Tag Archives: Prisoner of War

Medal of Honor, Major Leo Keith Thorsness, United States Air Force

Lieutenant Colonel Leo Keith Thorsness, United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

LIEUTENANT COLONEL LEO K. THORSNESS
UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Rank and organization: Lieutenant Colonel (then Major), U.S. Air Force, 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Place and date: Over North Vietnam, 19 April 1967.

Entered service at: Walnut Grove, Minn.

Born: 14 February 1932, Walnut Grove, Minn.

Medal of HonorCitation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F- 105 aircraft, Lt. Col. Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lt. Col. Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles, and then destroyed a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In the attack on the second missile site, Lt. Col. Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the 2 crewmembers abandoned their aircraft. Lt. Col. Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this maneuver, a MIG-17 was sighted in the area. Lt. Col. Thorsness immediately initiated an attack and destroyed the MIG. Because his aircraft was low on fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker. Upon being advised that 2 helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MiGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position. As he approached the area, he spotted 4 MIG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MlGs, damaging 1 and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a tanker, Lt. Col. Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself, helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely. Lt. Col. Thorsness’ extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.

Major Leo K. Thorsness and Captain Harold E. Johnson with their Republic F-105F Thunderchief, Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 1967. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Leo K. Thorsness and Captain Harold E. Johnson with their Republic F-105F Thunderchief, Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN HAROLD EUGENE JOHNSON

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Captain Harold Eugene Johnson (AFSN: 0-3116556/42372A), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism as Electronics Warfare Officer of an F-105 aircraft of the 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam, engaged in a pre-strike, missile suppression mission over North Vietnam on 19 April 1967. On that date, Captain Johnson guided his pilot in attacking and destroying a surface-to-air missile installation with an air-to-ground missile. Through his technical skill, he immediately detected a second missile complex and guided the pilot into visual contact. Diving into a deadly barrage of anti-aircraft fire, his aircraft bombed and successfully destroyed this site. In the attack on this second missile site, a wingman was shot down by the intense anti-aircraft fire, and the crew members were forced to abandon their aircraft. Flying through hostile missile threats, Captain Johnson’s aircraft engaged and destroyed a MiG-17 while attacking a superior MiG force. He aided in the rescue efforts for the downed crew, engaged additional MiGs, and damaged one in the encounter. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness, Captain Johnson has reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Department of the Air Force, Special Order GB-363 (April 19, 1967)

Action Date: 19-Apr-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 357th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Tuy Hoa Air Base, Vietnam

Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief, 63-8301, on 19 April 1967. It was one of 61 F-105Fs that were upgraded to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration beginning in late 1967. It survived the Vietnam War, but was destroyed 20 December 1974 when, assigned to the 35th TFW at George AFB, California, it crashed at the Cuddeback Lake Gunnery Range after an engine failure. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief, 63-8301, on 19 April 1967. It was one of 61 F-105Fs that were upgraded to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration beginning in late 1967. It survived the Vietnam War, but was destroyed 20 December 1974 when, assigned to the 35th TFW at George AFB, California, it crashed at the Cuddeback Lake Gunnery Range after an engine failure. (U.S. Air Force)

A description of the air battle follows:

The first MiG kill of the day was recorded by Maj. Leo K. Thorsness, pilot, and Capt. Harold E. Johnson, Electronic Warfare officer (EWO), flying an F-105F. Thorsness’ flight consisted of four F-105F Wild Weasel aircraft, each plane being manned by a pilot and EWO and being specially equipped to locate and attack SAM sites. The flight was ahead of the main strike force and was committed to suppress SAM activity in the target area. About 8 to 10 MiG-17s attacked as the flight prepared to strike a SAM radar site with Shrike air-to-ground missiles. The Thorsness flight split up into three parts: the third and fourth aircraft entered into separate MiG engagements while Thorsness and his wingman continued the attack against the radar. The time was then about 4:55 p.m. Johnson provides an account of the encounter:

We found and delivered our ordnance on an occupied SAM site. As we pulled off the site heading west, Kingfish 02 ¹ called that he had an overheat light. He also headed west, and the crew, Majors Thomas M. Madison, pilot, and Thomas J. Sterling, EWO, had to eject from their aircraft. We headed toward them by following the UHF-DF steer we received from their electronic beepers and saw them in the chutes. . .

As we circled the descending crew, we were on a southerly heading when I spotted a MiG-17 heading east, low at out 9 o’clock position. I called him to the attention of Major Thorsness. . . .

