The following is the text of an email message I received from Dennis VanLiere, the backseater in Veins 2, a two ship flight of 35th Tactical Fighter Squadron F-4s flying a close air support mission in Military Region 1, the northern most sector of South Vietnam:
I was TDY to the 35th TFS from late April 1972 into October 1972, from the 36th TFS. I was a WSO and flew a replacement F-4 in shortly after the squadron arrived in DaNang, and then joined them a couple of weeks later. Along with Gene Doyle, we left a previously perfectly good F-4 in a rice paddy near and around the Qua Viet River on May 25, 1972 as part of Veins flight two ship.
We landed around 8:30 a.m. near some South Vietnamese Marines who were not supposed to be there, walked, then rode out on an APC after talking to the US Marine Captain advisor who had been coordinating with the FAC. He told us he thought he saw a trail of smoke away from the aircraft when he heard the explosion which blew part of a stabilator off. The airplane stopped flying soon after that and we punched out immediately.
The APC took us to a rear area where we talked to a USMC Lt Col, Major and CMSGT who were manning bunker with the first TOW ground missiles being used in the war. They showed us a North Vietnamese Army tank trying to hide under a palm tree while they worked other F-4s on it. We flew out of there with a USMC chopper to Hue. Met the Air Force command team at Big Control and gave them a short debrief. The Colonel there took us on a jeep tour of the city and saw an Army Colonel friend of his warming a chopper up on a pad and asked him to take us to Phu Bai, a few minutes away. He did and took us up to their ready room and showed us some trophies they had gotten from tanks and armored vehicles they had taken out with helicopter missiles.
While there someone came and asked if the Air Force guys wanted a ride back to DaNang, and if so, they needed to get down to the flight line where a USAF chopper was warming up. We made that flight and landed in front of Gun Fighter Village on the flight line at about 4:30 p.m. . . . out of touch with home the whole day. After debriefing, we made a quick stop in the squadron where someone had written on the beer refrigerator Doyle/VanLiere – $16,000,000 at $.25 apiece for beers. If you forgot to sign out to fly, you had to buy throw in $4.00 for 16 beers for the squadron beer supply. I guess losing an F-4 (Unit price of an F-4D was $4Million) was more serious than not signing out.
As I was going back to the quarters, the night crews were just getting ready to go to the squadron. My roommate, Joe Boyle was just coming out as I was coming in. I was muddy and more than a little bedraggled. He said “What happened to you? You look like you got shot down!” As I passed him to go to bed I replied “I did.”
The 35th was a special group, a good bunch of flyers with great leaders who did more than their share of damage to the enemy cause. I was also the squadron intel guy, combing through the daily intel reports for results of our missions.
FYI: I have an audio tape made by John Huwe who was in the back seat of Veins 1 when Veins 2 was shot down. The crew of Veins 2 is heard trying to get a visual on Veins 1 when one of them says something like “Nice secondary.” He saw a big fire ball on the ground and at first thought it was an ammunition supply exploding after being hit by a Mark 82 500 pound bomb. The fireball, however, was the F-4 exploding when it hit the ground. One of the crewmen then sees the two parachutes and then realizes that Veins 2 was shot down.