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.
Thomas Rhea Fussell
In 1956, Tom began his career as a fighter pilot with the Air Force which spanned 29 years, including two combat tours in Vietnam, where he flew over 167 bombing missions in the F-100 Super Sabre and F-4 Phantom jet aircraft. In Tom’s first tour in Vietnam, he was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain, and in his second, he was promoted from Captain to Major. He was selected to participate in many unique programs, including the first night close air support demonstration that utilized techniques later made popular in Vietnam, and the Forward Air Controller program in which the pilot flies a Cessna aircraft over enemy territory (also in Vietnam) and radios the location of enemy positions to U.S. air support and artillery units. It was Tom’s original idea that inspired the program, and his work in the FAC program was written about by author George Fielding Eliot (author of “Victory Without War”). It was for this work that he received the Silver Star Commendation.
Fuzz’s training was wide and deep, including jungle survival, arctic survival, sea survival, airborne school, and counter-insurgency school.
Tom flew for the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, the 27th Tactical Fighter Wing, the 522nd, 523rd, and 524th tactical Fighter Squadrons. These included assignments in the United States, Europe, and the Pacific. He Flew for the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Clark AB, Philippines, in the F-4 Phantom fighter jet, and at Luke AFB, Arizona, trained in the F-15 Eagle fighter jet. At Eglin AFB, FL, Tom provided top-off training for fighter pilots from Kadena AFB, Japan, and in 1980 took the first flight of F-15 Eagles from their factory in Saint Louis, MO, to Kadena AFB, Japan. Finally, he served as Chief of the Plans and Resources Division for the 685th Test Group, Holloman AFB, NM, before retiring.
Tom’s Military decorations include The Silver Star, which is the “United States third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat … for gallantry against an enemy of the United States.” The Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, awarded for “Heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight.” The Bronze Star, awarded for “Heroic or meritorious achievement or service.” The Meritorious Service Medal awarded for outstanding service to the United States. The Air Medal, with eleven oak leaf clusters, awarded for single acts of heroism while participating in aerial flight. The Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, awarded for prolonged acts of heroism and meritorious service.