Thorsness continued the story:

The MiG was heading east and was approximately 2,500 feet mean sea level. We were heading southeast and at 8,000 feet MSL. I began “S” turning to get behind the MiG. After one and a half “S” turns the MiG had progressed from the foothills over the delta southwest of Hanoi. The MiG turned to a northerly heading, maintaining approximately the same altitude and airspeed. Captain Johnson continued to give me SAM bearings, SAM-PRF [pulse recurrence frequency] status and launch indications as I continued to maneuver to attain a 6 o’clock position on the MiG.

The first burst of approximately 300 rounds of 20 mm was fired from an estimated 2,000–1,500 feet in a right hand shallow pursuit curve, firing with a cased sight reticle. No impacts were observed on the MiG. Within a few seconds we were in the 6 o’clock position with approximately 75 to 100 knots overtake speed. I fired another burst of approximately 300 rounds of 20 mm. I pulled up to avoid both the debris and the MiG. While pulling up I rolled slightly to the right, then left. The MiG was approximately 100 feet low and to our left, rolling to the right. The two red stars were clearly discernible, one on top of each wing, and several rips were noted on the battered left wing. We continued to turn to the left and after turning approximately 130° again sighted the MiG, still in a right descending spiral. Just prior to the MiG’s impacting the ground, Captain Johnson sighted a MiG-17 at our 6:30 position approximately 2,000 feet back. I pulled into a tighter left turn, selected afterburner, and lowered the nose. I again looked at the crippled MiG, saw it impact the ground in what appeared to be a rice field. After confirming the MiG had in fact impacted the ground I made a hard reversal and descended very near the ground, heading generally westerly into the foothills.

Thorsness then left the battle area, but returned after refueling to provide rescue combat air patrol during the search for his wingman’s aircrew. Thorsness and Johnson attacked another MiG and scored some damaging hits before they were themselves attacked by other MiG-17s. Although it is highly probable that Thorsness and Johnson destroyed a second MiG, this kill was not confirmed.

— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter II at Pages 46 and 47.

Eleven days later, 30 April 1967, Major Thorsness and Captain Johnson were shot down by an AA-2A Atoll heat-seeking missile fired by a MiG-21 fighter piloted by Vũ Ngọc Đỉnh, 921st Fighter Regiment, Vietnam People’s Air Force. They ejected but were captured. Both men were held as Prisoners of War until 4 March 1973.

Colonel Leo Keith Thorsness, United States Air Force (Retired) died Tuesday, 2 May 2017, at St. Augustine, Florida. He was 85 years of age.

¹ Radio call sign for aircraft 2.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

24 March 1944

Stammlager Luft III prison in Province of East Silesia, World War II. (Muzeum Obózow Jenieckich W Żaganiu)
Stammlager Luft III prison in Province of East Silesia, World War II. (Muzeum Obózow Jenieckich W Żaganiu)

24 March 1944: At about 2230 hours, the first of 76 Allied prisoners of war interred at Stammlager Luft III (Stalag Luft III) began to escape through a 30-foot-deep (9 meters), 320-foot-long (98 meters) tunnel, code-named “Harry.”

Aerial reconnaissance image of Stalag Luft III, 17 September 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 36335)

The prison, located just south of Sagan (Żagań) in East Silesia (now a part of Poland) was specially constructed to house captured Royal Air Force and other Allied airmen, and was controlled by the German air force, the Luftwaffe. Prior to this escape, the German captors had discovered at least 98 tunnels at the prison.

A drawing showing the proposed route of one of the escape tunnels, by wartime artist Ley Kenyon, a prisoner-of-war in Stalag Luft III at the time of the Great Escape in March 1944 [Picture: from the original drawings of Ley Kenyon 1943] (GOV.UK)
A drawing showing the proposed route of one of the escape tunnels, by wartime artist Ley Kenyon, a prisoner-of-war in Stalag Luft III at the time of the Great Escape in March 1944 [Picture: from the original drawings of Ley Kenyon 1943] (© Crown copyright)
The weather was the coldest in thirty years and five feet of snow lay on the ground. The last escapee left the tunnel at 0455, 25 March. Of the 76 prisoners who escaped, 73 were soon recaptured, and of those, 50 were murdered by the Gestapo.

Popularly known as “The Great Escape,” this was the subject of a 1950 book, The Great Escape, by Paul Brickhill, who was a POW at the prison. His book was adapted into a very popular motion picture, “The Great Escape,” in 1963.

