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.
In his words…”Why My Wings of War Series”
“I received my pilot’s wings in September 1953 then flew the F-86 SabreJet and the F-100 Super Sabre in Germany, France, and the U.S. In the early ‘60s, the USAF sent me to Arizona State University to get an engineering degree. While there, the Vietnam War became more intense. Upon graduation from ASU in August 1965, the Air Force assigned me to the Ballistic Missile Division.
Nothing doing, I said to myself. I am a fighter pilot and there is a war on. After much chasing around to get reassigned to a fighter outfit bound for Vietnam, I found out my former squadron Officers School Commander, BG Herb Bench, was the Tactical Air Command’s (TAC) Director for Personnel (DP). I wrote him a letter in an attempt to snivel a fighter reassignment. In a matter of days, I got a telegram reassigning me to an F-100 squadron at England Air Force Base, Alexandria Louisiana.
And so it was that in mid-December 1965 I arrived at Bien Hoa Air Base in South Vietnam as a pilot in the 531st Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) in the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW). We had a python named Ramrod as our squadron mascot. (See my article, Ramrod the Combat Snake.) I flew over 250 missions and was reassigned back in the States to a desk job at the Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO) in El Segundo, California.
Though I was able to fly the T-39 Sabreliner, I was not happy. The war tempo had increased. Every day I’d pick up a copy of the Stars & Stripes and read were another buddy had been shot down and either killed or captured. I had a pretty nice pad on Venice Beach overlooking the Pacific. (I hung out at Donkin’s in Marina del Rey.) But I knew I couldn’t stay on the beach, so once again I chased around to get reassigned to a fighter squadron. As it was previously, I found I had served under the new TAC DP, BG Jack Barnes, in France years before. I made contact and soon found myself at George Air Force Base, Victorville, California, upgrading into the F-4 Phantom.
Thus, on the 1st of November, 1968, I signed in to the 497th TFS at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in upcountry Thailand. There I flew over 240 missions both as a Night Owl and as a Wolf Forward Air Controller (FAC). (See my articles Night Mission on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Trolling for Guns on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.)
At the end of my tour in November 1969, I was again assigned to SAMSO and, once more very unhappy as the war was still going on. (The Air Force Systems Command, who sponsored my degree at ASU, was bound and determined to get its pound of flesh.) I immediately applied for a third fighter tour but was turned down. The reason being, at that particular time, one could not serve three tours in a fighter cockpit.
I heard the State Department had opened up a new embassy in Phnom Penh Cambodia. I applied for and was accepted into the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) with duty in the embassy as an Assistant Air Attaché. I spent two years there running around with the Khmer Air Force and flying the venerable C-47 Gooney Bird and the U-10 Helio Courier. (See my article To War in Style.)”