2:44 | With hundreds of missions over two tours in Vietnam, fighter pilot Rick Hilton was awarded a nice collection of medals and commendations. It may have been even shinier except the new smart bomb technology he was deploying on his second tour caused some to think it was now too easy.
Keywords : Rick Hilton fighter pilot Vietnam Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) surface-to-air missile (SAM) Haiphong Doumer Bridge Thanh Hoa Silver Star Hoa Loc Air Medal
Rick Hilton was based in Thailand during his first Vietnam tour with a fighter squadron that flew missions mainly over North Vietnam. Their gunners weren't always the best shots, but there were a lot of them. When he looked out his cockpit on a tough mission, the sky was full of red raindrops going in the wrong direction.
Fighter pilot Rick Hilton had already been flying missions out of Thailand when a former classmate was assigned to the same squadron. His first mission as Hilton's back seater was a memorable one. The plane was hit by a SAM and it looked like they were done for.
It was a memorable mission. Rick Hilton spotted two trucks, sitting ducks on the road. As he rolled in to strike, guns on either side of him opened up. It was a trap. The pilots had to fly a hundred missions to make up a tour, which led to one of them making a memorable comment during a lecture from the flight surgeon about smoking.
Rick Hilton did not let the cold shoulder from the public bother him when he came home from his first Vietnam tour. He had decided on an Air Force Career and was back for a second tour a few years later. For that one he commanded the only smart bomb squadron in the world. He describes some of the missions and also outlines how the enemy both lost and won the war with help from American politicians and media.
The smart bombs were a great new technology and Rick Hilton commanded the first fighter squadron to have them. After a series of missions to test the accuracy so collateral damage could be avoided, he went after an important power plant in the middle of a reservoir.
His missions were usually over North Vietnam but fighter pilot Rick Hilton was diverted to help a forward air controller on the ground in the South. He was not used to ground support tactics but the FAC was very good and he was on the money.
With two tours there under his belt, Rick Hilton watched the tragic fall of Saigon on television. His feeling is that this should never happen again, that the American military is sent into war with it's hands tied and not allowed to win it.
He was only four years old when Rick Hilton's uncle let him "fly" his airplane. The kid couldn't reach all the controls but he did get a deep desire to fly. He got his chance in college with the Air Force cadet program and was soon piloting jet fighters.
When an alert was sounded, the procedure for fighter pilot Rick Hilton was to get his aircraft fueled and wait at the end of the runway with a live nuclear weapon on board. Someone thought this was a little too much power for a fighter jock so the procedure was changed to include blocking the taxiway with a fuel truck. Then a real alert came in.
Fighter pilot Rick Hilton was scrambled and sent aloft from his base in New Mexico for possible strikes in Cuba during the missile crisis. He was amazed when he contacted the FAA for flight clearance. No low priority this time.
The second homecoming from Vietnam wasn't as bad as the first for Rick Hilton. The war was basically over and he settled into an Air Force career. Eventually retiring out of the Pentagon, he had another career waiting at Hughes Aircraft.
On his first tour of Vietnam, pilot Mike Leonard lived in relative luxury in Saigon, enjoying barbecues and water skiing. His second tour was shaping up to be very different. This time he was flying a Cessna Bird Dog as a forward air controller at a forward operating base.
Why were the Montagnard units getting no contact? It was determined that they weren't going out far enough and on the second patrol that ventured further, Jim Bolan and the combined unit ran into the back of a VC ambush. A furious firefight followed, and he summoned his ace in the hole, the Air Force.
Forward air controller Mike Leonard went up to Ban Me Thuot to help out for a few days. The first night, as he settled in with a cold beer, the radio crackled with pleas for help from a nearby special forces camp. They were under siege. Part 1 of 3.
When a new pilot checked in, David Farthing asked where he was before. The answer caused him to bite his tongue. They were always short of pilots in the assault helicopter company, but he didn't think this guy was going to work out. Overall, though, things were getting better and it was his opinion that it had a lot to do with the new top commander, Creighton Abrams. (Caution: coarse language.)
American advisor John Le Moyne didn't give the South Vietnamese Airborne unit much advice. He was there to call in air strikes, artillery, Medevacs and resupply. He marveled at the toughness and courage of the fighters who traced the unit's lineage back to the French Colonial Airborne.
New Air Force lieutenant Mike Leonard was assigned as a weapons officer at a ground radar site. When he found out that the same job paid more flying in the back of a Lockheed Constellation, he signed up for that. At first, he was flying off the California coast but it wasn't long before he was flying missions in the Gulf of Tonkin.
This isn't going to work. That's what Tony Nadal told his boss, Hal Moore, as they launched a helicopter assault to search for the enemy. He was right. The forces scattered and hid, so new tactics were called for. The next assault was in the Ia Drang Valley and they were perhaps too successful. Part 1 of 5.
Long periods of boredom interspersed with moments of stark terror. That was the life of a forward air controller flying in a small Cessna over Vietnam. FAC Mike Leonard describes these missions and the array of communications gear he used for different purposes. He also describes what it was like to coordinate a defoliation mission.
