Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

1000 Missions

Tom Walsh


This photo was taken after a flight on which several of us completed 100 or 200 missions over north Vietnam, with the total completed being 1000.

This mission was flown July 1968. I was flight lead and John Douglas Brown (JD) was #3...both, as you know, '64 grads...(2 guys in middle are SqCom and may recoginize Patillo)... JD and I were completing our second tour...he was later killed instructing in the F4 @ Luke, 14 July 1977...a best friend, an excellent officer, and a Really good man. I really sent it for JD...he can't speak for himself. John married an Army nurse, Louise, shortly after our tour. I married Mary Lou, in Sydney, Australia on 5 June, about a month before the pic/last mission. We both went on to instruct in the F-4, me @ George AFB and JD @ Luke...where he was killed in July '77. we never thought of it as what it is, as you say: a bit of history.

the background is simple and would apply to so many of our classmates and, I suppose, those in many of the early years of USAFA classes...when we completed pilot training, those who were good enough or lucky enough to get F-4 assignments went into the back you may know, for a few years there were two pilots in the F-4. By the time the picture was taken, we were receiving navigators for "the pit"...I'm pretty sure everyone in this picture is a rated pilot.

When JD and I went to RTU there was a backseat course @ Davis Monthan...while there the AF decided they needed replacements in SEA more rapidly than plans called for (lousy grammar, sorry). Our class at DM was cut from months to weeks and we both went to MacDill to "crew-up" with front seaters and deploy to SEA. That was a normal RTU class. The beauty of our class was all our instructors and many front seaters had just completed a short tour...they were the first to return from a SEA I recall, three captains and everyone else lieutenants in 18-20 crews (I do not know exact size) As an aside, my aircraft commander was a first lt who could not, for medical reasons, re-deploy but was a great "stick" AND gave me a lot of stick-time from the back seat...probably more than anyone else in the class. During this time JD and I roomed together on Davis Island...and did all the things young fighter pilots did who were headed off to war. When our assignments came down, we both were assigned to Ubon in the 497TFS, the Nightowls. We completed our 100 missions in less than 6 months: chronology: after UPT graduation in mid-September 1965, we worked in survival school @ Stead AFB, NV, shortened backseat RTU @ DM, full RTU (in the pit) @ MacDill, sea survival @ Homestead/Turkey Point (I later appreciated that), and jungle survival in the Philippines and reported Ubon at the end of June 1966. We would have both finished out tour in 100 days ...if they had let us fly every night and double-bang a few nights...but that was really messing up the replacement flow so we were sent on R&R had to sit out some nights. How did we get from that first tour to this picture? Short story... on 27 August, I was shot down, picked up by the Navy, USS Kearsarge...the same chopper pilot that picked me up was the guy who rescued the Thud driver from Haiphong harbor...and my Turkey Point training paid off as it was a beautiful no wind night and my chute landed right on top of me...had to use the hookblade to slice up about a zillion parachute risers after over-handing it out from under the chute)...Ed Barrow, my AC, broke his back in the ejection...the all-too-common compression fracture. The next day a Navy chopper flew us both to Danang, Ed strapped to a liter basket stretcher and me sitting at his feet looking out the window at South Vietnam... Why this long diversion? well, when we got to Danang they told the pilot to go straight to Marble Mountain to offload Barrow at the hospital...I think it's only 5-6 miles from Danang. I am looking out the window and I see three guys, the one in the middle in perfect black pajama like outfit with the coolie(?) hat, pointing at us AND shooting at us. I am convinced the guy in the middle was instructing the other two how to aim and shoot at airplanes. Wham, Wham! two bullets...right between my foot and the foot of Ed's stretcher maybe a two foot gap...and right through the main fuel tank...and we got shot down again! It was actually comical: the chopper crew chief was standing in the doorway behind the pilots and turned and said "what was that?" I said, "we just got shot" and pointed to the bullet holes in the floor. I'm digging our .38's out of our still soaked gear in carry bags and Ed's saying "Give me my gun!" The helo declares Mayday, pitches a tight turn back to Danang and put that thing on the ground in Zero Time...maybe 3 an area with a 4-5 foot high revetment to the right of the open door. I had Barrow's litter un strapped and am dragging it towards the door...only a few feet, screaming at the crew chief to grab the other end and get him out of there (I may have not been too nice referring to his precious helo vice my injured AC) as there was fuel running everywhere. We carried the litter behind that revetment...and I waited for the Kaboom...but, fortunately, it never came. I'm thinking...I actually was thinking this...This is not a good thing: two flights and shot down twice. Turns out the control tower Should have told the pilot to go up to 3000 ft to avoid this very problem...all the local choppers knew this. That was also when I was thinking: Am I missing something or this war really isn't going very well is it? I told Ed, you're on your own...I'm going to a) go to the club and get drunk and b) find the first available ride back to Ubon...which I did...sort of... There is a little more to this ride, T-39 was only going to Udorn, not Ubon, and I would have to wait about 4 hours for other "other" shuttle from Udorn to Ubon. Not a problem as I could grab some lunch at the O'club. I am about halfway up the walkway to the OClub carrying that bag of still wet flying gear when I hear "Lieutenant!" I look around and, you guessed it, I'm the only Lt in sight. I look back and there's a staff car with a bird colonel's flag on it...he's got the passenger side window down and he says "Yes, you..." so I walk over to see what he wants (I can tell he's not happy). He says, "Where's your hat?" I didn't laugh...I leaned down onto the passenger side window and said (and this is verbatim): Sir, I have no fucking idea...I got shot down two nights ago and for all I know it's at the bottom of the Gulf of Tonkin and all I'm trying to do is get off your god damn base and back to Ubon" and I turned around, without saluting, and headed back towards the club. from the staff car all I heard was..."sorry Lt."

