Tag Archives: Silver Star

24 October 1969: The Rescue of MISTY 11

by Captain Sean M. Cross, United States Coast Guard (Retired)

24 October 1969: During the Vietnam War from 1967–1972, eleven U.S. Coast Guard Aviators voluntarily served with high honor and distinction with the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Rescue and Recovery forces in Southeast Asia in the dual role of aircraft commanders and instructor pilots. They regularly risked their lives flying into harm’s way to save airmen in peril of death or capture. Their significant contributions and exceptional performance were highly commended by the Air Force with the award of four Silver Stars, sixteen Distinguished Flying Crosses, and eighty-six Air Medals, in addition to many other recognitions. The previous accolades did not come without cost —designated Coast Guard Aviator #997, Lieutenant Jack Columbus Rittichier was killed in action while attempting to rescue a downed Marine airman in hostile territory on June 9th, 1968. These Aviators carried out their noble mission with heroism and a focus on duty, honor, country and the Coast Guard. Their actions brought honor on themselves, the United States of America, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Interesting fact – of the roughly 200 Air Force Cross recipients, only 24 are enlisted rank, of which 12 are Pararescuemen (PJ). Nine PJs were awarded Air Force Crosses for Combat SAR missions in Vietnam…of those nine missions – two had Coast Guard Aviators as Aircraft Commanders – this is one (the other was the SCOTCH 3 mission involving LT Lance Eagan, USCG (CGA ’62) on 02 July 1968).

The goal of the combat rescue and recovery units was to get to those in peril before the enemy could capture of kill them. Whether the mission was an extraction or the pickup of a downed airman, each time they were successful it was a win. When it came to official Air Force data, this was labeled a “save,” but a “save” was much more than a statistic to these men. A “save” was a person, and they took it personally.

At Da Nang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (ARRS) was coming up on their 500th “save” in mid-October 1969. Everyone was looking forward to it. They arrived at number 497, then hit a dry spell for about a week. On 24 October, MISTY 11 went down and through a connected series of events, Coast Guard exchange pilots Lieutenant Richard Victor Butchka retrieved numbers 498, 499, and 500, and Lieutenant (j.g.) Robert T. Ritchie claimed numbers 501 and 502.

Similar to MISTY 11, this North American Aviation F-100F-10-NA Super Sabre, 56-3837, was also a FastFAC. It is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

Northeast of Saravane, Laos, MISTY 11, a U.S. Air Force North American Aviation F-100F Super Sabre “Fast FAC”—a jet Forward Air Controller) was designating targets along the Ho Chi Min Trail for ground interdiction strikes when it experienced engine failure due to antiaircraft fire. The stricken aircraft quickly descended to less than 1,000 feet (305 meters) above the terrain. The approximate time was 8:00 a.m. A MAYDAY was broadcast and the two crewmen ejected at low altitude. They parachuted into the jungle-covered mountainous terrain. MISTY 11 Alpha, 1st Lieutenant Alvin Donald Muller, and MISTY 11 Bravo, Captain Jack K. Clapper, were separated by about 800 yards (732 meters) due to the programmed delay in the ejection sequence between the front and rear ejection seats.

The survivors’ position was in a small valley formed by two ridges about 100 meters long oriented north and south. At the north end where the ridges joined, a road was cut 20 meters from the top of the hill. MISTY 11A was on the east side of the valley and MISTY 11B was on the west side.

Area of operation.

Each was equipped with a battery-powered radio and was contacted by an airborne Forward Air Controller (FAC), a North American Aviation OV-10A Bronco, NAIL 07, who had heard their pre-ejection call and was working in the area. The FAC said that he would notify Search and Rescue. MISTY 11A (Muller) informed MISTY 11B and the FAC that his leg was badly broken. MISTY 11B (Clapper) was unhurt.

Less than two hours from notification, two Douglas A-1 Skyraiders—call signs SANDY 11 and 12—and two Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters—JOLLY 28 and 04—from strip alert in Quang Tri were on scene.

JOLLY 28 (HH-3E #66-13280) crew members: Captain Charles D. Langham, USAF (Pilot); Major Charles W. Bond (Co-Pilot); Staff Sergeant James E. Smith (Flight Engineer); and Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith (Pararescueman)

JOLLY 04 (HH-3E #66-13290) crew members: Lieutenant Richard Victor Butchka, USCG (Pilot); Captain John K. Coder, USAF (Co-Pilot); Sergeant Joseph J. Vai (Flight Engineer); and Airman 1st Class George P. Hoffman III (Pararescueman)

The helicopters went into orbit. One Jolly Green, referred to as the “low bird,” would make the rescue attempt while the second, the “high bird,” would remain in a 3,000-foot (914 meters) orbit as backup. Before sending in JOLLY 28, the two A-1s trolled the area, but their repeated passes brought no response from enemy ground-fire. It was determined that Muller should be rescued first because of his broken leg and at about 11:00 a.m., JOLLY 28 descended toward MISTY 11A.

A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, 66-13290, of the 37th ARRS, hovering in ground effect at Da Nang, circa 1968. This helicopter was JOLLY 04, flown by Lt. R. V. Butchka, USCG, on 24 October 1969.(U.S. Air Force)

The terrain in the SAR area was rolling foothills with elevations varying from 1,500 feet MSL (Mean Sea Level: describes height above standard Sea Level) in the ravines, to 2,500 feet MSL on the hilltops (500 to 833 meters). The vegetation on these hills varied from dense triple-layered canopy jungles to open areas with tall jungle grass. The entire immediate area around MISTY 11A and B was defended by heavy small arms and automatic weapons as close as 50 feet to the survivors. The proximity of hostile forces to the survivors severely restricted the type of ordnance which could be delivered to protect them. There were scattered variable broken cumulus build-ups in the area with tops to 9,500 feet MSL and bases varying from 2,000 to 3,000 feet AGL (Above Ground Level: describes height above the ground). Visibility below the clouds was excellent.

Lieutenant Butchka, in the “high bird,” JOLLY 04, watched his good friend, Captain Charles Langham, descend for the recovery. JOLLY 28 entered a hover over MISTY 11A and lowered the “PJ,” Don Smith, by hoist. The PJ immediately had the downed airman on the canopy penetrator and gave the cable-up signal. Less than a minute had elapsed. When the penetrator was approximately 10 feet off the ground, the helicopter came under attack.

