Manage episode 328120370 series 2801590
Operation Linebacker launched on May 10, 1972. It marked the first bombing of Hanoi in North Vietnam since the end of Operation Rolling Thunder in November 1968. I was a ground spare, waiting to launch in the even that any of the strike F-4 aircraft from Ubon Royal Thai Air Base aborted, either on the ground or in the air.
I sat in my fully armed aircraft and waited for all of the strike aircraft to launch, then conttinued to wait until they had all reached the airborne pre-strike tanker aircraft, then I de-armed and taxied back to the parking revetment. And then I waited for my brothers to return. A few hours later, they all did. ALL of them.
The next day, May 11, 1972, was my turn to fly, as Number Two in Dingus Flight. (Later, strike aircraft carried tree call-signs - Maple, Elm, Walnut, etc. - but at this point in the operation we used call signs from the VCSL - Voice Call Sign List.)
During the pre-flight briefing, Wing Commander Colonel Carl Miller made an announcement: “Yesterday, we had a close call. One of our aircraft mis-ID’d an aircraft and fired at one of our aircraft. Lucily, he missed, but we can’t have that again. Effective immediately, the Rules of Engagements are changed. All MiGs are silver. You MAY NOT fire at a camouflaged aircraft. If I hear that you fire at a camouflaged airplane I’ll ship your ass home the minute you land. Any Questions?” None of us had any questions. It was pretty clear. MiGs are silver.
On this day, like the previous day, our Wing Commander would lead the strike. The Commander of the 25th Tactical Fighter Squadron, my squadron, would be the lead of Dingus Flight. I was put in the Number Two position because I was still a fairly new pilot, an “FNG”, and the Number Two position was a place where the flight lead could keep a close watch on the FNG. Our target would be the Bac Mai Airfield.
We took off as the sun rose, headed north over Laos for our refueling, and proceeded toward our target. My back-seater was First Lieutenant Johnny Wyatt. Johnny was an “old head”: he had been on the strike over Hanoi the previous day, so he knew what to expect. We ingressed the target area in spread formation, approximately 1000 feet between aircraft. I was on Lead’s right. Just as Lead rocked us in to close “fingertip” formation for our bomb run, Johnny screamed at me.
“We got a SAM (Surface-to-Air Missile) at four o’clock! Break right!”
I had no idea what a SAM looked like in flight, and I didn’t see it. “I don’t see it.”
“It’s a f@#cing SAM! BREAK RIGHT!”
When easy-going Johnny is screaming, I knew it was serious. I broke hard right. Shortly after that, the SAM exploded right where I would have been.
Listen to the podcast for the rest of the story!