Squadron Leader Thomas Gresham Kirby-Green, RAF, and Flight Lieutenant Gordon Arthur Kidder, RCAF, were murdered by Gestapo agents near Zlín, Moravia, 29 March 1944. (This photograph may be of a reconstruction by the RAF Special Investigations Branch, circa 1946)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

1 March 1972

Lieutenat Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the cockpit of a McDonnell F-4 Phantom II, Udorn RTAFB, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the cockpit of a McDonnell F-4 Phantom II, Udorn RTAFB, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

1 March 1972: Lieutenant Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force, and 1st Lieutenant Leigh A. Hodgdon, were flying McDonnell F-4D-29-MC  Phantom II serial number 66-7463, call sign Falcon 54. Along with a second F-4, they were assigned to a combat air patrol (MiGCAP) mission over northern Laos.

At approximately 2000 hours, Disco, a Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star airborne early warning aircraft, alerted Kittinger to the presence of several Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 21 interceptors and gave him radar vectors toward the enemy aircraft.

Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star. (U.S. Air Force)

Colonel Kittinger reported:

At approximately 18 miles the system broke lock but it was quickly reacquired. A slow left turn ensued to keep the dot centered. Altitudes were slowly increased from 8,200 feet to 11,500 feet. The Vc on the scope was extremely difficult to interpret; however, it appeared that we were not really overtaking the target, so the outboard tanks were dropped. Heading of the aircraft changed to approximately 360° at time of firing. At approximately 6 miles the “in-range” light illuminated, followed by an increase in the ASE circle. Trigger was squeezed and crew felt a thump as the missile was ejected; however, missile motor did not ignite. The trigger was squeezed again and held for approximately 3 seconds; however missile did not fire. Trigger was squeezed again and missile fired. The missile made a small correction to the left then back to the right and guided straight away. Pilot maintained the dot centered.

Approximately 5 to 6 seconds after launch, detonation was observed. Almost simultaneously, two enemy missiles were observed coming from the vicinity of the detonation. Evasive action prevented more thorough observations of detonation. The flight turned to a heading of 210°, maintained 9,000 feet, airspeed 500 knots, and egressed the area.

— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter III at Page 87.

Joe Kittinger is officially credited with the destruction of the MiG 21.

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-7463, flown by Captains Richie and DeBellevue, 28 August 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
This McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II, 66-7463, was flown by LCOL Joe Kittinger and 1LT Hodgdon when they shot down a MiG-21, 1 March 1972. Flown by several different crews, this airplane is officially credited with shooting down 6 enemy fighters. It is on display at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (U.S. Air Force)

Joseph W. Kittinger II is best known for his participation in experimental high-altitude balloon flights. On 2 June 1957, he ascended to 97,760 feet (29,490 meters) aboard the Project MAN-HIGH 1. On 16 August 1960, he reached 102,800 feet (31,333 meters) and then stepped off for the longest free-fall parachute jump—a record that would stand for 52 years.

Joe Kittinger flew 483 combat missions in three tours during the Vietnam War. He was shot down 11 May 1972, when his F-4D, 66-0230, was struck by a missile fired by a MiG 21. (Kittinger’s wingman shot down the MiG.) He and Weapons System Officer 1st Lieutenant William J. Reich were captured and held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton for the next 11 months.

Captain Kittinger steps off the Excelsior gondola, 102,800 feet above the Earth, 16 August 1960. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Kittinger steps off the Excelsior gondola, 102,800 feet above the Earth, 16 August 1960. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Group Captain Sir Douglas R. S. Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar (February 21, 1910 – September 5, 1982)

Group Captain Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar. (Paul Laib)

21 February 1910: Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, Royal Air Force, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, FRAeS, DL, the legendary fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force during World War II, was born at St. John’s Wood, London, England. He was the son of Frederick Roberts Bader, a civil engineer, and Jessie Scott MacKenzie Bader.

Bader attended Temple Grove School, Eastbourne, East Sussex, and St. Edward’s School in Oxford. After graduating in 1928, he joined the Royal Air Force as a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell in Lincolnshire. Bader was granted a permanent commission as a Pilot Officer, “with effect from and with seniority of 26th July 1930.”

Left to right, Pilot Officer Douglas R.S. Bader, Flight Lieutenant Harry Day and Flying Officer Geoffrey Stephenson, of No. 23 Squadron, during training for the 1931 Hendon Airshow, with a Gloster Gamecock. (RAF Museum)

Bader lost both legs in the crash of a Bristol Bulldog fighter while practicing aerobatics 14 December 1931 and was medically retired, 30 April 1933.

