Thud Pilots (2018) Movie Script

Fighter pilot UHF
radio transmissions
Ready to defend the free world
It was called the world's most
powerful one man airplane
Setting a world record of
1,216 miles per hour in 1959,
The THUD was the largest
single seat, single engine
combat aircraft in history
It could exceed the speed of
sound at sea level
and reach twice that
speed at high altitude
weighing in at approximately
25 tons.
Entering the service in 1958,
the F-105 represented Americas
advances in applied science and
Named Thunderchief, this
technological marvel could
deliver a greater bomb load
than American heavy bombers
used in WWII
My name is Hank Goetz and I flew
the F-105 at Bitburg, Germany,
in the 53rd Tactical
Fighter Squadron
where our primary mission
was one way nuclear alert
My first introduction to the
Thud was in 1961. Just loved it
from the moment I saw it,
of course everybody wanted to
get their hands on it and fly it
It's unique design was tailor
made for nuclear delivery
Carrying a single nuclear
weapon internally, the
high speed low altitude
guaranteed its delivery deep
into the threat
The Thundercheif is capable.
Yet everyone hopes
it never has to perform the
mission for it was designed
The growing geopolitical
tensions between the U.S. and
the Communist Bloc countries
were viewed as a clear
and present danger
The F-105 was the deterrence to
that threat and
neither the Soviets nor China
had anything comparable.
The missions we sat were
one way nuclear missions.
Headquarters decided that since
we were so close the the East
German border, that, if we were
lucky enough to get off in the
15 minutes that they said we all
had to get off, chances are the
bases wouldn't be there much
longer. So there was no reason
to plan return fuel because
the bases probably werent
going to be there.
So everything was one-way
missions. Enough fuel to get
to your target,
deliver the weapon
and then get out to what they
called a safe zone, where we
told there would be people
there that might help us.
I always figured the safe zone
it was someone elses target
and it probably was.
We had these little kits that
they gave us when we went on
alert pad. We used to
go on for 24 hours.
but these little kits they had
everything from maps, to gold
coins, and a bunch of other
stuff, of course your target
material, and everything else
but it was probably going to be
useless I didnt think my safe
zone was gonna be very safe when
I got there if I got there
In 1962, the Cuban missile
crisis sprung up
JFK fade in - go unchecked and
unchallenged, ultimately leads
to war.
This nation is opposed to war.
Hank - And the brass over in
Europe decided that due to that
blockade, that the Russians
would probably start harassing
our airplanes going in and out
of the Berlin corridor.
And so, in anticipation of them,
the Russians, harassing
airplanes or
causing some trouble, they took
my particular squadron
and we downloaded the nuclear
weapons and uploaded
sidewinders. And instead of
Victor alert, which was 15
nuclear, we set Zulu alert, off
the end of the runway, sitting
in the cockpit with
guns and sidewinders.
Just in case something happened,
we were never told what we were
allowed to do if
we could ever get airborne.
After a few days of that,
everything kind of cooled off
and we went back to normal.
The situation
had resolved itself.
Thud pilots would soon realize
their primary mission was about
to change,
and the F-105 would be forever
etched in history.
A red storm was rising on the
Far off, in the once
French colony of Indochina.
First, the United States only
provided limited air operations
in South Vietnam
to support the South Vietnamese
army forces against Viet Cong
I flew L-19s on the Mekong
Delta in 1962. I probably got 50
missions, but you
couldn't call it combat because
we weren't in battle
so I forget what you called
it, but we would fly
low enough that were were
looking in the doors
of the huts. And then I remember
a guy came running out and he's
pointing a rifle at me and hes
tracking and the gun, and
I can see it jump...oooh,
and it didn't hit.
He missed. So we would go back
and get a ranger company of
about 100 irregular,
some of them were Chinese, some
of them were Vietnamese, and go
back up and kill them all
I remember one night
they set off grenade next to
this two story hotel
I was in, in Can Tho, and so I
ran down. We all carried guns.
And uh...
There was a toddler,
lying on the ground,
just a baby. I picked him up.
And he didn't move but
his mouth kept opening and
I ran out into the
street, and there was a taxi,
I said, "We're going to the
hospital" and he said, he's not
gonna get involved.
I had a gun. So he got involved.
We went to the hospital and I
delivered the little kid
but that was it. So
I was there for flying the L-19.
And then we went
back in '64 and '65
for TDY bombing
and then I went back in '67,
'68 for the 100 missions.
Soon, the U.S. resolve to
contain Communist expansionism
would be tested by relying upon
gallant Thud pilots.
Given their unchallenged ability
and capacity to carry
a 14 thousand pound
weapons load, the Thud was sent
to be the primary
aircraft to deliver the heavy
bomb loads to the targets in
North Vietnam.
On March 2nd, 1965, the
United States launched
Operation Rolling Thunder.
It was no surprise it was code
name Rolling Thunder. After all,
the Thunderchief operating out
of bases in Thailand flew 75% of
all Air Force bombing missions
during this campaign.
This marked the first sustained
American offensive on
North Vietnam
and signaled a major
expansion of U.S. involvement
in the war.
Voice of LBJ on the phone:
We're off to bombing these
people, and over that hurdle.
And I don't think anything is
going to be as bad as losing,
and I don't see
anyway of wining.
The massive bombardment was
intended to only last six to
eight weeks and bring
North Vietnam's Communist
regime to it's knees.
It didn't.
As you know, we have lost
about 500 aircraft.
Attacking lines of communication
to other targets in
North Vietnam
Hi, my name is John Casper. I
was fortunate enough to fly the
105, the Thud.
It was the greatest airplane
I've ever flown and guys ask me,
they say,
"Well what's your favorite
airplane," and I go, "Well, it's
the 105," and
they'll say, "Why," and I say,
"It's the airplane
I went to war in."
And it was a delight to fly. And
I might add, I managed to fly
the F-5, the F-4 for a
little while. I flew the A-10
for a long time. I flew the
F-16. The last thing I flew in
the Air Force was the F-15.
And of all of those airplanes,
and it had a lot more capability
than the Thud, the 16 and the
15. The Thud was still the jet
that I really loved flying.
So there I was, 23 years old, a
jet fighter pilot and my first
assignment was Korat Air Base,
Thailand to fly combat. So that
was my initial training.
We got to Korat and lieutenants
were in short supply, I found
out. Most of the reason was,
everybody was busy getting
shot down.
And little did I know that I
was going to get to do it not
once, but twice. I mean by doing
it, I mean getting shot down.
On my eighth mission, we were up
basically trying to drop bombs
singly into a cave
in southern North Vietnam.
When all of a sudden somebody
yelled that they were shooting
at us, and the next thing
I heard was a big explosion,
fire lights came on,
all the warning lights came on,
and shortly there after, the
airplane basically started going
end over end on me.
So I ejected. And the funny
part about the ejection was,
about two days before, one of
the lieutenants in the squadron
had gotten shot down and
he said when he ejected, when
the canopy came off prior to the
seat firing, he said, holy cow
you can really see good with
the canopy gone.
Funnily enough, that's exactly
what went through my head when
the canopy came off and it's
just micro seconds from the
canopy leaving til the seat
fires, but that went through my
mind. Not I'm in trouble their
made at me, we just dropped
bombs on them, I said, I can
really see well out
of this airplane.
So what was I worried about, was
I worried about the people on
the ground that we just dropped
bombs on, no I was trying to
remember, do I put my legs
together when I go into the
trees or do I cross my legs.
Cause the last thing I wanted to
do was split a tree branch right
in my crotch.
Well I managed to come down
through the trees, I got hung up
for a little bit,
and then broke free and hit the
ground. Doing so I managed to
bite my tongue,
so I had blood all over me. But
I wasn't hurt at all. For that
one, it lasted about three and a
half hours I was on the ground.I
could hear people looking for me
Fortunately enough I went and
hid. I remember my flight lead
talking to me right after I got
on the ground and he said,
"We gotta go to the tanker
the rescue forces are coming,
stay calm, and call us in an
hour." So I waited what I
thought was an hour, he came up
on the radio, and he said,
"That's five minutes. You need
to call us in another 55
minutes." In training they tell
you when a the tree penetrator
comes down, do not
touch it til it hits the ground.
