactory). You PREPARE for the Big Game, but it never comes. Sorta like kissing your sister.

But you still haven’t been able to put on your game cleats (deploy to the war zone), the fancy colored jersey and pants (carry live armament), the shiny game helmet (arm the weapons to attack an enemy target) and gone to battle in the BIG stadium (combat mission) and let the big neon scoreboard proclaim the winner (Destroy enemy military targets with secondary explosions/help our ground forces defeat enemy ground forces/without losing any/many of your teammates)

When lives are on the line, it is not a game. America has always fought to maintain our freedom, our way of life, and to be free of attack from enemies. My only regret is that I can no longer meet the requirements to play on the First Team to protect America. I’m proud of and confident in our current crop of First Teamers. Kick Ass, Take Names, and Remember What you are fighting for. (It used to be Betty Grable/Lana Turner/Marilyn Monroe, then Raquel Welch/Cheryl Tiegs/Christie Brinkley, then . . . . . . . .(you fill in the blanks).)

Since as long as I can remember, I tear up and can’t finish singing the Star Spangled Banner. But I, by God, stand up as tall as I can and salute – For the country – and always – for those who have given their life or their freedom in defense of our country.

Jim Beatty responds to my comments above: 7/13/07

Well said. You and the rest of us get the same way and I am not ashamed of it at all. I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to have been able to be in the real game with some of the best players this country has ever produced . Joe Lee. You just named a few of them as there were many, but the ones you named were a band of brothers and remain that way to this day and I think it will remain that way for life). I also get choked up when the national anthem is played and it makes me very angry to see some of the younger generations disrespect our flag. I contribute it to sheer ignorance and the fact they don’t have any idea of the value of freedom. At the present rate and mindset of our great nation, I fear they may just find out the hard way. Freedom is not cheap, but it is the most precious commodity we have as a nation. God Bless America and the brave men and women that defend it.


Mike Nelson writes: 7/13/07

Joe Lee,

If I remember right, next Friday (20 July) is the THIRTY-FIFTH anniversary of a couple of 35TFS guys joining the Gulf of Tonkin Yacht Club.  Congratulations! and my thanks for pointing the nose at the water and not the jungle.  Cheers,


Joe Lee writes to Mike: 7/13/07


You DO remember correctly, sir!!!!!  The Navy insisted that we were only associate members of the Gulf of Tonkin Yacht Club – and even then, only in the yellow dinghy division.  Feet Wet never meant as much as it did then. WE did pretty good for guys who couldn’t go poop for 3 days afterward . . . . . . uh, well, then there is the survival radio ‘execution ‘. . . . Everyone thinks that is the BEST part of the story!!!  You still owe Retterbush a bottle of Mogan David 20/20 . . . . . . . . heh heh.

Your Humble Nose-Gunner,

Joe Lee

Joe Lee writes: 7/16/07 additional comments after phone interview


Rereading this, I see an acceptance of fate or faith in ‘something’.  We trained and trained and then went to war. We knew pretty much what we were in for and were more than willing to face the enemy on the battlefield of their choosing. We also learned quickly what employment techniques needed to be changed/modified from our original training. We knew who we were and what our job was.

We were willing to risk danger and death with our fellow airmen. Everyone was pretty much sure that how we were flying our missions provided a good chance of survival. I think most people also accepted that there was such a thing as a “golden BB” or “silver bullet.” That “lucky shot” that would hit your trusty jet, no matter how well you flew. You always hoped on every mission that the “golden BB” with your name on it would not be fired at you that day.

What made us frustrated was someone ‘not in a uniform’, ‘not in theater’, or ‘tactically naïve’ tying our tactical-employment “hands” (e.g., off-limit targets) or putting BS restrictions on how we were to conduct our missions (some of the Rules of Engagement).  If we were going to face death, we didn’t want to ‘buy the farm’ because of some non-combat, non-support, SOB in the rear echelon (or Wash DC). Given even this frustration, we went out everyday and did our damnedest to kill the enemy and blow up their stuff.

Joe Lee writes: 7/16/07 responds to article sent by Doyle


Thanks for sending the SHEEP, WOLVES, and SHEEPDOGS article.  Out-f-ing-Standing.  Brought tears to my eyes.  The continuum part is so true. Not just in your personal choice of who/what you want to be.  But for most of the people I flew with, our greatest fear was to NOT measure up, to turn away, to balk at battle in the next war, the next year, tomorrow, or in an hour from now. Most of us had a good grip on reality and always were on guard to keep the ‘boogie monster’ away. I know my biggest fear was whether or not I could resist (to the satisfaction of my fellow prisoners or to my own satisfaction) the torture over the 6 or 7 years in captivity. That is why I respect so deeply our former POWs.  Proud to be an old sheepdog.

