1969 First Quarter
On 6 January the 435 TFS lost F-4D 66-8763 following an Attack mission. Upon arrival back at Ubon RTAFB the crew was not allowed to land due to the primary runway being temporarily closed. Low on fuel and unable to reach an airborne tanker in time, CAPT S. Faulkner and (either 1LT J.A. Wilkins or CAPT R.B. Meyers) were forced to eject.
On 24 January the 433 TFS lost F-4D 65-0725, call sign Honda, on a 1400-hours Strike mission over Section F, Laos, where they were hit in the fuselage by 37-mm AAA during a dive on the target (15°-51N/106°-46E. CAPT J.A. Nash and LCOL R.W. Clement ejected at 15°-52N/106°-34E and were safely recovered.
On 28 January the 435 TFS lost F-4D 66-8690 (MiG-21, 12 February 1968), call sign Wolf, on a 1600-hours FAST FAC mission over a 37-mm gun site, Section E, Laos. During a low level ordnance run on the target (17°-32N/105°-45E) 1LT H.R. Dobbs and CAPT G.M. Smith ejected from their burning aircraft at 17°-14N/106°-05E, followed by USAF helicopter recovery.
The final January attrition involved a loss on 29 January. The 497 TFS lost F-4D 66-7474, call sign Bennett, during a 1700-hours dusk Air Intercept mission against a truck in Section E, Laos, where they took a direct 57-mm AAA hit in the centerline fuel tank on the dive at target (17°-32N/105°-45 The aircraft blew up immediatelythere was no chance for the crew to eject, killing MAJ William E. Campbell and CAPT Robert E. Holton.
In Laos the NVA committed two battalions of the 174th Regiment and three battalions of the 148th Regiment to laying siege to the CIA base of Na Kang (Site 36). So many sorties were committed to this battle that the on-site FACs could not adequately handle all of them. At least seven F-4D/F-4E from the 8 TFW and 432 TRW were shot down over and around this fierce battle. Na Kang eventually fell to the NVA on 1 March, marking a change in police and allowable targets-for the first time U.S. air assets were openly used to target NVA forces in Laos.
The 497 TFS lost F-4D 65-0651, call sign Pintail, while on a 1700-hours Strike mission against a ford in Section G, Laos, when hit (15°-48N/106°-45E) by 37-mm AAA In the fuselage as they were pulling off the second pass at the target. With the aircraft on fire the aircrew elected to eject at 15°-51N/106°-51E; LCOL Stanley S. Clark is listed as Eject-KIA while 1LT G.K. Breault was recovered with minor injuries.
The 433 TFS lost F-4D 66-8814, call sign Sherman, on a 0100-hours Strike mission on 28 February. During the roll-in on the storage area and truck in Section E, Laos, the aircraft was hit by moderate 37-mm AAA (probable), possibly hitting the pilotthe aircrew did not pull out of the dive, killing MAJ W.R. Keller and 1LT Virgil K. Maroney, at 17°-07N/106°-02E.
The Air Interdiction Zone (AIZ), code-named FREEDOM DEAL, over Cambodia, was extended deeper into Zone Alpha, as far as Kompong Thom City. Helicopter range limited the depth of such missions into Cambodia.
Bad weather over Laos closed off most of that battlefield to tactical airstrikes for much of the Spring. When weather did permit, daily air attacks were hitting NVA targets on and around the Plain of Jars. F-4s flew many of these missions with a heavy attrition rate, though most of the aircrews were recovered.
On 10 March the 435 TFS lost F-4D 65-0722, call sign Papaya, on one of two F-4D noon-time Strike mission over POL storage and a truck park in Section E, Laos. During the fifth run on the target the aircraft was hit by unknown gunfire over the Route 9112/9116 road junction (17°-01N/105°-58E.) Ejecting at 17°-01N/105°-48E, both aircrewmen landed safelyon top of an enemy forceand were in voice contact with CSAR aircraftreporting enemy ground fire close to their position. Communication with LCOL Carter P. Lunas was lost one hour later. CAPT Aldis P. Rutyna served as a ground FAC calling in airstrikes on the surrounding enemy force before being recovered three hours after ejecting. LCOL Luna was listed as MIA; was never seen alive in the northern POW system. In August 1975 he was declared dead/BNR. The JCRC carries the loss on paper as occurring over the Savannaknet Province while the Defense Intelligence Agency carries the loss over Khammouane Province.