So what did the lieutenant do?
Well, I had to try to jump on it
before it hit the ground.
Due to static electricity,
it knocked me right on
my butt. I mean it was
incredible. So I finally got in
it, got strapped in the tree
penetrator, and tell them Im on
the hoist you can haul me out.
Well, about that time, as Im
coming up through the trees, the
helicopter had some kind of a
problem and he had to break his
hover and start going. So he
dragged me through the
treetops for about a quarter
mile. As far as I was concerned,
he could have dragged
me all the way back to Thailand.
When they got me on the
chopper, finally, and then the
next problem they had was,
they're trying to leave, and I'm
trying to hug and kiss everybody
in the helicopter. Which is a
common thing for guys whove
been rescued. So they finally
got me to settle down, gave me
an airline miniature booze, of
some kind, which they carry and
dropped me off at another base
in Thailand for the evening.
Believe it or not, the next day
after the flight surgeon looked
at me, I was back in the
the airplane, flying in the
exact same area I went down the
day before. So they didnt give
me any rest at all. They said,
you're good to go.
I felt like there was nothing in
that airplane that I couldn't
get out of.
It could pull all the G's you
could pull, it could run as fast
as you could run it, it was just
a good airplane. And, you looked
good on the ladder.
It's been said that a dog is the
only thing on earth that will
love a fighter pilot
more than a fighter
pilot loves himself.
In 1966, after tours to Takhli,
Major Merrill Ray Lewis loaded
up man's best friend on a C-130
to accompany him on another tour
at Korat. He'd raised Roscoe
as a pup, and had named him
after his friend, Captain Roscoe
Anderson, who'd been killed
earlier in an F-105.
Roscoe never left
Ray Lewis's side,
would sit and wait for his
return when he flew off on his
missions up north.
One day, Major Merrill Ray Lewis
did not return,
and Roscoe nearly died
from a broken heart.
He wouldn't eat, and just sat,
waiting for him to return.
Major Merrill Ray Lewis
was declared missing in action,
and soon the 34th tactical
fighter squadron adopted Roscoe
Or maybe it was the other
way around.
Roscoe, now the official
mascot, quickly rose to the
honorary rank of colonel.
And pretty much owned
Korat Air Force Base
including the officers club,
and mission briefs.
He had his own chair, next to
the Wing Commander,
where Thud pilots would observe
Roscoe's response to the brief.
If he instinctively sat up,
poised and alert,
the pilots braced
themselves for what awaited them
over the target.
If he was asleep or bored,
the mission was gonna be a
piece of cake.
In 1975,
Roscoe died in one of his
favorite spots,
the Korat Officers Club.
I'm Giles Gainer, retired Air
Force Lieutenant Colonel,
who've been retired
about 42...3 years ago.
The F-105
was the greatest airplane in
the world.
we first had the missions
going up North Vietnam,
we were not allowed to
bomb half the targets that we
ended up getting later.
But we could go to the
air fields and bomb them, we
couldn't go to forts and bomb
them. There wasn't hardly
anything we could drop bombs on
except maybe a
a bridge.
And then every time they
said to drop the bridge you
could see on the side of the
bridge there was a road
already taken care of. They had
already had every one of them
worked around.
The fear of the Soviet Union and
China entering the war
paralyzed the U.S. military.
For U.S. pilots,
compounding this threat were the
insane rules of engagement
and targeting decisions coming
directly out of Washington
The skies over North Vietnam
became a shooting gallery, with
the hunters becoming the hunted.
I'm Gary Barnhill.
I flew the Thud out of the
562nd Tactical Fighter Squadron
at Takhli, Thailand in 1965.
My tour of bombing missions in
North Vietnam was the last half
last half of 1965.
And at that time we could not
touch the SAMs.
We saw the SAMs
being unloaded in Haiphong.
We saw them being set
up, we had to over fly them
we couldn't touch em. Then when
they finally proliferated, and
were all over the place,
then they said, oh, okay now you
can get the SAMs. So that was
the biggie.
We had to over fly
the MiG bases, we saw them down
there. We couldnt touch them.
We should have bombed their air
fields. Those two things
cost us dearly, later on.
Contrary to the skies over
Berlin, Tokyo, and even Korea,
the battle space over
North Vietnam was nothing like
anyone had ever experienced in
aerial warfare.
For the target planners, North
Vietnam was divided up into six
sectors, which they titled
Route Packages. The impregnable
Route Pack Six soon became
second only to Moscow, in anti
aircraft defense. The 1000 to
1100 mile round trip required
the Thuds to be refueled
airborne by KC-135 tankers,
prior to entering their intended
intended route pack. At
designated tracks, over
northeastern Thailand and Laos,
Thud pilots rendezvoused with
their flying gas stations to
get the fuel needed to strike
their targets deep into North
Vietnam. Sometimes it proved
Our targets up in North Vietnam
were about 7-800 miles away from
our base in Thailand.
So we needed to get on a tanker
every single mission.
This day, I was Dodge 2.
I was tucked under the tanker
taking on fuel at a
very high rate.
The wing man, Dodge 3, John Bets
was waiting to get on and
he called out in a
very authoritative voice,
"Dodge 2, you're gushing fuel,
you're gushing, back off,
back off, you're on fire,
eject, eject, eject!"
I backed off. I punched out,
it's what we call ejection.
What had happened was the tanker
which is pumping in fuel very
high rate automatic shutoff
valve didn't work, and so it
ruptured the internal tanks and
they vaporized around the body
of the 105, that went into
the engine and it ... all that
fuel blew up. That fuel that was
vaporized had been sucked into
the engine. A jet engine is just
a suck, squeeze, bang, blow.
the time from being on the
tanker to the aircraft blowing
up into two big fireballs
was six seconds. And
John Bets, who saw the whole
thing, reckoned that I beat
the explosion by one second
So I went from going
about 425 miles an hour over the
ground to, bam, zero. Opening
shock. Everything opened
I now find myself three miles
above the ground, 14,000 feet,
hanging in a parachute.
My first reaction was,
was, "I can't believe this is
happening to me, this is
supposed to happen to the other
guy." It was about a ten minute
ride down from 14,000 feet
and awaiting me was a
menacing forest. In fact, one
pilot had been impaled on a tree
limb in the area of his
testicles, landing in that
forest. The parachute is not
like what you see in the movies
where they guide it around.
The parachute is stable. It's
literally like riding the
elevator down, you're just along
for the ride. You can not steer
it. Yet, I needed to find an
open spot, there were a few, in
the trees, to land safely.
We were taught in a
lecture in survival school
that if you take the little hook
shaped knife,
which you have in a pocket, and
you reach back here and you cut
these risers, and you cut these
risers, one of your panels will
blow, and you'll get a little
bit of momentum, and you can
steer the shoot modestly.
Im hanging in the chute.
I look down at
that menacing forest.
I take the knife, and I
cut the risers.
With the risers cut,
I now had a little
bit of steerage and I was able
to find a spot in the forest
and basically land on my feet,
So now Im on the ground,
the other members of the flight
had aborted their mission and
they were now directing a
a helicopter from Thailand to
come and pick me up.
But they got low on fuel
and so the Dodge leader said,
we're Bingo fuel, we're out of
here, but you're golden.
The helicopter is inbound,
and he's reading your emergency
beacon from the little hand
radio, so you're okay buddy, see
ya. So great news, the chopper
is inbound, he's reading my
emergency beacon, but what
the heck. I thought I would have
a little fun. In the survival
vest, we had smoke bombs, we
had roman candle kind of flares.
So just for fun, I shot all this
stuff off. Big orange smoke
bloom, whatever, the helicopter
came in, he landed, I jumped in
we shuttered, we took off.
I learned later, he'd had radio
failure. He couldnt find me.
And the only way he found me was
that little Fourth of July
display I was putting on down
there. So we landed back at
Naked Fanny,
Nakhon Phanom, which we had a
hard time pronouncing, we called
it Naked Fanny.