Joe Lee writes: 7/23/07 responds again


In reference to the article Sheep, Wolves, Sheepdogs. I buy the premise wholeheartedly.  It puts those who serve in the military in the place they deserve – one of respect and, if only infrequently, one of absolute necessity for the benefit of the sheep.  Even with the nicely turned paragraph on “a matter of degrees, a continuum . . .”, I was concerned that my sons might think I (as a warrior) might think they were sheep because they didn’t “serve.” I most certainly do not think that way. But I tried to come up with a definition of sheepdogs that did not include wearing a military uniform.

So here’s my corollary: A “yes” to any items below makes you a sheepdog – it’s a matter of commitment . . . . .

1. Have you ever “sacrificed” your body (old coach’s phrase) to block/knock down/interfere with someone on the other team so your teammate could ‘score’. Sports is the example, but it could be speaking up in class in support of someone who’s being unfairly badgered.

2. Would you give your life to protect your family.

3. Would you kill someone threatening bodily harm to your family.

4. Would you give your life to protect a friend or a bystander from bodily harm. (This is at the ‘military service’ level to my thinking)

If you would never consider striking another person for any reason, say “baa.”  There are many things in life worth fighting for – ‘physically’ fighting for – hopefully it won’t come to that. But if it does, fight, and fight to win. Fighting to a tie is non-productive. Fight until the enemy acknowledges he lost.  Not sure this helps anyone but me to put the article in perspective.

Joe Lee writes: 7/26/07 responds to phone interview


We talked about heroes yesterday. Tough subject, I think.  I don’t think anyone who you might consider a hero would agree to being called that. The POWs don’t think of themselves as Heroes. But, I do think of them that way. Here’s the difference, I think. They know what the Code of Conduct says, and most don’t believe they were able to follow the Code as well as they wanted. I likewise know that most of them endured more pain, loneliness, despair, and hopelessness than I think I could have. They endured, and in my mind, “defeated” their enemy captors, by surviving, by not going crazy, by coming home, by continuing to do things here at home to make it a better place and to make us better people. So they are heroes to me.

I don’t think Robin Olds or Audie Murphy or Eddie Rickenbacker thought of themselves as heroes. They MIGHT acknowledge having done one or more heroic deeds.

Therein is the crux of the definition of Hero. Most would agree that there is no courage in the absence of fear. A person probably won’t be broadly considered a hero without performing heroic deeds of some sort. Those deeds would never have been undertaken without confronting a dangerous, life-threatening, or life-saving situation and reacting to help or rescue someone or by preventing harm from befalling your friend, your teammate, your countryman. A Hero probably is not afraid to use violence (physical or weaponry) to defeat an adversary. Some days, a hero’s efforts may be unsuccessful – he could lose the encounter; he could fail – yet, the effort may be heroic nonetheless.

Warriors and ‘sheepdogs’ may ponder beforehand the potential dangers they may face in different situations. Such situations may happen without much advance notice. In my thinking, the decision to face the threat, stand in harm’s way, to engage the enemy is an intuitive act. It does not lend itself to a profit/loss, mini/max, or risk assessment thought process. No, rather it is a more visceral, gut reaction to a given situation. In fact, later, in retrospect, the hero may question whether the decision to ‘engage’ was the best decision in that particular instance. But, not at the time when faced with the act or the fight/flee decision.

I grew up with John Wayne as my Hollywood hero. Don’t know that he faced too many real threatening situations, either. But in the movies, when the chips were down, he always did the ‘right’ thing. It’s the ‘cowboy’ way, the ‘warrior’ way, the manly way to live.

I think all military people need to be honored as warriors. I know that when these military personnel return from a combat zone, they have earned the right to be honored as battle-tested warriors. Amongst themselves, they will have comrades who are heroes in their eyes for action taken in their group’s encounters in battle. And, for the most part, they don’t really care whether a ‘civilian’ might think they are ‘heroes’ or not. But, they are proud to know there will ALWAYS be a bond, a brotherhood between those that stood shoulder-to-shoulder or wingtip-to-wingtip to do battle with the enemy.

I certainly don’t think I’m a hero. I have been fortunate as a trained warrior to face the enemy in battle with my brothers. I know that some, no, many of them are heroes to me, and perhaps, I may be a hero to some of them. I do know for certain that I am proud to have served with them . . . . . and would do it again in a split second, no questions asked.

Getting shot down was not a heroic deed. Reacting like I was trained to do was not heroic. Surviving to fight again . . . . . . . maybe. The REAL heroes in MY story are the warriors who set up the Search and Rescue operation, who flew deep into the enemies’ domain, within the field of fire of NVN weapons, to pick me and Mike out of the water.

All they got from us, and all they wanted, was to see the looks on our faces as we were taken to safety.

Job well done. Thanks.

Joe Lee writes: 7/30/07 expansion on phone interview


We talked a little about when the POWs started coming home. (End of March 1973) I was at TDY at Columbus AFB, MS getting checked out in the T-38 for the Aggressors, when I first saw the C141s unloading our repatriated POWs. Over the course of the USAF transport planes arriving, I recognized probably 20 of them coming down the boarding stairs at Clark AB, PI.  I remember hot, salty tears on my cheeks as they were welcomed home by friends, family, loved ones and supporters on Clark Air Base.

