2006-07-27 10:51:02 UTC
this from an AF pilot who was a Misty 100 driver based at Phu Cat with
The only USAF General Officer to die during the Vietnam conflict did
so not thirty feet from my cockpit. It was an absolutely horrific
It happened sometime in the summer of 1968; although I don't remember
I do remember it was on my third MISTY tour. Third tour Why ?! !
Well, I couldn't face ( just ) busting trees back in the South. I
figured as long as I had to be there, I might as well be where the
This day, I was in the back seat with Captain Donald E. Harland, who,
sadly, is no longer with us. We had just backed off the tanker, and
were filled with fuel when I heard a Mayday call to Waterboy ( GCI
Site. ) The call was from Strobe 01, an RF-4C Phantom Recce Bird
coming out of North Vietnam, just above the DMZ. He reported he had
taken a hit and had smoke in the rear cockpit...he was losing
hydraulic pressure and was heading ' feet wet.'
Turning on our tape recorder, I listened for a while to the
conversation and discovered we were inbound almost head-on to Strobe
01. I jumped into the conversation and asked Waterboy to vector us
for a join-up so we could check him out.
After a few vectors we found ourselves in a stern tail chase with too
much speed and I over shot him. Idle, speed brakes, full left rudder,
right aileron, I skidded right by him asking if he, Strobe 01, had an
F-100 going by his left wing.
Embarrassed, I slipped back on his left wing and from what Harland and
I could initially see, he looked pretty much normal - no big holes or
streaming fluid. Strobe said they were still loosing hydraulic
pressure and it was getting real hot in the rear cockpit. I asked him
to hold it real steady so we could come in closer and do a battle
We started looking just as Strobe rolled wings level, just a few miles
feet wet and parallel to the coast. Now abeam the DMZ, he said he was
going to try to make it to Danang. His reconnaissance outfit (Strobe)
was stationed out of Saigon, so Danang, farther north was the
emergency recovery base.
Since Harland was new to MISTY and I had been around a while, I took
control. Still a little sheepish of my grand display of flying
skill because of the overshoot, I took a deep breath and said to
myself, "Okay Dumb.. sh.. don't f.. . this up anymore."
I then slid close in underneath the ugliest fighter ever built ( too
many engines, too many seats ). Harland noticed it first near the
nose. It appeared to be a small hole in the belly near the aft part
of the camera bay. We could see a little flame flickering in the hole,
but not a real big fire. We had to get real close to see but there
was a small amount of smoke coming out of the seams in the belly.
As we slid out to the right side, we could also see a small amount of
flame in the camera bay through the oblique camera window. I crossed
back over to the left wing while Harland and I forwarded these tidbits
of information to Strobe.
During this time, we had no idea there was a General officer in front
and we were not talking to the pilot, but to a "seeing eye Major" in
the back seat. I thought it was just a " Poug " Captain and a Brown
Bar Navigator in the back. After all, Generals are prohibited from
flying up North, and these reconnaissance guys really hang it out.
Company grade stuff, the field graders usually find other things to
Strobe acknowledged the fire and said, " Okay, we're going to go ahead
and bail out."
I thought, " Wow, this is going to be neat." It should have been a
very ' by-the-book ' ejection; 10,000 feet, straight and level, ideal
speed, under control, leading to a routine water rescue . . Up until
this moment, I had not witnessed an ejection sequence up close and the
notorious F-4 Martin Baker seat, known as the " back breaker," with
its complicated system would be neat to see.
I eased the F-100F out to route formation and waited . . waited. But
nothing happened. A review of the tape later showed it was almost two
minutes before the rear seat fired. Later I asked the seeing eye
Major what took so long since he was told they were on fire, why the
wait ? He said the General did not want to eject and argued about the
position of the command ejection handle in the rear cockpit. The
Major, upholding his duties, wanted it in the Command position ( the
guy in back Command ejects the front.)
