Wild Weasel. As Sam and I acquired more and more “counters” (missions that counted toward our 100), we began to feel like we were going to survive our tour. I then learned that I had a small personal problem. Sam had three “counters” before we became a Wild Weasel crew, because he had flown three combat missions in SEA while on temporary duty (TDY) there. This meant that Sam would finish 100, and I would be three short, meaning I would have to remain in SEA for a full year unless I could somehow acquire three more combat missions.
Luckily for me, there were several EB-66 aircraft also stationed at Takhli RTAFB, who employed electronic warfare EWOs on their crews, either in an electronic reconnaissance role, collecting and recording radar signals and getting direction finding bearings to determine radar types and approximate locations of radars and SAM sites in North Vietnam, or in active jamming roles, where they operated electronic jammers to try and confuse NVN radars and SAM systems. After checking in with the EB-66 squadron commander, I was given the opportunity to fly on an EB-66 mission where the mission was to fly over the Gulf of Tonkin and jam SAM radars operating in the Haiphong and Hanoi areas. There was an empty seat beside the EWO operating the jamming equipment in the bomb bay of the aircraft, so I accepted the offer to accompany them. This looked like a piece of cake mission to me, because we only crossed over the southernmost corner of NVN and entered the Gulf. If by some fluke, the NVN sent a MIG over the Gulf and shot us down there, the Navy owned that ocean and had an excellent record of picking up downed pilots in the water. As we orbited off the coast of Haiphong, I had nothing to do but get bored with the routine chit-chat and took a long nap. After the mission, the “real” EB-66 EWO was astonished that I was so cool as to sleep through a combat mission. This further burnished the reputation of Wild Weasel EWOs, who were so “fearless.”
After that mission, one of the other F-105 Weasel pilots found himself without a back seater, for a reason that I now forget. This was an older pilot, nearly 40, who had a reputation for seeing stuff on the ground that none of the other crew members saw: stuff like camouflaged AAA installations, radar sites or other equipment that nobody else saw. Guys thought this pilot was weird, until photo interpreters began seeing the stuff that this pilot had reported during mission debriefings. At any rate, I decided to fly a mission with this pilot and log an “honest” combat mission. Sure enough, we were fragged for a mission into the heart of “SAM country.” Shortly after takeoff, I was a bit disconcerted about this pilot’s flying technique; while Sam was very smooth and accomplished with all his maneuvers, my “borrowed” pilot was jerky. Every heading change was abrupt, making it feel to me like he was suddenly correcting for drifting off his planned heading, or something. At any rate, I was uneasy for the entire three-hour flight, unlike the relaxed manner that Sam and I usually enjoyed. That feeling threw off my concentration, and I was unsure of the level of danger we were in as we encountered several strong SAM signals and LAUNCH lights. Somehow, we survived, and I vowed to myself never again to get into an aircraft with this pilot!
Shortly after this mission, in September, I think, Papa Bear, our oldest back seat Bear, volunteered for a staff position that opened up at 7th Air Force HQ in Saigon. This left Billy Sparks, one of the coolest of the Weasel pilots at Takhli, without a back seater. I was lucky to be crewed up with Billy on an easy mission to southern NVN, near the DMZ. This was a routine mission until after we witnessed the B-52 bombs peppering the jungle just west of the DMZ in Laos. As it was a beautiful sunny and clear day, we decided to do a little “road recce,” or reconnaissance to see if there were any NVN trucks we could drop our cluster bombs on before we went home. No trucks were evident, but “Sparky” spotted a small fleet of NVN sampans (small sail powered fishing boats) just off shore. We were briefed to not shoot up fishing vessels because that was against the rules of engagement. However, Sparky said, “Watch me blow over one of those Sampans with the afterburner!” “Okay by me.” I said. We immediately dropped down to about 20 or 30 feet above the water, doing about 500 knots! Sparky lined up on the mast of a sampan in the middle of the little flotilla, smoked right at the mast at mast level, pulled into a 45-degree climb as we overflew the small boat and hit the afterburner just as we passed over the mast. Sparky rolled to the right as we climbed so we could see the victim. As I watched, the sampan’s mast slowly tilted lower and lower until it finally flopped into the water. The lowly boat captain raised his fist as we swooped off into the distance. Our wingman, Joe Ritter, told us later that we raised a rooster tail about a half mile long as we skimmed the wave tops en route to the sampan flotilla! I would have flown with Sparky some more, but he decided to finish his tour as a regular “bomber pilot,” as he had had enough of the Wild Weasel mission. At any rate, I was now able to complete my 100 missions with Sam about a week before Thanksgiving in 1967.