I was rushed off the meet some
General, and then after I got
released, I didn't get a chance
to thank the helicopter crew.
There were 183,000
aerial refueling in the
Vietnam war. I was the only guy
that blew up on a tanker.
So now I'm a TWA copilot.
We're on a layover in
Philadelphia. I'm having
breakfast with the flight
engineer, who I didnt have a
a chance to talk to earlier in
the day, and he asked me, "What
did you fly in the Air Force,"
and I told him, "Thuds." He
said, "You flew Thuds?" He said,
"I was a helicopter pilot."
I rescued five Thud pilots
He said, "There was this one
crazy guy that blew up on a
tanker one second before it
This was Bill Worstrum,
the pilot that rescued me.
Air refueling was an integral
part of the missions up north.
The KC-135 crews were
indispensable to the Thud, and
on many occasions enabled pilots
to return home safely.
Due to the fortified air
defenses within North Vietnam,
KC-135's would have to
penetrate into North Vietnamese
air space to rescue Thuds short
on fuel or suffering from
battle damage.
Technology was changing
aerial warfare.
radar controlled antiaircraft
artillery, new MiG fighters, and
Surfaced Air Missiles
known as SAMs made it lethal.
Soviet Union and China ensured
the North Vietnamese had one of
the most sophisticated
air defense systems
possible in the world. It was
effective. North Vietnam shot
down over 2500 U.S. aircraft
On April 4th, 1965,
the first Thud pilots of the war
were killed in action at the
vital target Thanh Ha Bridge,
known as Dragons Jaw.
The road and rail bridge was
a strategic passage for supplies
and reinforcement for the
Viet Kong.
Losing three aircraft at
Dragons Jaw
was an ominous indication
to what lay ahead for the Thud
pilots. It was clear it was
going to be politically fought.
The first Thud pilots
killed in action were a result
of MiG's and lay at the feet of
Washington's nonsensical
policies, which gave
the MiG's free reign.
Their irrational and downright
dangerous orders, that all air
bases were prohibited targets,
meant the MiG's could only
be destroyed in the air.
News Reporter- They're saying
our failure to bomb the North
Vietnamese airfields
are costing you hundreds of
planes and hundreds of airmen
Its based on our desire to
avoid widening the war.
We seek to obtain our political
objective, which is a very
limited objective,
the smallest possible cost of
American lives.
We think the present tactics
are best suited
to those two objectives.
It quickly became evident
American airmen would be nothing
more than sacrificial
pawns in a massive political
chess game between the U.S. and
two Communist super powers.
Crucial targets that would have
ceased North Vietnam's ability
to wage war were deemed off
limits by then Secretary of
Defense Robert McNamara.
McNamara exacerbated the
situation even further when he
began to identify areas
by 10 and 30 mile circles of
prohibited and restricted areas
of operations.
North Vietnamese used the rings
as sanctuary. Placing deadly
antiaircraft weapons to shoot
down Americans right within
the edge of the circles.
There were so many things at the
ROE in that show that made
absolutely no sense.
And the guy that invented that
POD formation should be
executed. The idea of
putting 16 airplanes together
and then slowly trolling across
at 18,000 feet
with all kinds of stuff
shooting at you,
MiGs coming through
missiles going through
the formation,
and you had to sit there.
But I remember trying to change
the tactics.
I was a Captain and the Colonel
said, "You're crazy. These
tactics were written in blood
and we're not changing them."
So we go in and right
away MiG 21's come out of the
Chinese buffer zone,
nail one of the F-4s,
blow into our formation,
nail one of the CBU carriers,
the other guys dump CBUs
the Weasels under the flight, he
gets hit by a CBU and kills the
guy in the back seat.
Only two of us made it to
the target. And it was the new
Wing Commander, the other two
had been shot down.
And I don't know what
happened to him on the mission
but, a week later he died of a
heart attack.
So it was just a bad idea,
But the idea that you got a
spot you can't go into then you
got targets you cant hit,
even though you see guys coming
up to get you.
The whole thing was a mess.
I guess the thing that's
the scariest, it was one of
those stupid missions.
We're passing Gia Lam Airfield
going to the
Halong Bay storage area
all the way across the delta
and the missiles are just...
there must have been a dozen in
the air, they're just blowing
through the formation
right and left.
I'm number four in the lead
flight, so I'm stacked high
and number two
on the second flight
is next to me, and he keeps
moving in. I'm watching him,
I'm watching him.
But I'm also looking down at the
ground and there's a gun site.
It looked like a ring of fire.
Every time that thing fired,
there was a big ring of fire
on the ground and there would be
a delay, then all explosions in
the formation,
I thought, I'm getting that guy
on the way out.
So about that time, I'm watching
this missile come up at
10 o'clock and I think, uh-oh
that looks like me.
So I pushed over,
I went down maybe 1000 feet, and
it didnt change. So I pull back
in formation and it's still
coming. But as it went under, I
rolled and it went under me
and when I rolled back it hit
the guy next to me.
And it was an enormous
fire ball
Bigger than the airplane
and I thought, wow, I didn't
know it would be that big.
But pretty soon the airplane
comes out still looking like a
105. The wings are still on it
But pretty soon the nose
dropped, and he was gone.
And it was interesting,
he was one of those
there were a few guys like this,
that knew they were gonna die.
Just scared to death,
but they went.
They gritted their teeth,
they stepped to that airplane,
and this guy was one.
He knew he was gonna die
and that was the day he died.
So anyhow,
that mission I always
used 60 degree dive
and Id release at Mach 1 and
6000 feet.
And then full back stick.
And I figured dropping
at Mach 1, the bombs would be
subsonic, by the time they got
to the ground,
the guide said they might not go
off, if they were supersonic.
So I didn't know.
So I'm full back stick and I can
see the wings curl way up on the
airplane. And I say, well
Im sure it wasn't oh,
it was as hard as I could pull,
And then a couple jinks
score the bombs,
now I lowered the nose
and lit the wick and
I'm at one point two six.
And I'm headed for Gia Lam
Airfield cause I know what
I want to do.
I got the gun armed,
sites all set
and it was on the
east side of Gia Lam,
so I rolled over, pulled in,
max power. I must have been
one point two, one point three.
And I'm gonna empty the gun. Now
I know they said don't fire for
600, but I figured, if I fired
them all, what could happen.
So I'm laying on the trigger,
and it just, imagine this,
full power, burner going
everything's roaring, the guns
barking out 100 rounds a second,
and suddenly there is this
absolutely enormous explosion.
All the panel lights up, the
nose pitches way up and hard
And that was probably just me
jerking on the stick.
Unfortunately this is when I got
on the radio and said I'm hit.
And I shouldn't had said a
because now I'm
coming around, I'm over Hanoi
thinking, I've got a crippled
but the air turbine motor
I'm going, wow.
So, the generator restarts.
Pretty soon everything's back
on, I'm back in burner,
lowered the nose, kicked it up
to Mach 1 Im headed out.
And I get on the tanker,
the other guys say,
"what are you doing here?
I said I don't want
to talk about it.
The Rolling Thunder campaign now
in it's second year had reached
a new phase.
In 1966, with no hint of
diplomatic progress,
President Johnson began to take
the gloves off. The first
petroleum oil and lubrication
storage site four miles
from Hanoi was cleared to
strike. Thud losses continued to
mount to levels where
pilots began to wonder if they
were strapping into their
or their coffin.
Over 100 Thud Pilots would spend
close to seven years in
nocuous Vietnamese prisons.
My name is Murphy Neil Jones.
I'm retired Air Force Colonel.
In 1966, I volunteered
to go back TDY and finish up my
100 missions,
and on June 29th, 1966, I was
one of the handful of us that
were selected to hit Hanoi for
the first time and we had
bombed all over North Vietnam
for all those years, but
on this particular day,
President Johnson had personally
approved an attack within the
30 mile radius of Hanoi, and
our target that day was the
Hanoi POL.
There were 24 F-105s taking part
in this raid. I happened to be
in the last flight, flying the
number two position that day and
we were carrying eight
750 pound bombs.