Following his medical retirement, Douglas Bader joined the Asiatic Petroleum Co., a subsidiary of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Petroleum Maatschappij (Royal Dutch Petroleum Company) and the Shell Transport and Trading Company.

Mrs. Douglas R. S. Bader, 1942

On 5 October 1933, Mr. Bader married Miss Olive Thelma Exley Edwards at the registry office of Hampstead Village, London. Miss Edwards was the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Ivo Arthur Exley Edwards, R.A.F. On their fourth anniversary, 5 October 1937, a formal wedding ceremony took place at St Mary Abbots Church in Kensington, London.

In 1939, feeling that war with Germany was imminent, Bader applied to the Air Ministry for reinstatement. He was turned down, but was told that if there was a war his request might be reconsidered.

The Air Ministry did reconsider Douglas Bader’s request for reinstatement and after a medical evaluation and other tests, and on 26 November 1939, he was sent to refresher flight training at the Central Flying School where he was evaluated as “Exceptional,” a very rare qualification.

A page from Douglas Bader’s pilot log book, showing his “exceptional”evaluation. (Royal Air Force Museum)

Flying Officer Bader was posted to No. 19 Squadron, RAF Duxford, 7 February 1940. The squadron was equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire. In April, he was reassigned as flight leader of A Flight, No. 222 Squadron, also flying Spitfires from Duxford. On 24 June 1940, Bader took command of No. 242 Squadron at RAF Coltishall, Norfolk, in East Anglia. No. 242 operated the Hawker Hurricane.

Squadron Leader Douglas Bader with his Hawker Hurricane Mk. I, LE D, V7467, of No. 242 Squadron, RAF Colitshall, Norfolk, East Anglia, September 1940. (Royal Air Force)

On 24 September 1940, Flying Officer Bader was granted the war substantive rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Distinguished Service Order

On 1 October 1940, George VI, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, appointed Acting Squadron Leader Douglas R. S. Bader a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order. The notice in The London Gazette reads,

“This officer has displayed gallantry and leadership of the highest order. During three recent engagements he has led his squadron with such skill and ability that thirty-three enemy aircraft have been destroyed. In the course of these engagements Squadron Leader Bader has added to his previous successes by destroying six enemy aircraft.”

Acting Squadron Leader Bader, D.S.O., was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross 7th January, 1941: “Squadron Leader Bader has continued to lead his squadron and wing with the utmost gallantry on all occasions. he has now destroyed a total of ten hostile aircraft and damaged several more.”

In March 1941, Acting Squadron Leader Bader was promoted to Acting Wing Commander and assigned as Wing leader of 12 Group’s “Big Wing” at RAF Tangmere, just east of Chichester, in West Sussex. The Big Wings were large formations of three to five fighter squadrons acting together to intercept enemy bomber formations.

Acting Wing Commander Bader was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order, 15 July 1941: “This officer has led his wing on a series of consistently successful sorties over enemy territory during the past three months. His qualities of leadership and courage have been an inspiration to all. Wing Commander Bade has destroyed 15 hostile aircraft.”

Douglas Bader climbing into the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire.

On 9 August 1941, Bader was himself shot down while flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk Va, serial W3185, marked “DB”, along the coast of France. His prosthetic legs caught in the cockpit and made it difficult for him to escape, but he finally broke free and parachuted to safety.

Transcript of message giving status of Bader and requesting a replacement prosthetic leg. (from Bader’s Last Flight: An In-Depth Investigation of a Great WWII Mystery, by Andy Saunders, Frontline Books, 2007, Appendix L at Page 214)

Bader was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was initially held at a hospital in occupied France and it was there that he met and became a life long friend of Adolf Galland, also a legendary fighter pilot—but for the other side! After arrangements were made for replacement legs, Bader escaped.

Adolph Galland arranged for a replacement prosthetic leg for Bader to be airdropped at a Luftwaffe airfield at St. Omer, in occupied France.

On 9 September 1941, Acting Wing Commander Bader was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross. “This fearless pilot has recently added a further four enemy aircraft to his previous successes; in addition he has probably destroyed another four and damaged five hostile aircraft. By his fine leadership and high courage Wing Commander Bader has inspired the wing on every occasion.”

Prisoners of War held at Colditz Castle, a maximum security prison during World War II. Wing Commander Douglas Bader is seated, center.

He was recaptured and taken to the notorious Offizierslager IV-C at Schloss Colditz near Leipzing, Germany, where he was held for three years. Units of the United States Army 273rd Infantry Regiment, 69th Infantry Division, and the Combat Command Reserve, 9th Armored Division, liberated the prison 15 April 1945 after a two-day battle.

