23 September 1967: Colonel Robin Olds, United States Air Force, the Wing Commander, of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Ubon-Rachitani Royal Thai Air Force Base, flew the final combat mission of his military career.
On this last mission, Colonel Olds flew a McDonnell F-4C-21-MC Phantom II, serial number 63-7668. Olds had flown this Phantom when he and Lieutenant William D. Lefever shot down a MiG-21 near Hanoi, 4 May 1967.
63-7668 had been delivered to the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing from the factory on 18 January 1965. It was lost in the South China Sea, 27 January 1968.
Thanks to reader Raymond Shaw for correcting a significant error in the previous version of this post.
9 September 1972: Captain Charles Barbin DeBellevue, United States Air Force, a Weapons System Officer flying on F-4D and F-4E Phantom II fighters, became the high-scoring American Ace of the Vietnam War when he and his pilot, Captain John A. Madden, Jr., shot down two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 19¹ fighters of the Không Quân Nhân Dân Việt Nam (Vietnam People’s Air Force), west of Hanoi.
Captain DeBellevue was assigned to the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base. With Captain Richard S. Ritchie, he had previously shot down four MiG 21 fighters using AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles. Then while flying a combat air patrol in support of Operation Linebacker, he and Captain Madden, aboard F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-0267, call sign OLDS 01, used two AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles to destroy the MiG 19s. These were Madden’s first two aerial victories, but for DeBellevue, they were number 5 and 6.
Madden and DeBellevue had fired two AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles at a MiG-21 which was on approach to land at the Phúc Yên Yen air base northwest of Hanoi, but both missiles missed. The MiG was then shot down by gunfire from an F-4E flown by Captain Calvin B. Tibbett and 1st Lieutenant William S. Hargrove (after two of their missiles also missed). The flight of Phantoms was then attacked by MiG 19s. DeBellevue reported:
We acquired the MiGs on radar and positioned as we picked them up visually. We used a slicing low-speed yo-yo to position behind the MiG-19s and started turning hard with them. We fired one AIM-9 missile, which detonated 25 feet from one of the MiG-19s. We then switched the attack to the other MiG-19 and one turn later we fired an AIM-9 at him.
I observed the missile impact the tail of the MiG. The MiG continued normally for the next few seconds, then began a slow roll and spiraled downward, impacting the ground with a large fireball. Our altitude was approximately 1,500 feet at the moment of the MiG’s impact.
— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter III at Pages 104–105.
The first MiG-19, damaged by the Sidewinder’s close detonation, crashed on the runway at Phuc Yen.
After becoming the war’s highest-scoring American ace, Chuck DeBellevue was sent to Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, for pilot training. He became an aircraft commander of F-4E Phantom IIs. He retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1998, after 30 years of service.
DeBellevue’s F-4D, 66-0267, was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It was reassembled with parts from other damaged Phantoms and is on display as a “gate guard” at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida.
F-4D-29-MC 66-7463, in which he scored his first and fourth kills with Steve Ritchie, is on display at the United States Air Force Academy. Like DeBellevue, this airplane is also credited with 6 victories. DeBellevue’s F-4E-36-MC, 67-0362, in which he and Ritchie shot down their second and third MiG 21s, was sold to Israel in 1973.
¹ Many VPAF MiG 19s were the Chinese-built Shenyang J-6 variant.
1 September 1968: Two U.S. Air Force McDonnell F-4D Phantom II fighters were on a pre-dawn strike against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, near the Ban Karai Pass. Both Phantoms, call signs CARTER 01 and CARTER 02, were hit by anti-aircraft gunfire and their crews had to eject. Both pilots from CARTER 01 were quickly picked up, but the aircraft commander of CARTER 02 was hidden by the jungle. The Weapons System Officer was never seen again.
A Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) mission was immediately sent out to locate and rescue the missing airmen. Two Sikorsky HH-3 Jolly Green Giant helicopters, the recovery team, were escorted by four Douglas A-1 Skyraiders to help in the search and to suppress any enemy gunfire that was trying to shoot down the rescue helicopters.
The Skyraider was a Korean War era carrier-based attack airplane originally in service with the U.S. Navy. It had been replaced by modern jet aircraft, but the Air Force found that its slow flight and ability to carry a heavy fuel and weapons load were ideal for the CSAR escort mission.
