Published May 19, 2015
Ken Bell standing in front of an F-105. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The 100 Missions North Vietnam patch. (U.S. Air Force photo)
DAYTON, Ohio - A portion of the Badge of Honor: 100 Missions Up North exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The "100 Mission Patch" became a symbolic mark of courage during OPERATION ROLLING THUNDER. The achievement of 100 missions in the deadly skies over North Vietnam grew into a rich tradition with its own proud customs.
"Instinctively, my eyes found the patch we coveted the most...the bold, embroidered words read: 'North Vietnam--100 missions F-105.' It was beautiful and signaled the finale I had dreamed about."
-- Capt. (later Brig. Gen.) Kenneth Bell on receiving his ceremonial 100-mission flight suit after finishing his 100th mission over North Vietnam.
In previous wars, some aircrews' tours were determined by the number of missions flown. In Europe during World War II, early heavy bomber crews could go home after completing 25 missions. During the Korean War, 100 missions over North Korea was the standard for many.
At the start of OPERATION ROLLING THUNDER in early 1965 personnel rotated in and out of theater for 30-90 days, thereby limiting the number of combat missions. In November 1965, the length of a tour was established as either 100 missions "out-country" (meaning Laos and North Vietnam), one year, or a combination of the two (20 missions equaled one month, so an Airman with 80 missions could go home at eight months).
Reaching this mark was no easy task. Those flying over North Vietnam faced a deadly combination of MiG fighters, SA-2 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and an unprecedented concentration of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and automatic weapons.
Starting in February 1966, only missions over North Vietnam were counted towards completing a tour. Even so, missions in Laos were dangerous whether or not they were "counters"--52 F-105s, 109 F-4s, and 22 RF-4Cs among others, were lost from combat damage received over Laos.
The 100-mission policy changed as ROLLING THUNDER began winding down in the spring of 1968. On March 31, 1968, President Johnson ended all bombing north of the 20th Parallel (shortly thereafter the 19th Parallel). Aircrews arriving in theater on July 1 or later were given a one year tour, regardless of where or what number of missions they flew. In October, ROLLING THUNDER ended, curtailing major USAF operations over the North until the start of OPERATION LINEBACKER in 1972.
Click on the following links to learn more about 100 Missions Up North:
First 100-Mission Tour
First 100 Missions over North Vietnam
100 Missions North in the "Thud"
The First F-105 100-Mission Tours
100 Mission Celebrations
Lt. Col. Robert Krone: 1st Squadron Commander 100-Mission Tour
1st Lt. David Williams: F-105 Wild Weasel EWO
1st Lt. Karl Richter: Consecutive 100-mission tours
ROLLING THUNDER Missions over the North
B-66 Flight Engineers
Maj. James Harding: 101 North Vietnam O-1 FAC Missions
Lt. Col. Jerald Ransom: First 100 North Vietnam A-1 Missions
100 Mission Traditions
34th Tactical Fighter Squadron: Honor Roll and 100 Mission Scarf
20th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron: Honor Roll
Beyond 100 Missions North
There Is A Way
Click here to return to the North Vietnam: Rolling Thunder Overview.
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The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is located at:
1100 Spaatz Street
Wright-Patterson AFB OH 45433
(near Dayton, Ohio)