Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

The Karl Wendell Richter Class of 2008 Exemplar Dedication

Keynote Address by Colonel Edwin Harvey, USAF Retired, 21 October 2005

Class of 2008, Karl’s family and friends, the Academy staff, cadets, ladies and gentlemen, I sincerely thank you for this opportunity to share my memories at this very special celebration.

The Class of 2008, I highly commend you for your selection of my best friend Karl Wendell Richter as your exemplar. Karl was certainly an individual that had the characteristics of a leader you should strive to emulate.

Although we were classmates here at the Academy, I did not meet Karl until we entered the F-105 combat crew training school at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas in September 1965. Although we knew that we were enroute to Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base to fly combat missions over North Vietnam, we were the next to the last class to complete the course of instruction that qualified a pilot in the F-105 to deliver tactical nuclear weapons in any weather, day or night. It is truly an awesome happening to climb into a single engine, single seat airplane, have your instructor supervise you starting the airplane standing on the ladder and then get into his own airplane, follow you out to the end of the runway and takeoff on your wing. After some stall familiarization and other aircraft handling maneuvers he followed you through three low approaches before you landed the airplane for the first time. But the challenge didn’t end there. We had to demonstrate that we could assume control of the airplane at takeoff from the back seat of a two seater under a visibility restricting hood, fly at 1500 feet above the ground over 300 miles through mountains and valleys on instruments at 480 knots using a terrain avoidance radar developed shortly after the Korean war, find a target and deliver a simulated nuclear weapon within 2000 feet, then find the way back and complete an approach to Nellis all without ever seeing outside the cockpit. The course also included dive bomb, rocket, strafe and air-to-air dart weapons qualifications. We all face challenges big and small, and Karl faced one in this checkout program. He was not going to fail to complete this course, so he demonstrated one of his outstanding personal traits, humility. He complained to his instructor that he was at a disadvantage since he completed primary pilot training in a T-33 and his classmates flew the supersonic T-38. As a result, he had difficulty keeping up with the airplane and being smooth in formation. Since the T-38 was a recent addition to undergraduate pilot training, his instructor reminded him that he and all his fellow instructors also flew the T-33 in primary, and they mastered the thud. Obviously Karl succeeded.

Now displaying another outstanding leadership trait, drive, he was compelled to apply his newly acquired skills to thwart the spread of Communism as soon as he could, so he wrangled the opportunity to ferry an F-105 to Thailand. Five of his eight Nellis classmates finally showed up after two weeks at Clark Air Base attending survival school and three days in Bangkok checking things out to find that Karl was well on his way flying missions every day, and sometimes twice.

Karl’s philosophy was fairly simple: since new lieutenants were relegated to flying the wing of more experienced captains and majors, the charge was to be the best possible wingman. Likewise, there were numerous jobs to be done in the operation of a fighter squadron and these additional duties generally were left to the lieutenants. Karl looked over the opportunities and decided that the life support equipment had to be the most important additional duty in the squadron. He took on that task with vigor, ensuring that the enlisted technicians caring for the equipment were fully trained, and had every item they needed to keep each pilot’s personal equipment in top shape. He enlisted several of us to help remodel the PE room to more adequately accommodate some additional pilots.

Karl was forever innovative, and rose to every challenge, sometimes with reckless abandon. Our squadron commander had a window in his office, the only one in the building. The operations officer Lloyd Thompson thought he should have one too. So Karl scrounged up a 4 by 6-foot piece of 3/8ths inch tinted glass and some wooden boards. When Lloyd went on a 4 day R and R, which stands for Rest and Relaxation, Karl sprang his team into action. As the lead carpenter my group set about cutting a 4 by 6 foot hole in the wall next to the ops doorway and we installed the window in 90 minutes. My flight commander, Major Bob Phillips was returning from lunch, and as fighter pilots sometimes do, was scratching inside his nostril as he walked up the sidewalk. He looked up and saw our Master Sergeant Ops supervisor standing in the window watching at him. His comment was “I don’t remember that window being there.” Lloyd was elated, but since the mission scheduling board was in view of the window, it had to have a curtain. It wasn’t long before security had it boarded back up with the admonition to Karl, “Don’t do that again, Lieutenant.” That was Karl, always thinking outside the box, and often performing there as well.

Now on the more professional side of Karl’s lust for innovation in accomplishing the mission, he observed that the road reconnaissance missions that we were being directed into the southern panhandle of North Vietnam just above the De-militarized Zone continued to find and destroy the same truck bodies, rail cars, swamped lighters and cave openings. Karl approached our wing intelligence staff about the possibility of putting up a map of the entire area, cover it with acetate and let the crews post notes on findings for later missions to use. The best scale would have been 1:100,000 topographic maps, but the Defense Mapping Agency didn’t make any of that area. All that were available were the army infantry favorite, 1:50,000s, and the intel shop only had a few of them of specific interdiction points. Karl was not deterred. We had an army air defense unit defending the air base, and we had one of the finest army engineering battalions in Army history right there at Korat. A couple of cases of beer and big bottles of Johnny Walker later, Karl had maps of the entire area. Of course the area was oriented northwest to southeast, and with all the maps from the ocean to the Laotian border glued together it was 8 feet wide and 25 feet tall. The only way we could put it up on a wall was on its side. One way was to rotate it 45 degrees left and have north on the left, and be able to read the numbers and names with a slight tilt of the head. But Karl said when a page in a book is rotated to landscape, my word not his, it is always rotated so the right side of the picture is on the top of the book, beside we always look at maps with north up or west up. It got rotated 135 degrees to the right so the DMZ was on the left side of the wall and north was on the right. Of course the writing was difficult to read, but everything began taking on local names, like “Wimpy’s cave” and “Mitchell’s ford” anyway. Coordinates were something that the intel troops used since GPS was only a dream of Colonel Brad Parkinson and a few brilliant space engineers.

