Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

RF -4C Shootdown

– Stilleto on 26 July 1966 at about 0430, about 3 nm north of DMZ

We (Capt Marvin Mayfield and Lt Bob Clark) were fragged for a night photoflash reconnaissance of an eight mile stretch of Route 1A. I was in the pit as a Pilot Systems Operator (navigators were not yet flying the backseat). I planned a rather long run in from the south at 500 feet, popping to 3500 and vertical jinking between 2500 and 3500 with a right turn off towards the water at completion of the run. Everything was going well until the eighth photoflash cartridge. At that point we felt a thump at the rear of the aircraft. It felt like someone had hit us with a sledgehammer. I said, “We’re hit; carts off; break right!” There was no response from the front seat and I decided it was time to get out. Since the backseater in the RF-4C tends to adjust his seat high so he can see better, I had to duck my head to get the face curtain pulled out to eject. I wanted the face curtain because we were doing about 540 knots and would need protection from the windblast. I saw the canopy separate over the left canopy rail, but couldn’t seem to get the seat to fire. I dropped my hands to the D-ring between my legs, and pulled. (It’s amazing how time stretches when you’re under stress. I doubt whether we were in the aircraft more than two seconds, but I remember everything in sequence very clearly. In retrospect, I’m not sure who initiated the ejection, Marv or me. In any event, we had the seats configured for sequenced ejection and I would have been the first one out.)

I clearly remember the aircraft moving away from me. I guess I could see it because it was lit. I heard a “pung” over the left side of my head as the drogue gun fired, then everything was black as the inside of a cow. I could hear the aircraft above me, then behind me. It hit the ground right underneath me and I thought I was going into the fire ball. I looked up to check my parachute so I could slip away from the fire ball. There was no parachute. I saw what looked like a white, china dinner plate (the drogue chute) connected to me by a strand of spaghetti (the drogue strap). I said “God damn, shit,” arched my back and tried to climb up the strap. The next thing I remember is lying on the ground and looking back over my left shoulder and seeing the parachute lines and the parachute rippling in the breeze and I could see that the chute had not fully deployed. The burning wreckage of the RF-4C was less than 100 yards away. The seat kit was still attached to my harness. I sat up on the kit, disconnected from the parachute and disconnected the seat kit. I seem to recall getting into the kit and disabling the survival radio after checking whether the one I carried in my survival vest was working. I heaved the kit into the tall beach grass to hide it. My left ankle hurt and I thought it had been badly sprained. It wouldn’t hold my weight, so I crawled into the beach grass to hide as best I could. My helmet had peeled off my head and was hanging by the oxygen connector attached to my parachute harness. The oxygen mask had broken my nose as it went over the bridge. Didn’t notice it until much, much later.

The soil was sandy and the only cover would be the tall beach grass. I sat down and took stock of my situation. I pulled out my survival radio and turned it on. Guard frequency was full of beepers and I turned it off because it sounded so loud. I was in the middle of Indian country and didn’t know where the bad guys were, but knew they would be searching for us pretty soon. Initially, I was disoriented and thought I was sitting facing north. I turned the radio back on and just listened. Eventually, I could hear Sparrow (B-57) talking to someone. Another RF-4C from my squadron flew over calling on Guard (called an electronic search). I answered but don’t think they heard me. I knew the SAR would commence at first light. Sometime in listening to the traffic on Guard, I realized I really didn’t know which direction was which. As it started to get light, I broke out the survival compass and oriented myself. I was sitting facing the water (east). Therefore, south was on my right and north on the left with inland behind me.

At first light (about 0630), I was listening to Guard again. Most of the beepers were gone, and I could hear the SAR had started. I heard a helicopter crew working to get Marv out – I thought to the south of me; maybe a couple of hundred yards. I couldn’t see because of the sand dunes. I called to them to tell them they had another guy on the ground. There comment was, “Oh shit, there’s another one in there.” There was some shooting from behind me, and it was a heavy weapon. I thought it was a 37mm anti-aircraft site and advised Sparrow in the blind. He heard me this time. He must have found the site, because there was a huge explosion in that direction that agitated the turf and rustled the grass where I was sitting. Nothing like a 2000 pounder going off in close proximity (half mile frag envelope).

Sparrow asked if there were any bad guys in my vicinity and I told him I couldn’t tell. Over the course of the next two hours, F-102’s, Blue flight from Danang, came up and unloaded their 2.75 rockets at a target on the ground (very non-standard). I could see them roll in, watch the weapons bays come open and the rockets ripple fire. (The F-102’s were from Clark AB, I believe. They sat air defense alert at Danang against the threat of MiG’s coming south across the DMZ.)