Schloss Colditz, April 1945. (United States Army)

Douglas Bader was repatriated to England. On 28 August 1945, Squadron Leader D.R.S. Bader, DSO, DFC (Ret) was promoted to Wing Commander (temp), and in September, Wing Commander Bader was assigned as commanding officer of the R.A.F. Fighter Leaders School. On 1 December 1945, Wing Commander (temporary) D.R.S. Bader DSO DFC (Ret.) is granted the rank of Wing Commander (War Substantive).

On 21 July 1946, Wing Commander Bader reverted to the retired list, retaining the rank of Group Captain.

During World War II, Group Captain Bader was officially credited with 22 enemy aircraft destroyed, shared credit for another 4; 6 probably destroyed, shared credit for another probable; and 11 damaged. (26–7–11). Group Captan Bader was appointed a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur by France in 1945, and awarded the Croix d’ Guerre.

Group Captain Bader’s medals at the RAF Museum: Distinguished Service Order and Bar; Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar; 1939-1945 Star with clasp BATTLE OF BRITAIN; Air Crew Europe Star with clasp ATLANTIC; Defence Medal; War Medal 1939-45 with Mention in Despatches; Legion d’Honneur, Chevalier, badge; and Croix de Guerre 1939-1940

Bader received civil aviator’s license 3 July 1946. He returned to work for Shell in a management position which involved considerable travel. He flew the company’s Percival Proctor around Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He remained with Shell until 1969, having risen to managing director of Shell Aircraft International.

Bader with a Percival Proctor which he flew while working for Shell.

In the years following World War II, he also worked unceasingly to better the lives of other disabled persons. He would tell them,

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.

In the New Year’s Honours, 2 January 1956, Douglas Bader was appointed an Ordinary Commander of the Most Excellent Order (C.B.E.), by Her Majesty The Queen, for services to the disabled.

He was the subject of Reach For The Sky, (Collins, London, 1954) a biography written by Paul Brickhill, who also wrote The Great Escape. (Brickhill had been a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III.) In 1956, a movie of the same name was released, starring Kenneth More as Bader. Bader was the author of Fight For The Sky: The Story of the Spitfire and Hurricane (Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1973).

Bader and companion in his 1938 MG TA Midget roadster, circa 1945. He was the original owner, but sold it in 1948. This car was recently offered for sale by Bonham’s.(Getty Images)

Thelma Bader died in 1971 at the age of 64 years. The couple had been married for 38 years.

Bader later married Mrs. Joan Eileen Hipkiss Murray. She had three children from a previous marriage, Wendy, Michael and Jane Murray.

4 June 1976: The London Gazette announced that The Queen would confer the Honour of Knighthood on Group Captain Robert Steuart Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O., D.F.C., “For services to disabled people.”

Sir Douglas Bader, Knight Bachelor, and Lady Bader, 1976. (Daily Mail)

Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, FRAeS, DL, passed away 5 September 1982, at the age of 72 years.

Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)
Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, United States Air Force

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, United States Air Force

Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager, United States Air Force, was born at Myra, Lincoln County, West Virginia, 13 February 1923. He was the second of five children of Albert Halley Yeager, a gas field driller, and Susan Florence Sizemore Yeager. He attended Hamlin High School, at Hamlin, West Virginia, graduating in 1940.

Chuck Yeager enlisted as a private, Air Corps, United States Army, 12 September 1941, at Fort Thomas, Newport, Kentucky. He was 5 feet, 8 inches tall (1.73 meters) and weighed 133 pounds (60 kilograms), with brown hair and blue eyes. He was assigned service number 15067845. Initially an aircraft mechanic, he soon applied for flight training. Private Yeager was accepted into the “flying sergeant” program.

Corporal Yeager in primary flight training. (U.S. Air Force)
Yeager’s P-39 over the gunnery range, Tonapah, Nevada, April 1943. (chuckyeager.com)

Sergeant Yeager completed flight training at Yuma, Arizona, and on 10 March 1943, he was given a warrant as a Flight Officer, Air Corps, Army of the United States.

Assigned to the 363rd Fighter Squadron at Tonopah, Nevada, Flight Officer Yeager completed advanced training as a fighter pilot in the Bell P-39 Airacobra.

On 23 October 1943, while practicing tactics against a formation of Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers, the engine of Yeager’s P-39 exploded. He wrote,

I was indicating about 400 mph when there was a roaring explosion in the back. Fire came out from under my seat and the airplane flew apart in different directions. I jettisoned the door and stuck my head out, and the prop wash seemed to stretch my neck three feet. I jumped for it. When the chute opened, I was knocked unconscious. . . I was moaning and groaning in a damned hospital bed. My back was fractured and it hurt like hell.