Butchka saw three sides of the blind canyon twinkling. It appeared that enemy forces had used the downed F-100F crewman as bait for a “flak trap.” The Skyraiders rushed in to suppress the fire, but the opening enemy volley had shot the hoist assembly off its mounts, sending it crashing into the flight engineer’s chest and dumping the PJ and MISTY 11A back on the ground. Realizing the hoist was inoperative, the flight engineer, SSGT James Smith, hit the switch shearing the hoist cable and yelled to Captain Langham to transition JOLLY 28 to forward flight.

Lieutenant Richard Victor Butchka, United States Coast Guard, in the cockpit of a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant. (Butchka Collection)

Above, Butchka punched off his auxiliary fuel tanks and went into a plunging autorotative descent. Seeing Langham’s aircraft smoking and streaming fluid (was hit in the main gearbox and was losing oil pressure), Butchka told him to put the helicopter on the ground. Langham searched for a clear spot and put the aircraft into a small punch bowl-shaped valley. Langham and crew jumped out of the helicopter into the elephant grass, looking up for high bird. They did not have far to look. Butchka’s helicopter was in a 25-foot hover on the left side of Langham’s helicopter with its hoist cable waiting. Butchka expected ground fire from the enemy at any moment. During the swift pick up, the helicopter shuddered with a jolt to the right side. The aircraft’s skin was holed with a gash eight inches long by two inches wide.

Major Charles W. Bond had the honor of being the 500th save.

With the men safely on board, the next problem was getting out of there. Butchka did not want to go back out the way he came because of heavy enemy fire. Weather was hot and humid, pressure altitude was high, and the only other way out presented him with a vertical face rising about 130 feet. It was decision time. Butchka said; “I headed for the face, pulled every bit of power I could (‘pulled the collective to my arm pit’ was the description in another interview), and with a little bit of airspeed drooped the rotor to 94-percent — and just cleared the top.” As he eased over the ridgeline, the JOLLY immediately came under heavy ground fire from a different direction. SANDY lead hadn’t reported anything because he didn’t know where Butchka was. Miraculously they were not hit. However, JOLLY 04 “caught his blades in some trees and is requesting escort out of the area.” A forward air controller, COVEY 297, escorted JOLLY 04 to Lima Site 61, an Air Force TACAN navigation site at Muang Phalan, Laos.

There were still two MISTY crewmembers and Langham’s PJ on the ground at the initial recovery spot. The PJ, Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith, using his handheld radio, reported “contact with bad guys 35 meters to my west” and directed air strikes bracketing their position. JOLLY 76, a Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant from the 40th ARRS at Udorn, Thailand, made three recovery attempts but each time received intense ground fire resulting in extensive battle damage to the helicopter. JOLLY 76 sustained severe battle damage, loss of hydraulic systems and associated tail rotor control problems that forced the aircraft to withdraw. JOLLY 76 was escorted out of the area by JOLLY 72 and A-1s SANDY 01 and  04, and successfully recovered at Lima Site 44, an unimproved covert landing strip near Saravane, Laos.

LT Richard Butchka, USCG is congratulated by CPT Charles Langham, USAF following the recovery of his JOLLY 28 aircrew during the MISTY 11 combat rescue. (Butchka Collection)

JOLLY 76 (Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant) crewmembers: Captain Donald R. Almanzar (Pilot); Captain Peter L. Fekke (Co-Pilot); Staff Sergeant Harold R. Hailey (Flight Engineer); Sergeant Anthony J. McFarr (Pararescueman); Sgt. Douglas W. Crowder (Pararescueman); and Sergeant Gregory Lee Anderson (Aerial Photographer).

JOLLY 15 (Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant) crew members: Coast Guard Lieutenant (j.g.) Robert T. Ritchie, USCG (Pilot); Lieutenant Colonel Sidney S. Sosnow , USAF (Co-Pilot); Technical Sergeant Frank Gaydos, Jr. (Flight Engineer); Staff Sergeant Jon K. Hoberg (Pararescueman); and Sgt. Edward K. Rendle (Pararescueman).

A Douglas A-1H Skyraider dive bombing a target during a close air support mission. (U.S. Air Force)

Later that afternoon the JOLLIES tried again. After multiple A-1 passes dropping CBU-19s ( a 130-pound modified dispenser containing 528 canisters with an incapacitating chemical CS—”tear gas”) SANDY 06 and 05 escorted “low bird” JOLLY 15 with Coast Guard Lieutenant (j.g.) Rob Ritchie into the rescue area.

Rob said; “The previous attempts that day were all into the wind approaches. I chose a downwind approach because all indications were the ‘bad guys’ were set up for us to come into the wind and were waiting.” The SANDYs made suppression runs and laid smoke as had been requested – then they joined in a daisy chain of passes that provided protective fire. Ritchie used the smoke for cover, swooped in fast and quickly put the aircraft into a hover over Smith and MISTY 11A. TSgt. Gaydos fearlessly operated the rescue hoist while completely exposed to the hostile fire impacting about him. His reassuringly calm hover instructions to the pilots, ensured Smith and MISTY 11A were quickly brought on board with only slight damage to the aircraft. During Ritchie’s next approach to pick up MISTY 11B they began taking very heavy ground fire on the way in. The element of surprise was no longer there and the North Vietnamese had repositioned. SANDY Lead called the approach off and both A-1s made several suppression runs.

Ritchie commenced his third approach immediately after the suppression runs. He said it was much quieter this time and he came to a hover over MISTY 11B. As the penetrator went down the ground fire became much heavier and the helicopter was taking numerous hits. The utility hydraulics to the hoist was disabled due to ground fire damage to a pressure line and fluid flow was lost. Unable to complete the pickup Ritchie exited the area. JOLLY 15 notified SANDY 03 that he would be unable to remain in the area and commenced a rendezvous for air refueling with KING 03, a Lockheed C-130 Combat King. JOLLY 15 landed at Lima Site 61  at 3:35 p.m.

