Tag Archives: Silver Star

14 August 1942

Lockheed P-38F Lightnings at Iceland during the summer of 1942. 2d Lt. Elva E. Shahan’s P-38F-1-LO, 41-7540, is at the left of the photograph with the number 42 on its nose. (U.S. Air Force)

14 August 1942: The 27th Fighter Squadron (Twin Engine), 1st Fighter Group, VIII Fighter Command, was ferrying its Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters across the North Atlantic Ocean from Presque Isle, Maine to England as part of Operation Bolero. Iceland was a mid-Atlantic fuel stop on the Northern Ferry Route.

Just over a week earlier, 6 August 1942, 30 Curtiss P-40C Warhawks of the 33rd Fighter Squadron had been flown off the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7). Among the 32 Army Air Corps pilots who boarded the carrier with the fighters at Norfolk, Virginia, was Second Lieutenant Joseph D.R. Shaffer, U.S.A.A.C., service number O-427002.

A Curtiss-Wright P-40C Warhawk, Iceland, 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
Major John H. Weltman, USAAF. Major weltman's P-38 Lightning was the first Army Air Forces aircraft to be hit by German gunfire during World War II. (U.S. Air Force)
Major John H. Weltman, USAAF. Major Weltman’s P-38 Lightning was the first Army Air Forces aircraft to be hit by German gunfire during World War II. (U.S. Air Force)

On the morning of 14 August, a Royal Air Force Northrop N-3PB Nomad of No. 330 Squadron (Norwegian) tracked a German Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 200 C-4 Condor four-engine maritime reconnaissance bomber, marked NT+BY, flying near a convoy south of the island. The bomber then proceeded northward and overflew the peninsula west of Reykjavik.

Lieutenant Shaffer, his squadron now assigned to the 342d Composite Group, Iceland Base Command, one of the units responsible for the air defense of Iceland, located and attacked the Condor with his P-40, damaging one of the bomber’s engines.

At 11:15 a.m., two P-38s of the 27th Squadron, flown by Major John W. Weltman and Second Lieutenant Elza E. Shahan, followed up Shaffer’s attack. Shahan was flying Lockheed P-38F-1-LO Lightning, serial number 41-7540.

The Fw 200 was hit in and around the bomb bay. It exploded and went into the sea approximately 8 miles northwest of Grotta Point. Its crew, F Ofw. Fritz Kühn, Ofw. Phillip Haisch, Ofw. Ottmar Ebner, Uffz. Wolgang Schulze, Ofw. Arthur Wohlleben and Ofw. Albert Winkelmann were all killed.

This was the very first U.S. Army Air Forces air combat victory in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. Lieutenants Shaffer and Shahan both shared credit for the victory. They were awarded the Silver Star for their actions.

A Focke-Wulf Fw 200 C-3 Condor, SG+KS, (Werk-Nr. 0043), similar to the bomber destroyed by Shaffer and Shahan, 14 August 1942. (Photograph by Walter Frentz. Bundesarchiv)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 July 1922–14 June 2007

Major Robin Olds, United States Army Air Forces. 1946. (LIFE Magazine)
Brigadier General Robert Olds, U.S. Army Air Corps, circa 1942.

14 July 1922: Brigadier General Robin Olds, United States Air Force, was a fighter pilot and triple ace with 17 official aerial victories in two wars. Robin Olds was born Robert Oldys, Jr., at Luke Field Hospital, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii. He was the first son of Captain Robert Oldys, Air Service, United States Army, and Eloise Wichman Nott Oldys. In 1931, the family name was legally changed from Oldys to Olds. As a child, Robert, Jr., was known as “Robin,” a dimunuitive of Robert.

Robin Olds entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, on 1 July 1940. During the summer months, he received primary, basic and advanced pilot training. With training at West Point accelerated because of wartime needs, Cadet Olds and his class graduated one year early, 1 June 1943. Olds was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, (number 589 of 620 on the Air Corps list of second lieutenants), and was assigned to fighter training in the Lockheed P-38 Lightning at Williams Field, Arizona. On 1 December 1943, Second Lieutenant Olds was appointed to the rank of First Lieutenant, Army of the United States (A.U.S.). (His permanent rank remained Second Lieutenant, Air Corps, until after the War.)

On completion of all phases of training, Lieutenant Olds was assigned to the 434th Fighter Squadron, 479th Fighter Group, and deployed to England aboard the former Moore-McCormack Lines passenger liner S.S. Argentina, which had been converted to a troop transport.

