Today in History – November 13, 1965 – Capt. Charlie Summers ejects from F-100D #552795

13 November 1965

Charlie Summer’s Caterpillar Story…The Security Blanket

I was flying No. 2 in a three-ship with Dale Sprotberry in lead and Bob Finley as #3. We dropped our bombs and made 3 or 4 strafe passes.  On my last strafe pass, I got hit and started to stream hydraulic fluid or fuel.

I started a turn to the right toward the friendly Fort and Sprot called me to get out as I was at about 1500 feet in the right turn. My intent was to bail out near the Fort.  Then the stick froze and I couldn’t get out of the right turn or pull up.

I was in a slight descent with both feet on the instrument panel when I reached for the left seat handle with my right hand on the stick.  The canopy fired and I pulled the left seat trigger with my other hand, pulling back on the stick with my feet still on the instrument panel. (A note: I had just completed jump school a month or two before). I had my zero lanyard connected and I watched as I cleared the tail and went inverted, when the butt snapper pushed me out of the seat, I would guess I was under 1000 feet.

I didn’t know that my .38 pistol grip was under my chest strap so when the chute opened the force broke one rib, couldn’t get my breath and started to vomit.  I remembered a story about a pilot drowning in his vomit so I took my mask off but still could not breathe because of the rib injury.  For some dumb reason, I inflated my Mae West.(1) I then hit in a marsh with 10-foot of scrub brush and a foot of water.

My big problem was that during this whole bailout I had flown directly back into the target area we had just bombed.  I was getting ground fire which I thought was very inaccurate, but they were really shooting at the FAC overhead.   I quickly tried to get away from the chute and left the beeper in the chute in the ON mode.

I couldn’t use the guard channel and I found my escape was slowed by a broken back. I had fractured 3 vertebrae in my back on the ejection and could only crawl after I tried to run and hit a small tree twice. I had only lasted two steps before I couldn’t stand the pain anymore.  I was trying to move toward the Fort but had a long way to go and the bad guys were in between.

I would have also had to swim a canal which would not have worked. I did have some company very close as I could hear him work the bolt on his bolt action single shotgun.  Thank heaven I was now away from the chute and in thick brush and water so I could hear anyone approaching.

Suddenly, I heard the best sound a scared pilot can ever hear.  The cavalry was on the way as I could hear helicopters approaching from the West.  One was landing and the other was providing support fire around the area. My day went from bad to worse as the first helo landed on the chute.  I saw it fly in the air and then there was complete silence as the helo pilot had just sucked my chute up in the main rotor and then the tail rotor and executed a quick dead stick landing.

I almost made a bad tactical error as I crawled up to the helo on the co-pilot side and quickly parted the grass. To my surprise, I was staring into the round end of an Army 45 with a very young scared co-pilot about to pull the trigger.  I was blonde with a crew cut but my face was beaten up a lot and bleeding but my famous words were “DON’T SHOOT, DON’T SHOOT”. (I am here today because the Co-pilot wasn’t too trigger happy). The A/C was relieved as he thought I was still in the now mangled chute.  At the time I was feeling a little safer, somewhat, at least more firepower was available since the door gunner/crew chief had an M-60.

The helo now held a South Vietnamese village chief, 250 pounds of rice, plus the three crew members and we weren’t going anywhere.  The A\C told the crew chief to stand on top of the helo and unwind the chute to which the crew chief replied, “ No, I don’t want to stand on top of a helo so the VC can have target practice!”  The A/C was soon relieved to see the other helo land about 20 yards away to pick us all up. The entire herd headed for the other chopper and again I had to crawl through the brush. I wasn’t making very much headway so the crew chief came back and helped me get to the rescue helicopter.  Now there was even more firepower and a running helo, but then the SVN village chief jumps out and starts back to the dead helo to get his suitcase.

I witnessed an excellent combat decision as the door gunner fired his M-60 about 5 feet from him and he turned in mid-air and in two steps was back in our helo. I relaxed as my bad day was getting better.  We were really heavy but got airborne only to have two helicopter eating trees, approaching ahead and above us.  Our excellent Army pilot put our helo between both trees with little room to spare.

I don’t know where we landed, but I was transferred to a Dust-Off  Army Medevac helo and headed North to somewhere. I’m not sure how long the flight was as I kept passing out but we landed at an Army MASH unit and I was rushed into a tent with an X-ray machine. The troops cut off all my clothes.  You can’t imagine how alert and still I was when they cut my jockey shorts off.  At this point, I had nothing on except my dog tags.

I went into shock and could not stop shaking violently and was a very embarrassed fighter pilot, but the solution was a shot from the Doc. I don’t know what it was but its effects had me trying to organize a posse to go back South and clean out the Delta of all those airplane-shooting Viet Cong.  Unfortunately, the Army discovered their X-Ray machine was broken, so back in the helo I went, pressing on North to Tan Son Nhut Airbase and the Army Field Hospital.

We landed on the civilian airline terminal ramp where a Vietnamese airliner was loading passengers and we were met by my squadron’s flight surgeon and an Air Force ambulance. The next event was captured by a Stars and Stripes photographer and the picture came out in the Air Force magazine.  The Army chopper crew chief told our flight surgeon that my naked body was wrapped in his last blanket and he can’t take off without at least one blanket.  I said that it was my blanket and I was not giving it up out here on the civilian terminal ramp.  The myth about fighter pilots was not going to revealed to be false by me so I had a death grip on my blanket.

Our flight surgeon found a less than perfect blanket in the ambulance and the stalemate was broken and I was finally, happily on my way to the Army Field Hospital. I was taken back at Tan Son Nhut where my mission started but minus one F-100D.

The story continues from there, my medical experience lasted a few more weeks and became a lot more interesting and complex.  But that would be Chapter 2 and I am sure you are not interested in those details. I did get back on flying status in 6 months and had one more tour in Vietnam as a Misty FAC and Ops officer.  I was fortunate to later be the DO of the 33rd TFW and Wing Commander of the 8th TFW in Korea.

For more about Col. Charlie Summers, go to

(1)The Mae West was a common nickname for the first inflatable life preserver. The nickname originated because someone wearing the inflated life preserver often appeared to be as large-breasted as the actress Mae West. Air crew members whose lives were saved by use of the Mae West (and other personal flotation devices) were eligible for membership in the Goldfish Club.
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