When we crossed into
North Vietnam from Laos in the
last 50 miles in, it was nothing
but anti aircraft fire and
suddenly I took a direct hit
just in front of the cockpit.
I was in a slight right bank and
the round hit just under my feet
coming up into the cockpit.
The whole bottom of the airplane
disappeared and I squeezed the
triggers and went through the
canopy, parachute opened.
I never swung.
I hit the ground and about 100
yards away were about 30
North Vietnamese soldiers with
AK-47s running toward me.
Pull my trusty 45 automatic that
I had on my right hip and
looked down to my left side and
my arm was completely broken
about three inches below the
the shoulder.
Shoulder was dislocated and I
cocked it leveled down on him
and when I did that, they all
dropped on the ground and level
their AKs towards me
and I guess at that point I
decided that I wasn't John Wayne
Raised my hand over my head of
course couldn't raise
the left one.
One of the other soldiers came
running up and grabbed the
left arm and he put it in a
I'm a big guy and I was in
a lot better shape back in those
days, having played football,
played center and linebacker
at Tulane.
And I hit this guy harder than
I've ever hit anybody in my life
and I shattered his face.
They put a rope around my neck.
They stripped me of all my
clothes, left me standing in a
pair of white under shorts and a
white tee shirt. Nobody spoke
As it turned out,
I had six broken vertebra,
both my ACLs and my knees
were knees were torn,
shrapnel on both legs,
dislocated shoulder with a
broken arm
and lots of cuts and bruises.
That time I said,
"I'm badly injured." He said
later, "What is your name?"
I gave that to him.
He said, "What is your rank?"
I said, "Captain."
Then he said, "What bases did
you take off from?"
I said, "I can't tell you that.
I can only give you my name,
rank, serial number, date of
And they grabbed the broken arm
dragged me out in the middle
of the floor and when
they did that, they least
relocated the shoulder
put the arm in a hammerlock,
tied my ankles
tightly with ropes,
put my arms behind my back
tied the wrists very tight
with ropes.
Then pull the elbows together
and tied at the elbows till
the elbows till touching
and then they put another rope
but from the ankles up to the
rope that was around the elbows
and pull me up backwards,
and they started kicking
and beating.
This went on,
I'm guessing two or three hours.
They untied my arms,
led me outside with a rope
around my neck
made me kneel on
the ground.
One of the soldiers walked up
behind me and he stuck his rifle
to the back of our head,
stood there a couple seconds
and pulled the trigger
on the empty chamber,
now what do you think when
you think you're going to die?
I really didn't care
at that point.
I was hurting so bad.
This is over about five hours
And then I said, "You know
they're not going to kill me?"
But when I heard the click,
the funniest thought went in my
went through my mind. I said,
"damn, that's a slow bullet."
I didn't know whether I was dead
or just waiting for
something to to feel.
And then three photographers
came out of the building,
took some pictures and
movies of me there,
took me back inside afterwards
retied the arms, the same way,
retied or put a blindfold on me
this time they swung me
up into the back of the truck.
I really hurt when I came down
on the broken arm
and we will take about an hour
ride through part of Hanoi that
was filled with a Vietnamese
that lived there,
throwing bricks, rocks, whatever
they could. We ended up at the
International House where
they're having this huge press
conference. They kept me out in
kind of a court yard, and
I hadn't had anything to drink
since I had been shot down
and I was thirsty, and I said,
"I need some water, and he
said "later." And I said,
"I'm not going anywhere until I
get some water."
Well, I ended up getting
a large glass of water with ice
in it,
which I drank and that would be
the last water for two days,
and then they took me in.
My thoughts were, don't
embarrass my country.
I felt that I had already failed
by giving them any information
whatsoever and all it was was
name, rank and so forth, but
I just felt like I had let my
country down and I wasn't gonna
do it in front of these cameras.
So, I walked in, stood up as
straight as I could and saluted,
and I guess this film was later
used and our jungle survival
school in the Philippines
and they were,
people that saw it, were told
as they see this is the way
you should conduct yourself even
the Vietnamese appreciate
military bearing.
Well, that wasn't true
because I had the devil
beat out of me that night and
for the next 10 days
at the Hanoi Hilton.
On the ninth day,
I really broke.
I gave up
because I finally signed the
confession they put it in front
of me.
I still remember it
word for word.
I condemn the United States
government for its
aggressive war against the
Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
Two, I've encroached
upon the airspace of the
Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
Three, I'm a war criminal,
and four I have received
humane and lenient
treatment from the
Vietnamese people in government.
I signed that.
They put me in a cell in the
Hanoi Hilton in a little section
we call heartbreak hotel.
I was in cell four,
90 inches by 90 inches,
two concrete bunks,
leg irons embedded in the bunks.
My right leg had become badly
infected from the shrapnel.
No medical attention.
Maggots were starting to form on
it and was turning black and on
that ninth day, a female guard
came in
and she looked at the leg
and she pull something off.
Stuff shot out of it.
She screamed and left, came back
with the interrogator,
and they talked with me said,
"Your leg is very bad we must
cut it off,"
and I said, "No, you're not
cut my leg off. I'd rather die."
So, Neil Jones gave up and I
wanted to die.
That night. They put a guy in
the cell next to me in cell 3
No sooner had the guard
left when the voice came out,
"Where is Neil Jones?"
And I tell you what, just
hearing my name by another
American, I must have bounced
the foot off that bunk and I
said "Right here, who's that?"
And the voice came back said,
"Neal, this is Dave Hatcher."
And Dave Hatcher was a good
friend, a captain, F-105 pilot.
Dave was shot down, oh, at least
30 days before I was, and we
didn't know what had happened to
him, whether he was alive or
dead. And I said, "My God, Dave,
you don't know how good it is to
hear your voice. How did you
know I was here?"
He said,
"Well, I was in a camp near here
called the zoo
and we have loud
speakers in each cell
and every morning and every
night they play the
voice of Vietnam or
Hanoi Hannah, as we call it.
It was the 30 minute propaganda
broadcasts in English aimed to
the soldiers in South Vietnam."
He said, "The same day you
were shot down,
they announced it that night."
So, at least I knew my family
knew I was alive.
I asked Dave how he was,
and he said he was fine.
And then he asked me how I was,
and I said, "Dave I think
I'm going to die."
He said, "There's only one thing
to do and that's to pray a lot.
I pray all the time."
Well, I prayed that night,
not for why me God, but
give me the strength to
to do what I have to do, and I
finally slept a little that
and I woke up the next day
and I knew I was going
to get out of there
and never gave up after that.
I found out four years
later that Dave had just been
tortured when he told me that.
He happened to be in the large
group that was paraded
through Hanoi and the crowd got
out of hand and a lot of guys
were beaten in that, but my raid
had precipitated the other
march, but he'd never said
anything to him, but I had
the opportunity to tell Dave
thanks in Washington DC at the
White House.
He had his daughter
and I told her
how her Dad had
saved my life that night.
But I go back and I look at
the guys that I flew with
the guys that I was
in prison with
a bunch of band of brothers
He who shares his blood with me
shall forever be my brother
Theyre the best friends
I've ever had.
One thing I learned,
one of my dearest friends in my
whole life
is a guy named Vic Vizcarra.
Vic and I checked out in the
Thud together,
were in Japan, same squadron,
flew combat together
and he escorted my wife
and two young kids back to the
United States
and I never forgot
forgot that
appreciate it more
than anybody knows
but a band of brothers.
Jet noise...
For Thud pilots,
flying missions over
North Vietnam came down to
beating the odds.
Logging the combat missions
was the easy part.
radio and combat sounds
Thud pilots either survived
or got shot down.
It was the being brought
down part where it
became the roll of the dice.
They would either be killed,
or rescued.
They were betting on the latter.
Well, I'm Denny Jarvey went
through training at Nellis
and prior to that, I had been
flying the F-101B in Charleston
chasing Russian bears that were
going down to Cuba,
and prior to that I flew the
F-102. So, when I transitioned
in the F-105,
I already knew
I could fly the airplane, that
was not an issue.
It was learning how to
fight with it. That's a whole
nother story.
The F-105 was really well suited
for the mission that we had
in the Hanoi area
that we could carry very heavy
bomb load.