It wasn't any ragtag Viet Cong, it was a battalion of NVA that was assaulting the artillery battery where Sammy Davis was stationed in the Mekong Delta. After an RPG hit his gun, he regained consciousness and found his position nearly overrun. After firing every round he had, he saw a wounded American on the other side of the river. He knew what he had to do and his actions brought him consideration for the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.
Can I cut the mustard? Tom Agnew was apprehensive on the way to Vietnam and wondering if he was up to the task. He was assigned as a medic in a helicopter evacuation unit, known as Dustoff. On one of his first missions, he learned not to triage the wounded too quickly. (Caution: coarse language.)
When someone at work made a comment that America had lost the Vietnam War, Roye Wilson was shocked. Our soldiers never lost a battle there. The politicians decided they would leave and they did. To him, it was an honorable enterprise and the only right course at the time and it is his belief that it contributed to the fall of Soviet communism.
It could be tough getting resupplied in the field in Vietnam. Medic Marvin Cole nearly had a Chinook land on top of him in the fog. He and his medical platoon performed missions treating civilians in their villages and he relates a chilling story of a child used by the enemy to attack one of these operations.
On his way to jungle survival school in the Philippines, Mike Leonard, along with a rowdy plane full of pilots, nearly was detained by the base commander at a refueling stop. The hijinks didn't stop until they were all out in the jungle trying to hide. At least, some of them were trying.
Following a harrowing first day of combat, Tom Buchan was surprised to find hot food flown in and cots to sleep on. He managed to finally get himself on a tank crew through sheer will and intelligence. It was the day he helped out one of the APC crews, though, that earned him recognition.
While he was beginning his shift as the night duty officer, Lawson Magruder would marvel at the wrecked helicopters brought back to base. The brigade had moved and tactics had not been adjusted for the fact that there were anti-aircraft batteries up near the DMZ. He relates the story of LT Dick Anshus and a downed pilot who were captured.
It was the most intense action he saw during the war. Mike Morris describes the hour long battle with an NVA unit that made an unusual frontal assault. When daylight came, it was a grim scene, with hundreds of enemy dead.
The Air Force rescue crews flying the big helicopters known as the Jolly Green Giants began to get respect among the pilots of other services because they excelled at retrieving downed airmen. Pilot Dave Oliver was on one such mission, which was going badly, when the commander asked if was he willing to go in without waiting for backup. The situation was dire for the men on the ground so the answer was affirmative. He would be awarded the Silver Star for this action.
His company command at the Cua Viet River was just the way Richard Jackson liked it. He was given free reign to take care of his area. He describes the tactics he used to fight the enemy and recalls one memorable fight in which his men and an NVA unit charged at each other in darkness.
After the column was devastated by an NVA ambush, wounded Americans were scattered in the darkness. After his captain heard one such group calling for help on the radio, Freddie Owens joined a patrol to find them, guided by a gunshot every few minutes. Once there, medic Daniel Torres volunteered to stay with those who couldn't move and protected them through the night with medicine and a machine gun.
Platoon leader Bill Pearson sent out a squad to set up a night ambush and when they made contact, it was with a much larger VC force. With the rest of the platoon, he set out to find them and bring them back. When he located the besieged squad, the battle became intense and they were in danger of being wiped out. In a desperation move, he called in artillery on his own position.
It was hard to find the enemy. Charlie would disappear into his holes and only come out once the Marines of Mike company had left. Richard Jackson's men tried probing the ground with sharp sticks, but they broke too easily. What they needed was steel. Thus was born the "Mike Spike." Part 1 of 2.
One night, while Laurie was eating dinner, the USS Sanctuary got a call about a plane crash. She vividly remembers the patients coming aboard, and the aftermath of this incident, including one boy who was MIA. However, as difficult as this experience was, this was nothing compared to the Tet Offensive. They had new wounded coming in constantly, and trying to care for all of them at once was emotionally exhausting. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the Military Heritage Museum- https://freedomisntfree.org/.)
In a letter home, Tommy Clack expressed his worry that something bad was going to happen and it did when his unit engaged the NVA near the Cambodian border. He saw the enemy soldier stand and fire the RPG that changed his life forever.
As Marine Captain Ron Christmas fought to regain the city of Hue, he found the enemy adept at concealment and surprise. Every soldier in a spider hole was armed with a rifle and a RPG launcher. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
The RPG that severed Joe McDonald’s foot didn’t kill him. The machine gun fire that hit him as he still tried to help others didn’t kill him. The grenade taped to his hand might have killed him if the VC had found his hiding place.
They were hunkered down after fierce fighting when the call came from "Ghost 4-6." It was a group of wounded men who had pulled themselves together after the ill fated march to LZ Albany and were lost in the dark. George Forrest sent a patrol to find them, and in an incredible act of bravery, medic Daniel Torres stayed through the night with them and saved many men. Captain Forrest still had to write a gut-wrenching letter to the mother of a missing soldier. Part 3 of 4.
Bird Dog Pilot Mike Leonard wound up in a small village near the Cambodian border. It was a tight knit group of pilots and the head of the unit would take new guys up for an orientation flight. On one of these, they got a little too close to the border and the North Vietnamese anti-aircraft batteries.