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LT. COL. GORDON “SWEDE” LARSON

Posted 12/5/2006 Printable Fact Sheet
 
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Republic F-105
An F-105 releases its bombs. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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What follows is a detailed account, accompanied by background information, of the May 5, 1967, mission led by Lt. Col. Larson. When his wingman, Lt. Col. James Hughes was shot down, Lt. Col. Larson immediately began providing RESCAP. Although his F-105D was also lost, Lt. Col. Larson demonstrated enormous courage, honor and devotion to duty by flying back into the high threat area in an attempt to protect the downed pilot.

This is an excerpt of a longer story (The complete story is available at http://www.soft-vision.com/hanoi/larson) and is reproduced here with Col. Larson's permission. The museum gratefully acknowledges Col. Gordon "Swede" Larson for providing the following account in his own words.*

I went back to Nellis AFB in Las Vegas for refresher training and checkout in the F-105. It was just like riding a bicycle after five years, you never forget. I qualified as expert in every phase of gunnery training and finished the course ahead of time. I went to the Philippines for jungle survival training and reported to Korat Air Base in Thailand, in December of 1966. I was assigned to the 469th Fighter Squadron and was assigned as Commander four weeks later. I flew combat missions almost daily and spent the rest of my time running the squadron. We flew missions in Laos, and Cambodia, but primarily in North Vietnam. When the weather was good in the Northernmost portion of Vietnam, around the Hanoi area, we would fly 4 to 8 aircraft from each of three squadrons, to targets in the Hanoi area. They were very rough missions. The anti-aircraft guns were so numerous, they were uncountable. The entire area was covered with Russian surface to air missiles called "SAMS". There were additionally many, many MiGs in the immediate area. We were very heavily loaded with fuel and bombs and were very vulnerable to the MiGs. Those missions were "white knucklers" to say the least. Our Wing [388th TFW] and our sister Wing [355th TFW based at Tahkli RTAFB, Thailand] would usually average losing at least one aircraft on every strike in the Hanoi area. It was hard on our aircraft inventory but was brutal on our pilot inventory!

We were required to fly 100 missions in North Vietnam to complete our tour. I had about 20 missions in Laos and Cambodia (which did not count), and was on my 94th mission in North Vietnam flying against a target in the Hanoi area [Ha Dong Army Barracks] when my life and future took a drastic downward turn.

As I was about to complete my tour, I had my scheduled replacement flying on my wing for a checkout, flying in the Hanoi area. Several minutes out of the target area, I noticed his aircraft was smoking a little bit but he was able to stay up with us. His radio was out and he was unable to transmit his difficulties, but signaled that he was O.K. to continue. I rolled into my dive and delivered my bombs. When we came off a target, we were going in excess of mach 1 (about 670 MPH) and moving our aircraft continually to avoid giving the gunners on the ground an easy target to shoot at. As I was joining up with the other 2 aircraft in our flight of four, I looked back towards the target and could see my wingman (Lt. Col. James Hughes) in the far distance at our same altitude but smoking real bad and apparently unable to keep up with us. I told the other two to orbit their immediate area (which was outside the severe SAM and antiaircraft guns) and that I would go back and escort Hughes out.

As I approached his aircraft, I saw his canopy fly off, and immediately thereafter, he ejected. His parachute opened and I radioed the rest of my flight that he had ejected and had a good chute and that I would join up with them right away. I was in afterburner to increase my speed and had just completed turning around when a tremendous explosion shook the aircraft. It was evident that a SAM had exploded with a proximity fuse towards the rear of my aircraft. The jolt was tremendous and was so hard, that it blew the glass faces off most of my instruments and blew so much dust and debris up that I could hardly see for several seconds. I was at about 4,000 feet at the time and in a slight dive. I pulled back on the stick to increase my altitude and found that my stick was like a limp noodle and that I had no pitch (up and down) control of my aircraft.

At about that time I noticed that I had an engine overheat light on (in excess of 570 degrees centigrade) and my fire warning light was on. My engine was still running and I was reluctant to take the engine out of afterburner for fear that the engine might blow up. I was about 3 minuets from the jungle area in which a rescue could be attempted if I could just stay with the plane a little while longer. I was descending towards the ground and attempted to raise the nose of the plane by dropping the gear (it wouldn't go down due to the high speed but might cause a slight pitch up). As my hydraulics were out, it was a useless effort. I attempted to drop my flaps which should cause a nose-up of the plane, but that did not work either.

By this time I was passing through 1,000 feet above the ground and was doing about Mach 1.1 (over 700 MPH) and the ground was coming up awfully fast. It was obvious I had to get out NOW and I reached for the ejection handle to blow the canopy and eject. For some unknown reason, as I grabbed for the handle, I couldn't find it and I knew I only had time for one more attempt before I would crash into the ground. I leaned over to visually see the handle and immediately reached for it and pulled it before I had a chance to straighten up for ejection.

*[Bracketed] comments have been added by the editor for clarity.

Source: Col. Gordon Larson
Photo: Rolling Thunder Digest (CINCPAC) - Edition Five


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