Lieutenant Robin Olds with "SCAT II," A lockheed P-38 Lightning.
Lieutenant Robin Olds with “SCAT II,” a Lockheed P-38J-15-LO Lightning, 43-28707. (Imperial War Museum)

The 434th Fighter Squadron was based at RAF Wattisham in East Anglia. First Lieutenant Olds was promoted to Captain (A.U.S.) on 24 July 1944. He became an ace during his first two combat missions, shooting down 2 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters on 14 August 1944 and 3 Messerschmitt Bf 109s on August 23.

The squadron re-equipped with North American P-51 Mustangs and Captain Olds continued to destroy enemy fighters. On 9 February 1945, just 22 years old, he was promoted to Major. On 25 March 1945, Major Olds was placed in command of the 434th Fighter Squadron. Major Olds completed the war with a record of 13 aerial victories,¹ and another 11.5 enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground. He had flown 107 combat missions.

Major Robin Olds with “SCAT VI,” a North American Aviation P-51K-5-NT Mustang, 44-11746, in England during World War II. (U.S. Air Force via Crazy Horse Aviation)
Robin Olds’ Mustang, “SCAT VII” (P-51D-25-NA 44-44729), escorts a B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber during World War II. This airplane still exists. (U.S. Air Force)

When the United States Air Force was established as a separate military service on 18 September 1947, Major Olds (along with hundreds, if not thousands of other officers) reverted to their permanent rank of First Lieutenant, with his date of rank retroactive to 1 June 1946. Olds retained the temporary rank of Major.

After World War II, Major Olds transitioned to jet fighters with the Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star at March Field, near Riverside, California. He flew in an aerobatic demonstration team, and on 1 September 1946, flew a Lockheed P-80A to second place in the Thompson Trophy Race, Jet Division, at Cleveland, Ohio. Olds averaged 514.715 miles per hour (828.354 kilometers per hour) over ten laps around the 30-mile (48.3 kilometers), four pylon course.

Major Robin Olds was scheduled to fly this Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star, “SCAT X,” serial number 44-85027, in the 1946 Thompson Trophy Race. It had to be replaced shortly before the race. This fighter was damaged beyond repair and written off at Long Beach Army Airfield, California, 14 September 1946. (Kevin Grantham Collection via airrace.com)
Ella Raines (Universal Pictures)

While stationed at March Field, Olds met his future wife, actress Ella Wallace Raines (formerly, Mrs. Kenneth William Trout). They married on 6 February 1947 at the West Hollywood Community Church, just south of the Sunset Strip in the West Hollywood area of Los Angeles County, California. Rev. Gordon C. Chapman performed the ceremony. They would have two daughters, Christina and Susan. They divorced 15 November 1976.

In October 1948, Major Olds returned to England as an exchange officer in command of No. 1 Squadron, Royal Air Force, at RAF Tangmere. He was the first non-Commonwealth officer to command a Royal Air Force squadron. The squadron flew the Gloster Meteor F. Mk.IV jet fighter.

Following the tour with the R.A.F., Olds returned to March Air Force Base as operations officer of the 94th Fighter Squadron, Jet, 1st Fighter-Interceptor Group, which had been equipped with the North American Aviation F-86A-1-NA Sabre. Soon after, he was placed in command of the 71st Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, another squadron within the 1st Fighter-Interceptor Group.

North American Aviation F-86A Sabres of the 71st Fighter-Interceptor squadron at George AFB, California, 1950. The Sabre closest to the camera is F-86A-5-NA 48-214. (U.S. Air Force)

Olds was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, 20 February 1951, and to colonel 15 April 1953. From 8 October 1955 to 10 August 1956 he commanded the 86th Fighter-Interceptor Group based at Landstuhl Air Base, Germany. The group flew the rocket-armed North American Aviation F-86D Sabre. The 86th was inactivated 10 August 1956. Colonel Olds then was assigned as chief of the Weapons Proficiency Center for the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) at Wheelus Air Base, near Tripoli, Libya.

After assignment as Deputy Chief, Air Defense Division, Headquarters USAF, from 1958 to 1962, Colonel Olds attended the National War College, graduating in 1963. From 8 September 1963 to 26 July 1965, Colonel Olds commanded the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, at RAF Bentwaters, England.

Colonel Olds with a McDonnell F-101C Voodoo at RAF Bentwaters. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Olds with a McDonnell F-101C Voodoo at RAF Bentwaters. (U.S. Air Force)

Robin Olds returned to combat as commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, in September 1966. Flying the McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, Colonel Olds scored victories over two Vietnam Peoples Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17s and two MiG-21s, bringing his official score to 17 ² aerial victories. ³ He was the only Air Force fighter ace with victories in both World War II and the Vietnam War. (There have been rumors that he actually shot down seven MiGs, but credited those to other pilots to avoid being pulled out of combat and sent back to the United States.)

For his actions during the attack against the Paul Doumer Bridge, 11 August 1967, Colonel Olds was awarded the Air Force Cross. He flew 152 combat missions during the Vietnam War. His final combat mission was on 23 September 1967.