It could take a really beating
and still bring it back.
I was lucky.
I didn't have a scratch.
I never, ever, I didn't have
a hole in the airplane.
Not even scratched paint.
Not True for the guys
I was flying with.
The Thud was terrific for this
particular mission.
It was fast.
Matter of fact, there's a fellow
named Byers that had been hit by
a MiG-21
and Atoll that
hit him
was still stuck in the fuselage
of the aft end of the airplane
just underneath the rudder, and
with this great big gaping hole,
and there's pictures that are
around of people standing,
well, the Thuds a pretty big
airplane, youve gotta be up
on a ladder to be able to get
your body up into the wing, but
with huge holes,
and it brought you home.
I happened to be
at Korat
and we learned that
President Johnson was coming
to town.
Well, it is a big deal,
you know, and so they
kicked everybody
out of the club.
So I had my scotch in hand, and
General Momyer looked on the bar
and he pointed at me and said,
"You, you big guy get over there
and you tell the President what
you just did."
Well, it turned out it happened
to be the mission right after
the Dormer Bridge raid.
So, I told him about that
and I happened to be the last
guy that rolled in on the target
on that particular sortie and
it was an active day, but
when I looked down at the
bridge, I could already see
several of the spans were
already in the water.
So it turned out to be
quite an event.
Thuds continued to be shot down
as the war escalated with no end
in sight, and
to add insult to injury,
a new war had emerged
and it wasn't in Vietnam.
Americans back home suddenly
began to side with the enemy and
began to protest.
Pilots, risking their lives were
suddenly being labeled as
child killers.
But for the pilots,
the war went on.
I flew another 20 missions and
on the 14th September
we were going up to hit
a railroad bridge
north of Hanoi.
Interestingly enough, there was
also a MiG base
right near the bridge.
I was number four in the flight.
We raced along a low altitude,
actually came right over the top
of Hanoi that day
at low altitude.
About three surface to air
missiles came through the flight
That scared the crap out of me.
So, I broke one way and I
guess the rest of the flight
went the other way.
So I rolled in and, I dropped
eight, 750 pound bombs and as I
pulled off, I actually saw them
hit the bridge luckily enough,
and I watched the span that
dropped into the river.
So, I said, "Man, that's great",
and I called, I said, "Four is
off" and the flight lead says,
"You're where?".
I said, "Four is off". He said,
"Well, we're 20 miles away.
We'll come back and get you,"
and just about that time there
was a MiG-17
probably 1500 feet from me,
and it looked like he was
shooting at me.
So....he was here.
I'm here, he's here, about to
shoot my watch off,
and I remember the guys in
training told me about this
maneuver that we never did.
It was called a High G roll
underneath, and I said, "Well
this might be the
time to try this."
Well I did that and now Im
pointed straight down,
no airspeed
in about maybe 4,000 feet above
the ground.
So, now I light the afterburner,
and I probably pulled out at
about 500 feet. When I got
enough speed going,
and I decided it was time to
leave the afterburner in and get
the hell out of Dodge.
So, I turned east
because we're gonna go out over
the Gulf of Tonkin and then come
back. So they just said, "Head
for the coast, we'll rejoin out
over the water." So, now I'm a
singleton running along, and
we were actually,
I thought it was further south.
We were about 20 miles
south of China. At least that's
where I was. Shortly thereafter
I saw it, you know,
as I'm heading for the
coast, going about
and not in afterburner, and I
saw this little glint of a
spark or something.
And I looked over
and here comes a MiG-21.
So, I said, "Well, I'll give
him a turn".
I turned a little bit and I said
"This is not gonna work out well
at all", and I could just see
the coast
out in front of me.
And I knew that MiG wasn't
with me cause there's
no way he could hang with me.
So, I came out of afterburner,
and started to climb
and as I crested the ridge line
all hell broke loose.
I mean I've watched part of my
wing come off
fire light came on again and as
I was told later by the guys
the in flight, I didnt hear
this because I think I was
breathing so hard and
I was scared.
totally scared at this point
because I'd been here before and
I'm going not again
and then I just
crossed the waterline
and about 500 feet
I said, "It's time
to get out of this thing."
Did the normal ejection
the canopy didn't come off.
So, I just
squeezed the ejection triggers
and went through the canopy
and I remember tumbling
very, very violently,
and then I hit the water. I have
no idea
what happened
and the flight lead said
he went in with the airplane.
So they actually started
heading for the tanker
and I went down in the water.
I was all tied up in
the parachute.
Fortunately I carried a knife on
my left side. I got that knife
and I started cutting away.
So, I started sawing away and I
remember I looked up, it was
late afternoon and I could,
I kind of looked up and I
said, "Wow, I'm gonna drown
what a crappy way to go."
Finally got to where I could
get to one water wing.
I opened I deployed it
and that was enough to bring
me back up to the surface.
So, I got the other one and then
I cut my way out of
the parachute.
They said that from when the
airplane hit little over a
minute then he heard the
distress beacon
come on. So they figured
I was in underwater
for about a minute.
Got into my life raft, which I
still had and pulled up my
trusty radio, but at
that point then I carried
two radios
instead of just the normal one.
Call my flight lead and told
them I'm alive and I'm in my
life raft and come get me
and he said, "We gotta go to the
tanker and we'll get the rescue
forces coming."
Well, when they said forces, I
thought it'd be an Armada like
I saw the first time.
Well, it turned out the
rescue Armada was gonna consist
of one Navy helicopter
and two Navy A-1s because we
were so far north, it turns out
I was, I had managed to bail out
in a major shipping lane that
they ferried supplies from
China down to North Vietnam
So the islands were
heavily defended.
There were guns everywhere
and I guess they thought I had
gone in with the airplane
because not much went on for
about the first 45 minutes
to an hour
All of a sudden
I started
hearing gunfire
and I'm going, oh oh, maybe
they know I'm here and now
I see boats starting to come
and I'm going this is not gonna
to be a good day for me.
It's a long haul from here to
prison and I really didnt want
to play that game.
A little bit later.
I hear a lot of gunfire.
And my flight lead said
that the rescue forces are
trying to get in the Navy
helicopter and I learned this
later when I met the guy who
flew the helicopter and one of
the A-1 pilots.
They tried three different
routes to get in to get me,
and that was when I started
hearing a lot of gunfire and
they had to turn around each
time because of the
severity of the gunfire and in
fact the helicopter crew took a
vote to see if they wanted to
try it again.
Well, they did. They found
another way in.
Im exhausted, you know, the
adrenaline and the excitement
and maybe I'm going to get
outta here and of course
Im looking. I said there's two
A-1s and that's it.
And this chopper and everybody's
getting a crap shot out of them.
So, here we go the helicopter.
I'm in the hoists underneath,
they're bringing me up
and the two A-1s
flying around out in front
of us
strafing beaches as we go
along because they're getting
shot at the whole time.
So they get me about,
its kind of like the first time
about 40 feet from the
helicopter, from the door
and the hoist breaks.
So now,
were getting out of there
theyre getting shot at and
I'm swinging around underneath
the helicopter going, "Oh man,
this is gonna be a long trip."
When they finally figured out
how to get me up.
So, they get me up
into the helicopter.
Now it's the same deal.
I want to go hug
and kiss everybody.
and say thanks.
They're busy.
They had two guns in
one on each side of the
and they're blazing away
with these machine guns and
I want to hug them.
So, they actually let me
shoot one of the guns
for a second,
and then they
finally said that's enough of
that and they strap me
to the floor
to get me out of the way.
So, I was saved
and they too have booze
on the helicopter,
so they gave me a couple of
miniatures to calm me down.
Then I got to thank everybody
And then now
now the adrenalines gone.
I'm exhausted, which was
which was really, really great.
Hollywood has always portrayed
fighter pilots as fearless,
steel cold men with
a fixation for flying women and
booze in no particular order,
but in actuality
they've just been Americans with
a deep love of country and
diligence to unsheathe the sword
of freedom
kept sharp by their willingness
to live on its edge.
Karl Richter knew he would be a
fighter pilot at a very young
age by 18 months old, he was
already climbing a ladder to
the top of their barn
to join his dad on the roof.