The four Skyraiders were from the 602nd Special Operations Squadron at Nakhom Phanom, Thailand. They operated with the call sign SANDY. Lieutenant Colonel William A. Jones III, the squadron commanding officer, on his 98th combat mission, was the on-scene commander flying SANDY 01, an A-1H, serial number 52-139738.
MEDAL OF HONOR JONES, WILLIAM A., III
Rank and organization: Colonel, U.S. Air Force, 602d Special Operations Squadron, Nakon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand
Place and date: Near Dong Hoi, North Vietnam, 1 September 1968
Entered service at: Charlottesville, Virginia
Born: 31 May 1922, Norfolk, Virginia
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Col Jones distinguished himself as the pilot of an A-1H Skyraider aircraft near Dong Hoi, North Vietnam. On that day, as the on-scene commander in the attempted rescue of a downed U.S. pilot, Col. Jones aircraft was repeatedly hit by heavy and accurate antiaircraft fire. On 1 of his low passes, Col. Jones felt an explosion beneath his aircraft and his cockpit rapidly filled with smoke. With complete disregard of the possibility that his aircraft might still be burning, he unhesitatingly continued his search for the downed pilot. On this pass, he sighted the survivor and a multiple-barrel gun position firing at him from near the top of a karst formation. He could not attack the gun position on that pass for fear he would endanger the downed pilot. Leaving himself exposed to the gun position, Col. Jones attacked the position with cannon and rocket fire on 2 successive passes. On his second pass, the aircraft was hit with multiple rounds of automatic weapons fire. One round impacted the Yankee Extraction System rocket mounted directly behind the headrest, igniting the rocket. His aircraft was observed to burst into flames in the center fuselage section, with flame engulfing the cockpit area. He pulled the extraction handle, jettisoning the canopy. The influx of fresh air made the fire burn with greater intensity for a few moments, but since the rocket motor had already burned, the extraction system did not pull Col. Jones from the aircraft. Despite searing pains from severe burns sustained on his arms, hand, neck, shoulders, and face, Col. Jones pulled his aircraft into a climb and attempted to transmit the location of the downed pilot and the enemy gun position to the other aircraft in the area. His calls were blocked by other aircraft transmissions repeatedly directing him to bail out and within seconds his transmitters were disabled and he could receive only on 1 channel. Completely disregarding his injuries, he elected to fly his crippled aircraft back to his base and pass on essential information for the rescue rather than ball out. Col. Jones successfully landed his heavily damaged aircraft and passed the information to a debriefing officer while on the operating table. As a result of his heroic actions and complete disregard for his personal safety, the downed pilot was rescued later in the day. Col. Jones’ profound concern for his fellow man at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of this country.
William Atkinson Jones III was born 31 May 1922 at Norfolk, Virginia. He was the son of William Atkinson Jones, Jr., an attorney in general practice, and Elizabeth Goodwin Hart Jones, a school teacher. Mr. Jones had served as a pilot in the Signal Corps, United States Army, during World War I. The Jones family had lived in Warsaw, Virginia, since the 1840s.
When his parents divorced in 1929, Bill and his mother relocated to Charlottesville, Virginia. Jones attended Lane High School in Charlottesville, where he was a member of the literary society, and played on the varsity football and basketball teams.
Following his graduation from high school, Jones studied at the University of Virginia, which was also in Charlottesville. He was captain of the university’s fencing team, and a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon (ΣΦΕ) fraternity. Jones graduated in 1942 at the age of 19 years, with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Already a university graduate, William Atkinson Jones III was appointed a cadet at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. He entered West Point on 1 July 1942, as a member of the Class of 1945. along with academics and military training, Cadet Jones was a member of the Army Fencing Squad.
Bill Jones graduated from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. On 5 June 1945, he was commissioned a second lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army.
Lieutenant Jones was trained as a pilot at several locations around the United States, including Oklahoma, New York, and Arizona. Lieutenant Jones served as a fighter pilot, stationed in the Philippine Islands, 1946–1948. Returning to the United States, Jones was assigned as a transport pilot based at Biggs Air Force Base, Fort Bliss Texas.
On 20 October 1948, Lieutenant Jones married Miss Lois Marie McGregor at Bisbee, Arizona, her home town. The ceremony was officiated by Reverend John L. Howard. They would have three daughters, Anne, Elizabeth and Mary Lee.