1LT Don Muller, USAF, MISTY 11A, is assisted down from LTJG Ritchie’s HH-3E, JOLLY 15. (Rotor Review Magazine, Spring ’19)

Two additional tries to pick up MISTY 11B were made to no avail. A tropical thunderstorm moved in and heavy rain fell for the next 30 minutes. A third attempt was made while the squall was passing through and as the storm began to subside, the winds became relatively calm and the previously laid smoke screen began to envelope the area – adversely impacting the rescue helicopters’ visibility and making it more difficult to locate MISTY 11B.

Fortunately, the survivor’s emergency radio was operational and the pilot knew how to use it. By coordinating voice guidance from MISTY 11B on the ground and SPAD 09 (circling overhead), JOLLY 19, another HH-3E, flew over Clapper and lowered a canopy penetrator to him. He climbed onto the device and the helicopter quickly exited the area as soon as Clapper was clear of the trees. The gunner on the rescue helicopter pulled him in the door and the MISTY 11 rescue was successfully concluded at around 6:00 p.m.

JOLLY 19 (Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant) from Detachment 1, 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. Crewmembers: Major Ted L. Smith (Pilot); Major Edward B. Robbins (Co-Pilot); Staff Sergeant Robert E. Hunt (Flight Engineer); Master Sergeant Paul L. Jenkins (Pararescueman); and Sergeant Leland H. Sorensen (Pararescueman).

The following A-1 SANDY forces participated in the event:

SANDY 01 1st Lieutenant Rex V. Huntsman
SANDY 04 Lieutenant Colonel Dick Michaud
SANDY 03 Major Nelson Moffatt
SANDY 07 1st Lieutenant Noel Frisbie
SANDY 05 Captain Bob Crowder
SANDY 06 Captain Glenn C. Dyer
SANDY 11 Captain Jack L. Hudson
SANDY 12 Lieutenant Colonel George D. Miller

Epilogue: For their efforts during this combat rescue the following medals were awarded:

Master Sergeant Donald G. Smith, United States Air Force.

Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith, USAF, Pararescueman from JOLLY 28 was awarded  the Air Force Cross:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Section 8742, Title 10, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a Pararescueman on a HH-3E Rescue Helicopter in Southeast Asia on 24 October 1969. On that date, Sergeant Smith voluntarily descended to the surface on a forest penetrator to assist a downed pilot. As he and the pilot were being raised, hostile fire rendered the hoist inoperative and the cable was sheared, dropping them fifteen feet to the ground. Sergeant Smith’s position was surrounded by hostile forces, and his helicopter was downed by hostile fire. Remaining exceptionally calm, his resolute and decisive presence encouraged other survivors, while his resourcefulness in controlling and directing the aircraft providing suppressive fire, resulted in the safe recovery of all downed personnel. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Sergeant Smith reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Lieutenant Robert T. Ritchie, USCG, was awarded the Silver Star.

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star (Air Force Award) to Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Robert T. Ritchie, United States Coast Guard, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force while attached to the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (USAF). Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Ritchie distinguished himself as Aircraft Commander of an HH-3E rescue helicopter in Southeast Asia on 24 October 1969. On that date, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Ritchie repeatedly penetrated an area of intense hostile fire in an effort to rescue three downed airmen before battle damage rendered his aircraft incapable of further rescue operations. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Ritchie has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

CPT Charles D. Langham Silver Star medal ceremony

Captain Charles D. Langham, USAF, earned the Silver Star:

Captain Charles D. Langham distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as Aircraft Commander of an HH-3E helicopter in Southeast Asia on 24 October 1969. On that date, while attempting to recover two downed Air Force pilots., Captain Langham’s aircraft was subjected to intense hostile fire. Displaying superb airmanship, Captain Langham nursed his critically damaged aircraft way from the immediate hostile area and effected an emergency landing in a confined, remote area which saved his crew from probable serious injury or possible death. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Captain Langham has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

LT Richard V. Butchka, USCG, earned the Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat V.

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat “V” (Air Force Award) to Lieutenant Richard V. Butchka, United States Coast Guard, for heroism while participating in aerial flight as aircraft Commander of an HH-3E helicopter, attached to the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, United States Air Force, in Southeast Asia on 24 October 1969. On that date, in the face of known hostile forces, who had just shot down another rescue helicopter, Lieutenant Butchka, with complete disregard for his own personal safety, skillfully and expeditiously effected the rescue of three crewmen from the downed helicopter. The outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Lieutenant Butchka reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Coast Guard.

The following Distinguished Flying Cross recipients were also confirmed for this mission: Major Charles W. Bond; Captain John K. Coder; Technical Sergeant Frank Gaydosl Jr.; Sergaeant Joseph J. Vai; Airman 1st Class George P. Hoffman III; Staff Sergeant Jon K. Hoberg; and Lieutenant Colonel. Sidney S. Sosnow.

Misty #132 Jack K. Clapper left the USAF in 1974, went to law school and is a trial lawyer in Novato, California.  Donald G. Smith passed away on 12 March 2016 at the age of 80. Richard V. Butchka passed away 28 July 2007 at the age of 66. Misty #119 Alvin Donald (“Devil”) Muller passed away on 16 November 2010 at the age of 67.

SSGT Gregory Lee Anderson, USAF

Aerial Photographer Staff Sergeant Gregory Lee Anderson, crewman on JOLLY 76, was aboard Jolly Green 71, an HH-53B, when it was shot down over Laos, 28 January 1970. SSGT Anderson is listed as Missing in Action. (Active Pursuit)

HH-3E 66-13280 caught fire in flight, 15 April 1970, and crashed near Kontum, Republic of Vietnam. Two of the five crewmen died.

HH-3E 66-13290 was retired to Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 18 March 1991. It was withdrawn from storage and placed on display with the New York Air National Guard at Westhampton Beach, New York.

Aircraft
Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green

The Sikorsky HH-3E (Sikorsky S-61R) earned the nickname Jolly Green Giant during the Vietnam War. It is a dedicated Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopter flown by the U.S. Air Force, based on the CH-3C transport helicopter. The aircraft is flown by two pilots and the crew includes a flight mechanic and gunner. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. It has retractable tricycle landing gear and a rear cargo ramp. The rear landing gear retracts into a stub wing on the aft fuselage. The helicopter has an extendable inflight refueling boom.