His infatuation with heights
persisted, and his family
would spot him at the top of the
trees and the windmill on
their property.
By age 18,
he was already a pilot.
Was living his dream at
the U.S. Air Force Academy.
By the time he was 22,
he was flying the Thud.
Didn't take long for him
to make military history.
By 23,
he'd become the youngest pilot,
in the U.S Air Force to shoot
down a MiG.
UHF pilot radio transmissions
As operation Rolling Thunder
intensified and dragged
on well past its
initial eight week plan,
More Thud pilots were needed.
A short temporary duty
cycling of pilots from Thud
squadrons based in Japan and the
U.S. to Thailand wasn't working.
Military orders, we're now going
to have to be permanently
assigned to pilots to complete
100 combat missions
one for the month
ninety-nine hard ones to go
Extraordinary times require
extraordinary gallantry and
A faith not only in
country and family,
but a power greater than
themselves with a
here I am,
send me conviction
Men like Karl Richter.
How are you gonna explain to
the wife that,
you put in for concurrent tour
you know, you going to take
flying over her?
Yeah, it wouldn't happen
Yeah, that's why
I'm sticking around.
You know that's why I guess.
The flying is good
and its
it's the kind of deal
like everybody says, yeah
that I'm waving the flag,
but I'm not. At the same time,
you know, where are going to
where are you going to stop at?
You know
where is...where's communism?
You going to wait until there're
in the
Or in Australia or
San Fransisco or the
Hawaiian Islands?
You know.
Do we stop it here or wait untl
somewhere later on?
I don't think most the
people think about that.
By the age of 24,
hed already completed his 100
combat missions.
He volunteered to stay for
another hundred.
His request was approved.
When I went to Korat.
Karl was in the same squadron
that I was in the
421st Tactical Fighter Squadron
and so I got to fly with him for
about six months while we were
there, and of course he went on
and finished a 100, then went on
to try, try to do another 100.
I mean he was fearless, totally
fearless, and he was a
dedicated American.
I mean he really believed in
what he was doing.
He could fly the airplane
really well
and he was just a
fun, good guy to be with.
Karl Richter had survived the
thuds worst year on record
and he dared to look death
in the face to do it
all over again.
On his 198th mission
over North Vietnam
while bombing a bridge,
Lieutenant Richter's Thud was
was shot down.
Battled damaged by
anti-aircraft fire.
He ejected over a sharp
karst terrain.
His wingman observed
a good chute and ordered in the
combat search and rescue team.
Near death from multiple
injuries sustained due
to the studied karst formation,
they recovered and extracted
him from North Vietnam.
Karl Richter,
the young man who proudly
stood and lived the essence of
here I am,
send me.
Died on July 28th, 1967
aboard the rescue helicopter.
An American hero and
World War Two Ace
was about to change everything.
Colonel Robin Olds
had had enough
and as a gesture of defiance,
began to flaunt a non-regulation
mustache to the leaders in his
chain of command.
Like him,
other fighter pilots
began to sport
the bulletproof mustaches
as their secret middle finger
to the policymakers.
After all,
men were dying
and the targeting orders
were so insane,
they began to question why
they were even there.
Considered the best combat con
in the history of
modern air warfare,
Colonel Robin Olds'
Operation Bolo
turned the tide on
the MiG threat.
Disguised as bomb laden Thuds
using F-105 strike routes,
flight profiles and callsigns,
Colonel Olds lured MiG 21s
right into the fangs of his
F-4 Wolf Pack
He and his men were
ready to fight
and fight they did.
Close to half of Vietnam's
MiG 21s were demolished.
North Vietnam immediately put a
price on Robin Olds' head
and grounded their Air Force
for months to devise new tactics
The commander-in-chief
personally asked Robin Olds
what should be done
about Vietnam.
He didn't sugar coat it.
Good got the best
armed services you've
ever fielded.
Why don't you use them?
one way to stop
the darn thing.
It's very simple
from my own humble
point of view,
win it.
That's easy.
What we're doing is
the hard way
and the worst way of all
is to get out
once you got your foot in it.
LBJ was startled.
The American fighting spirited
had bypassed Washington shackles
in dealing with the air menace,
and now it was onto
the SAM threat.
My name is Ben Fuller.
I retired from the Air Force
in 1977
as a full colonel.
I had been flying the F-105 for
quite a while.
Primary mission, of course in
Europe was a
tactical nuclear delivery of an
atomic weapon against
the Soviet Bloc Nations.
I spent a little over, I guess
two and a half years of that
tour when all of a sudden
the war in North Vietnam got
hotter and they started pulling
all of the F-105s out of Europe
and sending them over to a
to bases in Thailand.
I, somewhere around December
1966, I received orders
to go
to ah
Takhli Thailand
as a Wild Weasel pilot.
Nobody knew what a
Wild Weasel was.
We thought everybody
was the same.
We just were fighter pilots.
And so, we went up to
Wing Headquarters
to read the secret orders and
see what the definition of
Weasel was
and it says it that they were
aircraft that were equipped with
special electronic equipment
to seek out and destroy
surface to air missile sites
by trolling for them.
And I said, "what the hell is
trolling for a SAM?"
And they said, "That's where
you fly around and hope they'll
shoot at you
and that way you'll know
where they are.
I've got my PCS orders to
Nellis first for a
twelve sortie
training flight
and where we married up with our
electronic warfare officer
to fondly be called
a Bear
later on
A trained bear.
I'm Stan Goldstein. At the time
I became a Wild Weasel I was a
major and I got to fly in the
105 and become a Wild Weasel.
The best thing that ever
happened to me.
The key to flying Wild Weasel
missions is to have
good crew coordination.
And of course the question is
how do you figure out who you're
gonna crew up with?
Well, the marriage dance
is quite interesting.
They finally figured out to
leave it up to
the crews themselves.
So there were some
I think eight
eight pilots and eight EWOs,
backseaters, GIBs, Bears,
whatever you want to call us.
And we all meet up in Vegas
and of course there
several hours at the bar
where the big determination
is made.
That was quite an experience
because most of the Bears
had come from
Strategic Air Command
where they flew in the middle of
a bomber somewhere
and were lucky if they had
a small window to look out of
So when we got our bears in
there for the first mission
or two, it was mostly getting
them used to what it was like
flying upside down and doing
rolls and everything with a
total plexiglass
window to look out of
to concentrate on
what they were supposed to be
concentrating on and that was
the black boxes that
were in the back seat.
As my first time wearing a
G-suit, I had flown in B-57s
before so I had some
experience. I also had jet time
in the front and back of B-66s
which I'm glad I avoided
by getting into the Thuds.
We go through Weasel school.
We learn how to
drop bombs.
We learn how to maneuver,
how to recognize the signals.
The Wild Weasel aircraft
were developed
because of a high threat from
surface to air missiles.
that were plaguing the 105s
and other aircraft over
North Vietnam.
I used to try to describe this
pretty much as
how this all worked
like the people who carry
fuzz busters in their
automobiles to detect where the
highway patrol
is up ahead
trying to determine your
air speed or
your speed of your car.
And it emits a signal
and then the fuzz buster
in the car
picked up the signal
and that way you knew
that you had a threat.
It was the same idea with the
Wild Weasels.
We picked up a various
number of threats which
a Bear can explain
to you much better,
but mainly the threat
we were looking for was the SA-2
Surface to Air Missile.
Got this patch here,
Wild Weasel patch.
It says, YGBSM.
Jack Donovan who is one
of the Weasels on
Wild Weasel 1 - the F100s.
And he and Gary Willard
as some of you may know,
great Thud pilot,
great Hun pilot.
Anyway, they go to a
secret place out in Long Beach
and they go into the
North American hanger
and the Secretary of
the Air Force is sitting
on the side smoking a pipe
with his arms crossed.
And they explain to
everybody what the mission of
the Wild Weasels is going to be.
And then, Donovan tries to
summarize this.
"Let me get this straight.
Youre gonna put me in the back
seat with some crazy ass fighter
pilot and you want me
to patrol and be a target for
SAMs? You gotta be shitting me."
has become the motto
of the Wild Weasels and one
we try to live up to.