In 1952, Jones was assigned as a Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar pilot with the 317th Troop Carrier Wing at Rhein-Main Air Base, Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). He remained in Europe for the next four years.
In 1956 Jones transitioned to bombers, training as an aircraft commander in the Boeing B-47E Stratojet. He was stationed at Lake Charles Air Force Base, Louisiana, and Pease Air Force Base, New Hampshire.
Jones attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama, 1965–1966. He earned a master’s degree in international affairs. His next assignment was as a staff officer at The Pentagon.
In 1968, Major Jones requested a transfer to the Douglas A-1 Skyraider training course at Hurlburt Field, in Florida. On completion, he was assigned as the commanding officer of the 602nd Special Operations Squadron at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Navy Base, Thailand.
Lieutenant Colonel Jones was severely burned during the rescue mission of 1 September 1968. He was transported back to the United States for extensive medical treatment at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas.
Bill Jones was promoted to the rank of colonel, 1 November 1969. One 14 November, President Richard M. Nixon approved the award of the Medal of Honor to Colonel Jones.
On 15 November 1969, Colonel Jones was flying his personal airplane, a Piper PA-20 Pacer, N7015K. At 12:55 p.m., he took off from Woodbridge Airport (W22), a small, uncontrolled airport about 12 miles (19 kilometers) southwest of Washington, D.C. The Pacer was a small, 4-place, single-engine light airplane.
Immediately after takeoff, Colonel Jones radioed that he was returning to the airport. The airplane was seen in a left turn with a nose down attitude. It crashed off the airport and caught fire. Colonel Jones suffered third degree burns over his entire body an died immediately.
The NTSB accident report listed the Probable Cause as a complete engine failure for unknown causes, followed by a loss of control by the pilot, the cause also undetermined. (Some sources suggest that the Pacer struck wires while returning to the runway.)
At the time of his death, Colonel Jones had flown a total of 7,748 hours.
Colonel Jones was the author of Maxims for Men-at-Arms, published by Dorrance and Co., Philadelphia, 1969.
President Nixon presented the Medal of Honor to Colonel Jones widow in a ceremony at the White House, 6 August 1970. At the award ceremony, Miss Mary Jones, Colonel Jones’ youngest daughter, gave a copy of her father’s book to the president.
Colonel William AtkinsonsJones III, United States Air Force, was buried at St. John’s Episcopal Cemetery in Warsaw, Virginia.
The William A. Jones III Auditorium of Anderson Hall at the Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, was named in his honor.
In 2011, The William A. Jones III Building at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, (just south east of Washington, D.C.) was also named in honor of Colonel Jones.
The United States Navy and Marine Corps adopted the Douglas Aircraft Company AD-1 Skyraider just after the end of World War II. The U.S. Air Force recognized its value as a close air support attack bomber, but it wasn’t until the early months of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War that a number of Skyraiders were transferred to the U.S.A.F.
These aircraft were identified by Department of the Navy, Bureau of Aeronautics serial numbers, commonly referred to as “bureau numbers,” or “bu. no.” Once acquired by the Air Force, the two-digit fiscal year number in which the airplane was contracted was added to the bureau number, resulting in a serial number with a format similar to a standard U.S.A.F. serial number. For example, Lieutenant Colonel Jones’ Skyraider, A-1H 52-139738, was originally U.S. Navy AD-6 Skyraider Bu. No. 139738, authorized in 1952. (The Douglas AD series was redesignated A-1 in 1962.)
The Douglas AD-6 (A-1H) Skyraider was a single-place, single-engine attack aircraft. A low-wing monoplane with conventional landing gear, it had folding wings for storage aboard aircraft carriers. The A-1H Skyraider was 39 feet, 3 inches (11.963 meters) long with a wingspan of 50 feet, ¼ inch (15.246 meters) and overall height of 15 feet, 8 inches (4.775 meters). The total wing area was 400 square feet (37.16 square meters). Its had an empty weight of 12,072 pounds (5,476 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 25,000 pounds (11,340 kilograms).