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

The HH-3E is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 18 feet, 10 inches (5.740 meters) high with all rotors turning. The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The main rotor turns at 203 rpm., counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The tail rotor also has five blades and has a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). The blades have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). The tail rotor turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left (the advancing blade is below the axis of rotation). The tail rotor turns 1,244 rpm.

The HH-3E has an empty weight of 13,341 pounds (6,051 kilograms). The maximum gross weight is 22,050 pounds (10,002 kilograms).

HH-3E three-view illustration (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

The Jolly Green Giant is powered by two General Electric T58-GE-5 turboshaft engines, which have a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,400 shaft horsepower, each, and Military Power rating of 1,500 shaft horsepower. The main transmission is rated for 2,500 horsepower, maximum.

The HH-3E has a cruise speed of 154 miles per hour (248 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour), also at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The HH-3E had a maximum range of 779 miles (1,254 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.

The Jolly Green Giant can be armed with two M60 7.62 mm machine guns.

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

© 2020, Sean M. Cross

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12 October 1944

1st Lieutenant Chuck Yeager. (American Air Museum in Britain)

12 October 1944: During World War II, First Lieutenant Charles Elwood Yeager, Air Corps, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), was a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot assigned to the 363d Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, stationed at RAF Leiston (USAAF Station 373), near the village of Theberton, Suffolk, England.

Recently promoted from the warrant rank of Flight Officer, Lieutenant Yeager—as one of the most experienced pilots in the group— was leading the 357th on a bomber escort mission against Bremen, Germany. While the Group’s 362nd and 364th Fighter Squadrons remained with the B-24 bombers, Yeager and the 363d patrolled 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometers) ahead.

At 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) over Steinhuder Meer, northwest of Hanover, Yeager sighted a group of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters (also called the Me 109). He was soon able to count 22. Yeager and his squadron of 16 Mustangs circled and attacked out of the sun.

A flight of three Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters, 20 July 1944. (Bundsarchive Bild 101l-676-7975-36)
A flight of three Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters, 20 July 1944. (Bundsarchive Bild 101l-676-7975-36)

As Chuck Yeager maneuvered his P-51D Mustang, named Glamorous Glenn II, to fire at a trailing Bf 109, the German fighter suddenly turned left and collided with his wingman. Both pilots bailed out of their fighters and the two Bf 109s went down.

“It was almost comic, scoring two quick victories without firing a shot. . . By now, all the airplanes in the sky had dropped their wing tanks and were spinning and diving in a wild, wide-open dogfight. I blew up a 109 from six hundred yards—my third victory—when I turned to see another angling in behind me. Man I pulled back the throttle so damned hard I nearly stalled, rolled up and over, came in behind and under him, kicking right rudder and simultaneously firing. I was directly underneath the guy, less than fifty feet, and I opened up that 109 as if it were a can of Spam. That made four. A moment later, I waxed a guy’s fanny in a steep dive; I pulled up at about 1,000 feet; he went straight into the ground.”

Yeager, An Autobiography, by Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Page 57.

1st Lieutenant Charles E. Yeager with “Glamorous Glenn II,” at USAAF Station 157, Raydon, Suffolk, England, 17 October 1944. (American Air Museum in Britain)

Lieutenant Yeager’s official report of the air battle reads (in part):

H. Five Me. 109s destroyed

I. I was leading the Group with Cement Squadron and was roving out to the right of the first box of bombers. I was over STEINHUDER LAKE when 22 Me. 109s crossed in front of my Squadron from 11:00 O’Clock to 1:00 O’Clock. I was coming out of the sun and they were about 1½ miles away at the same level of 25,000 feet. I fell in behind the enemy formation and followed them for about 3 minutes, climbing to 30,000 feet. I still had my wing tanks and had close up to around 1,000 yards, coming within firing range and positioning the Squadron behind the entire enemy formation. Two of the Me. 109s were dodging over to the right. One slowed up and before I could start firing, rolled over and bailed out. The other Me. 109, flying his wing, bailed out immediately after as I was ready to line him in my sights. I was the closest to the tail-end of the enemy formation and no one, but myself was in shooting range and no one was firing. I dropped my tanks and then closed up to the last Jerry and opened fire from 600 yards, using the K-14 sight. I observed strikes all over the ship, particularly heavy in the cockpit. He skidded off to the left. I was closing up on another Me. 109 so I did not follow him down. Lt. STERN, flying in Blue Flight reports this E/A on fire as it passed him and went into a spin. I closed up on the next Me. 109 to 100 yards, skidded to the right and took a deflection shot of about 10°. I gave about a 2 second burst and the whole fuselage split open and blew up after we passed. Another Me. 109 to the right had cut his throttle and was trying to get behind. I broke to the right and quickly rolled to the left on his tail. He started pulling it in and I was pulling 6″G”. I got a lead from around 300 yards and gave him a short burst. There were hits on wings and tail section He snapped to the right 3 times and bailed out when he quit snapping at around 18,000 feet. I did not blackout during this engagement due to the efficiency of the “G” suit. Even though I was skidding I hit the second Me. 109 by keeping the bead and range on the E/A. To my estimation the K-14 sight is the biggest improvement to combat equipment for Fighters up to this date. The Me. 109s appeared to have a type of bubble canopy and had purple noses and were a mousey brown all over. I claim five Me 109s destroyed.

J. Ammunition Expended: 587 rounds .50 cal MG.

Charles E. Yeager, 1st Lt, AC.

Lieutenant Yeager had destroyed five enemy fighters during a single battle. He became “an Ace in one day” and was awarded the Silver Star. Of the twenty-two Me 109s, the 363rd had destroyed eight without losing a single Mustang.

Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II had previously been assigned to Captain Charles K. Peters and named Daddy Rabbit. Flown by another pilot, Second Lieutenant Horace Roycroft, 44-13897 was destroyed six days later when it crashed in bad weather. Lieutenant Roycroft was killed.

North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This is from the same production block as Yeager's Glamorous Glenn II.
North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This fighter is from the same production block as Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II.

The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation World War II fighter. It was a single-seat, single-engine fighter, initially designed for the Royal Air Force. The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,489 kilograms).

