Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Karl 's History

Gone But Not Forgotten

Karl_W_Richter.jpg First Lieutenant Karl W. Richter, United States Air Force Academy Class of 1964, was killed in action on 26 July 1967 in an F-105 combat mission over North Vietnam. He was buried at the Air Force Academy Cemetery on 8 August 1967.

Karl was born October 4, 1942,the youngest of three children. The family lived in and he graduated from High School in Holly, MI. From a young age he was interested in aviation, helped by his sister Betty, and by 18 had developed into a highly skilled pilot. Encouraged, again by his sister, to apply to the Air Force Academy, he was nominated by Michigan Senator Phillip Hart and Congressman William Broomfield.

While at the Academy, Karl was a member of the 8th Cadet Squadron. He joined the Ski, Automobile, Gun, and Mountaineering Clubs and participated in the Professional Studies Group. He also played on the Varsity Football team for two years. He graduated 3 June 1964 with a commission as a second lieutenant in the Regular Air Force. Karl received his 53 weeks of Undergraduate Pilot Training at Craig AFB, AL, then completed the 26-week Combat Crew Replacement Training at Nellis AFB, NV for qualification in the F-105 Thunderchief. Without any pre-overseas leave, he ferried a replacement F-105 directly to Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand on 6 April 1966, and was assigned to the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron of the newly-designated 388th Tactical Fighter Wing. Four days later Karl was flying missions over North Vietnam.

Karl quickly became an exceptional fighter pilot, and took on every opportunity to fly. With only two years' Air Force experience and even less in combat, he became an element leader. Once, while on leave, he turned down the possibility of a trip to Bangkok or Hong Kong and went instead to Nakhon Phanom where he flew combat missions in an O-1E Bird Dog.

On 21 September 1966, Richter was flying as Ford 03, an element leader, north of Haiphong on a mission to seek out SAM sites. Preparing to strike a discovered site, he saw two MiG-17s making a pass. After assessing the situation, Karl began closing in on the enemy aircraft. He engaged the MiG with his 20mm cannon and impacted the enemy aircraft.

Just as Richter's gun went empty, the MiG's wing broke off and he saw the MiG pilot eject. In a later comment, Richter noted "...It's strange, but, in a way, I was happy he got a good chute. I guess that's the thought that runs through all our minds. He's a jock like I am, flying for the enemy of course, but he's flying a plane, doing a job he has to do."

At the age of 23, Karl Richter had become the youngest American pilot to shoot down a MiG over Vietnam. He went to Saigon to receive the personal congratulations of Lt. Gen. William W. Momyer, Seventh Air Force commander, and again at the personal invitation of Premier Nguyễn Cao Kỳ when he was awarded the Vietnamese Distinguished Service Medal.

As he approached the 100-mission mark, Lieutenant Richter asked permission to fly a second 100 missions, believing his combat experience should be used to advance the war effort. On 20 April 1967, while leading a defense-suppression flight of F-105s, his flight destroyed or pinned down a number of enemy AAA and SAM crews, enabling the strike force to eliminate an important railroad target, in spite of intense enemy fire and weather that hindered navigation.

On his 198th combat mission, while flying with a new pilot, Richter spotted a bridge and instructed the trainee to stay above and watch as he rolled his F-105 toward the target. Suddenly, enemy anti-aircraft artillery opened up, hitting the plane and forcing him to eject. His parachute disappeared into the fog bank and cloud cover. A nearby rescue helicopter picked up his beeper signal and homed in to get the downed pilot. Severely injured during his descent, most likely from swinging into the side of a sandstone cliff, Richter died en route to a hospital.

At the time of his death, First Lieutenant Karl Richter had flown more missions over North Vietnam than any other airman—198 in all officially credited. His awards and decorations included the Air Force Cross, the Silver Star, 4 Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and 22 Air Medals. In 1969, Karl became the first member of the Class of 1964 to be awarded the prestigious USAF Academy's Jabara Award for Airmanship in recognition of his singular achievements as a fighter pilot in Southeast Asia. In 2005, he was named Exemplar of the USAF Academy's Class of 2008. In 2009, Karl was enshrined in the Mall of Heroes.

(Compiled from multiple sources by Doug Jenkins, ’64)
[ Karl Richter: Racing Stud ]
[ Posthumous Awards ]
[ Keynote Address at The Karl Wendell Richter Class of 2008 Exemplar Dedication ]
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