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Selfless Determination at Thai Nguyen: Capts. Merlyn Dethlefsen and Mike Gilroy

DAYTON, Ohio - Items on display in the First In, Last Out: Wild Weasels vs. SAMs exhibit: 1) Thorsness and Johnson were shot down eleven days after their decorated mission, spending the rest of the war as POWs in North Vietnam. This POW bracelet for Johnson was worn by another Wild Weasel, Bob Dorrough. 2) Maj. Leo Thorsness' "boonie hat." On it are marks showing his combat missions, his two MiG victories and several missile radars and sites that he destroyed. 3) Capt. Dethlefsen wore these gloves and dogtags and carried the Bible and fingernail clippers on this mission. 4) One of Maj. Bell's K-2B flying suits. While this one has unit patches and his name badge, aircrews flew "sanitized" flying suits on missions over North Vietnam. Note "SAM Slayer" patch. 5) "SAM Slayer" patch donated by Col. Mike Gilroy, USAF (ret.). These patches were given to aircrews who destroyed a SAM site (a hit from a Shrike alone would not qualify). The patch depicts an "Iron Hand" crushing an SA-2. The patch was designed by Mike Gilroy and George Metcalf at Takhli RTAFB in July 1966. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Items on display in the First In, Last Out: Wild Weasels vs. SAMs exhibit: 1) Thorsness and Johnson were shot down eleven days after their decorated mission, spending the rest of the war as POWs in North Vietnam. This POW bracelet for Johnson was worn by another Wild Weasel, Bob Dorrough. 2) Maj. Leo Thorsness' "boonie hat." On it are marks showing his combat missions, his two MiG victories and several missile radars and sites that he destroyed. 3) Capt. Dethlefsen wore these gloves and dogtags and carried the Bible and fingernail clippers on this mission. 4) One of Maj. Bell's K-2B flying suits. While this one has unit patches and his name badge, aircrews flew "sanitized" flying suits on missions over North Vietnam. Note "SAM Slayer" patch. 5) "SAM Slayer" patch donated by Col. Mike Gilroy, USAF (ret.). These patches were given to aircrews who destroyed a SAM site (a hit from a Shrike alone would not qualify). The patch depicts an "Iron Hand" crushing an SA-2. The patch was designed by Mike Gilroy and George Metcalf at Takhli RTAFB in July 1966. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Capts. Merlyn Dethlefsen (l) and Mike Gilroy. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Capts. Merlyn Dethlefsen (l) and Mike Gilroy. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Capts. Dethlefsen and Gilroy in their F-105F in April 1967. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Capts. Dethlefsen and Gilroy in their F-105F in April 1967. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Against the odds, both Dethlefsen and Gilroy completed 100 missions over North Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Against the odds, both Dethlefsen and Gilroy completed 100 missions over North Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Against the odds, both Dethlefsen and Gilroy completed 100 missions over North Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Against the odds, both Dethlefsen and Gilroy completed 100 missions over North Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

On March 10, 1967, Capts. Merlyn Dethlefsen (pilot) Kevin "Mike" Gilroy (EWO) were No. 3 in a four-plane Iron Hand formation on the first mission against the very heavily defended Thai Nguyen steel mill, about 50 miles north of Hanoi. During the first attack run, an anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) shot down the flight leader and heavily damaged his wingman. This left only Dethlefsen and Gilroy's EF-105F and their F-105D wingman, Maj. Kenneth Bell, to support the bombers.

Though standard tactics called for only one attack pass against such heavy defenses (or two at the very most), Dethlefsen and Gilroy made several passes through intense AAA. Despite being heavily damaged by AAA fire and attacked by MiGs twice, they did not jettison their ordnance and escape. Remarkably, they flew two passes after the strikers left, silencing one site with a Shrike and destroying another with bombs and 20mm fire. Ignoring AAA and MiG gunfire damage to his F-105D, Maj. Bell remained with Dethlefsen and Gilroy through the engagement. Both aircraft made it safely back to base.

For valor in combat above and beyond the call of duty, Capt. Dethlefsen was awarded the Medal of Honor, and Capt. Gilroy was awarded the Air Force Cross.

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