The P-51D was powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with Military Power ratings of 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m with 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3), or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). These engines were versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66, built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)
A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)

The P-51D with a V-1650-7 Merlin had maximum speed at Sea Level of 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at the Normal Power setting of 2,700 r.p.m. and 46 inches of manifold pressure, and 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour) at War Emergency Power, 3,000 r.p.m with 67 inches of manifold pressure (5 minute limit). At altitude, using the Military Power setting of 3,000 r.p.m. and 61 inches of manifold pressure (15 minute limit), it had a maximum speed of 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). With War Emergency Power the P-51D could reach 442 miles per hour (711 kilometers per hour) at 26,000 feet (7,925 meters).

The P-51D could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6.4 minutes, and to its service ceiling, 41,600 feet (12,680 meters), in 28 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 42,400 feet (12,924 meters).

With 180 gallons (681 liters) internal fuel, the maximum range of the P-51D was 1,108 miles (1,783 kilometers).

Armorers carry AN/M2 Browning .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked ammunition to a P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
Armorers carry Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked .50-caliber ammunition to a P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51D was armed with six electrically-heated Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition were provided for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the other four guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds of ammunition. This was armor piercing, incendiary, and tracer ammunition. The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.

North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

A total of 8,156 P-51Ds were produced by North American at Inglewood, California, and Dallas, Texas, and another 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Melbourne, Australia.

The North American Aviation P-51D Mustang remained in service with the United States Air Force until 27 January 1957, when the last aircraft were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia National Guard.

North American Aviation P-51D-25-NT Mustang 44-84900 at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, circa 1945–1952. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 June 1968

Lieutenant Clyde Everett Lassen, United States Navy
Lieutenant Clyde Everett Lassen, United States Navy

The MEDAL OF HONOR to

Lieutenant Clyde E. Lassen, United States Navy

For service as set forth in the following

CITATION

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 19 June 1968 as pilot and aircraft commander of a search and rescue helicopter, attached to Helicopter Support Squadron Seven, Detachment One Hundred Four, embarked in USS Preble (DLG 15), during operations against enemy forces in North Vietnam.

Launched shortly after midnight to attempt the rescue of two downed aviators, Lieutenant (then Lieutenant, Junior Grade) Lassen skillfully piloted his aircraft over unknown and hostile terrain to a steep, tree-covered hill on which the survivors had been located.

Although enemy fire was being directed at the helicopter, he initially landed in a clear area near the base of the hill, but, due to the dense undergrowth, the survivors could not reach the helicopter. With the aid of flare illumination, Lieutenant Lassen successfully accomplished a hover between two trees at the survivor’s position. Illumination was abruptly lost as the last of the flares were expended, and the helicopter collided with a tree, commencing a sharp descent.

Expertly righting his aircraft and maneuvering clear, Lieutenant Lassen remained in the area, determined to make another rescue attempt, and encouraged the downed aviators while awaiting resumption of flare illumination. After another unsuccessful, illuminated, rescue attempt, and with his fuel dangerously low and his aircraft significantly damaged, he launched again and commenced another approach in the face of the continuing enemy opposition.

When flare illumination was again lost, Lieutenant Lassen, fully aware of the dangers in clearly revealing his position to the enemy, turned on his landing lights and completed the landing. On this attempt, the survivors were able to make their way to the helicopter. Enroute to the coast, Lieutenant Lassen encountered and successfully evaded additional hostile antiaircraft fire and, with fuel for only five minutes of flight remaining, landed safely aboard USS Jouett (DLG 29).

His courageous and daring actions, determination, and extraordinary airmanship in the face of great risk sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

 

Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Clyde Everett Lassen was the Officer in Charge of Detachment 104 of Helicopter Support Squadron SEVEN (HC-7), the “Sea Devils,” aboard USS Preble (DLG-15). The assignment was Combat Search and Rescue.

McDonnell F-4J-31-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 153856, of Fighter Squadron Thirty-Three (VF-33) lands aboard USS America (CVA-66) circa 1968. This Phantom is a squadron mate of Root Beer 210. (U.S.Navy)
McDonnell F-4J-31-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 153856, of Fighter Squadron Thirty-Three (VF-33) “Tarsiers,” lands aboard USS America (CVA-66) circa 1968. This Phantom is a squadron mate of Root Beer 210. (U.S.Navy)

On the night of 18/19 June 1968, a flight of three aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66) were on a bombing mission over North Vietnam. Root Beer 210 was a McDonnell Douglas F-4J-33-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 155546, flown by Lieutenant Commander John “Claw” Holtzclaw and Lieutenant Commander John A. “Zeke” Burns. Shortly after midnight, two SA-2 surface to air missiles were fired at the Phantom. Holtzclaw and Burns evaded them, but a third missile detonated very close to the fighter bomber, destroying the outer one-third of the right wing. With their airplane critically damaged and on fire, the two naval aviators were forced to eject over enemy territory. They parachuted into a rice paddy and could hear enemy soldiers talking nearby. Burns had suffered a broken leg as well as other injuries.

USS Preble (DLG-15)
USS Preble (DLG-15), a Farragut-class guided missile frigate. (U.S. Navy)

Aboard the guided missile frigate USS Preble (DLG-15), Lieutenant (junior grade) Clyde Lassen and his flight crew were awakened and assigned to rescue the crew of Root Beer 210, 70 miles (113 kilometers) away in total darkness. Lassen and his co-pilot, Lieutenant (j.g.) LeRoy Cook and gunners Aviation Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class (AE2) Bruce Dallas and Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class (ADJ3) Don West, took off from Preble at 0022 hours aboard their Kaman SH-2A Seasprite helicopter, call sign Clementine Two, and were vectored by radar to the location of the downed aircrew. The glow of the burning Phantom could be seen from 30 miles (48 kilometers) away. They arrived on scene at 0141 hours. Holtzclaw and Burns were in immediate need of rescue as the enemy was closing in.

The crew of Clementine 2, left to right, Lt. (j.g.) Clyde E. Lassen, AE2 Bruce Dallas, ADJ3 Don West, Lt. (j.g.) LeRoy Cook. (U.S. Navy)
The crew of Clementine Two, left to right, Lt. (j.g.) Clyde E. Lassen, AE2 Bruce Dallas, ADJ3 Don West, Lt. (j.g.) C. LeRoy Cook. (U.S. Navy)

Holtzclaw and Burns were on a hillside covered with very tall trees, making it impossible for the Seasprite to land. Parachute flares dropped by supporting aircraft illuminated the area. The pickup would have to be made using a “jungle penetrator” attached to the helicopter’s rescue hoist. But the single-engine helicopter was already fully loaded with its four-man crew and their weapons and ammunition. It could not pick up both fliers while hovering out of ground effect above the trees. Lassen ordered his co-pilot to dump fuel to reduce the weight.