Yeager: An Autobiography, Charles E. Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, Inc., New York, 1985, Chapter 3 at Page 21

Flight Officer Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, Air Corps, Army of the United States.

When the 363rd deployed to England in November 1943, he transitioned to the North American Aviation P-51B Mustang. He named his P-51B-5-NA, 43-6762, Glamourus Glen, after his girlfriend. The airplane carried the squadron identification markings B6 Y on its fuselage. On 4 March 1945, he shot down an enemy Messerschmitt Bf-109G.

On his eighth combat mission, the following day, Yeager was himself shot down east of Bourdeaux, France, by Focke-Wulf Fw 190A 4 flown by Unteroffizier Irmfried Klotz.

. . . The world exploded and I ducked to protect my face with my hands, and when I looked a second later, my engine was on fire, and there was a gaping hole in my wingtip. The airplane began to spin. It happened so fast, there was no time to panic. I knew I was going down; I was barely able to unfasten my safety belt and crawl over the seat before my burning P-51 began to snap and roll, heading for the ground. I just fell out of the cockpit when the plane turned upside down—my canopy was shot away.

Yeager: an Autobiography, by Charles E. Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, Chapter 4 at Page 26.

Flight Officer Charles E. Yeager, Air Corps, Army of the United States, with his North American Aviation P-51B -5-NA Mustang, 43-6763, “Glamourus Glen.” (littlefriends.co.uk)

Yeager was slightly wounded. His Mustang was destroyed. Over the next few months he evaded enemy soldiers and escaped through France and Spain, returning to England in May 1944. He returned to combat with a new P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, which he named Glamorous Glenn II.¹ He later flew Glamorous Glen III,  P-51D-15-NA Mustang, 44-14888.²

First Lieutenant Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, Air Corps, Army of the United States, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, “Glamorous Glenn II,” at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (Roger Freeman Collection, American Air Museum in Britain, FRE 000483)

Flight Officer Yeager was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, Air Corps, Army of the United States, 6 July 1944. A few months later, 24 October 1944, he was promoted to the rank of captain, A.U.S. Between 4 March and 27 November 1944, Captain Yeager was officially credited with 11.5 enemy aircraft destroyed during 67 combat missions.

Chuck Yeager’s Mustang, Glamorous Glen III: North American Aviation P-51D-15-NA, serial number 44-14888, identification markings B6 Y, at USAAF Station 373 (RAF Leiston), Winter 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

During World War II, Captain Yeager had been awarded the Silver Star with one oak leaf cluster (two awards); Distinguished Flying Cross; Bronze Star Medal with “V” (for valor); Air Medal with 6 oak leaf clusters (7 awards); and the Purple Heart.

With the end of the War in Europe approaching, Yeager was rotated back to the United States.

Captain Yeager married Miss Glennis Faye Dickhouse of Oroville, California, 26 February 1945, at at the Yeager family home in Hamlin, West Virginia. The double-ring ceremony was presided over by Rev. Mr. W. A. DeBar of the Trinity Methodist Church. “The pretty brunette was attired in a light aqua crepe dress of street length. Her accessories were black and her corsage was fashioned of yellow rosebuds.”

Oroville Mercury-Register, Vol. 72, No. 56, Wednesday, 7 March 1945, Page 2, Column 3

Captain and Mrs. Charles E. Yeager

On 10 February 1947, Captain Yeager received a commission as a second lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, with date of rank retroactive to 6 July 1944 (the date of his A.U.S. commission). He was promoted to first lieutenant on 6 July 1947. (These were permanent Regular Army ranks. Yeager continued to serve in the temporary rank of captain.) When the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service, 18 September 1947, Yeager became an Air Force officer.

Captain Chuck Yeager, U.S. Air Force

Captain Yeager was assigned to the six-month test pilot school at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. He took part in several test projects, including the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star and Republic P-84 Thunderjet. He also evaluated the German and Japanese fighter aircraft brought back to the United States after the war. Captain Yeager was then selected by Colonel Albert Boyd to fly the experimental Bell XS-1 rocket plane at Muroc Field in the high desert of southern California.

Captain Chuck Yeager on Rogers Dry Lake with the Bell X-1, 1948.

