Dad_Vietnam   Dad_GoingHome
 

Da Nang

 

Going Home

 

Da Nang Vietnam - June to December 1966

I trained in and arrived in VN as an A1E (a conventional aircraft with a 3000 horsepower engine used as a fighter-bomber) pilot. However, they had an overage of A!E pilots and a shortage of F-4 pilots. Scince I was still current in the F-4 I was allowed to switch to an F-4 squadron. I didn’t bother to tell them that I had never dropped a bomb or fired a gun from a jet. Nor did I mention that I had only aerial refueled once (during the RF4C test program). They were so desperate for experienced F-4 pilots that no one asked. I dropped my first bomb off a jet on my second mission over North VN.

I became the Operations Officer of the 480th fighter squadron. I flew 102 missions over North Vietnam and 10 in the South. After 100 missions over the North you were sent home. I gave them two extra.

November 1966: Promoted from Major to Lt. Colonel while in combat.

   
  Vietnam_F4
 

Combat Air Strikes in Vietnam

Since most of my missions were up north the normal sequence was to take off fly west of NVN over Laos then north and then east to about straight north of Hanoi then south to the target.  We would aerial refuel over Laos on the way.  A second way was east of NVN over the Gulf of Tonkin, refueling on the way, then west near Haiphong (sp) towards Hanoi to hit targets east and north of Hanoi (rail yards and oil storage primarily.  We would be court martialed for hitting power plants or airfields (really a stupid way to run a war).

The stress really didn't set in until you crossed into NVN other than the intensity of refueling.  Once nearing the target area you were very vigilant in watching for red nitric acid clouds on the ground which meant that a SAM had been fired and watching for missiles already fired.  That got the heart rate up.  Once near the target the pilot was very busy flying the attack pattern for dropping bombs or firing rockets.  The back seater was watching for missiles.  Of course AA (anti aircraft gunfire) was immediately obvious.  It always amazed me after flying through what looked like a beaded curtain coming up and surrounding you could possibly miss; however, several times I went through it and was only hit once and that was a single bullet.  The first SAM I ever saw (about 15 feet long and 12 to 18 inches in diameter and I am guessing at the size) passed so close under us that I could see the writing on the side.  Fortunately it did not explode.

After a very intense several minutes you were exiting the target area and you became almost euphoric,but still very alert.  Once over the Gulf south over Thailand or Laos I used to relax so much I would get sleepy.  You had to be alert for refueling, but it was a piece of cake.  One time I make it out over the Gulf very low on fuel.  By the time a tanker was spotted (he came farther north than he should have) I had about 10 minutes of fuel left and close to an hour to go.  When we hooked up and I could see the gauge going up it was like Christmas for a 5 year old. 

   
 

Close Call

My closest call was when I was hit and didn't even know it. My wingman said I was trailing fuel, but there was no fire and I made it back to DaNang to land. After landing we pulled off the runway onto a taxiway where armament people placed pins in our missiles to prevent them going off on the ground. (Before takeoff they would take the pins out just before we taxied onto the runway). The armament guy ran out from under my airplane with very large eyes signaling me to shut down the engines. It turned out that a round had hit one of my missiles then continued into the wing above. It missed the explosive on the front of the missile, but went through the motor. The motor had burned and damaged the underside of the wing. The airplane had to be shipped to a depot somewhere out of VN to replace the wing.

   
  Vietnam_F105
 

F105 Crash Lands at Da Nang

The 105s were stationed in Thailand, but sometimes came down the east coast of VN over water and refueled at DaNang on their way back. The picture was of one of a flight of four aircraft returning from up north. One was shot up and couldn't get his nose gear down. He had a choice of ejecting or crash landing. He chose the latter. Upon landing and the nose coming down the plane became a ball of fire. The pilot blew his canopy and jumped out while it was sliding. Amazingly he was not hurt.

   
 

Major Corbett

Effectiveness Report

Squadron Operations Officer, Vietnam

 

Present Duty: Squadron Aircraft Commander, Operations Officer, F4C.

