by: O'Dell "Outlaw" Conner
This mission took place in the fall of 67 and at the time there were 2 carriers on Yankee Station. I was on my first tour and flying F-4B's with VF142, but the mission involved a rec flight in an A-4C belonging to VA22. I use to love to fly the scooter, because it was such basic flying-like an armed Cessna 172 on vitamins.
There were two strikes planned that day, an A-6 raid on a POL facility near Hanoi, and a bridge strike SW of Hai-phong. The weather guessers said that the targets would clear from the west, and I offered to fly wing on an A-4 jock from VA22 on a weather rec, since I wasn't scheduled for a Migcap or Barcap that day.
We cleared into NV with Red Crown and checked the POL first and were heading back toward the bridge, when the E-1 called a Mig warning at our 8 oclock and called in the Migcap. I looked back and spotted two 17's rolling in at about 3 miles and 3000 ft above us. I called a "break left" and we turned into the Migs in a 20 degree dive to pick up speed and make them steepen their approach. Just before they got into gun range Barnett, the A-4 lead, called me to break left behind him and he went right. The plan worked for me, and the Mig wingman flashed behind me in a 40 degree dive and never got a shot.
I knew it would take him time to recover, so I looked for my section lead to see how he made out. Evidently, the Mig lead popped the boards and made a square turn because he was on Barnett's six and closing. I cut the corner and was about 2 seconds from a gun shot[no snakes] when the Mig fired an Atoll at the A-4. I watched the missile track and and explode on the aft end of Barnett's A-4. Almost immediately the canopy blew and he came out. The Mig lead went vertical, and I had no chance to follow, because my Mig had caught up, and glowing golfballs were flying past my nose. I rolled inverted and Split S'ed away. He followed so I did it again, and pulled some distance. Unfortunately the Mig lead had pulled down behind me and was a LOT closer.
So here I was, over NV, two Migs on my tail and closing, in an attack aircraft, and I was running out of airspeed and ideas at the same time. Then I looked forward and saw two F-8's on a reciprocal at light speed and knew the Cavalry had arrived. They blew past me on either side and scattered the Migs like leaves in a tornado.
Relieved of further self-preservation, I turned back to look for my lead, and saw the chute five hundred feet from the ground. I checked the air to air and saw that one Mig was on the deck burning for home, and the F-8's were shooting pieces off the other with 20mm.
Barnett was landing a mile from a village on the other side of a large clearing. I knew a helo was on the way so I was patrolling the ground between him and the village, when about a dozen men started moving toward him. I buzzed them and everyone hit the ground. Then I looked over at the landing site, and saw NV troops leading him away. They had been in the woods and I hadn't seen them. At this point there was absolutely NOTHING I could do without getting him killed, so I headed back to the boat.
I guess you can see why this one stays with me. I lost my lead, the only lead or wingman I ever lost, almost got myself waxed, and never fired a shot.
(O'Dell Conner flew multiple tours during the Vietnam war, he is understandably reluctant to dredge up the memories of that time, we thank him for sharing this moment with us -ed-)