After a series of gliding and powered flights, on 14 October 1947, Captain Yeager and the XS-1 were dropped from a modified B-29 Superfortress at an altitude of 20,000 feet (6,048 meters). (Yeager had named his new rocket plane Glamorous Glennis.) Starting the 4-chambered Reaction Motors rocket engine, Yeager accelerated to Mach 1.06 at 42,000 feet. He had “broken” the Sound Barrier.

Yeager made more than 40 flights in the X-1 over the next two years, exceeding 1,000 miles per hour (1,610 kilometers per hour) and 70,000 feet (21,336 meters). He was awarded the Mackay and Collier Trophies in 1948. In 1949, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale awarded its Gold Medal to Captain Yeager. General Yeager’s gold medal is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, along with the Bell X-1 rocket plane, Glamorous Glennis.

William R. Enyart, president of the National Aeronautic Association, presents the Gold Medal of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) to Captain Charles E. Yeager at ceremonies in Cleveland, Ohio, 6 September 1949. At right is Glennis Yeager. (Julian C. Wilson/Associated Press)
Captain Charles E. Yeager, U.S.Air Force, with a North American Aviation F-86A Sabre, at Los Angeles Airport, 21 January 1949. (© Bettman/CORBIS)

The X-1 was followed by the Bell X-1A. On 12 December 1953, Major Yeager flew the new rocket plane to 1,650 miles per hour (2,655 kilometers per hour), Mach 2.44, at 74,700 feet (22,769 meters).

After the rocket engine was shut down, the X-1A tumbled out of control—”divergent in three axes” in test pilot speak—and fell out of the sky. It dropped nearly 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) in 70 seconds. Yeager was exposed to accelerations of +8 to -1.5 g’s. The motion was so violent that Yeager cracked the rocket plane’s canopy with his flight helmet.

Yeager was finally able to recover by 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) and landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base.

Yeager later remarked that if the X-1A had an ejection seat he would have used it.

Bell Aircraft Corporation  engineers had warned Yeager not to exceed Mach 2.3.

Major Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, seated in the cockpit of the Bell X-1A, 48-1384, circa 1953. (U.S. Air Force)

During the Korean War, Major Yeager test flew a captured North Korean Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter. Its pilot, Lieutenant No Kum-Sok, had flown it to Kimpo Air Base, Republic of South Korea, on 21 September 1953.

A Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15bis in a hangar at Kimpo Air Base, South Korea.It was examined and test flown by Air Force test pilot Major Charles E. Yeager. (U.S. Air Force).

On 17 November 1954, in a ceremony at The White House, President Dwight D. Eisenhower presented the Harmon International Trophy to Major Yeager, for his Mach 2.44 flight. His friend, Jackie Cochran, was awarded the Harmon Aviatrix Trophy at the same time.

Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager being presented with the Harmon International Trophies by President Dwight D. Eisenhower at The White House, 17 November 1954. (Air Force Flight Test Center History Office 040130-F-0000G-011)

In 1954, Major Yeager was assigned to command the 417th Fighter Bomber Squadron at Hahn Air Base, Germany. The 417th flew the North American Aviation F-86H Sabre.

The 1956 U.S. Air Forces in Europe (50th Fighter-Bomber Wing) representatives to the Air Force Fighter Weapons Meet at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., included (left to right) Capt. Coleman Baker, Lt. Col. Charles “Chuck” Yeager, Col. Fred Ascani, Maj. James Gasser and Capt. Robert Pasqualicchio. (U.S. Air Force 061208-F-0000C-002)

In 1958, Lieutenant Colonel Yeager assumed command of the 1st Fighter Day Squadron at George Air Force Base, Victorville, California, which was equipped with the North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, 1st Fighter Day Squadron, with North American Aviation F-100F-15-NA Super Sabre, 56-3950, George Air Force Base, California, 1958. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Yeager, USAF, 1st Fighter Day Squadron, 413th Fighter Day Wing, with North American Aviation F-100F-15-NA Super Sabre, 56-3950, George Air Force Base, Victorville, California, 1958. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)

Yeager attended the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama, graduating in June 1961.

On 23 July 1962, Colonel Yeager returned to Edwards Air Force Base to become commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School.

Colonel Yeager became Commandant of the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, 23 July 1962. (U.S. Air Force)

The Aerospace Research Pilots School trained all of the U.S. military’s astronaut candidates. One of the training aircraft was the Aerospace Trainer (AST), a highly-modifies Lockheed NF-104A Starfighter. The AST was equipped with a rocket engine and a reaction control system to provide pitch, roll and yaw control when at very high altitudes where the normal aircraft flight controls could not function.