The A-1H was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, direct-fuel-injected, 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division R-3350-26WA Duplex-Cyclone (Cyclone 18 836C18CA1) engine. This was a twin-row 18-cylinder radial, with a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and water/alcohol injection. This engine had a normal power rating at Sea Level of 2,300 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and 2,700 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m. to for take off. 115/145-octane aviation gasoline was required. The engine drove a four-bladed Aeroproducts constant-speed propeller 13 foot, 6 inch (4.115 meters) diameter, through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-26WA was 4 feet, 7.62 inches (1.413 meters) in diameter and 6 feet, 6.81 inches (2.002 meters) long. It weighs 2,848 pounds (1,292 kilograms), dry.
The A-1H Skyraider had a cruise speed of 164 knots (189 miles per hour/304 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 297 knots (342 miles per hour/550 kilometers per hour) at 15,400 feet (4,694 meters). The A-1H could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 9.5 minutes. The ceiling was 31,900 feet (9,723 meters). Carrying a 2,000 pound (907 kilogram) bomb load, its combat radius was 260 nautical miles (299 statute miles/482 kilometers).
The A-1H was armed with four 20 mm M3 autocannon with 200 rounds of ammunition per gun. The Skyraider could carry a combination of external fuel tanks, gun pods, bombs or rockets on 15 hardpoints.
Douglas built 713 AD-6 Skyraiders at Santa Monica, California.
28 August 1972: Captain Richard Stephen Ritchie, United States Air Force, and Weapons System Officer Captain Charles Barbin DeBellevue, leading Buick flight with their McDonnell F-4D Phantom II, shot down a North Vietnamese MiG 21 interceptor. This was Ritchie’s fifth confirmed aerial combat victory, earning him the title of “ace.” [Chuck DeBellevue would later be credited with six kills.]
An official U.S. Air Force history reads:
. . . Ritchie flew the lead aircraft of a MiGCAP flight, with Capt. Charles B. DeBellevue as his WSO, during a Linebacker strike mission. “We acquired a radar lock-on on a MiG 21 that was head-on to us,” Ritchie said.
“We converted to the stern and fired two AIM-7 missiles during the conversion. These missiles were out of parameters and were fired in an attempt to get the MiG to start a turn. As we rolled out behind the MiG, we fired the two remaining AIM-7s. The third missile missed, but the fourth impacted the MiG. The MiG was seen to explode and start tumbling toward the earth. The kill was witnessed by Captain John Madden, aircraft commander in number 3.
“It was an entirely different situation,” Ritchie noted to newsmen. The MiG flew at “a much higher altitude than any of my other MiG kills and at a much greater range. I don’t think the MiG pilot ever really saw us. All he saw were those missiles coming at him and that’s what helped us finally get him.”
The new ace complimented the ground crews who kept the F-4s combat ready: “There’s no way could have done it without them,” he said. In fact, I got my first and fifth MiG in the same plane. Crew Chief Sergeant Reggie Taylor was the first one up the ladder when the plane landed and you just couldn’t believe how happy he was. I think he was more excited than I.”
DeBellevue, whose total victories rose to four with this day’s kill, commented on the teamwork: “The most important thing is for the crew to work well together,” he said. “They have to know each other. I know what Steve is thinking on a mission and can almost accomplish whatever he wants before he asks. I was telling him everything had to know when he wanted it, and did not waste time giving him useless data.”
— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter III at Page 103.
Flown by five different crews, F-4D 66-7463 shot down six enemy fighters from 1 March to 15 October 1972. It is now on display at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Colonel George Everette Day, United States Air Force
MEDAL OF HONOR
Rank and organization: Colonel (then Major), U.S. Air Force, Forward Air Controller Pilot of an F-100 aircraft. Place and date: North Vietnam, August 26, 1967. Entered service at: Sioux City, Iowa. Born: February 24, 1925, Sioux City, Iowa.
