Sad to report that Gary “Busch” Retterbush, one of the true heroes of the Vietnam war, slipped the surly bonds of earth on July 25, 2022.  I was lucky to have served with Busch in the 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Korat Air Base, Thailand, in 1972.  My roommate was Dan Autrey, one of Gary’s backseaters.  Our squadron was TDY from Kunsan Air Base, Korea, during the most intense time of the air war over North Vietnam in the summer and fall of 1972.  We flew F-4Ds (ours from Kunsan) and F-4Es (from Korat).

Here are some of Gary’s USAF accomplishments:

  • F-105 Thunderchief pilot
  • ejected from an F-105 50 feet above the ground on 15 Dec 61
  • 100 missions in the F-105 over North Vietnam
  • F-4 pilot
  • Shot down two MiG-21s in 1972.  See Gary Retterbush 2 – North Vietnamese Air Force 0
  • Three Silver Star medals.  The Silver Star is the third-highest military combat decoration that can be awarded to a member of the United States Armed Forces. It is awarded for gallantry in action while engaged against an enemy of the United States.

Image of Silver Star

I kept in touch with Gary over the years via Facebook despite the fact he lived for many years in Germany.  He frequently liked pictures I posted.  One of my biggest regrets in life is that I failed to interview Gary, Dan Autrey and Bob Jasperson via Zoom about Gary’s two MiG kills and another mission where Gary and Dan were attacked by two MiG-21s that fired four Atoll heat-seeking missiles at them 53 miles north of Hanoi.  Dan was Gary’s WSO on Gary’s first kill and Bob was his WSO on the second kill.  Now I know I have to do the interview with Dan and Bob.

Dan Autrey made an audio tape of the mission with Gary during which they were attacked by the two MiGs.  FYI:  Red Crown was the call sign of a Navy ship in the Gulf of Tonkin that had very sophisticated radars and electronics that allowed it to track all airplanes (friend and foe) airborne over North Vietnam.  The Air Force Red Crown equivalent had the call sign Disco.  It was an EC-121 four engine propeller airplane that orbited over Laos.  In 1972 Red Crown and Disco radioed to U.S. airplanes over North Vietnam the location (range and bearing off of Bullseye aka Hanoi) of airborne MiGs. 

The highlights of Dan Autrey’s recording of a mission with Gary are:

  • Red Crown calls on the radio that blue bandits (MiG-21s) are at a range and bearing close to Lark 3, Gary and Dan’s call sign.  Gary says “Send him out here.  I’ll blow his ass off.”
  • Red Crown says “Heads up.  Bandits coming into the strike route 350 for 53.”  Translation: MiGs are 53 miles almost due north of Hanoi approaching the F-4 bombers that were being escorted by Lark flight, a flight of four strike escort F-4Es lead by the commander of the 35th TFS, Lt. Col. Lyle Beckers (he also shot down two MiGs that summer).  Gary says “305 for 53.”  Dan corrects him and says “he said 350 for 53.”  Gary says “they’re behind us.”  At that moment the surface to air missile launch tone comes on loudly in each man’s headset, but there was no strobe on the round threat screen that normally would show the direction from which a SAM was launched.  The enemy simulated a SAM launch to distract Gary and Dan while two MiG-21s attacked them from their low six o’clock position.  A few seconds later Col. Beckers radioed “Lark 3 break left.”  Beckers was checking Lark 3’s six o’clock and saw the missiles come off the rails.  Gary immediately banked 90 degrees left and put five Gs on the F-4E.  The two MiGs were at Lark 3’s six o’clock low in trail about a mile apart flying supersonic.  They climbed and when each got within missile range (9,000 feet) of Lark 3 each MiG fired two Atoll heat seeking missiles at Lark 3.  Dan looked back at his 7 o’clock and saw four missiles coming at Lark 3.  Guess what Dan said?  It’s what I would have said.  When Dan saw those four missiles that wanted to kill him Dan said “oh shit.”  Thanks to Col. Beckers warning and Gary’s immediate turn all four missiles missed Lark 3.  Not too long thereafter Gary got on the radio and for directions to the nearest MiG.  He wanted to blow its ass off.