On a Much shorter note (know you'll appreciate that), JD was forced to take R&R before me...he normally flew with Ed Collins, a 1Lt, and I with Ed Barrow, a Major...both excellent sticks. Well, after my little swim, Barrow heads for Walter reed, John goes on R&R and I volunteer to fly with Collins. Ed and I proceed to get hammered one night "in the vicinity of" Kep...most of the damage from an 85mm that "moved the airplane" further than the 37mm that shot me down earlier. We managed to get the bird all the way back to Ubon...on short final Ed is telling me, "I needed you to push the left rudder as hard as you can but stay off the brake"...probably goes without saying we were in a mess and probably should have jumped out of the bird...however, we we catch the barrier, and I give him a lesson on ground egress, and we stand back and watch the smoke come from several panels on th plane. she became a permanent hanger queen eventually cannibalized for all her good parts.

And the last story of that tour...During this time the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing did not have dynamic leadership. That all changed when Robin Olds took over the Wing. If you've read his book you know that Chris Mineau and Lee Workman are in it for having wrestled him over his patches shortly after he arrived. Well, I don't know if it was that same night or another night, but John Douglas Brown, Ed Collins (Ed was not an academy grad) and I...Probably after Lee or Chris told us Olds still had a gooney bird patch on his shoulder and bear in mind that we had only had one or two drinks..............we approached Olds between the dining room door and the side door to his staff car off the short hallway to the bar (no, we had not had breakfast yet). Simple message, the patch has got to go. Olds may have said something about he'd take care of it or somebody had already told him about it and he tried to walk right through us...didn't happen. JD and I were lightweights but Collins was nearly as big as Olds...the wrestling match ended up on the hood of Old's staff car and him letting us cut the patch off once he was confident at least one of us was sober enough to do it without ruining his flight suit or injuring ourselves with the knife. I can remember to this day, Olds was clearly an x-football player...he was strong as an ox!