Citation: On 26 August 1967, Col. Day was forced to eject from his aircraft over North Vietnam when it was hit by ground fire. His right arm was broken in 3 places, and his left knee was badly sprained. He was immediately captured by hostile forces and taken to a prison camp where he was interrogated and severely tortured. After causing the guards to relax their vigilance, Col. Day escaped into the jungle and began the trek toward South Vietnam. Despite injuries inflicted by fragments of a bomb or rocket, he continued southward surviving only on a few berries and uncooked frogs. He successfully evaded enemy patrols and reached the Ben Hai River, where he encountered U.S. artillery barrages. With the aid of a bamboo log float, Col. Day swam across the river and entered the demilitarized zone. Due to delirium, he lost his sense of direction and wandered aimlessly for several days. After several unsuccessful attempts to signal U.S. aircraft, he was ambushed and recaptured by the Viet Cong, sustaining gunshot wounds to his left hand and thigh. He was returned to the prison from which he had escaped and later was moved to Hanoi after giving his captors false information to questions put before him. Physically, Col. Day was totally debilitated and unable to perform even the simplest task for himself. Despite his many injuries, he continued to offer maximum resistance. His personal bravery in the face of deadly enemy pressure was significant in saving the lives of fellow aviators who were still flying against the enemy. Col. Day’s conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Armed Forces.
George Everette Day was born at Sioux City, Iowa, 24 February 1925. He was the second child of John Edward Day, a laborer, and Christina Marie Larson Day, an immigrant from Denmark.
George Day attended Central High School in Sioux City. During his senior class year, he dropped out of school immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II. On 10 December 1941, Day enlisted as a private in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. After training, he was assigned to the Seacoast Artillery Group, 16th Defense Battalion, Fleet Marine Force. Day was deployed to the Pacific 23 May 1943. He then was sent to Johnston Island as a member of the Marine Defense Force. Johnston Island was one of four small islands of an atoll, approximately 860 miles southwest of the island of Hawaii. It was an important refueling point for airplanes and submarines. Corporal Day remained there throughout the war. He returned to the United States 9 November 1945 and was released from service 24 November 1945.
George Day enlisted in the United States Army Reserve, 11 December 1946. He served with the Iowa National Guard for three years while attending college. He studied at Morningside College, a private liberal arts college in Sioux City, earning a bachelor of science degree, and then the University of South Dakota School of Law, at Vermillion, South Dakota, graduating with the degree of Juris Doctor. He was admitted to the State Bar of South Dakota in 1949.
Also in 1949, Day married Miss Doris Merline Sørensen, also from Sioux City, and the daughter of Norwegian immigrants. They would later adopt four children.
On 17 May 1950, Day was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Iowa Air National Guard. Ten months later, Lieutenant Day was placed on active duty and entered pilot training with the U.S. Air Force. He began his flight training at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, and then moved on to Hondo and Big Springs Air Force Bases. Training was conducted in the Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star.
During the Korean War, Lieutenant Day flew the Republic F-84G Thunderjet fighter-bomber with the 559th Fighter-Escort Squadron (redesignated the 559th Strategic Fighter Squadron in 1953) based at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas. The squadron’s mission was to provide fighter escort for the Strategic Air Command’s Convair B-36 intercontinental bombers. Day was promoted to Captain in February 1953, and was temporarily assigned to Chitose Air Base, on the island of Hokkaido, Japan.
While stationed with the 55th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 20th Fighter-Bomber Wing, at RAF Weathersfield, England, on 11 June 1957 Captain Day was flying a training mission in a Republic F-84F-45-RE Thunderstreak, serial number 52-6724. The fighter’s Wright J65 turbojet engine exploded at about 500 feet (152 meters). He ejected but as his parachute failed to open. Day survived by penetrating a pine forest, and decelerating through a 30 foot (9 meters) tree. The wing transitioned to the North American Aviation F-100 Super Sabre shortly after this incident.
Major Day was assigned commander of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (R.O.T.C) unit at St. Louis University and was an assistant professor of aerospace science. While there, in 1964, Major Day earned a master of arts degree.
Volunteering for duty in Southeast Asia, in April 1967, Major Day was assigned to the 309th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, at Tuy-Hoa Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam.
Major Day was then assigned as the first commander of an experimental forward air controller unit (“Commando Sabre”): Detachment 1, 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Phù Cát Air Base. The new forward air controller unit had four aircraft and 16 pilots. The pilots flew using the call sign, “Misty.” (According to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Major Day was a fan of Johnny Mathis’ 1959 record, “Misty.”)
On his 26th Commando Sabre mission, Easter Sunday, 26 March1967, Major Day was flying as the Forward Air Controller (“FAC”) in the back seat of a North American Aviation F-100F Super Sabre, serial number 56-3954. The pilot was Captain Corwin M. Kippenhan.
