James H. Bradley
I graduated from Williams AFB AZ in the 1954 (54-M) Fighter Pilot option. The next assignment was Basic Gunnery at Del Rio TX (T-33). Advanced Gunnery was canceled – the F-84-F was grounded.
I was given a temporary assignment to Mather AFB CA and flew the T-29 flying classroom for navigators. Three years later, I went to Okinawa as the Training Officer with the 51st FW, 16th FS. I flew combat in F-86’s (Sabres) during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis defending the Kinmen and Matsu Islands during attacks by the People’s Republic of China.
By urgent Strategic Air Command (SAC) request, I became a B-47 Aircraft Commander at Mt. Home AFB in Idaho after transition training in Kansas. During the six years in Idaho, I also taught Instrument School, ran the simulator, and was an Instructor Pilot.
Finally, I left SAC with another transition assignment to the 524th FS at Cannon AFB NM. There I fell in love with the Super Sabre (F-100). Then, along came Vietnam.
In June 1966 I arrived in Bien Hoa and was assigned to the 90th FS (Dice). As a Flight Commander, I flew 150 missions and became a member of the caterpillar club when I was shot down by ground fire over the Mekong Delta on October 12, 1966.
During the last five months of my tour, I volunteered to replace a friend (who had been wounded in action) as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) flying O-1’s out of Cu Chi covering the US Army 25th Infantry Division. I left Vietnam in June 1967 with the DFC, the BS, 16 Air Medals, and the Purple Heart.
Jolly ‘ol England beckoned and I was assigned to RAF Wethersfield, 20 TFW, 55th FS. I was an F-100 pilot, worked in the Command Post, and ran Base Operations until the Air Force closed the base and I ended my flying career.
- 1954-1956 3535th Tactical Squadron, Mather AFB, CA (T-29)
- 1956-1959 16th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, Naha AB, Japan (F-86)
- 1959-1965 9th Bomber Wing, Mountain Home AFB, ID (B-47)
- 1966 524th Fighter Squadron, Cannon AFB, NM (F-100)
- 1966-1967 90th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Bien Hoa AB, Vietnam (F -100)
- 1967-1970 55th Tactical Fighter Squadron, RAF Wethersfield, England (F-100, T-39)
Awards & Decorations
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal (16)
Military & Civilian Education
- Pilot Class 54-M
- Washington State University
It was Columbus Day, October 12, 1966, and I was “Dice 13” leading a flight of three F-100s on a mission to the Mekong Delta, 240°/27 NM from Can Tho. The purpose of this sortie was to check out a new CBU using “willy peter.”
I was flying an F-model (56-3869) with a photographer, A1C T. Tatnall, in the back seat. Over target, we flew down a canal taking pictures of the other F-100s releasing the CBUs into the Hooch line.
After a fourth pass, I saw a sampan speed down the canal. The FAC, David 24, radioed, “It has to be an officer because its motorized. Get him, if you can.” I made a 45° pass with a 20 mike-mike and hit the sampan. The occupant was leaning over the tiller with the craft doing 360s in the middle of the canal. On the second pass, I sunk the sampan, pulled the aircraft left off the canal, and was told by the FAC I was taking fire.
We were hit. Both of the flight controls failed at the top of an Immelmann and the stick froze. All I had left were the rudder and throttle. I flipped the radio to Guard Channel and I’m pretty sure everyone in South Vietnam heard me answer the photographer when he asked what to do with his camera, while I explained bail-out procedures.
I maintained straight and level at about 10,000 feet, using the rudder. The only way I could keep the nose above the horizon was with power but I immediately rejected this idea. I didn’t want to compound bail-out survivability with a high-speed factor. It was time to leave the bird. The bailout procedure worked according to “the book.” The canopy blew off and I heard the GIB leave. The right wing started to drop as I was catapulted into the blue. When I was thrown from the seat, I went into several forward somersaults. When the chute started to open everything was twisted and the shroud lines gave me one h*** of a rabbit punch that knocked me out for about 5,000 ft.
I passed the photographer on the way down because I had two panels blown out – needless to say, I elected not to cut my shroud lines to give me mobility. The GIB was within yelling distance. He shouted that the VC were shooting at us. I pulled back my earphones from my helmet and could hear what sounded like Zippo lighters being opened and closed. I started a pendulum maneuver by pulling on the risers and felt like the bear at the arcade that does 180s when hit by a gun using a light beam. We landed 50 yards from each other, right in the middle of a leech-laden rice paddy.
The FAC told me he had called in a Huey and that the AF had called him about sending one of its choppers. I told him I wanted the Huey! I couldn’t visualize myself being lifted safely out of the muck by cable. At this time the VC was about 100 yards out. I popped smoke when I saw the Huey, followed by six A-1s with VNAF markings.
The Huey pilot hovered his skids just above the paddy and a gunner was able to pull me on board. I directed the pilot to Airman Tatnall and assisted the gunner in extracting him. I couldn’t tell if we were taking fire, but I’m pretty sure we were. It sounded like the 4th of July. We had a wonderful ride to Can Tho for drinks and then another short hop in a Gooney Bird to Bien Hoa.
In the summer of 2006, I received a telephone call from a Gary Dingham. He told me that he was retired AF and it turned out we had both been in Vietnam about the same time. He was an IV Corp FAC with the call sign “David 24,” working with the 9th ARVN out of Vi Thanh.
I told him I had flown F-100s for seven months with the 90th TFS out of Bien Hoa and that we were called “the Pair of Dice.” When I told him my plane was shot down in his area of coverage in the Delta, he asked me, “When?” and I told him, “October 12, 1966.”
Imagine my surprise when he said, “I was your FAC. When you turned left on your last pass it was right over a VC encampment that hosed you with machine-gun fire, and I knew you were hit! I got on the HF radio and contacted a Huey slick, Tiger 731, flying Mekong River patrol and had him come get you. I also contacted Tan Son Nhut for A-1s because your guys couldn’t get permission to put in suppressive fire since someone up the ladder thought there might be friendlies in the area.”
So, between the Huey that braved the VC coming towards us, the A-1s putting in suppressive fire, and my guys making dry passes, we were picked up in two hours – well it felt like two hours. They told me later it was closer to 20 minutes.
Hey guys, David 24 saved my life! He told me he proudly displays a 90th TFS plaque on his wall “thanking him for his service.” I don’t know who from the 90th sent this to him, but you have my thanks.
Gary Dingham (David 24) told me he also saved two Ramrods and an F-4 crew during his tour.
So, if I could propose a toast, it would be “to the FACS that took care of us while flying at Mach 0.1.”
– James H. Bradley, USAF (Ret)