Why that story? Well, you wanted to know how we got to the 200/1000 mission point... John and I had both volunteered to upgrade to the front seat and serve a second tour...but we had specifically requested to serve it in South Vietnam. We had done nearly all our flying in North Vietnam...on my first 100 I flew a total of 103 missions...and I think JD 105 or 106; We thought we should see what was really happening in South Vietnam. That changed after Robin Olds arrived so...being the brash young lts that we were, we both asked to see the Wing Commander when we finished our 100, within a day or two of each other...marched into his office, saluted and told him though we had volunteered for South Vietnam, we wanted to come back to Ubon from front seat upgrade RTU and fly for him. All he said was something like "he'd see about it"...and I guess he did because we both got Ubon out of our upgrade...two quick stories about that upgrade: First, I almost didn't get to go back to Ubon or upgrade...some asshole pencil pusher in personnel (more likely some bird or general made a "command decision") called down to MacDill and I was summoned into a LTC's office in personnel. He told me I was going to be sent to Bentwaters since I had been shot down and couldn't go back to SEA. I went ballistic...Almost climbed across his desk...I told him I had not been a POW, landed in the Gulf, was never on the ground in North Vietnam and he dmn well better find someone who could straighten this out or I was going to have someone's ass. In case I'm not being clear, I was pissed...royally. Thinking back on it, I can't imagine what the LC was thinking or who this nut was in front of him (nearly on top of him for part of the time). Don't know how long my tirade lasted but I was throwing everything I could think of at him to get him to "see the light." For whatever reason, he got me calmed down, picked up the phone, called someone, told that person I was going back to the 45TFS upgrade and staying in the pipeline. I don't even remember his name, one of the good guys, but I said Thank You, saluted and left. The second interesting thing about this RTU class? Remember the first class had 3 captains and the rest lieutenants Aircraft Commanders and all back seaters were 2nd Lts; In this class there were only three lieutenants upgrading to the front seat, Les "Dixie" Alford (from Camrahn Bay), JD and myself and only one captain...all the rest were majors or L/Cs..AND three of the five L/C's made Colonel on the list that came out during our class! (I capitalized Colonel intentionally because they were all good guys, real good guys). JD and I "upgraded" from our dinky apt on Davis Island to the Bayshore Towers...and I have to tell one one story "on" JD since he can't edit it out. Since we knew the academics and could both fly the Phantom, RTU was just plain fun...with a capital F: We both got our commercial ratings and spent nearly all our free time chasing women. (I admit that I also did some serious bass fishing too) When Dixie fixed the three of us (Lts)...up with blind dates, my chasing days ended. So did Les's: I married Mary Lou, my blind date and Les married Janet, J.D.s date. The blind date was to see GrandPrix and Janet got motion sickness. Naturally, JD and I wouldn't leave a great movie like that even though John was the epitome of a true gentleman, so Dixie took Janet out of the theatre and the rest, as they say, is history. But that left me dating Mary Lou and Dixie Janet and JD "still looking." Well, there was an attractive gal living above us in the Towers...we were 7th and I think she was 10th...we saw her on the elevator a few times and debated asking her out. John finally said he was going to and did......................turns out she was a "lady of the night"that's right, a hooker...I can still hear him fuming.

That is how we got to our second tours at Ubon only this time I was assigned to Triple Nickel, 555TFS, and John back to the Nightowls. I will wander a little from here to the picture...

My back seater was Maston E "Bub" Oneal from Georgia...Bub was excellent, so good that the Wing weenies grabbed him (after Olds left) and I only got him back for his last 5 or 6 missions to finish up his hundred for him. His father came over to visit, again after Olds left (note, that is already a recurring theme), and got all the (even back then) "politically correct" BS from the brass. I guess I probably had 150 or more missions by now and Bub corralled his dad and I shut a briefing room door and told dad what was really going on...I think Robin would have been proud. So there was at least one person in Congress who knew the truth about how the politicians were fucking up the war. 'scuse me...editing required. How good a guy was Congressman Oneal? When Mary Lou and I visited he and his wife at their home in GA, Mrs Oneal got a mason jar and invited me to a small snort from her still...behind the living room couch! Great people...

By the time JD and I returned to Ubon, Olds already had over a hundred missions, was trying to get a 5th MiG, and was running out of options (from the pols & brass) to achieve that goal. Neither JD nor I ever got to fly with the time I'd finished my 10-ride checkout, he was gone. And, while the Nickel did good, I believe they finished as the leading MiG-killer squadron of the war, we had a new commander and a new (old) environment. The best way I can describe it is this: at 1230 on New Year's Eve...make that 0030 on 1 January...the wing commander came into the officers' club and closed the bar. nuff said...

Only a couple of stories about the second, I didn't get shot down again. I did come out of North Vietnam on one mission as Blue Four after iron-bombing one of the railroad or highway bridges northeast of we got feet wet SE of Haiphong and were almost joined up I broke radio silence and said "Ah Buick Four took a hit in the target area but the aircraft is OK." I don't believe I've ever seen heads swivel to the right as fast as they did in three and lead...all four of heads! probably in two also but he was on the other side of lead and I couldn't see him. I had been hit by 57mm in the target area and a piece of the windscreen had hit my left shoulder...right on the shoulder harness strap (I had that piece in a dresser drawer until our last PCS when it disappeared). After Three had examined the jet from every angle, and I refused to go to Danang, all systems were working and the hole in the windscreen was tiny, we landed back at Ubon and guys counted the holes, all in the nose section, and that was that. As we got closer to our second hundred, the Nickel got orders to move from Ubon to Udorn...this was May of 1968. You needed a minimum of 25 counters left to make the move and I only had, I think, 18 so they asked where I would like to go and I said back to the 497th. Bub finished his 100th flying with me for his last 5 or 6 during this time and JD and I got to fly together, taking turns as flight lead, on most of our remaining missions...several incidents probably worth mentioning...most missions were at night except for finishing Bub up...

