Posted on May 20, 2006
Today is a sad anniversary – from occasional reader Sid:
Thought you might be interested in this little vignette that I posted on a forum a while back. The 39th anniversary is in just a few days:
Was watching a Military Channel rerun (Do They Have Any NEW Shows?) about A-4s on the Mighty O…Oriskany…and the obligatory discussion about John McCain. The footage of aircraft debris that is shown in the Hanoi lake this is usually attributed to his shootdown is not wreckage from his aircraft.
If you look closely (or better yet slow it down with DVR) you will see a “602″ on a piece of wreckage in the lead boat, and then in the tethered 3 boats behind you will see more wreckage with “NH” in a faux asian style popular in the 1960s and the Bureau Number (BuNo) 150826. Several different productions have used pieces of this footage and in some “Kitty Hawk” is visible as well. NH were the tail letters for CVW-11 deployed on the Kitty Hawk, and 6XX series were the side numbers for the R-A5’s
In this case the aircraft belonged to RVAH-13 “Bats” and was flown by Jim Griffin and Jack Walters. The day of the shootdown – May 19 1967- was Ho Chi Minh’s birthday and the first day that the USN had made strikes into “Downtown”. The NVN had laid a barrage fire trap and made sure the cameras were rolling.
Griffin and Walters were on the post strike BDA and left their F-4 escort behind to meet them on the other side of a dogleg into and back out of the target area (F-4s could not keep up with a Vigi’ going the speed of heat, so this was a routine tactic.)
The Vigi flew into a wall of 57 mm fire. Other parts of the NVN footage shows the guns firing both from the grounds of what is now the war museum and from rafts on the lake, and then it cuts to the aircraft pitching up, and in short order ripping apart into a fireball.
Griffin and Walters both survived the ejection, (one thing the Vigi had were some truly excellent ejection seats made by NAA)but were badly injured and were captured immmediatley.
Both were taken to the Hilton, and of course right to the Heartbreak Hotel. The spring and summer of ‘67 was the period of the worst brutality of the war meted out to the POWs and these two were not spared in spite of their injuries. They were forced to make a statement to a French journalist (donchyah just luv the French)which was subsequently played in the press.
By the next day they were both dead. While it is known they were tortured no one is sure if they died directly from it, but it is fairly certain that if their injuries had been treated they have lived.
There is now a plaque commeorating the shootdown on the wall of the war museum in Hanoi and one of their helmets is on display as well.
Next time you happen to spot this footage in one of the shows, you may want to pause and thank a couple of fallen heroes.
Oh, and I nearly forgot – The USS Stark was struck by an Iraqi cruise missile during the 1987 “Tanker Wars” almost twenty years ago this week. Reader (and writer) Brad Penniston has the details:
Before sundown on 17 May, an Iraqi pilot in an F-1 Mirage jet headed down the Gulf, scanning his instruments for oil tankers.
In the darkened combat information center of the U.S. Navy guided missile frigate USS Stark (FFG 31), an operations specialist noted the Mirage’s blip on his screen: track number 2202, range two hundred miles, headed inbound. The jet was pointed past the ship, four miles off the port beam. The sailor passed the word to his skipper.
At two minutes after 9 p.m., the Mirage locked its Cyrano-IV fire-control radar onto the Stark. The frigate’s instruments lit up in warning. A sailor asked permission to send a standard “back off” message to the Iraqi pilot. “No, wait,” came the reply.
At 9:05, the Mirage banked left, toward the warship. At just over 22 miles’ distance, the pilot launched his first Exocet, a sea-skimming, shipkilling missile. The weapon leveled out a dozen feet above the waves, accelerated to nearly the speed of sound, and turned on its radar-homing seeker. Twenty seconds later, another Exocet dropped from a wing and lit off toward the Stark.
The first missile punched through the hull near the port bridge wing, eight feet above the waterline. It bored a flaming hole through berthing spaces, the post office, and the ship’s store, spewing rocket propellant along its path. Burning at 3,500 degrees, the weapon ground to a halt in a corner of the chiefs’ quarters, and failed to explode. The second missile, which hit five feet farther forward, detonated as designed. The fired burned for almost a day, incinerating the crew’s quarters, the radar room, and the combat information center.
About one-quarter of the crew was incapacitated in the attack. Twenty-nine were killed immediately; eight more died later.