As Lassen hovered into position to make the hoist pickup, the overhead flares went out, leaving the jungle totally dark. Unable to see, Lassen collided with a tree causing damage to the horizontal stabilizer and the right side cabin door. He narrowly avoided a crash.

Clementine Two moved away while they awaited the arrival of another flare aircraft. They were soon engaged by enemy ground fire and the helicopter gunners returned fire with their M-60 machine guns.

On several occasions, Lassen landed the SH-2A in a rice paddy to pickup Holtzclaw and Burns, but enemy gunfire prevent them from reaching the helicopter, which repeatedly had to pull back.

Finally, the crew of Root Beer 210 found their way to the bottom of the slope and Clementine Two landed in a rice paddy about 60 yards (55 meters) away. A fierce firefight between the North Vietnamese soldiers and the gunners of the Navy helicopter took place. Lassen held the Seasprite in a hover to prevent it from sinking into the mud. The gunners jumped down to assist Holtzclaw and Burns aboard. As soon as they were loaded, Lassen immediately took off and left the area, climbed to 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) and headed toward the South China Sea, twenty miles (32 kilometers) away. The helicopter had only thirty minutes of fuel remaining. During the flight, the right cabin door, which had been damaged when the helicopter hit the tree, came off and fell away into the darkness.

USS Jouett (DLG-29)
USS Jouett (DLG-29), a Belknap-class guided missile frigate. (U.S. Navy)

Clementine Two was too far away to make it back to Preble, so they turned toward USS Jouett (DLG-29). Commander Destroyer Squadron One, Captain Robert Hayes, commanding Jouett, turned his ship toward the shore and proceeded at full speed, turning on all of the ship’s lights so that Lassen would be able to find it. Jouett came within 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) of the beach. With almost no fuel remaining, Lassen made a straight-in approach and landing.

Lieutenant Commander John A. Burns aboard USS Jouett. (U.S. Navy)

For his actions on 19 June 1968, Lieutenant Clyde Everett Lassen was awarded the Medal of Honor. Lieutenant (j.g.) LeRoy Cook received the Navy Cross. AE2 Bruce Dallas and AE3 Don West each received the Silver Star.

Kaman UH-2A Seasprite Bu. No. 149764, photographed November 1967. Lieutenant (j.g.) Clyde Everett Lassen flew this helicopter during the rescue of 19 January 1968. (U.S. Navy)
Kaman UH-2A Seasprite Bu. No. 149764, photographed November 1967. Lieutenant (j.g.) Clyde Everett Lassen flew this helicopter during the rescue of 19 January 1968. (U.S. Navy)

Clementine Two was a Kaman SH-2A Seasprite, Bu. No. 149764 (c/n 66). The SH-2A is 52 feet, 2.2 inches (15.905 meters) long with rotors turning, with an overall height of 14 feet, 8.6 inches (4.486 meters). The four-bladed main rotor has a diameter of 44 feet, 0 inches (13.411 meters) and rotates counter-clockwise, as seen from above (the advanicng blade is on the helicopter’s right). The blades are controlled by Kaman’s unique servo flap system. The three-bladed tail rotor is mounted on the left side of a pylon and rotates clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s left (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation). The helicopter’s main landing gear was retractable. The SH-2A has and empty weight is 6,110 pounds (2,771 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms).

The SH-2A is powered by a single General Electric T58-GE-8B turbine engine.  The T58 is a free power turboshaft, with a 10-stage axial-flow compressor section, an annular combustion chamber with 16 burner nozzles, and a 3-stage turbine (2 gas-generator stages and a single power-turbine stage). The T58-GE-8B has a Normal Power rating of 1,050 shaft horsepower at 19,500 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and Military Power rating of 1,250 shaft horsepower at 19,500 r.p.m. The engine is 1 foot, 8.9 inches (0.531 meters) in diameter, 4 feet, 11.0 inches (1.499 meters) long, and weighs 305 pounds (138 kilograms).

The SH-2A Seasprite has a Hover Ceiling Out of Ground Effect (HOGE) of 4,600 feet (1,402 meters). With a crew of four, the hover ceiling is reduced to 2,800 feet (853 meters). Its service ceiling is 15,000 feet (4,572 meters).

The SH-2A has a cruise speed of 125 knots (144 miles per hour/232 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 140 knots (161 miles per hour/259 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. Its combat radius is 125 nautical miles (144 miles/232 kilometers). The maximum range is 465 nautical miles (535 miles/861 kilometers).

Clementine 2 was armed with two M60 7.62 mm machine guns.

88 UH-2As were built 1959-1960, before production shifted to a twin-engine variant.

Seasprite 149764 was lost in the South China Sea, 7 January 1969.

President Lyndon Johnson congratulates Lieutenant Clyde Everett Lassen on the award of the Medal of Honor, 16 January 1969.

Clyde Everett Lassen was born at Fort Myers, Florida, 14 March 1942. He graduated from Venice High School, Englewood, Florida, in 1960.

Lassen enlisted in the United States Navy, 14 September 1961. He served as an Aviation Electronics Technician, 3rd Class (AT3). In 1964, he was accepted as a Naval Aviation Cadet at NAS Pensacola. On completion of flight training, Lassen was commissioned an ensign and awarded the wings of a Naval Aviator.

Ensign Lassen married Miss Linda Barbara Sawn in October 1965.

Lt. Clyde E. Lassen, USN, 1968

He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade), 16 December 1966, and to lieutenant, 1 July 1968.

President Lyndon Johnson presented the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Lassen at a ceremony at The White House, 16 January 1969.

Lieutenant Lassen was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander 1 August 1972, and to commander, 1 July 1975. Commander Lassen retired from the U.S. Navy in December 1982.

Commander Lassen donated his Medal of Honor to the National Naval Aviation Museum 19 June 1993.