I was so thankful they were home/heading home. Most required some medical treatment if only for malnutrition.  The feeling I had then (watching them hug their family, or salute the flag or senior officer on the ramp, or kneeling down and kissing the ground) was the same exact feeling I had when I was rescued from the waters of the South China Sea. Exactly the same. It was as if I was being released from captivity and torture, too. I felt whole again.  Talk to you tomorrow.

Joe Lee writes: 8/2/07 – why the 35th was a great squadron


Trying to verify the number of ‘recognized’ MiG Kills for the squadron during our TDY deployment from Kunsan to DaNang and Korat in 1972. I ‘thought’ 7 or maybe only 6 kills were verified.  So here’s the story as I see it.  There are 5 and a half ‘officially recognized’ 35th MiG kills during this period:

  • LC Beckers / Capt Huwe Balter 1 MiG-19 23 May ’72 AIM-7 one kill
  • Capt Beatty / Lt Sumner Balter 3 MiG-21 23 May ’72 20 MM Gun one kill
  • Maj Jon Lucas (34th TFS) / Lt Doug Malloy (35th TFS) Eagle 3 MiG-19 2 Sept ’72 AIM-7 (one half kill at the least).  Ttrying to find out if Eagle flight was a 34th or 35th flight – if 35th crew led the flight, I would say “6 kills.”
  • LC Beckers/Lt Tom Griffin Finch 1 MiG-21 12 Sept ’72 AIM-9 one kill
  • Maj Gary Retterbush/Lt Dan Autrey Finch 3 MiG-21 12 Sept ’72 20 MM Gun one kill
  • Maj Gary Retterbush/Capt Bob Jasperson Lark 1 MiG-21 8 Oct ’72 20 MM Gun one kill

Two more MiG kills were reported, but have never been ‘confirmed officially’.

  • Lt Young / Lt Claiborne claimed a MiG-21 kill with an AIM-9 ~30 Sep ’72
  • Capt George Lippemeier / Lt Mike Nelson (Eagle ?) claimed a MiG-21 kill with the 20 MM Gun ~ 8 Oct ’72

Law of the Land has always been that an aerial kill has to be verified before officially recognized.  There are various criteria for verification. The following is the only discussion (US Navy) I could Google-Find:

The following list of enemy aircraft shot down covers only those shoot downs that are confirmed. There are a number of cases in which adequate information or verification was not available or could not be substantiated for a shoot down. These shoot downs, usually identified as “probables”, are not placed on this list. The Navy Department does not have a written policy regarding the requirements for the verification of a shoot down. It is generally accepted or believed that when an aerial engagement occurs, the pilot, NFO (RIO), or other witness must actually see the enemy aircraft crash, explode or the pilot ejecting from the enemy aircraft. The Navy has used gun camera footage since World War II. However, during the 1980s the Navy began using modern equipment more extensively, such as heads-up displays and gun camera footage to verify shoot downs.

Bob Jasperson writes: to – 8/2/07 clarifying kills

Joe Lee,

The Lippemeier / Nelson claim was on 8 October, the same as Retterbush / me. Their call sign was Eagle, but I don’t know their position in the flight. I remember that because we were Lark, as in “where never lark nor even eagle, flew” from the poem “High Flight.” How’s that for a memory aid?

By the way, where you still with us when Busch and I scored our kill? I’ve read his account of our mission and it is quite different than I remember. The biggest difference is that he says he fired two sidewinders that went ballistic and then he jettisoned our remaining missiles (why?) before going guns. My memory is that he tried to fire two sidewinders but they never left the rails. After landing, I remember seeing scorch marks around the small chemical electric power unit exhaust ports on the sides of the missiles. After SEA, I went from Holloman to Eglin to fire an AIM-7 and an AIM-9. I remember saying that, even though I had a MiG kill, those were the first missile firings I was ever involved with. Maybe I’ve destroyed too many brain cells over the years and it’s affected my long-term memory. Were you still at Korat on 8 October, and do you have any memory of our kill? Is there any way to find an official record?

Bob Jasperson.

Joe Lee responds: 8/2/07 to Bob Jasperson’s Email

No, I left Korat (dragging my heels) end of September for a detached TDY as the Ops Weapons officer to DaNang.  I also flew FCF test hops and deliveries from DaNang and a turn base after we & 366TFW left like Bien Hoa was when we were flying out of DaNang.  So I missed, but heard about, your and Lippe’s kills in October. Left for Kunsan and RTB Nellis mid October.  I’ve done some Google on 35th kills but no official stuff found.  In my two tours, I had accumulated 360.4 hours of F-4 C/D/E combat time, 257 total combat sorties, 137 over North Viet Nam, 19 (okay, you nitpickers, 18 and a half) into Route Package 6. I flew my last combat mission (to date, at least) on 1 September 1972.

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