Reportedly launching from Naknom Phanom RTAB, the 497 TFS lost F-4D 66-0233, call sign Dipper, on 5 April during a midnight hour Strike mission over a storage area in Section D, Laos. During the pull-up from a low level ordnance delivery run the aircraft was hit by unknown gunfire (hit/loss at 17°-50N/105°-09E). 1LT C.R. Koster and CAPT R. Brandt had minor injuries when picked up by the USAF helicopter.
On 16 April the 25 TFS lost F-4D 66-8796, call sign Pintail, on a 1500-hours Strike mission against a storage area in Section E, Laos. Hit by unknown gunfire during the second bombing run (17°-32N/105°-45E) the crew nursed their aircraft back over Thai territory before ejecting (17°-30N/104°-40E). CAPT R.P. Anderson received minor injuries, MAJ D.W. Winkles had major injuries when recovered by USAF helicopter.
On 14 June the 497 TFS lost F-4D 66-7574, call sign Wolf, on a 1400-hours FAST FAC mission targeting a ZPU site (16°-50N/106°-03E) in Section E, Laos, where they were hit by automatic weapon fire (probable). CAPT James W. Grace is listed as Eject-KIA at 16°-43N/106°-00E. 1LT W.J. Karas was retrieved by USAF helicopter.
Monsoon 1969 finally broke over Laos in June. With clear weather USAF increased by 100% the number of sorties scheduled over Laos. There was a change in the U.S. Rules of Engagement (more evidence of President Nixon turning the war over to the military and away from the political micro-management), now opening up as allowable targets villages and towns previously off-limits (and housing NVA AAA gunsites.) Now fortified by the NVA, these village/towns, up to within a 10-mi/16-km buffer zone along the North Vietnam/Laos border, were targeted and many were outright destroyed. Lhat Houang, Ban Ban, and Khang Khay were virtually wiped out; Kiegn Khouang, the provincial capital located on the edge of the Plain of Jars, was flattened. GEN Vang Pao launched a long-awaited counter-offensive, code-named RAIN DANCE, to retake the Plain of Jars. With the dramatic increase in tactical airstrike sorties and the ferocity of the Mao Army, the NVA were pushed off the Plain of Jars, however, the lack of ground troops prevented GEN Vang Paos army from holding the land won from the air. The Lima Site 32 airfield on the mountain of Phou Nok Kok, north of the Plain of Jars, lived in a virtual unending siege by the NVA. Moung Soui fell to the NVA/Pathet Lao in late June.
On 12 July the 433 lost F-4D 66-7697, call sign Wolf, on a 0900-hours (Visual Reconnaissance) FAST FAC mission over Section D, Laos. While over Khammouane Province, 1LT Peter K. Pike, pilot, radioed that primary target area was socked in with bad weather; he was trying to find a hold in the clouds and move to the secondary target area. Their radio transmission suddenly stopped in mid-sentence at the same time their radar signal disappeared. The area they were in at the time was mountainous terrain with mountain tops to 4,500-ft/1,372-m and peaks in the area up to 5,830-ft/1,777-m. A limited aerial search was conducted but failed to locate any evidence of the aircrew or a crash site. Listed as lost at 18°-04N/105°-13E. MAJ Paul W. Bannon was declared killed/BNR in January 1979; and 1LT Peter K. Pike was presumed killed/BNR in May 1974.
The 25 TFS lost F-4D 66-8791, call sign Nash, on 3 September during a 1600-hours Strike mission over the BARREL ROLL-B REGION. During a level LORAN validation run at the target (20°-18N/103°-58E) the aircraft was hit in the fuselage by heavy caliber AAA. COL D.N. Stanfield and 1LT C.E. Dorn made it safely back over Thai territory before ejection at 17°-23N/102°-48E and pick-up by USAF helicopter.
During the third calendar quarter the 25 TFS was involved in Operation DIOGENES, an effort to validate the accuracy of the LORAN signals. To do this the aircraft were filled to capacity with fuel, carried no ordnance, and flew the length of Southeast Asian combat zones, comparing LORAN signal readings with the current-use photographed checkpoints.