The wind in last weekend’s “snow-less blizzard” was about as bad as I have endured in years, particularly Sunday night. Our electric power was cut off at about 7 p.m. that evening and stayed off until about 3:30 p.m. on Monday. Afterward, I noted that a large rotten white birch on our road and a pair of pine trees near Applins’ driveway had blown down and shorted out the lines. Our trusty Honda generator provided enough power to run our refrigerator, furnace, water pump and freezers, so we stayed warm and endured only minor inconveniences. Several of our neighbors also have generators for just such occasions.
Wild Weasel: 100 Missions at Last. Throughout the summer and early fall of 1967 Sam and I flew nearly every day, mostly into the heavily SAM defended areas of North Vietnam. During that time, we launched numerous Shrike missiles at SAM radars, knocking quite a few of them off the air – some by destroying radar vans and some going off the air because the SAM radar operators shut them off to avoid getting hit. We also attacked a few sites with our cluster bombs, but with our primitive weapons (by today’s standards), I don’t believe we thoroughly destroyed many missile sites. Despite all our efforts, it seemed as though there were as many SAM sites active in the fall as there had been in the spring. Of course, during that time frame, the Port of Haiphong was never attacked, and the Russians were able to continue to bring replacement weapons into NVN unmolested.
In all, 65 of our missions went into the red SAM defended areas, and most of our “easy” missions went into the southern panhandle of NVN, where we went to protect B-52’s bombing suspected enemy troop concentrations and mountain passes in nearby Laos used by the N. Vietnamese army truck convoys bringing supplies to their forces fighting in S. Vietnam. These missions were considered “easy” for us because there were seldom any SAM sites there, only the threat of a heavily camouflaged site hoping to get a shot at a B-52 before they (the SAMs) could be destroyed by American fighter aircraft.
Because loss rates were high for aircraft attacking targets in the SAM defended areas, the Air Force allowed units to assign to aircrews with 90 or more missions over NVN so they were less likely to be shot down near the end of their combat tours. By about mid October, Sam and I had survived 90 missions and were on “easy street.” The tradition was for an aircrew landing from its 100th mission to be met by a group of their squadron buddies and ground crews, who presented them with a bottle of champagne and a “hosing down” with fire hoses.
Our situation was that most of the easy B-52 support missions at that time were flown at night, because that was when the “Ho Chi Minh” trail through Laos was busy with southbound truck traffic. Sam and I decided to go ahead and fly our last mission at night even though we knew there would not be much of a welcoming committee when we landed. (Most other aircrews were sleeping because of early morning missions). We didn’t want to fly “up north” if we didn’t have to!
When our final mission came up about mid November, it was a night BUFF support, as expected. We planned our orbit area just to the east of the B-52 target area to position ourselves between the bomber targets and the most likely SAM site, if any, near the western border of NVN and Laos. We masking taped the radar warning receiver buttons to minimize the bright flashes they caused on the insides of our cockpit canopy when they lit up, warning of SAM radar signals. We reviewed all the radar call signs of the B-52 crews and our radar ground controllers in the area. Then we settled into our standard mission routine until we arrived in the target area a few minutes before the B-52 TOT (time over target). As the time drew close, we were a little edgier than usual, but it turned out uneventful. We watched the hundreds of flashes as the loads of 3 giant bombers peppered the mountain passes in the jungle below. Finally, we were free to go home, still in one piece!
As we taxied into our parking spot and shut down the aircraft in the steel reinforced revetment, we watched our squadron van and operations officer’s pickup truck pull up in front, with headlights illuminating the front of our aircraft. As we climbed down the crew ladder, someone handed me an open bottle of champagne. Sam, being a good Mormon and a teetotaler, received a can of 7-Up and a champagne glass!
The next evening, Sam and I walked into the stag bar at the officers club with our hats on and rang the bell over the bar. The drinks were on us until our bar tab was “maxed out.” We completed our official 100th mission celebration by burning our initials and the date of our 100th in the ceiling of the stag bar, a Takhli tradition.