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.
The men and women who volunteer to protect our country put their lives at risk every day—even during peacetime and when close to home.
On 21 March 1987, Captain Dean Paul Martin, Jr., United States Air Force, a fighter pilot assigned to the 196th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 163rd Tactical Fighter Group, California Air National Guard, paid the ultimate price when his McDonnell F-4C-25-MC Phantom II, serial number 64-0923, slammed into 11,501.6-foot (3,505.7 meter) San Gorgonio Mountain. The airplane hit at the 5,500-foot level (1,676 meters), inverted, at 560 miles per hour (901 kilometers per hour). Also killed was Captain Ramon Ortiz, U.S.Air Force, the Weapons System Officer.
Captain Martin was piloting the #2 aircraft, Grizzly 72, in a flight of three. They took off from March Air Force Base in Riverside County, California, in trail, and made a maximum performance climb through multiple layers of cloud and falling snow. Much of the time it was not possible to maintain visual contact, and formation was maintained with radar.
The flight leader, Grizzly 71, requested to climb to a higher altitude to get clear of the clouds but Air Traffic Control was not able to authorize that because of a large volume of civilian traffic above them. Martin was unable to maintain formation, and knowing that mountains were near, requested a left turn. The controller authorized the turn, but had to repeat himself several times due to frequency congestion.
The pilot of the #3 aircraft, Grizzly 73, briefly caught sight of Martin’s Phantom through a break in the clouds. He saw Grizzly 72 begin a sharp left roll and its afterburners ignite before it disappeared into the clouds again.
It is probable that Captain Martin lost spatial orientation because of the steep climb under acceleration while passing in and out of cloud layers.
There may have been another factor, though: Martin was divorced from his second wife, Olympic Gold Medalist Dorothy Hamill, but had hopes of a reconciliation. While obtaining a briefing in the weather office just prior to this flight, a worker there asked Martin what he thought about Hamill’s re-marriage two weeks earlier. Martin had been unaware of this and was visibly shaken by the news. This may have been an additional distraction at just the wrong time.
At any rate, Dean Paul Martin joined the Air Force to make something of himself and to make a meaningful contribution. He wanted to be more than “Dean Martin’s son” or an entertainer. The crash on San Gorgonio Mountain is a sad end to a noble venture.
Martin had told his sister, Deana,
“I will always be with you. Just look up in the sky and I will be there protecting you.”
Peace is Our Profession. But it is always a perilous occupation. Rest in Peace, Gentlemen.
Dean Paul Martin, Jr., was born 17 November 1951 in Santa Monica, California. He was the first of three children of entertainer Dean Martin and Dorothy Jean Biegger Martin. He was educated at the Urban Military Academy in Brentwood, California, and was a pre-med student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). While there, he played football and tennis. Martin later completed his degree at the University of Southern California (USC).
During the mid-1960s, Martin, then known as “Dino,” was a member of the singing group, “Dino, Desi and Billy,” with Desi Arnaz, Jr., and William Hinsche. Their most successful songs were “I’m a Fool” and “Not the Lovin’ Kind.”
“Dino” Martin earned a private pilot license at the age of 16 years.
He was a professional tennis player, and, later, was a wide receiver for the World Football League Las Vegas Casinos, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
On 17 April 1971, Martin married Miss Olivia Hussey in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Miss Hussey is best known for her portrayal of Juliet Capulet in Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet,” 1968). They had a son, Alexander. The couple were divorced 24 January 1979 in Los Angeles, California.
Also in 1979, Martin starred with actress Ali McGraw in Paramount Pictures’ “The Players.” Martin’s character was a professional tennis player.
Dean Paul Martin, Jr., joined the United States Air Force 5 November 1980, and underwent pilot training in the Cessna T-37 Tweet and Northrop T-38A Talon at Columbus Air Force Base, near Columbus, Mississippi. He trained as fighter pilot in the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II at Luke Air Force Base, west of Phoenix, Arizona, completing the course in November 1981. He was assigned to the 193d Tactical Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard, based at March Air Force Base, Riverside County, California. He initially served as a Weapons System Officer in the McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, before upgrading to aircraft commander.
A spokesman for the California Air National Guard, Major Steve Mensik, said, “Captain Martin was one of the better pilots, an exceptional athlete who handled himself well in the cockpit.”
Martin married Olympic Gold Medalist Miss Dorothy Stuart Hamill, 8 January 1982, in Beverly Hills, California. They divorced in 1984.
Captain Martin’s remains were buried at the Los Angeles National Cemetery.
Ramon Ortiz was born 31 August 1947, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, an island in the Caribbean Sea and an unincorporated territory of the United States.
Ortiz joined the United States Air Force 22 December 1973 and served on active duty until 13 November 1980.
Captain Ortiz’ remains were buried at Palm Memorial Park, Las Vegas, Nevada.
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.
“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.”
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.