Commander Clyde Everett Lassen, United States Navy, died 1 April 1994 at Pensacola, Florida. He was buried at the Barrancas National Cemetery at Pensacola.

USS Lassen (DDG-82)
USS Lassen (DDG-82). (U.S. Navy)

Highly recommended: “Clementine Two: U.S. Navy night rescue over North Viet Nam,” by C. LeRoy Cook, at http://www.vhpa.org/stories/clem2.pdf

USS Lassen (DDG-82. (United States Navy)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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Medal of Honor, Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen, United States Air Force

Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen, United States Air Force. (VIRIN: 201001-F-ZZ999-117)

MEDAL OF HONOR

MAJOR MERLYN H. DETHLEFSEN, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Major Merlyn H. Detlefsen, U.S. Air Force, after his100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Major Merlyn Hans Dethlefsen, United States Air Force, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, near Thai Nguyen, North Vietnam, on 10 March 1967. Major Dethlefsen was one of a flight of F-105 aircraft engaged in a fire suppression mission designed to destroy a key anti-aircraft defensive complex containing surface-to-air missiles (SAM), an exceptionally heavy concentration of anti-aircraft artillery, and other automatic weapons. The defensive network was situated to dominate the approach and provide protection to an important North Vietnam industrial center that was scheduled to be attacked by fighter bombers immediately after the strike by Major Dethlefsen’s flight. In the initial attack on the defensive complex the lead aircraft was crippled, and Major Dethlefsen’s aircraft was extensively damaged by the intense enemy fire. Realizing that the success of the impending fighter bomber attack on the center now depended on his ability to effectively suppress the defensive fire, Major Dethlefsen ignored the enemy’s overwhelming firepower and the damage to his aircraft and pressed his attack. Despite a continuing hail of anti-aircraft fire, deadly surface-to-air missiles, and counterattacks by MIG interceptors, Major Dethlefsen flew repeated close range strikes to silence the enemy defensive positions with bombs and cannon fire. His action in rendering ineffective the defensive SAM and anti-aircraft artillery sites enabled the ensuing fighter bombers to strike successfully the important industrial target without loss or damage to their aircraft, thereby appreciably reducing the enemy’s ability to provide essential war material. Major Dethlefsen’s consummate skill and selfless dedication to this significant mission were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

General Orders: GB-51, February 8, 1968

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Major

Company: 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand

Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy

AIR FORCE CROSS

CAPTAIN KEVIN A. GILROY, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Captain Kevin A. Gilroy, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Kevin A. Gilroy, U.S. Air Force, after his 100th mission. (U.S. Air Force)

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 Kevin A. Gilroy (AFSN: 0-3109656), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Electronics Warfare Officer of an F-105 aircraft of the with the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, engaged in a pre-strike, missile suppression mission against the Thai Nguyen Steel Works in North Vietnam on 10 March 1967. On that date, Captain Gilroy guided his pilot in attacking and destroying a surface-to-air missile installation protecting one of the most important industrial complexes in North Vietnam. He accomplished this feat even after formidable hostile defenses had destroyed the lead aircraft and had crippled a second. Though his own aircraft suffered extensive battle damage and was under constant attack by MiG interceptors, anti-aircraft artillery, automatic weapons, and small arms fire, Captain Gilroy aligned several ingenious close range attacks on the hostile defenses at great risk to his own life. Due to his technical skill, the attacks were successful and the strike force was able to bomb the target without loss. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship and aggressiveness, Captain Gilroy has reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Department of the Air Force, Special Order GB-297 (August 15, 1967)

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Captain

Company: 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base

SILVER STAR

MAJOR KENNETH HOLMES BELL, UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Brigadier General Kenneth H. Bell, U.S. Air Force, then a major, was Captain Dethlefsen's wingman at Thuy Nyugen, 10 March 1967.
Brigadier General Kenneth H. Bell, U.S. Air Force, then a major, was Captain Dethlefsen’s wingman at Thai Nyugen, 10 March 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 8, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Major Kenneth Holmes Bell (AFSN: FR-25966), United States Air Force, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force while serving as Pilot of an F-105 Thunderchief of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, PACIFIC Air Forces, in Southeast Asia on 10 March 1967. On that date, Major Bell was a member of a surface-to-air missile suppression flight in support of a strike against a large industrial complex. Major Bell and his flight, with great courage, flew through anti-aircraft defenses which were so dense that the flight leader was downed, and all three of the remaining flight members’ aircraft were damaged. Major Bell’s aircraft was damaged to the extent that aircraft control was marginal. However, he elected to remain in the target area flying through the hail of flak three more times until he had the key missile installation shattered and burning from a series of vicious attacks. Throughout the entire flight, Major Bell exhibited complete disregard for his personal welfare in the face of overwhelming odds. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Major Bell has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

General Orders: Headquarters, Pacific Air Force, Special Orders No. G-1014 (July 15, 1967)

Action Date: 10-Mar-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Major

Company: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand

A Republic F-105F Thunderchief Wild Weasel III, flown by Captain Merlyn F. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy. (U.S. Air Force)
A Republic F-105G Thunderchief Wild Weasel III, flown by Captain Merlyn F. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-105 was the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history. It was designed as a Mach 2+ tactical nuclear strike aircraft and fighter-bomber. The fuselage of the F-105B incorporated the “area rule” which gave the Thunderchief its characteristic “wasp waist” shape. The F-105F was a two-place variant, flown by a pilot and a weapons system operator. Its high speed, low radar cross-section, and heavy bomb load capacity made it a good candidate for the “Wild Weasel” mission: locating and attacking enemy radar and surface-to-air missile installations.

The F-105F/G Thunderchief was 67 feet (20.422 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11 inches (10.643 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 2 inches (6.147 meters). Its wings were swept 45° at 25% chord. The angle of incidence was 0° and there was no twist. The wings had 3° 30′ anhedral. The total wing area was 385 square feet (35.8 square meters). Modified to the Wild Weasel III configuration, it had an empty weight of 31,279 pounds (14,188 kilograms), and a maximum takeoff weight of 54,580 pounds (24,757 kilograms).

