Medal of Honor - March 10, 1967
Author Larry Davis told the story of the Medal of Honor mission.
“The mission was a ROLLING THUNDER strike against the steel complex at Thai Nguyen (JCS 76.00), about forty miles due north of Hanoi. Lincoln Flight was the Weasel flight, two EF-105Fs armed with Shrikes and CBUs, plus two F-105Ds armed with bombs. … It was Dethlefsen’s 78th mission. ‘We hit the tankers about five minutes before the strike force. The target was important. Thai Nguyen produced about forty percent of the steel in North Vietnam. But they defended it with what seemed like a hundred percent of the guns and SAMs. We came in a little north of the plant at about 1500 feet. About two miles out we split into elements, popped up to an attack altitude and rolled in, my element about three or four thousand feet behind Lead. The North Vietnamese were waiting. Both Mike and I had seen some pretty intense flak in North Vietnam, but nothing to compare with this. The sky was literally black with flak — a greasy, deadly black. I lost sight of Lead in all the smoke. Suddenly I saw Lincoln 2 break to the right and heard the tell-tale shriek of a parachute beeper! Lincoln Lead [Maj David Everson & Capt Dave Luna in F-105F 63-8335] had been shot down! And Lincoln 2 [Capt Bill Hoeft] wasn’t in too good a shape either. By all the rules I should have squirted off my missiles and gotten the hell out of there. But the strike force was still very vulnerable. I had fuel, missiles, bombs, and guns, and the job wasn’t done yet.”
“I decided to stay and made a short recon of the flak pattern. It really wasn’t a matter of avoiding the flak, that was impossible. I had to find the least intense area. Major Ken Bell, Lincoln 4, later recalled that he couldn’t see anything but black over the whole area. The SAM site we were after was placed in close to several large 100mm antiaircraft sites, not guns – SITES! Each site had multiple guns in it. I made one pass through the smoke and when I broke out on the other side. I had lost Lincoln 4. We were on opposite sides of the site so we set up a sort of ‘wagon wheel’ pattern of attack. I rolled in and began lining up on the SAM site for a Shrike attack when something caught my eye. How I picked out the MiGs in all that smoke and confusion I don’t know. I fired the Shrike and broke to the right just as the MiG launched a missile at me. I actually broke into the heavy flak figuring that would give me the best chance of evading the heat-seeking missile, there was lots of hot stuff for it to home on, and the MiGs — they surely wouldn’t follow me into that stuff! I was right on both counts. But there were two more MiGs waiting for me when I broke out of the flak on the other side. Again, I broke left — directly into the flak to avoid the MiGs. But all this jumping back and forth through the flak had to catch up sometime. On my second run through the flak I felt a slight bump. We were hit.
“At least one 57-mm gun had scored. Lincoln 4 told me that I had a large hole in the bottom of the fuselage and I could see several holes in the left wingtip. But the engine was running fine and all the controls seemed to work OK. I got out of burner at about the same time that I heard the strike force begin to withdraw from the target area. Rechecking all the instruments and controls, and finding everything still in the green, I made up my mind to stay until I got that SAM site – or they got me!”
“I swung around the flak pattern to set up for another run on the SAM site when suddenly Gilroy called another three-ringer dead ahead. It was a second site and they had us locked in! I was already in a good firing position so I let loose a Shrike. The site went off the air at the same time the missile impacted in the area. I tried to locate the first SAM site but the smoke from the flak and the bombs was so dense that I couldn’t pick it up visually. But Mike’s scope directed me right to the site. I dropped down on the deck and there it was, the SAM radar van. I popped up a little bit, rolled in on the site, pickled my bombs and that site too, went off the air. Making a quick 180 turn, I sprayed the whole area with Gatling cannon fire just to make sure.”
“Lincoln 4 had stayed right with me and added his bombs and cannon fire also. With both SAM sites off the air, we made a hasty retreat and joined up with Lincoln 2 who was trying to limp home with a six foot hole in his wing.’ Lincoln 2 also had over two hundred holes down the left side of his fuselage. Lincoln 4 had suffered some damage from both the flak and MiGs with his right wing leading edge twisted up like a pretzel and one aileron frozen, allowing him to make only right turns. Mission number 78 of 10 March 1967 was over.”
“Captain Dethlefsen had made five passes over [the SAM sites protecting] the Thai Nguyen Steel Works, knocked out two SAM sites, avoided some ninety-six antiaircraft guns, and dodged missiles and cannon fire from four MiGs. Eleven months later he stood before President Lyndon Johnson to receive the Medal Of Honor for his actions. ‘All I did was the job I was sent to do!'” (“Wild Weasel, The SAM Suppression Story”)