30 November 1957 – Capt Benny Lacombe is killed when he unsuccessfully attempts to bail out of Lockheed U-2A, 56-6704, Article 371, 13 miles SE of Laughlin AFB. Ejection seats had not yet been fitted to U-2s at this point. The history of the U-2 program is fraught with fatalities and crashes. “CIA pilots Wilburn S.
Bruce J. Gold
On September 27, 1968, F-100 pilots Captain Bruce J. Gold and First Lieutenant Larry B. Peters distinguished themselves by gallantry while participating in an aerial mission (named Buzzard 01) near Dak To, Republic of Vietnam.
On that date, Buzzard 01 was scrambled from the Bien Hoa Air Base alert facility at 1830 hours to provide close air support to elements of the First Brigade, (United States Fourth Infantry Division) who were in close contact with a sizeable Viet Cong force on a ridge in the mountains 5 miles southwest of the Army camp at Dak To.
The United States forces had come under intense hostile fire late that afternoon while conducting a patrol mission. Their task was to locate a rocket and mortar launching site that had been recently shelling their camp. Buzzard 01 flight was carrying four napalm bombs, four 500-pound bombs, and 20mm ammunition and had to travel over 230 miles through 100 miles of thunderstorms to get to the battle area.
When they arrived at the target area it had become almost completely dark. The Forward Air Controller (FAC), call sign Cider 14, described the ground situation as extremely critical. The “friendly” troops were taking heavy casualties. The FAC told the pilots that U.S. forces were trying to evacuate their wounded and the strike would be delayed. Finally, when the ground commander had pulled his wounded troops back approximately 150 meters from the Viet Cong position, the strike was cleared.
The commander indicated that enemy positions with two 50 caliber guns still had some of his troops pinned down and unless the airstrike was successful, he had no way to get them out. It had now become completely dark and Cider 14 informed the flight that there would be no flare ship available to light the target adding to the difficulty in pinpointing the targets. Neither the exact location of the friendly troops nor the mountain peaks could be seen by the fighter pilots, making this strike one of the most difficult and hazardous either Capt. Gold or 1st Lt. Peters had ever been called on to accomplish.
Both the FAC and the fighter pilots knew they had to continue with the mission because of the critical ground situation. The FAC did such an outstanding job in describing the target that the fighters had a good knowledge of the surrounding terrain. The close proximity of the friendly forces and the surrounding terrain restricted the pilots to a single run-in attack, making them vulnerable targets for the enemy gunners.
Target elevation was approximately 3000 feet, the elevation of the peaks on either side of the target were 4200 feet and 3500 feet with less than a mile on either side. The ordnance being carried required a low altitude release of 500 ft. for the napalm and 900 feet for the bombs above the target. To provide a reference, the FAC was asked to hold his position over the highest peak, his lights providing orientation for the fighters. Additionally, the fighters were asked to leave their lights on in an effort to draw hostile fire and hopefully relieve some of the pressure that was being put on the U.S. ground forces.
The FAC marked the target with a smoke rocket for Captain Gold, but he could not see it, so he was cleared to drop on the apparent source of the white tracer fire which was being directed at the FAC’s airplane. Cider 14 informed the flight that the white tracers from the 50 caliber machine guns were definitely enemy ground fire which was now redirected toward the attacking jets. Despite the intense 50-caliber tracer fire now firing at his aircraft and the complete lack of flares to light the target, Captain Gold completed his first pass and dropped his napalm precisely on the ridge, silencing an enemy gun position and providing a reference point for the bombs with the firelight caused by the napalm.
Lieutenant Peters then dropped two 500-pound bombs on the edge of the napalm fire closest to the friendly troops who were only 150 meters away. He too was met by intense white tracer fire emanating from the target area. Disregarding the evident danger of the hostile ground fire and the mountain peaks that could not be seen, Lieutenant Peters dropped the two bombs exactly where the FAC requested, silencing two other Viet Cong gun positions.
At the time Cider 14 indicated that because the ground fire had all been redirected toward the attacking F-100’s, the ground commander was able to move his forces out of the area. The FAC then asked Captain Gold to drop his remaining napalm bombs on the other side of the ridge. The only way to accomplish this was to have both cans of napalm hit a small area on the top of the ridge and splash down the other side (the extreme difficulty of hitting a ridge by dropping perpendicular to it must be pointed out).
Captain Gold elected to go through “dry” (without dropping ordnance) on his next pass because he felt that he had not met his release parameters. Lieutenant Peters also made his following pass “dry”. Captain Gold then pinpointed the exact location of the sources of tracer fire being directed at his Peters’ airplane and with the same precision and courage, he demonstrated on his first pass, dropped his napalm on the very top of the ridge. It splashed down the backside of the ridge as hoped. The FAC then asked Lieutenant Peters to drop one of his two remaining bombs along the side of the new napalm fire approximately 200 meters from the friendly troops. Again, Peters penetrated the hostile ground fire and dropped his bomb exactly on target.
There were now only a few sources of tracer fire that could be seen from the air and the napalm fire was rapidly becoming smaller, making target acquisition even more difficult than on the preceding passes. After receiving directions, Lieutenant Peters made one more hazardous pass and dropped his remaining bomb on the backside of the ridge silencing two additional enemy gun positions. The FAC told Gold and Peters that the U.S. forces had been extracted during the bombing and that the fighters were cleared to strafe. However, the two F-l00s were critically low on fuel, the napalm fire had gone out, and strafing the target area was inadvisable. Since the pilots had disregarded their critical fuel situation and continued the mission to completion, both aircraft were left with the absolute minimum fuel needed to divert to Phu Cat Air Base.
In total, Buzzard 01 flight made five low altitude passes through intense 50-caliber automatic fire, while in close proximity to friendly troops, near mountainous terrain, at night, without the benefit of flares to light the target and the surrounding peaks. They intentionally left their lights on in order to draw hostile fire, a tactic that proved beneficial to the ground units by enabling them to withdraw from a very critical situation.
The ground commander later indicated that the air support rendered by Capt. Gold and Lt. Peters prevented his units from taking further casualties and enabled the evacuation of his wounded. Moreover, their outstanding performance saved the lives of his people that were hopelessly pinned down. The courage and conspicuous disregard for their own personal safety shown by these two pilots, under all but impossible circumstances, were in the highest tradition of the United States Air Force. By gallantry and devotion to duty, Captain Gold and Lieutenant Peters have reflected great credit upon themselves and the United States Air Force.