Colonel Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force, in the cockpit of a Lockheed NF-104A Aerospace Trainer, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 1963. (U.S. Air Force)
Yeager’s NF-104A out of control. (Frame from film shot from a distance of 20 miles). (U.S. Air Force)

On 10 December 1963, Colonel Yeager was flying an AST, 56-762, on a zoom climb profile, aimingg for an altitude record at approximately 120,000 feet ( meters). He reached only 108,000 feet (32,918 meters) however. On reentry, the AST’s pitch angle was incorrect and its engine would not restart. The airplane went into a spin.

Yeager rode the out-of-control airplane down 80,000 feet (24,384 meters) before ejecting.

The data recorder would later indicate that the airplane made fourteen flat spins from 104,000 until impact on the desert floor.  I stayed with it through thirteen of those spins before I punched out. I hated losing an expensive airplane, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do. . . I went ahead and punched out. . . .

Yeager, An Autobiography, by Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, U.S. Air Force (Retired) and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Pages 279–281.

Colonel Yeager commanded the 405th Fighter Wing at Clark AFB, Philippine Islands, in July 1966. He flew 127 combat missions over Vietnam with the Martin B-57 Canberra light bomber.

Colonel Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, USAF, commanding the 405th Fighter Wing, with crew chief TSGT Rodney Sirois, before a combat mission with a Martin B-57 Canberra during the Vietnam War. (Stars and Stripes)

Returning to the United States in February 1968, Colonel Yeager took command of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina. The 4th deployed to the Republic of Korea during the Pueblo Crisis.

Colonel Yeager was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, 1 August 1969 (date of rank 22 June 1969). He was appointed vice commander, Seventeenth Air Force, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, United States Air Force, July 1969. (Stars and Stripes)

Brigadier General Yeager served as a U.S. defense representative to Pakistan from 1971 to 1973. He was then assigned to the Air Force Inspection and Safety Center, Norton AFB, near Riverside, California. He took command of the center June 1973.

Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, USAF, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 28 February 1975. (U.S. Air Force)

Brigadier General Yeager made his final flight as an active duty Air Force pilot in a McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II at Edward Air Force Base, 28 February 1975. During his career, General Yeager flew 180 different aircraft types and accumulated 10,131.6 flight hours. He retired the following day, 1 March 1975, after 12,222 days of service.

Chuck Yeager’s popularity skyrocketed following the publication of Tom Wolfe’s book, The Right Stuff, in 1979, and the release of The Ladd Company’s movie which was based on it. (Yeager had a “cameo” appearance in the film.) He became a spokesperson for AC Delco and the Northrop Corporation’s F-20 Tigershark lightweight fighter prototype. In 1986 and 1988, he drove the pace car at the Indianapolis 500. Yeager co-wrote an autobiography, Yeager, with Leo Janos, published in 1985, and followed in 1988 with Press On!, co-authored by Charles Leerhsen.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan appointed General Yeager to the Rogers Commission investigating the Challenger Disaster.

Glennis Yeager passed away 22 December 1990 at Travis Air Force Base, Sacramento, California.

TDiA was present at Edwards Air Force Base, 14 October 1997, on the 50th Anniversary of Yeager’s flight breaking the sound barrier. Flying in the forward cockpit of a McDonnell Douglas F-15D Eagle, with co-pilot Lieutenant Colonel Troy Fontaine and wingman Bob Hoover in a General Dynamics F-16 chase plane, Yeager again left a sonic boom in his path as he flew over the high desert.

On 22 August 2003, Chuck Yeager married Ms. Victoria Scott D’Angelo in a civil ceremony at Incline Village, Nevada.

Brigadier General Charles Elwood Yeager, United States Air Force (Retired) died at a hospital in Los Angeles, California, 7 December 2020, at the age of 97 years. His remains are buried at the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Myra, West Virginia.

“All I am. . . I owe to the United States Air Force.” Brigadier General Charles E. Yeager, United States Air Force (Retired), photographed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 14 October 1997, the Fiftieth Anniversary of his historic supersonic flight. (Photograph used with permission. © 2010, Tim Bradley Imaging)

¹ Glamorous Glenn II had initially been assigned to Captain K. Peters, who had named it Daddy Rabbit. The fighter crashed in bad weather 18 October 1944. 2nd Lieutenant Horace M. Roycroft was killed.

² Glamorous Glen III, renamed Melody’s Answer, was lost in combat 2 March 1945, south of Wittenburg, Germany. Its pilot, Flight Officer Patrick L. Mallione, was killed in action. (MACR 12869)

© 2021, Bryan R. Swopes