James H. Bradley

James H. BradleyIt 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 ear phones 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 were 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 a 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)

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Orting, WA 98360-9289

(360) 893-6399