Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Flying With A True American Hero

by Nick Lacey

On September 4, 1966, Ron was #4, and I was #2 in the same F-105 flight. We had about 40 missions over North Vietnam by then. We were tasked against a petroleum storage area about 5 miles north of Hanoi. The area had been 50% destroyed by previous bombing, but the White House wanted it completely destroyed. (Some of the ill-advised meddling in target selection by probably the President.) There were 4 or 5 F-105 flights going against this target. We were the second flight and were trucking down Thud Ridge at about 550 to 600 knots with lead and me on the south side of the ridge, about a 1/4 mile out from the ridge, and below the ridgeline. Number three and Ron were up against the ridge, so Ron was very low over the trees and a few hundred feet from the ridge. For whatever reason, #3 did not keep up with the lead element and fell a 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile behind. (There was a good chance that lead and I alerted the gunners that two more F-105s were probably coming by very soon.)

Very shortly after leaving Thud Ridge and entering the flat delta area, we were at our "pop point" to start our abrupt climb to position ourselves to dive-bomb the target. As we came off the target, lead had a radio check-in. Number four (Ron) did not respond. As we were egressing, I noticed a huge column of black smoke at the base of Thud Ridge. I did not know it at the time, but it was probably the impact of Ron's aircraft. As we learned after Ron's release from the "Hanoi Hilton," his aircraft was hit by small arms while over Thud Ridge. He attempted to stay with the aircraft, but the fire and smoke in the cockpit were too intense. He bailed out at high speed and landed near where his aircraft impacted the ground.

Tom McNish was shot down about 7 miles from Ron a few minutes later. Tom was in the last flight going against the target. Within days Tom's picture appeared on US television with a couple of North Vietnamese farmers threatening Tom with pitchforks. The news clip didn't show the soldiers with the AK-47s behind the camera.

We did not know whether Ron was alive or dead until a Japanese newspaper printed an article several weeks later that mentioned Ron as a POW.

There was a very interesting incident involving Ron and me before the flight. After our mission briefing and the individual flight briefing and as Ron and I were storing our personal items, putting on our g-suits and gathering our gear to go out to the aircraft, Ron turned to me, as he never before had on any of the many previous missions that we flew together, and indicated that he felt that something bad would happen. At the time, his statement registered, but I was too mentally stressed with what I had to do to grasp the true meaning. It wasn't until after the mission, after the debriefing and while in the squadron mourning Ron's shoot-down that I recalled Ron's statement and his premonition about the flight.

Ron was given specially harsh treatment while a POW. They picked the wrong guy. I don't know anyone tougher, smarter and braver than Ron Bliss.

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