And it's on all our gear.
I was leading a flight.
It was Carbine flight.
I was Carbine 1. Carbine 2,
another Weasel pilot,
Joe Ritter, and his back seater,
McGuken, John McGuken.
Number three was Leo Thorsness
and Harry Johnson.
Carbine 4,
was Lieutenant Bob Abbott.
We were approximately
30 miles so as
routine for the Weasel Flight
to be out front
of the strike force
and there were twelve other
F105's behind us.
Off to my right,
Leo Thorsness
in number three was just
almost a beam me off
to the right side.
I caught his
plane exploding.
And It was
almost totally engulfed in fire.
And my of course reaction is,
"Get out, get out!"
I'm screaming like know.
I'm sure he knows that
he's got a problem.
And he did call,
"Mayday, mayday, mayday
This is Carbine 3"
And he immediately ejected.
We saw parachutes from
both people.
And Leo, bless his sole,
he was my mentor over there,
heard their beepers.
So right after
those transmissions,
I'm calling a channel change
and I can't raise number four.
assume and then,
number 2 comes back and
advises me that he thinks
that he saw number 4
hit also
just within seconds of Leo.
We're talking in the aircraft
between us, what did this?
Nobody had said
anything about MiGs.
We knew it could have been
anti-aircraft fire, but we
weren't over places that
would have a lot of
so we didn't know
what had hit them at this time
So all of the sudden in
the middle of this,
who is flying top cover
up there and relaying messages,
he gets hit.
Tomahawk 4 is shotdown by
another MiG.
And number 3 is hit by either
his explosion or a
separate missile they
dont know which.
But, Tomahawk 3, Al Linski, he
managed to keep his
plane together
and make it back
to emergency landing at
Udorn Air Force Base
in Thailand.
Captain Joe Abbott was the
was the Tomahawk 4
who was also shot down.
And nothing is going
the way we want it to go
at this point in time.
We've got you know
another guy on the ground.
And a lot of MiGs in the area
and things are beginning to
look pretty grim.
But then the next
thing we know is
the lead chopper is aborting.
He's had hydraulic problems.
So chopper number 2 aborts
with him as is their procedure
according to their protocols.
So now, Crown says were just
gonna have to call everything
off and come back tomorrow,
and so
we all gathered up
and went home.
And the last thing I remember
from the ground was Leo
on the radio
survival radios
saying get me out of here.
And so all the way home
I had a lot of tears.
And I that was a four hour
and fifteen minute mission
that accomplished nothing.
And that was the worst
mission of my one hundred.
And I'm glad I didn't have to
repeat it again.
Thud combat operations
out of Thailand
developed an unspoken bond
among the officers who flew them
and the non-commissioned
officers and enlistees who
maintained them.
Their one goal?
Put bombs on target.
For each Thud pilot assigned to
the squadron had an F-105 with
his name on it during his tour.
It was in name only.
He would fly whatever Thud that
he was scheduled for
on that day.
For Thud Crew Chiefs
and their team
on the other hand,
it was a true relationship
between man and machine.
Their assigned aircraft became
their child that they would care
for and nurture.
In actuality,
Crew Chiefs only let the pilots
borrow "his" personal aircraft.
My name is Jeff Puras.
I arrived in Korat Thailand
in May 1967 and I was assigned
to a Wild Weasel aircraft.
Life on the flight line was day
after day of almost exactly the
same routine.
launch, recovery,
count them when they
were coming back.
There's a gap.
The Weasels
The Weasels seem to be
stragglers because they were
first in, last out.
They would be
It's always nervous time.
You see the strike force
you know come back
there's one
there's one
watch them land.
And then you wouldnt see yours
then oh, there it is.
You'd be relieved.
And ugh,
I went up the front ladder
and who's ever helping me
do the back seater.
his hands were shaking so bad
he couldn't hook
his harness up.
I just watched and said
relax sir, I'll get it for ya.
So I helped him with his
with his straps and stuff.
And I wondered what in the heck
were they tasked with that day?
My name is Larry Henlsey.
I was a Crew Chief on the F-105
at Takhli, Thailand
in the year 1967.
It was always
a sad deal to see
three airplanes in the sky
coming back as opposed to the
four that took off and
one of those days,
my plane that I had launched
didn't return.
and they didn't tell us
much about what happened
other than they just came and
got the forms binder
for the airplane
that the plane was lost
and the pilot didn't survive.
He was lost as well.
And I think they recovered his
remains sometime in the '80s
and finally got to
return them back to his family.
I couldn't have made any
difference other than making
sure the best airplane in the
world leaves.
Make sure it's perfect.
But, it was,
I was sick for three,
I was just sick
sick when it happened.
It's just more than,
it's almost more than
you can bear.
Some of the Crew Chiefs
had horrible problems
after a shoot down of their
plane and it happened a lot.
Something that
a hard thing to deal with
when you lose the
plane, but you lose the man that
you had just strapped
in that airplane.
that was a proud time when
you taxied that airplane out and
gave that pilot a salute
And you were one of the last
ones that talked to him on the
ground because you were hooked
up with a headset.
And you tell him you'll
see him when he gets back and
he didn't return.
For Thud Crew Chief, he was the
one responsible for the air
servicing, launch and recovery
of this incredible
piece of metal.
F-105 availability
in Southeast Asia was the
highest for the entire
Thud fleet,
a testament to the dedication
and hard work of the maintenance
core of Crew Chiefs,
Line Chiefs
and behind the flight line
maintenance shops.
A multitude of maintenance
specialists in
and electronics supported the
Crew Chief
along with the armors and
munitions personnel
who assembled,
delivered and loaded
the weapons.
It was an all out
team effort to get that Thud to
complete it's assigned mission.
Outside of maintenance,
there were other organizations
Took a lot get the pointy end
of the spear to the target.
As losses mounted,
a painful personal bond
between maintainers
and pilots developed.
Crew Chiefs had to live with the
fact that their face
only inches away from the
pilot's during the
strap-in process
had the potential to be the last
close human experience
for that pilot.
Their emphatic thumbs up
signaled to the Thud pilots
that everything was okay
and his Thud was ready to fight.
Gathering at the edge of
the ramp facing the runway,
the maintainers would watch
their aircraft take off
nudging the man next to him
when he'd spot it
take to the air
They would prepare their spots
for recovery
optimistically expecting their
aircraft to return.
some would not.
I'm Vic Vizcarra
and I flew the Thud
and did three combat tours
to Southeast Asia.
On six November, 1966,
I was flying in a two ship
Iron Hand mission.
We were searching for
three new suspected
SAM sites
above the DMZ.
While searching for
these targets,
I started having engine problems
which I thought I could save the
aircraft and nurse it back home.
The further we got
into the flight,
the more serious my situation
got where I was no longer able
to maintain air speed
or altitude.
And I informed
Clipper 1
that I was having to eject.
Okay...Clipper 2's got his
lanyard hooked up, I must get
out of this thing
I've got no airspeed
left at all hardly
Roger Clipper 2....
The seat did a huge somersault
where I could see my feet above
the blue sky
and came back around.
The parachute ride down
was very
very quiet.
Looked down and saw I was going
to land in very dense jungle
so I prepared for that.
Once on the ground,
I established contact with
Clipper lead
who informed me that
search and rescue assets
were on their way.
And he instructed me to
go off the air
and save the battery.
May Day, May Day,
May Day
Crown, do you read?
Ill show Vic this tape here
when we get back
My name is Bob Cooper.
Late in the afternoon,
we were launched
on my birthday
We heard from Red Crown
that a 105 pilot had
punched out
due to compressor failure
I think.
That's all we knew.
My boss on Halsey,
Captain Le Bourgeois said,
"hold in that position",
because I was just off coast.
Red Crown then said that no,
the Air Force couldn't get
there before sundown.
Send that poor little H-2
in after him,
so, in we went.
I went to look for a place
to hide meanwhile
and found a cave in which
I entered.
It was the first time
I thought of the family.
My boys were only
six and five at the time.