F-105’s came over to join the fray, and Sparrow tried to orient them and have them suppress any flak that shot at them. Marine F4’s from Danang came up with wall-to-wall napalm. Nice air show, but it was time to get out of there. At about 0800 a couple of Marine Huey’s showed up (Deadlock 40 and 41) and called for smoke. I told them no smoke because I didn’t know where the bad guys were. I could see them out over the water and told them I’d vector them in and pop (inflate) my orange LPU (underarm life preserver) as a mark when they got close enough. Deadlock 40 started in and I noticed two more dots rolling in on either side of him. As he crossed the beach, I popped the LPU and he landed, putting the skid right on the LPU. I started for the Huey at a fast limp. I heard what sounded like ash cans being kicked down the stairs, looked left, and saw a Sandy pulling up. He looked almost level with me. I was their 20mm cannons sanitizing the flanks.

I fell into the Huey and the gunner grabbed me by the seat of the flying suit and heaved me inside (expletive deleted). Then he opened up with his M-60 machine gun, which promptly jammed. He swore, cleared the jam and continued to shoot as the Huey lifted off. I grabbed a headset and told the pilots to keep an eye out for SAM’s. They went out over the water at low altitude until out of range of SAM’s and flak before turning south.

They dropped me off at the Marine’s medical evacuation unit (Delta Med) near Waterboy (radar site at Dong Ha just south of the DMZ). The Air Force guys at Waterboy brought me some cans of soda to drink. About half an hour later a Marine H-34 landed and picked me up for the trip out to the USHS Repose (hospital ship) that was standing off the coast of I Corps supporting the Marines in I Corps.

After x-rays of my back and left ankle, I was told the ankle was broken and I had two crushed vertebrae (first and second lumbar). The back injury was typical of a ride in an ejection seat, I was told, particularly from the back seat of an F/RF-4. The doc’s popped the ankle back into place (boy, did that hurt) and casted the leg up to the crotch. By 1500 I learned the ankle had “floated,” a screw fixation would be necessary, and I was scheduled for surgery at 1800. I came out of the anesthesia around 2000 and was back in my compartment with a cast up to my crotch.

(The Martin-Baker H-4 seat was a completely ballistic seat (an explosive charge propelled the seat out of the aircraft, generating about 21 g’s in the process). Later models were designed with a charge to get the seat up the rails and rocket pack on the bottom of the seat would take you the rest of way. It was a much softer ride.)

A day or so later an Air Force Pedro helicopter (HH-21) came up from Danang to take me back into Air Force custody. Great ride down the coast. The PJ’s had some glass jars that would hold grenades with the pins pulled. They’d drop them out the rear amongst the fishermen. The jar would break on impact with the water, and allow the grenade to arm itself and explode under water. The fishermen would come in and pick up the dead or concussed fish.

The Air Force flight surgeon that met us at Danang turned out to be a fellow called T-Bird that I had shared a house with in Sumter, SC while at Shaw AFB. I was put up in a ward in their small clinic (35th Tactical Dispensary, Major Cargill attending) on base. All the players from the SAR came by to tell their side of the story. The doc’s prescribed a case of beer since I was having trouble urinating while lying down (maybe increased pressure would overcome my body’s reluctance).

Sparrow (B-57) and Oakland (B-57) were from the 8 TBS at Danang. Capt John Lynch and Capt Cletus Rogers were the crew on Sparrow and Capt Doug Summerfield was the pilot on Oakland. They were trolling for trucks on the road structure in Route Pack 1 when they had seen us get hit. Sparrow assumed primary RESCAP and Oakland went high as radio relay if required. Indian Gal 51 was the Navy SH-3C that got Marv out first and had come in from the USS Ranger off-shore. When they heard me call, they passed the word for a second chopper to come in and get me out. Unfortunately, it got chewed up by a quad-mounted 14.7mm anti-aircraft battery as it crossed the beach. The crew said they couldn’t get much higher than the flight deck of the Ranger, and sort of slid aboard. With that, the Navy was out of resources to continue the SAR.

I was told they Class 26’d the bird and sent it home in a box. Sparrow had called Monkey Mountain at Danang to request more resources. He was told the Navy had the SAR, and the controller told him no Air Force resources would be forthcoming. John tried to explain the Ranger was out of helicopters, but the controller wasn’t going to listen.

