28 February 1941 – The Republic F-84 Thunderjet was an American turbojet fighter-bomber aircraft. Originating as a 1944 United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) proposal for a “day fighter”, the F-84 first flew in 1946. Although it entered service in 1947, the Thunderjet was plagued by so many structural and engine problems that a 1948
Gerald G. Potter
From “Happy Valley” Phan Rang AB, Vietnam…keeping the memories alive, Phan Rang AB News No. 125 “Stories worth telling”
Lucky Devils Prove Luck In Dual Bailout, Pickup
(Phan Fare, The Happy Valley Weekly, February 13, 1969)
They call themselves “Lucky Devils,” these Air Force fighter pilots of the 614th TFS Luck surely was with three Lucky Devils recently when they flew a “routine” mission against the Viet Cong.
“Our target for the day was enemy bunkers in IV Corps, about 60 miles west of Bien Hoa,” said the leader of the two-plane flight. Speaking was Major Norman H. Rushton. With him on that mission in an F-100F were Captain Gerald G. Potter, who was ‘breaking in” 1St Lt. Donald Muller, who had just arrived from the states.
“I flew the first attack pass,” Major Rushton said of his 118th combat sortie in Vietnam. Lieutenant Muller’s “F” followed Rushton as they swooped down and released their weapons.
“Then it happened,” the Lieutenant said. “The plane was ripped by a violent explosion just as we were pulling out of the dive over the target.
“Controls were shaky as the plane just about flipped over, headed for the ground. Fire warning lights lit up the cockpit, and the engine started to become unglued. Lieutenant Muller struggled at the controls to get his plane over the nearby Song Co Chien river.
“As soon as we got there, I said, ‘O.K., it’s time to go!’” he continued. “Potter ejected first blowing the cockpit canopy. With the right side of the fuselage burning quite a bit by now, I took my foot off the rudder and punched out.”
As Major Ruston circled above radioing for help, both pilots were floating to earth about one mile apart, one over land, the other over the river. Captain Potter’s chute was torn badly enough that Muller could see the torn stripes of his buddy’s chute flapping as it drifted to earth.
“When I popped the canopy”, Potter said, “I started spinning backwards. The opening shock of the parachute blossoming jolted me quite severely. It might have been then that I got this bruised nose.
“I got my bearings and looked up at my chute canopy,” said Potter who had never bailed out before. “It had big holes in it which increased my fall rate. That was all right with me as I wanted to get into the safety of the water – but fast!”
“I could see people on the shore,” Potter continued. “People were yelling and I could hear gunshots. I got rid of my mask and popped my water wings. As I splashed down, I pulled the quick release of my harness, and the chute collapsed.”
He estimated he landed about 600 to 700 feet from shore. The weather was clear, but a 25- knot surface wind made the water choppy.
Meanwhile, Muller was anxiously pulling on his parachute risers in an attempt to steer his landing toward the river, but wind currents took him inland.
“Floating down, I could see four men shooting at me with rifles,” Muller continued. How close were they? “I could see that two of them were quite old-that’s how close!
“I landed face down in the mud of that rice paddy,” Muller said with a smile. “When I got rid of my helmet and chute, I looked up and there were those four running down the part at me. I radioed Rushton where to strafe and within seconds, just as they were about to run over me, vroom! Here comes Rushton like gangbusters.”
“I couldn’t see the enemy,” Ruston explained, “but Muller kept his cool and radioed exactly where he wanted those cannon shells tossed.”
Then Muller heard the message of his radio that gave him hope: “We’re on our way,” said the voic of the flight leader. “Hold on! Stay where you are.”
The army chopper pilot was getting ground fire as it hovered in for the pick up. “Can’t see him,” the chopper pilot radioed Ruston. Making another pass, Ruston rationed the chipper to “Land on the chute. That’s where he is.” Meanwhile, Potter was bobbing in the river attempting to paddle away from shore.
“I didn’t know if the people on the each were friendlies or not,” Potter explained. “Soon an Army chopper which happened to be in the area attempted to pick me up. It had no way to do it, so it left.
“Then another Army chopper pilot brought his bird in. Keep in mind that his craft is designed for land operations. He had such fine control that be brought it right down to river level. The next thing I knew, I could feel myself being pulled aboard.
“As we took off up the river, I could see people waving to us,” Potter concluded. The two recovered pilots reunited at Can Tho. There, they boarded an Air Force C-123 and flew back home. At this point I was unaware of where Lt. Muller was, but when the doctor finished examining me he told me that Muller was just down the hall being examined and that we should go to the flight line as there was a C-123 getting ready to depart for Phan Rang. Talk about a couple of “Lucky Devils!” I left the doctor’s office, looked down the hall, and there was Lt. Muller. He saw me and shouted, “G** D*** that was neat!” My response was, “You crazy fool. We were nearly killed!”
When we compared notes, we realized that the strafing pass flown by Major Rushton silenced the gunfire along the south side of the river and enabled the Army helicopters to pick us up safely and earn their rewards. It was truly gratifying to see the effort put out to rescue us. It was as if the war stopped for the time it took to save us and then everyone got back to what they had been doing. When we went out to the flight line to find the C-123 we could see the aircraft commander, an Air Force major, pumping oil into the left engine from a 55-gallon drum. This was a C-123K model that had two R-2800 radial engines and two J85 turbojet engines. The J85s had been added in Vietnam to assist in short field takeoffs.
After jumping out of the aircraft…
“(Little did I know on January 28 that just over three months later I would be sitting in a classroom on Century Boulevard in Los Angeles, as a new-hire pilot for Western Airlines.) Lt. Muller and I were checked out again by our flight surgeon and went back on the flying schedule. One of the other pilots who had also come to Phan Rang from the 352nd at Myrtle Beach had an extra application for employment with Western Airlines so I filled it out and mailed it to Los Angeles. Amazingly, I received a letter back telling me to contact them as soon as I got back from Vietnam and had separated from the service.
I did just that and was offered a class date of May 9, 1969. Unfortunately, I was furloughed a few months later and spent about two years selling real estate and flying the C-141 with the Air Force Reserve at Travis AFB, California, eventually getting a recall notice from Western in the fall of 1971. For the next 29 years I flew for Western, and then Delta, retiring in 2000 as a B757/767 Captain in Salt Lake City. “