But the General outranked him and ordered him to leave it in the OFF
position, thereby making each seat a single-initiated ejection.
The Major was reluctant, but after retrieving the check list and
reading each step of the bold face ejection procedures (SOP for many
engines, many seats, what can you expect ) to each other, the Major
pulled the "D" ring on his seat, leaving his General to fend for
From my vantage point, this first ejection from the rear cockpit was
textbook. I can still remember it vividly today, as if in slow
The aft canopy opened and separated cleanly, clearing the tail by a
good 20 feet, then the seat started up the rails. Just as the bottom
of the seat cleared the canopy seal, the rocket motor ignited, burned
for 1.2 seconds and the seat went straight up very stable.
When the rocket stopped, the drogue chute came out, and seat rotated
back 90 degrees eye balls straight up, flat on his back, as he cleared
the tail. Now looking back over my right shoulder, the main C-9
canopy came out and as it started to open/inflate, the seat separated
and kept right on going. Now with the canopy fully open, the pilot
swung back underneath.
The whole thing was as neat as hell, I thought.
But when I looked back to the stricken aircraft, I could not believe
the horror I saw. The front cockpit was totally engulfed in fire.
Only a white dot of the pilot's helmet was visible through the smoke
and flames. He was sitting straight up as before, he wasn't moving,
and seemed totally oblivious to what was happening. It looked like two
huge blow torches were coming up from the rudder pedal wells through
the front cockpit around the pilot and out the now open rear cockpit.
The fire was streaming out and over the back of the Phantom, turning
into a dense black smoke trail that obscured the tail. But the
aircraft flew on undisturbed, not even a burble. The pilot was still
not moving, still seemed unaware, as if he was enjoying the flight.
The whole thing was surreal; almost dream like. How could this be ?
For a moment, I thought he might not be aware of the fire, and I must
tell him to eject. So I began hollering on the radio :
" Strobe 01 ! Bail out ! Bail out ! "
I called two or three times more, but still nothing happened. The
wings were level, but now the aircraft started a shallow descent. " My
God ! " I screamed. " What doesn't he eject ? How can he just sit
there? What in the hell is wrong? Then I figured it out. It became
obvious that we were too far away ( route formation ) and he couldn't
So I drove the Hun right up next to the burning cockpit and continue
calling, " Strobe 01 ! Bail out ! BAIL OUT ! " this time with more
desperation in my screams. Harland calls, " Oh my God ! Look at it
burn ! "
In desperation, I drive closer, so close that the air pressure between
the two aircraft causes the fiery ball to roll into a 30 degree bank,
turning toward the right. As I pulled away, he rolled back wings
level, now pointed directly at the beach in a slightly steeper
By this time, the intense heat had charred Strobe's canopy and we
could no longer see the pilot's white helmet. The paint began to
blister and there were a few small explosions that blew some of the
panels loose and sent others flying off ( LOX Dewars and pressure
bottles, I think ). Now, the whole nose was a charcoal mess.
The flames subsided, and dense, thick smoke streamed from the nose
For some strange reason, I just couldn't let go and continued to call
Strobe, nearly begging him to get out. At about 500 feet AGL and still
close on his wing, the old Phantom gave one last dying gasp. It
pitched up a little and then dove straight int o the beach, hitting
about 100 yards feet dry. For some strange reason, I still could not
Harland screamed, " Damn it Dick ! PULL UP ! " I'll always felt if
it had not been for Harland's stern direction, I would have crashed
right beside him; I would have just followed him in.
I pulled up left and told Waterboy, "Strobe 01 just impacted on the
beach." A few minutes later, Waterboy called and asked if there was
any chance of survival.
My sad reply was " Negative survival, negative survival."
As we turned back feet wet to find the back seater, there was an usual
amount of radio chatter about securing the area - dispatching a
Medivac, etc. It seemed odd - such an intense amount of interest in
this crash site.