John switched to Marine strike frequency and the four strip alert F-4’s at Dang Dang by the Sea responded with wall-to-wall napalm. Coyote 101 (Capt Jerry Thomas, 480th TFS from Danang) came to play with a two-ship of F-4C’s; Blue, a flight of two F-102’s from Danang (Capt’s Bob Berch and Dave Seyer from the 64th FIS, TDY from Clark AB in the PI); and Dakota 210/211 (Sandy’s) came to suppress the flak and SAM’s. Sparrow stayed on station for the whole SAR, recovering at Danang with 300 pounds of fuel showing on the gauges (maintenance also dipped the tanks). Deadlock 40 (Capt S.G. Flynn, Lt. W. Page and LCpl M. Sartelle) and 41 had heard the call for help with a SAR, and told Sparrow they would be there as soon as they refueled and rearmed at Hue Phu Bai. Someplace in all of the chatter on the radio an Army Mohawk (Spud) came on freq. He didn’t know what he could do, but was interested in helping.

The duty controller at Monkey Mountain met John and Cletus when they shutdown in the revetment, came up the ladder and was very irate about how John had talked to him. John cold cocked him. John said the guy had come out of a SAC command post and didn’t have the right attitude for the situation he found himself in. They loaded me onto a Scatback (T-39) and flew me down to Tan Son Nhut where the Army had a casualty staging facility. The flight surgeons from the 377th Tactical Dispensary, Lt Col Herst and Major Bradley, debriefed me medically. Intelligence people from the 460th TRW debriefed me.

Roger Emmett, the Martin-Baker tech rep at Tan Son Nhut wanted the whole story with details about the how the seat functioned. I told him everything I remembered. He left and came back a day later and said he’d also debriefed Marv. When we had gotten hit (most likely a SAM), we lost all hydraulics so airloads on the slab drove the leading edge full down and we pitched up hard, followed by a snap roll into an upside down, left-hand flat spin. From the sequence of events I’d described, he said I’d gotten out at less than a thousand feet, most likely about 800 feet, upside down.

I was put aboard the first C-141 headed to Walter Reed over the Pole on a great circle route through Anchorage. At Walter Reed, they put me in Ward One called “The Pit.” I was the only Air Force guy there. I had expected to see my parents since they lived near Mt. Vernon, but they didn’t come by for another couple of days.

On 26 Jul 1966, Dad said he had gotten a phone call from the Alexandria Gazette wanting an interview about me and my ejection. He declined because he had not been notified that I was shot down. With a little research at the Pentagon and working the timeline backwards, he figured out that when the Gazette had called, I was still sitting in the weeds in North Vietnam. Evidently, there were reporters on board the USS Ranger who’d interviewed Marv and put the story on the wires before I had been picked up.

The casualty notification system fell on its face. The reason my family wasn’t there to greet me is they had gone on vacation pending words from the casualty staging people. Words never came, although they knew by this time I’d been picked up. Strike two for casualty notification. Dad was more than a little hot by time he and my brother came into the ward. They’d driven all night. Mother and sister came a bit later. Dad couldn’t find them, grabbed Tom and headed for Washington after leaving a note. Heads rolled… Full colonel’s can do that, you see.

Eventually I got out of the full length cast and the flight docs certified me for flight operations. I was posted to Mt. Home, ID to the 67th TRW, 22nd TRS in November 1966. The story doesn’t end there. When I went back for a second tour (Udorn RTAB, Nov 1967-Aug 1968), my navigator, Bones Anderson, and I ferried an RF-4C to the Air Asia facility at Tainan, Taiwan for PDM. We flew down to Taipei after dropping off the jet and played until an RF-4C came out of depot and we’d fly it back to Udorn. Bones said he’d talked to a guy at the Navy Taipei O’club who told him they had recently gotten a CH-3C aboard that had been shot down by a quad-mounted 14.7mm gun on a beach in Route Pack One trying to get an RF-4C crew out.

After I was married, I told my wife’s family the story, and one of my brother’s in-law said he remembered the incident because he’d been Fleet Marine Force aboard the USS Ranger at the time. I had been selected for the first TAC/SAC Exchange in 1971, and was flying B-52G’s out of Beale AFB, CA. Cletus Rogers, now a Lt Col, came into the unit and I flew a couple of training missions with him as the navigator-bombardier before I deployed to Guam for Bulletshot. Nice to have someone who really knew radar like Bones did. From May 1972 to Jan 1973 I flew missions into South Vietnam and Laos, finally we went Downtown during the Christmas raids over Hanoi.

Then there are all the stories from the second tour in RF-4C’s out of Udorn RTAB.

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