Now back to a war story. The summer of ’66 was great weather and missions were flying and bombs were dropping. We had expended all the World War II and Korean War M117 750 pound bombs and were waiting for a ship load of the new, slick Navy designed Mark 82, 500 pound bombs. It had the same explosive power of the 750 but two thirds the weight and half the drag. We learned that a ship with the Mark 82s had arrived in Bangkok, but they had the high drag fins used by A-1s and F-100s in close air support in South Vietnam and our slick bomb carrying ship had arrived in Saigon. In the mean time, we were out of bombs with the Sec Def Robert McNamara telling the nation there was no bomb shortage. We used some old 3000 pound baby hughies and some Navy 2000 pound Mark 84s, but a lot of missions were sent on road recce into the panhandle with a pod of 19 2.75 rockets, or just with the gun. Karl had attained the skills and experience to be an element leader and finally was ready to be a flight lead. Major Wimpy Peake was the scheduler and always selected Karl and I to be in his flight on the difficult missions over Hanoi. He quietly scheduled Karl and I for the first ever all Lieutenant two ship combat mission into North Vietnam. With only a full load of 20mm in the gun, how could we get into trouble? Karl looked and looked for a 37mm anti aircraft site and finally found one on the very northern part of the area. How did we know it was an active site? All the other sites of 6 round revetments in a circle were obviously empty, this one had six nice green trees right in the middle of the revetments. Karl sent me north to come in at low level for a strafing run, and he climbed up high to get them looking a him. As he rolled in they opened up and so did I. I expended the entire 1029 rounds in one-10 second burst moving the impacts all over the site. Of course the rules said 2 second bursts so the gasses would not build up and explode in the gun bay, but I was lucky. Now we turned for home. We had wandered so far north that the Nakhom Phenom TACAN was a long way away, and I had been maneuvering hard at low altitude while Karl was high. I was well below bingo fuel. The very first all Lieutenant combat mission out of Korat was in trouble. There was no question about stopping at Ubon for gas, we were going to make it back. I knew from my aero training here at the Academy that the higher the better for jet engine fuel consumption. We had cruise climbed to 39,000 feet before we were comfortable to start an idle descent for landing. Unfortunately the weather had become 200 feet broken and we had to fly an instrument approach. Karl led the smoothest GCA approach in history, nothing but “on course, on glide slope” to touchdown. I had 200 pounds of fuel on the gage in the dearm area and made it back to the revetment for a normal shut down. We swore quietly that night over a double rum coke in a small glass and a vodka gimlet that we would never do that again. I did it three more times.

After the early summer missions to down town Hanoi, we fell into working with the Nail Forward Air Controllers, or FACs in interdiction along the Ho Chi Min trail. The FACs would find targets for the fighters and talk us into the area and on to the target. Their view of the world from an OV-1 Birddog at 1500 feet was much different than ours at 10,000 feet. I had been taking a lot of 16mm movie film from my aircraft during bombing runs of my leader’s bomb impacts that keenly illustrated the view of the world from a 500-knot, 30-degree dive at 5000 feet. Karl arranged for us to take one of our 4 day R and Rs and go up to the Birdogs’ base, Nakhom Phenom with a huge 16mm projector and my combat films. We briefed and we talked and finally we were invited to climb into the empty back seat of their Birddogs and go on a mission. We flew four over North Vietnam. Although these did not count for our 100 missions in an F-105, it does say Karl had more than 198 missions. We had an M- 16 with a big clip including tracer rounds with us in the back seat. My FAC found some 55-gallon drums under a tree and from 500-foot altitude I unsuccessfully fired out. We traded places and observed Karl’s FAC go from a nice tight circle around the drums to a flight resembling a butterfly with the hiccups. In the debrief we learned that the FAC was maintaining a great “turn about a point” and hearing a lot of “ra-ta-ta-ta-tat,” only to look into the rear cockpit and see Karl vigorously attempting to clear a gun jam. Realizing that the fire he was hearing was coming from the ground, it was time to get out of Dodge. For a ride back to Korat, we convinced the commander and two of his FACs that they needed to fly down to Korat in their airplanes and talk to our squadron pilots about their 60 mph, 1500-foot view of the Ho Chi Min Trail. The thud made the NKP to Korat trip in 15 minutes, our free ride home took 1.5 hours with a 16mm projector in my lap.

I keep coming back to Karl’s ability to successfully think out side the box and develop successful projects, tactics and activities. Technology had finally caught up in the battle with the SA-2s and their radars. We were getting jamming pods to interfere with their radar tracking. But what was the best way to employ them? Karl worked with the contractors that came to Korat with the pods and learned their capabilities and limitations. With this he and the other squadrons’ tactics teams developed some proposed flight pod formations at 15,000 feet and he sold their ideas to the Wing Deputy for Operations Scrappy Johnson. Slowly they began flying four ship formations into the targets around Hanoi at 15,000 feet with the pods and got no missile firings. Eventually the formations grew to four or five flights of four aircraft attacking the targets from high altitude immune to the SA-2 missile. I understand Karl got to lead one of these missions early in the process to confirm the validity of the tactics he developed. The wing was required to tell 7th Air Force in Saigon the name of the mission commander. Scrappy Johnson had to validate for them that Lieutenant Richter was the mission commander, not Lieutenant Colonel Richter.

There are a lot more stories I might share, but you all understand that Karl used his time at the academy to learn how to be the best lieutenant in the Air Force, and he did it.

I challenge you to do the same. The Richter Class, for Karl Wendell Richter, I salute you.

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