Day and Kippenhan were supporting Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers on an attack against an enemy surface-to-air missile battery near Thon Cam Son, north of the Demilitarized Zone (“the DMZ”) in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Their Super Sabre was hit by 37 millimeter antiaircraft fire, and the two men were forced to eject.
Captain Kippenham was rescued by “Jolly Green 28,” a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, serial number 66-13281, from the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron based at Da Nang, South Vietnam. The rescue helicopter was damaged and driven off by enemy 57 millimeter gunfire. The pilot, Captain Charles Raymond Dunn, was awarded the Silver Star (his second). The copilot, Captain Walter R. Blackwell, flight engineer, Frederic M. Halbert, and pararescueman (“PJ”) Joseph M. Duffy, were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. An AP press photographer, Johnny Griffith, was also aboard the HH-3E during the rescue.
Jolly Green 28 could not make contact with Major Day. Day was seriously injured following the ejection. His right arm was broken and his left knee was dislocated. He was captured by the enemy. Five days later, he escaped. Over a 10 day period he made his way, bare-footed, more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) across the DMZ into South Vietnam. He was discovered by Viet Cong guerillas and was shot, with wounds to his left thigh and left hand.
Major Day suffered the most brutal conditions while he was held as a Prisoner of War. He was imprisoned for 2,028 days, before being released 14 March 1973. During his imprisonment, the Air Force promoted him to lieutenant colonel, and then colonel.
Explaining how he was able to withstand the years of torture, isolation, poor nutrition and lack of medical care, Colonel Day said,
“I am, and have been all my life, a loyal American. I have faith in my country, and am secure in the knowledge that my country is a good nation, responsible to the people of the United States and responsible to the world community of nations. I believed in my wife and children and rested secure in the knowledge that they backed both me and my country. I believe in God and that he will guide me and my country in paths of honorable conduct. I believe in the Code of Conduct of the U.S. fighting man. I believe the most important thing in my life was to return from North Vietnam with honor, not just to return. If I could not return with my honor, I did not care to return at all. I believe that in being loyal to my country that my country will be loyal to me. My support of our noble objectives will make the world a better place in which to live.”
—Colonel George Everette Day, United States Air Force, quoted by The Super Sabre Society.
After his return to the United States, Colonel Day spent a year trying to recover from his injuries and poor health. He then returned to flight status, transitioned to the McDonnell F-4E Phantom II at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, and was appointed vice commander of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
In a presentation at the White House, 4 March 1976, Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United States, presented the Medal of Honor to Rear Admiral James B. Stockdale, United States Navy, who had been to most senior American officer held by North Vietnam, and to Colonel Day.
Colonel Day retired from the United States Air Force in February 1977. He then practiced law in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. He is the author of two books, Return With Honor and Duty, Honor, Country.
Colonel Day was rated a Command Pilot with over 8,000 flight hours.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, during his military career, Colonel Day was awarded the Air Force Cross; the Distinguished Service Medal; the Silver Star; the Legion of Merit; the Bronze Star with “V” device and three oak leaf clusters (three awards for valor); the Purple Heart with three oak leaf clusters (four awards); the Defense Meritorious Service Medal; the Air Medal with one silver and four bronze oak leaf clusters (nine awards); Presidential Unit Citation with two oak leaf clusters (three awards); Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with “V” device and three oak leaf clusters (three awards for valor); Prisoner of War Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; National Defense Service Medal with bronze star (Korean War and Vietnam War); Korean Service Medal; Vietnam Service Medal with two silver and three bronze campaign stars (all 18 campaigns); Air Force Longevity Awards with four oak leaf clusters (20 years); Armed Forces Reserve Medal; Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon; National Order of Vietnam, Knight; United Nations Service Medal; Anh Dũng Bội Tinh (Vietnam Gallantry Cross) with palm (the highest of four levels); Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation; Chiến Dịch Bội Tinh (Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal); and the Vietnam Master Parachutist Badge.
According to the Air Mobility Command Museum, Colonel Day “is the second-most decorated military member in American history, General Douglas MacArthur being first.”
Colonel George Everette Day, United States Air Force (Retired), died at his home in Shalimar, Florida, 27 July 2013, at the age of 88 years. He is buried at the Barrancas National Cemetery, Pensacola, Florida.
In the Defense Authorization Act of 2017, Colonel Day was advanced to the rank of Brigadier General, United States Air Force (Retired).