We MISTY's have seen a lot of combat crash sites, however once it was
determined there were no survivors, it's instantly written off. A blue
car would be dispatched to a grieving family back in the states, and
that's pretty much the end of it. Although this crash interest level
was way out of the ordinary, Harland and I still had no idea who was
on board, and we wouldn't find out until we returned to Phu Cat.
It was time to concentrate on the back seater. We quickly located him
still in his parachute about five thousand feet above an angry Gulf of
Tonkin. We looked at the sea state and it was rough...real rough. We
noticed a motorized Vietnamese sampan hell-bent and heading straight
for the back seater.
We came around for a closer look and saw three or four people on board
the boat flying the Republic of South Vietnam flag. The sea was rough
and the boat continues to pound forward. Was this good or bad ?
Friendly or bad guy ? Even if they were friendly, they could still
kill the pilot if they did not know what they were doing.
Harland and I decided these signs weren't good ones, so Harland made a
low pass across the boat's bow to encourage him to turn around. We
pulled up, but the boat was not dissuaded in the least and continued
on toward the back seater, who is drifting closer to the water. What
to do now? Hell, I felt we warned 'em, so now we kill 'em.
But at the last minute, we decided to give the boat one final warning
and Harland placed a long burst of 20mm right close across the boat's
bow. This time, as we pulled up and came around, and just as the back
seater hit the water, the threatening boat made a sharp 180 degree
turn and " beat feet " back to the beach. Soon afterward, the Jolly
Green arrived and picked up the downed pilot.
This seemed just another day on the MISTY trail and Harland and I
headed back to the PAC asking Waterboy where Strobe 01 got hit.
Thinking Vengeance, but no one knew exactly where, so we finished our
morning cycle and returned to Phu Cat.
As we taxied in, there was a sea of Colonels waiting.
Before I opened the canopy, I said to Harland, " I don't know what
we've done, but it must have been a major screw up." The first Colonel
up the ladder said in an angry voice, " What are you doing here? You
should have landed at Saigon." Boy, were we confused. The Colonel
continued, " It's about Strobe 01." I said, " Yeah, that was real bad
and, uh, hey, I have a tape of the whole thing."
The Colonel's eyes got real big and he literally grabbed the tape
recorder from my hands.
Harland and I climbed out of the aircraft totally bewildered until it
finally dawned on the Colonel that we had no idea who was on board
Strobe O1. " It was General Bob Worley," and not knowing what to do
with the recorder, he handed it back to me and said, "Get in a Class
'B' Uniform, pack a bag and a Scatback (T-39) will be here in 30
minutes to take you both to Saigon. MACV wants you guys to brief the
Generals. "Oh, Goody," I thought.
On the ride to Saigon, I listened to the tape. Thank God I did,
because there was one real bad thing said that needed to be edited, so
I did a 18 second " Nixon Gap " treat-ment. When we made Saigon, it
seemed every damn General required his own private briefing and wanted
to listen to the tape. These hallowed halls, filled with stars, was
some change of pace for a couple of up country Poug MISTY's.
The real sad thing was the that the pilot was General Bob Worley, a
real, honest to goodness Tactical Fighter Pilot. The rest were, as you
know, a bunch of SAC Pukes. A strong and much needed voice for the
fighter pilot was lost that day. What was doubly sad was it was
Worley's DEROS (last) mission. In Vietnam, one receives double credit
toward an Air Medal for an out-of-country mission. The Major said Bob
really wanted that medal and some special photos. It seems dumb now,
but you had to be there. It seems last mission shoot downs became a
disease that spread so quickly the commanders would not tell the crews
it was their final mission until after they had landed . Seems
everyone wanted the big BDA and fly their final mission in grand
I have often wondered why I kept calling for Strobe 01 to bail out,
and why we stuck so close all the way in not wanting to let go when it
was obvious Bob was dead a few seconds after the back seater ejected.
The psychology of combat...