Republic F-105G Wild Weasel III 63-8320. (U.S. Air Force)

The Thunderchief was powered by one Pratt & Whitney J75-P-19W engine. The J75 is a two-spool axial-flow afterburning turbojet with water injection. It has a 15-stage compressor section (8 low- and and 7 high-pressure stages) and 3-stage turbine section (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages.) The J75-P-19W is rated at 14,300 pounds of thrust (63.61 kilonewtons), continuous power; 16,100 pounds (71.62 kilonewtons), Military Power (30-minute limit); and Maximum Power rating of 24,500 pounds (108.98 kilonewtons) with afterburner (15-minute limit). The engine could produce 26,500 pounds of thrust (117.88 kilonewtons) with water injection, for takeoff. The J75-P-19W is 21 feet, 7.3 inches (6.586 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).

The F-105G Wild Weasel III had a cruising speed of 514 knots (592 miles per hour/952 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 681 knots at Sea Level—0.78 Mach—and 723 knots (832 miles per hour/1,339 kilometers per hour) at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters)—Mach 1.23. It could climb to 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) in 28.0 minutes. The F-105G’s combat ceiling was 43,900 feet (13,381 meters), and it had a combat radius of 391 nautical miles (450 statute miles/724 kilometers). The maximum ferry range, with external fuel tanks, was 1,623 nautical miles (1,868 statute miles/3,006 kilometers).

The Wild Weasel III was armed with one M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm six-barrel rotary cannon with 581 rounds of ammunition, one AGM-78 Standard High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), and two AGM-45A Shrike anti-radiation missiles.

65 F-105Fs were converted to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration. Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York, factory. 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.

Captains Merlyn Dethlefsen and Kevin Gilroy flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief on 10 March 1967. It is seen here at Nellis AFB, Nevada, 29 August 1966. 63-8352 was destroyed by fire after running off the runway at Udorn RTAFB, 8 December 1969. The pilot, Major Carl R. Rice, was killed.
Captains Merlyn Dethlefsen and Kevin Gilroy flew this Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief on 10 March 1967. It is seen here at Nellis AFB, Nevada, 29 August 1966. 63-8352 was destroyed by fire after running off the runway at Udorn RTAFB, 8 December 1969. The pilot, Major Carl R. Rice, was killed.

The Wild Weasel III was armed with one M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm six-barrel rotary cannon with 581 rounds of ammunition, one AGM-78 Standard High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), and two AGM-45A Shrike anti-radiation missiles.

65 F-105Fs were converted to the F-105G Wild Weasel III configuration. Republic Aviation Corporation built 833 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers at its Farmingdale, New York, factory. 395 were lost during the Vietnam War. 334 were shot down, mostly by antiaircraft guns or missiles, and 17 by enemy fighters. Another 61 were lost due to accidents. The 40% combat loss is indicative of the extreme danger of the missions these airplanes were engaged in.

Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief photographed in Southeast Asia, circa 1966. (U.S. Air Force)
Major James L. Davis and Captain Phillip Walker with Republic F-105F-1-RE Thunderchief 63-8352 (F-105G Wild Weasel III), photographed at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, 12 February 1968, after they completed their 100th combat mission. The F-105 is now carrying the tail code RM, indicating the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron. (From the collection of Colonel James L. Davis, United States Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 January 1973

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 at Yokota AB, Japan, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 at Yokota AB, Japan, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

8 January 1973: Captain Paul D. Howman and First Lieutenant Lawrence W. Kullman, 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432d Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, flying McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796, were leading a flight of two fighters on combat air patrol in Route Pack III. Their call sign was CRAFTY ONE. A U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser, call sign RED CROWN, was steaming in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam, providing radar coverage for the fighters.

The following is a recount of the last USAF MiG kill in Southeast Asia; it occurred on 8 January 1973.

Crafty, a flight of two F-4s from the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron, was assigned a night MiGCAP mission in support of B-52 strikes. They ingressed North Vietnam through the “Gorilla’s Head” and established their CAP about 70 miles southwest of Hanoi. The pilot of Crafty One was Captain Paul D. Howman. His backseater was First Lieutenant Lawrence W. Kullman. The following is Captain Howman’s description of the kill.

Because of its advanced air search radars and digital computers, the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser USS Long Beach (CGN-9) frequently served as RED CROWN. (U.S. Navy)

“About five minutes after arriving on station, we were advised by Red Crown that a MiG was airborne out of Phuc Yen and was heading southwest toward the inbound strike force. They vectored us northwest and told us he had leveled at 13,000 feet. Passing through [a heading of] north, we picked him up on radar at about 60 miles. We were able to follow him most of the way in as the range decreased. At about 30 miles, I called 02 and we jettisoned our centerline tanks.”

Crafty One and Two descended to 12,000 feet at 400 knots, still taking vectors. Red Crown turned them to a northeasterly heading. At 16 miles, Red Crown cleared Crafty to fire. Captain Howman’s account continues.

“At 10 miles I got a visual on an afterburner plume 20 degrees right and slightly high. I called him out to the backseater and put the pipper on him. At 6 miles Lt. Kullman got a good full-system radar lock-on. Range was about 4 miles and overtake 900+ knots when I squeezed the trigger. The missile came off, did a little roll to the left, and tracked toward the “burner plume.” It detonated 50 feet short of his tail.

“I squeezed another one off at 2 miles range. This one just pulled some lead, then went straight for the MiG. It hit him in the fuselage and the airplane exploded and broke into three big flaming pieces.”

"Craft 01", McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 on static display at William E. Dyess Elementary School, Abilene, Texas. (Abilene School District photo)
“Crafty 01”, McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 65-0796 on static display at William E. Dyess Elementary School, Abilene, Texas. (Abilene School District photo)

After determining there were no more MiGs in the area, Crafty returned to orbit for their remaining CAP period. They returned to base without further incident.

 The Tale of Two Bridges ; and The Battle for the Skies Over North Vietnam, by Major A. J. C. Lavalle, USAF, editor, Office of Air Force History, Washington, D.C., 1985, Chapter VI at Page 187–188.

The MiG 21 that Howman and Kullman shot down was the last air-to-air victory by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. Both men were awarded the Silver Star.

Their airplane, 65-0796, served another seventeen years before being retired. Today, it is on display at William E. Dyess Elementary School, Abilene, Texas.

A Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
An Aero Vodochody-built MiG 21F-13 with the markings of the Vietnam Peoples’ Air Force at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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