On one, a night mission, we were nearly to Laos and climbing through 15 or 16 thousand feet when there was a flash behind us. I immediately started a turn to the right and it was like we had a recce bird following us dropping photo flash charges...I reversed to the left...and so did the flashes: 85mm! Almost Into Laos! Well, during Intel debrief, I told them there was an 85mm gun Way down south in North Vietnam and gave them the best location we could determine. Impossible they couldn't have an 85 in there without Intel knowing about it...I believe it was two nights later a bird was shot down in that area...from 85mm. On the day missions with Bub he took small binoculars...we would criss-cross know trails (roads) with Bub looking into the jungle below. On one mission, he spotted a truck park that I couldn't see but gave me a good location; I dropped, nothing; Our number two dropped on what he thought Bub meant but was about a quarter mile off. I dropped again and pulled off hard and Bub said it (the target/truck park) was about another 100 meters to the south. Two dropped and got a secondary and I dropped our last 4 bombs and got two secondarys and two dropped his and got three more secondarys...six total. As you may have guessed from my 85mm story, Intel was skeptical at debriefing...we just walked away... On another night mission I had a brand new kid in the pit...we came out of the Pack, checked each other's aircraft for hung ordnance or damage, and I asked the kid if he would like to fly...when I had been in the pit flying at night w/Barrow that's what he had fact we alternated landings, me from the pit, if the weather was good enough...most backseaters in the 497th, with good AC's, could land the jet. Anyway, he sounded nervous...turns out it was his very first mission, and he was...literally...all over the sky, to the point where I had to help get the bird trimmed up. I pushed two way out of the way and had the kid do some gentle turns...not very good but he finally seemed to relax. When we got close to Ubon I had him do the descent for our GCA straight-in landing...I was contemplating letting him land the bird. I got the aircraft configured but at about 3 miles his breathing, his hyperventilation, was starting to worry me and, by 2 miles I figured it was 50-50 between the runway and a rice I took over and landed. It was only an hour or so later in the bar as I started to pry a little about his "rustiness" that I noticed he didn't have bars on his wings...the kid was a navigator and, as he bought me several drinks, he had never been allowed to touch the stick during RTU! Sadly, he was killed about a month later when a new AC ran the F-4 into the ground in NOrth Vietnam. and that brings me to how twice I/we almost didn't get to "the picture"... One night as number two with JD as lead, I got looking too hard over my left shoulder trying to see what John was trying to mark as a target. Somehow, and you only know the feeling if you've been there, while I thought I was making a level turn at 14,000 or 15,000, I had "buried the nose" with a full bomb "felt" like we were picking up speed and I looked inside to see a nearly all black attitude indicator...I rolled wings level, started pulling, plugged in both burners, and continued at max aol until the nose was 20 degrees high and we were above 6,000feet...I'm not sure where we bottomed out, right around 3000ft, and there was some serious karst above 5000 in the area. JD saw the burners, asked if I was Ok and what was going on...I replied, just a minor problem. That backseater got a royal chewing out when we landed...he figured, since I was so experienced, he could look out and watch the show instead of doing his job. The second time would have been even worse... JD and I had decided we were going to get the gun at the Chapon trick we used was to turn on all our lights at 12,000 or 13,000feet while circling the gun...a 37mm is useless at that altitude ie, virtually impossible to hit an F-4. When one guy turns on his lights, the other guy is on a perch to roll in ...well, it worked...JD lit his bird up and the gun opened up and I started after it. I think we each had six bombs because we planned to make 6 passed or until one of us nailed him. Well, I missed...JD missed...I least no secondarys and all the bombs were close to where those muzzle flashed were (heard after that the gunner, who shot down several aircraft, had that gun on rollers and simply rolled it back into his cave when the action got too hot)...we were both really pressing and somehow got our coded clock positions mixed up when, as I started to pull over , down, to the left on my rollin, an F-4 passed over the top of me so close I heard it and saw the shadow...that is the only time I can consciously remember ever hearing another Phantom. JD immediately said "was that you?" and I answered "yup" must have been as wewere the only two out here. close? yes. how close? I don't know, but I'm sure it was feet, not yards...and if those "feet" weren't there, there would not have been any picture...

As I probably said in the original submission, I think the 1000 mission flight was our Squadron Commander's idea...he ran it up to the DO & Wing Commander and got it approved...John and I just thought it would be cool to fly our last mission together. And John may have suggested me as flight lead, I don't know, as we were both equally qualified and capable of leading that last flight. And the mission was not very satisfying;;;we road recced into MuGia Pass and dropped on some trucks that I still think was "dead" trucks used as a flak trap as all four of us could bomb and we got no secondarys...