Period of Performance: 2 Mar 1966 – 7 Oct 1966

Supervises all squadron flying activities. He coordinates all program flight management, standardization, combat tactics, and aircrew operational status. Advises the Commander in all areas of tactical combat fighter operations. Supervises the Assistant Operations Officer, flight commanders and operations administrative personal. Directs planning, training, tactics, and execution of all operations plans and combat frag orders. Plans and leads combat strike, escort, and air superiority missions in North and South Vietnam.

Reporting Officer:

Lt. Col. Leland Dawson
480th Tactical Fighter Squadron
21 Nov 1966


Facts and Specific Achievements:

Major Corbett’s performance as Squadron Operations Officer is qualitatively superior to any officer I’ve had the privilege to work with in my twenty years of service. He has the innate ability of leadership, both in the air, and on the ground, which proved invaluable in the combat environment of Vietnam. Major Corbett was prone to lead those flights scheduled for the most dangerous missions in North Vietnam. He flew more missions into the highly defended Hanoi area than any other squadron member. His courage, unimpeachable character, and tactical knowledge directly contributed to the outstanding roles and missions performed by the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron. In periods of my absence, major Corbett assumed command and continued the overall squadron operation without interruptions. He actively seeks responsibility and wisely uses his authority. During the period of this report, the squadron experienced approximately a 90% turn-over in personnel. The majority of these replacements were young inexperienced pilots. Major Corbett established a program of indoctrination and training for those new pilots which was so expertly controlled and directed that no degradation of mission performance or accomplishment was experienced. I personally flew several combat missions with Major Corbett. He is an outstanding combat pilot who is able to maintain complete composure under the most adverse combat conditions. Major Corbett’s amiable personality, firm but fair treatment of subordinates, and an outstanding knowledge in human relationships, were the major influences upon the very high state of morale manifested throughout the entire squadron.

Strengths: Major Corbett’s ability to quickly obtain complete and undivided loyalty and admiration from his subordinates are his strong attributes.

Suggested Assignments: Major Corbett has a keen and imaginative mind, therefore, II believe he would make an outstanding contribution in the aircraft requirements field at the highest level of command.

Other Comments: This officer served in SEA during the period of this report.

Reporting Officer:

Lt. Col. Leland Dawson
480th Tactical Fighter Squadron
21 Nov 1966

 

__________________________________________________

 

I concur with the rating and comments of the reporting official based on daily contact with Major Corbett. He invariable selected the most dangerous combat missions to lead and accomplished these missions in a faultless manner. These mission were a tribute to his courage and his tactical knowledge. An outstanding leader that always placed the welfare of his subordinates ahead of his personal desires.

Col. Donald Stanfield
366 Tactical Fighter Wing
11 Jan 1967

 

__________________________________________________

 

On the basis of having observed Major Corbett’s performance almost daily during the major portion of the period covered by this report, I heartily agree with the rating and comments of the reporting and endorsing officials. Major Corbett assumed the duties of Squadron Operations Officer at a critical period when the assigned mission was expanding to include strikes in the vital package V and VI areas of North Vietnam. Not only did Major Corbett play an important role in the planning for these strikes but he was also a key figure in their implementation . He did so with the audacity and courage and in a doing , gained the respect and admiration of both superiors and subordinates. It has been an exceptional pleasure to have served with an officer so well schooled in loyalty, perseverance, and ability.

Col. Allan Rankin
366 Tactile Fighter Wing
13 Jan 1967

   
  50px_spacerAirMedal
 

Col. Rankin presents Lt. Col. Corbett with the Air Medal

 
 

Three Combat Pilots I Remember

by
Colonel Richard Corbett

I remember three individuals very well because of their distinctively different reaction to combat. Most pilots just did their job well without anything particularly setting them apart. I should also explain some terms I use. When pilots say, “lose an engine” they are referring to the fact the engine is no longer functioning properly or has actually stopped. A mission referred to as a “milk run” is one on which little or no resistance was experienced. When I was flying F4s in the AF we usually flew them with two pilots and referred to the pilot in command as the front seater and normally the back seater was a less experienced pilot working his way to the front. When I flew them with the Navy they used pilots in the front and radar intercept officers (RIO) in the rear. The AF eventually started using Navigators instead of pilots in the rear cockpit.