Coloenl Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, with SCAT XXVII, his McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, 64-0829, at Ubon Rachitani RTAFB, 1967. U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, with SCAT XXVII, his McDonnell F-4C-24-MC Phantom II, 64-0829, at Ubon RTAFB, May 1967. U.S. Air Force)

On 1 June 1968, Robin Olds was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and assigned as Commandant of Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy. In February 1971, he was appointed Director of Aerospace Safety in the Office of the Inspector General at Norton Air Force Base, near San Bernardino, California. He retired from the Air Force 31 May 1973.

During his military career, Brigadier General Robin Olds had been awarded the Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with three oak leaf clusters (four awards), Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with five oak leaf clusters (six awards), Air Medal with 39 oak leaf clusters (40 awards), Air Force Commendation Medal, as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross of the United Kingdom, the Croix de Guerre (France), and the Republic of Vietnam’s Distinguished Service Medal, Air Gallantry Medal with Gold Wings, Air Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force
Colonel Robin Olds, 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, United States Air Force

In 1978, Robin Olds married his second wife, Abigail Morgan Sellers Barnett. They were divorced in 1993.

Brigadier General Robin Olds passed away 14 June 2007 at the age of 84 years. He is buried at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Brigadier General Robin Olds next assignment was as Commandant of Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, where I had the pleasure of serving under his command. (U.S. Air Force)
Brigadier General Robin Olds’ next assignment was as Commandant of Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, where I had the pleasure of serving under his command. (Bryan R. Swopes) (U.S. Air Force photograph)

Note: Thanks to Ms. Christina Olds and Lieutenant Colonel R. Medley Gatewood, U.S. Air Force (Retired), for correcting a number of errors in the previous version of this article.

¹ Source: Air Force News Agency

² Ibid.

³ Under the rules in effect at the time, a pilot and WSO shared credit for an enemy aircraft destroyed, with each being credited 0.5 kills. Colonel Olds was officially credited with 2.0 kills. The rules were changed in 1971, retroactive to 1965. This gave Olds an official score of 4.0. —Source: To Hanoi and Back: The United States Air Force and North Vietnam 1966–1973, by Wayne Thompson. Air Force History Office, 2000. Chapter 4 at Page 11.

© 2017, 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 Rootbeer 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, climbing to 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) and headed toward the South China Sea, twenty miles (32 kilometers) away. They 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, falling 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 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.

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 UH-2A Seasprite, Bu. No. 149764 (c/n 66). The UH-2A is 52 feet, 2 inches (15.90 meters) long, with an overall height of 13 feet, 6 inches (4.11 meters). The four-bladed main rotor has a diameter of 44 feet (13.41 meters). The helicopter’s empty weight is 6,100 pounds (2,127 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight is 10,200 pounds (4,627 kilograms). It is powered by a single General Electric T68-GE-8B turboshaft engine producing 1,525 shaft horsepower.

The Seasprite has a cruise speed of  120 knots (222 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 140 knots (259 kilometers per hour). The maximum range is 582 nautical miles (1,078 kilometers). Its service ceiling 17,400 feet (5,305 meters).

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.

Commander Clyde E. Lassen, U.S. Navy, died in 1994. The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG-82) is named in his honor.

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

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 March 1967

Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy
Major Merlyn H. Dethlefsen and Captain Kevin A. Gilroy

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

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

The Republic F-105 Thunderchief was a Mach 2+ tactical fighter bomber. The F-105F is a two-place variant, flown by a pilot and a weapons system operator. It’s high speed, low radar cross-section and heavy bomb load capacity made it a good candidate for the “Wild Weasel” mission.

The F-105F was 69 feet, 7-1/3 inches  (21.218 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11¼ inches (10.649 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 2 inches (6.147 meters). It had a maximum weight of 54,027 pounds ( kilograms).

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 17,200 pounds of thrust (76.51 kilonewtons), and 26,500 pounds (117.88 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 20 feet (6.1 meters) long, 3 feet, 7.0 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 5,960 pounds (2,703 kilograms).

The F-105F had a cruising speed of 596 miles per hour (959.2 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 876 miles per hour (1,410 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 1,386 miles per hour (2,231 kilometers per hour) at 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). Its service ceiling was 52,000 feet (15,850 meters) and range, with external fuel tanks, was 2,070 miles (3,331 kilometers).

The Thunderchief is armed with one M61A1 Vulcan 20 mm six-barrel rotary cannon with 1,028 rounds of ammunition, and it can carry up to 14,000 pounds (6,350 kilograms) of ordnance.

Of the 833 F-105s built by Republic Aviation Corporation at its Farmindale, 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.
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, 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)

© 2017, 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 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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