Now, unbeknownst (is that a word) to all of us, the Squadron had big plans for our return...Well, we (I) had a little plan of our own...

flybys were prohibited...ever since some F-100 driver crashed and took out himself and some folks on the ground in South Vietnam. But, in our mission brief, with the door closed, I finished the combat part and said "I don't want to just come back and land...I want to dust this place off. Are you guys for it?" Seven yes's. My reasoning? What can they do to us, send us back for a third tour...thinking of JD and myself because we would bear the brunt of the blame; My second reason was our new Wing Commander...Buck Patillo, the former Thunderbird leader, had taken over the Wing from the "New Year's Eve colonel" and I had seen him with his feet up on his desk every time I passed his office when he was waiting to take over...So... I briefed 10 minutes to practice and what we would do and asked if everyone was happy with that...they all were. Remember JD and I were #'s 1 and 3 but we were by far the two junior AC's...the slot man was a Major and my wingman a Captain who out ranked me...this was July and JD and I just made Captain the previous December. Keeping to the KISS principle, we made two practice runs, the first at 500 feet, the second at 300feet.

When we approached Ubon, I called tower and asked for an offset straight through pass on our initial approach...they approved it. I lined the diamond up on the control tower parallel to the runway which would have us pass directly over Wing Headquartes and right down the middle of the ramp. With #4 tight in the slot he should clear the tower as long as I didn't get below the bottom of the big light towers off to the hanger side of the ramp...this pass was really for the guys on the ramp as much as for JD, myself and the other six guys in the jets. During practice, I eyeballed the distance so that when we passed the end of the runway I called "burners now" and we lit off all 8 afterburners, accelerated from 350 kts to 550kts as we cleared the far end of the field...level with the light towers...out of burner...a pulloff to the right and repositioned for a 500foot initial at 400kts and 3 second tactical break (before we had tactical breaks) to a 1000 foot downwind with 2,3 and 4 to fly level with me and adjust the base turn to achieve normal landing spacing. I had fun...and so did the other guys as you can see in the picture.

When I climbed out of the jet...moment of truth...Colonel Patillo shook my hand and said simply "good show Walsh"...I believe he said that to each AC. Neither JD nor I had any idea that the photo op was planned...but we had planned to "buy the club" anyway so drinks would not be a problem...turned out they paraded us to the O Club, had a cake, and we didn't have to buy any drinks for ourselves or anyone else that night.

several post-scripts:

1. possibly planning for all this may have started whie I was on R&R...and had two more chances to miss the whole show and the picture. On 4 June 1968 I flew to Tonsanut on my way to Australia on that R&R. I had to RON there before the flight to OZ...naturally, the base got mortared...that ws the bad one where they blew up a bunch of aircraft on the ground. I heard whoosh, whoosh, whoosh and then the explosions started...I leaped up and ran to the door towards the ramp. As this Bad 4th of July shit was happening in front of me, someone grabbed me, hauled me down and gave me a pot for my head...I was, I think, first in line the next morning for the flight to Sydney. Six days later, after marrying Mary Lou in the biggest Cathedral (St Mary's) in Sydney, I was back at Tonsanut...all was quiet while I was on R&R...that night they got mortared again! This time I guarantee you I was first in line for the flight to Bangkok next to this post-script: Mary Lou flew commercial and met me...we stayed at the Siam Intercontintenal for 4 more days. I had convinced my very modest wife to buy and wear a bikini. We were in a very small pool, I think my backyard pool in Vegas was bigger than this one, when the door from the lobby opens and guys start coming in wearing funny colored flying suits...and I know a bunch of these guys...and I'm in a swimming pool with the only round-eye in the building! They're having what I guess you'd call a forerunner of the Red River Rats conventions at the should have seen Mary Lou trying to shake hands while pressed against the side of the pool! At the first lull in guys passing through she was out of the pool and into a robe!

2. maintenance guys, many with tears in their eyes and the kids unabe to stop smiling, continually thanked us for the flyby.

3. one of the techs from the control tower got me aside and told me we clipped the very top of their whip antenna...but not to worry, he'd already fixed it.

4. I later apologized to the Wing Commander's of the guys in the headquarters told me she was on the second step headed for the ramp when those 8 burners popped over her head...knocked her flat on the ground. She thought it was least I think that's what she said...

5. and our beloved DO, who unbeknowst (that word again) was off base on a tdy, claimed if he'd been there and seen it, he would have all of us (probably just me) courtmartialed. I think it took the Wing Commander another month before that colonel was gone

[ My History ] [ Home ] [ Table Of Contents ]