Combat Pilot #1

The first was a very experienced fighter pilot, but this was his first combat as was true of nearly all of us. His reputation was outstanding as to bombing and shooting scores during his training and peacetime excersizes. He had been in VN about 3 months before I arrived and had flown several missions. My first indication of something amiss was when I led a flight of 4 on a mission that was going up near Hanoi. We were briefed to expect a lot of AA and SAMs. Shortly after takeoff he declared that he had an engine failure (the F4 had two) and was returning to Base. I continued with my two wingmen and completed the mission. As it turned out it “milk run” with very little opposition. When I returned to Base I checked on the condition of the aircraft which my aborting wingman had flown. After considerable maintenance effort to determine the cause, none was found. Some months later after the pilot had completed his 100 North missions and had rotated back to the States, I talked to his back seater. This Squadron had been together for several years before they came to VN and were very protective of their reputation. The back seater reluctantly admitted that he didn’t think anything was wrong with the aircraft and that his front seat pilot had probably turned off the master switch to that engine. He never reported this and I dropped the matter. However, I did talk to some of his fellow pilots who had flown with him for some years and discovered his reputation was not so great in combat. For example he apparently on at least one occasion when he was flying wing he went off and left his leader when things got a little rough. No one got hurt so nothing was ever said to myself or the Squadron Commander. Obviously my respect for him disappeared. If I had been aware of all this while he was still with us there would have been some further investigating. I have no idea whatever happened to him career wise.

Combat Pilot #2

The second pilot I remember well came to me after competing 90 north missions which meant he would be going home in less than a month at the rate we were flying (100 missions north of the demilitarization zone (DMZ) constituted a tour, because of the risk involved), He said he had the opportunity to take a headquarter staff job where he would not be flying combat and wanted to take it. I asked why and he stated that he was petrified every time he flew combat. This amazed me because he was senior enough that he had led a flight (4 aircraft) on several missions some in the Hanoi area (highest risk area). He had always done a good job and never once had aborted a mission or fulfilled all the mission requirements. I asked how he accomplished this considering how he felt. He told me the flight surgeon gave him tranquilizers so he could sleep. I am quite sure he never took them prior to a mission. The flight surgeon was probably breaking regulations, but trusted him to use them as prescribed. I recommended that he be allowed to transfer immediately and it was granted. I am certain that I could have made him complete his combat missions or face court martial if he refused. I am also sure he would have stuck it out, but I really respect his integrity in admitting his feelings. I am sure he realized that he could be putting others at risk if he continued to fly.

Combat Pilot #3

Ty was the third pilot I remember well. He was a very bright, complex individual, who could be quite abrasive. He was next in line for my job, but had been past over once for promotion (made it on the next cycle), which made him junior to me. This meant he would have been Operations Officer if I hadn’t showed up. He didn’t attempt to cover up his feelings about this. After somewhat rocky start we became, if not friends, respectful squadron mates. Ty and I flew more missions in the Hanoi area than any other pilots in the squadron. Many of these we were in the same flight. One time he would lead and the next I would do so. He was a true warrior, totally fearless. You knew he would always do his best to accomplish the mission and to protect whoever was in the flight. It was a joke within the squadron that Ty would not be happy until he was shot down. He was a very smart pilot and did not take undo risks, but did whatever was reasonably possible to accomplish the mission. He served two tours in VN and to the best of my knowledge was never shot down. His back seater supposedly lived in terror; however, he could have requested another pilot and it would have been granted. He never did. One time I heard Ty really “chewing” him out because Ty had given him a camera to get some good combat scenes. This particular day a SAM had exploded near their aircraft and the back seater didn’t get a picture. Fortunately they didn’t suffer any damage either. I know Ty was promoted to full colonel and it wouldn’t surprise me if he made flag rank later.

I have not kept contact with any of the above so this is the extent of my knowledge. In reality we were together such a short time and we were flying so often you never had time to really get to know each other unless you had been in the original group. We lost half of our aircraft between June and December 1966. That meant 18 pilots were shot down. One half were recovered the rest were about equally either killed or taken prisoner.