I was sure that if I did not get
rescued they'd at least still
be able to remember me,
but I was concerned.
I had a daughter that was
less than a year old and she
would never know me if I didn't
get rescued,
so I said a little prayer.
As I finished my prayer,
I heard
the aircraft returning
into the area.
I went back out
from the cave.
and made contact.
it was the
The Sandy rescue
that was trying to make contact
with me.
I have to give it to those guys.
They have big brass ones.
While I was in the cave,
the weather conditions had
changed abruptly from when
I bailed out
and now
we had a huge overcast
with one sucker hole.
And hear, Sandy Lead,
tell his wingman he says,
"I think I can spiral down
through that hole and get
beneath the stuff."
And here I'm looking at
these karst mountains,
the tops of them disappearing
into the clouds
That took guts for him
to do that.
He flew directly over me
and I got all excited
and I informed him he
had just flown over me.
He did not acknowledge
or rock his wings or anything.
Later on, in reading the
transcripts from the command
post of this rescue,
I found out that he actually
did hear me,
but he was smart and
he's playing the game.
Making sure,
he didn't want to give my
location away in case
there were bad guys
around the area.
You could see in the distance
where the coastal plain started
to rise.
At about
2,000 feet, the cloud deck
started and it was solid.
So we climbed up to about
8,000...I think
We usually went in pretty
high anyway,
keeps you out of
the ground fire
...small arms fire,
because they love
to shoot at people.
Anyway, we got above it.
We joined up with
those two Sandys.
One of them had managed to get
below the clouds
which was amazing.
And he was,
must have been having
difficulty maneuvering
in those valleys
because all the peaks were
shrouded in clouds.
He said, "there's a hole,
I'm coming up".
Sure enough, there was
a hole there.
I could see all the way to
the jungle canopy.
Couldn't see the ground.
He came up,
I went down.
Got under the clouds in a
valley running North and South
Nothing was in it.
was so disappointed
I couldn't stand it by then.
We searched up and down there.
The Sandys were talking
to Vic.
I couldn't hear Vic.
I could hear them.
One of them said,
"I think I'm on top
of you right now."
I switched my radio to ADF
and got a lock on him.
I went to the East
over a low ridge
As soon as I crossed that
I saw a hazy red smoke.
Aha...the right valley
At last.
We went up and down that
side of the valley
for quite awhile,
but then we came across
the wreckage.
And shortly after that,
we saw the chute.
Then, I got talking to Vic.
He said he's about,
I don't know, 100, 200 yards
one way or the other
of the chute.
North I think.
So we slowed down and
he talked us right over
the top.
Never did see him, ever.
These guys were good.
I couldn't believe it.
When they dropped
the tree penetrator through
the trees,
I only had to take one step
to reach it.
I folded down the blades,
jumped on it.
Now the only thing left to do
was to secure the
safety line around.
I couldn't hook it up.
Anyway, we sent the
penetrator down
and waited and waited
and waited.
And I was running out of fuel
and I said come on.
Finally, I switched the
loud hailer
and I think he heard me.
Said, you've got to
get on that seat
because I'm running
out of gas.
Next thing I hear through
this megaphone is,
"Hurry up, let us know when we
can pull you up.
We're low on fuel."
That made me even more nervous
and I tried harder
without any success.
So finally out of desperation,
I didn't want them
leaving without me,
so I finally out of desperation
on the radio said,
I was gonna say,
okay, I'm ready.
As soon as they heard
they jerked me up
which made me lose the
grip on my radio. I lost it.
Dropped it in there.
But the good news is now I at
least had two hands to hold on
to the cable.
Shortly after that, the crewman
that was running the hoist,
Meyer I think his name was
said, I think I got him.
And sure enough, he started
reeling the cable in.
We were really in a high hover,
about 180 feet. That's big time.
shortly after that,
he said, "We do, we do
we have him, we have him"
And I looked down and there
hugging that post baby.
And I took off.
I started climb up.
We didn't get the guy until
we were in the middle
of the clouds.
I had to get out of there.
They pulled me up
through the trees.
They had to use my shoulder
as a battering ram to get
through this one branch.
But finally,
I felt somebody grab the
nap of my collar and pulled
me into this chopper
as it tilted down
and it sped away
I checked my tacan.
I knew Da Nang was
I could not get near Da Nang.
Nakhon Phanom was also
too far away.
And that's where I'd
always intended to go if we
managed to get out,
but it was too far away.
One of the Sandys just gave me
a head bearing and distance to
Halsey and be darn it was about
50 miles away.
I'm Curtis Venable,
I was a Senior Rescue Crewman
on Helicopter Combat Support
Squadron One.
Captain Le Bourgeois called me
to the bridge and he told me
he wanted to know what the
fuel load was for my helicopter.
And I told him.
And then I found out
where the helicopter was at.
I decided at that point
that they weren't getting back
that's what I told him.
And he went full blast.
He went full bores online
and we run about
45 minutes down stream.
I later was told that
we were doing 42 knots.
Captain Le Bourgeois,
God bless him,
he turned that ship South
flank speed
all the way down that coast.
And he was right off the coast
about 20 miles
by the time we got there...but
but that's where I went.
I wasn't sure I was gonna
get there,
but I knew if I could
get to the water,
we'd had a good chance of
getting picked up.
I couldn't go down in
North Vietnam.
That never crossed my mind
Or Laos for that matter
that wasn't a whole lot better
That's why I like, go to
the water.
You know...Navy.
What else can you do?
Got to head for the water and
that's what we did.
In the chopper it was so noisy
we could not talk to each other.
But this young
looking gunner
kept on looking over at me
and kept on giving me
the old thumbs up sign.
I acknowledged back
so I was feeling really good
that everything's fine.
Pretty soon,
he hands me a
Mae West
to put on. I think Im heading
West towards Nakhon Phanom
where the rescue
Air Force rescue units
came from.
So I need a life vest
just to cross the Mekong River?
But then, he opens up the
door and starts dumping
things out.
The machine gun,
all the ammo cans.
I'm thinking to myself
what the heck's going on?
And then I remember their
dramatic call,
hurry up let us know
when we can pull you up,
we're low on on fuel.
Started a slow,
a low powered descent
just to keep some
fuel in the tank.
And we managed to get
to the water.
A friend of mine was flying an
H-3 off the coast
Apparently someone had
stationed him there
and I don't know which
carrier he was from,
I knew we were home free at that
point even if I had to
go in the water.
But the thing kept flying.
Not a hiccup.
I couldn't believe.
The H-2 has a two
hour endurance capacity.
I was two and half hours
at that point.
I said, keep going as
long as it will fly.
And sure enough
by golly, I got to Halsey,
put it down and
the picture was taken.
When the helicopter landed
aboard, I did the refueling
myself and we had about
five gallons of usable fuel
on board. We almost lost it.
And there's an iconic photograph
of me with big bug eyes.
And everybody that sees it says
man, you must have been scared.
I really wasn't.
I was shocked.
I was shocked to find out
I was on a ship.
Of course the joke in
the family is that this
was the most expensive Navy
rescue ever and that I had to
give them my first
and second born because
both sons went into Navy Air.
On October 31st,
one of the most controversial
military campaigns in
United States history
came to a halt.
There was no fan fare or
or ticker tape parades.
Thud pilots would go on
to fight an unwinnable war
run by politicians for
another five years.
Senior officials in the
Johnson Administration
facilitated more Thuds being
shot down than any enemy gunner,
MiG pilot or SAM site operator.
One of the greatest casualties
of the air war in Vietnam was
loss of trust of the
US government by the
very men defending it.
Thud pilots are a testament to
extraordinary heroism,
and sacrifice of men willing to
serve their country at whatever
Too many of their names are
forever inscribed on a
polished black granite wall,
resting solemnly at the
nations capital.
The long list of the
58,286 names of America's
best etched in the order they
were taken from us
honors them and silently serves
as a deafening reminder.
50 years after Rolling Thunder,
these names set in stone
serve as a warning.
A warning to the political class
who order America's
sons and daughters
in to harms way.
Disfunctional strategies with no
intention of winning
will not stand.
Never again.