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Rescue of Oyster 01 Bravo

On May 10, 1972, the start of OPERATION LINEBACKER, a flight of four US Air Force McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom IIs from the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron took off from Udorn RTAFB, Thailand, to provide escort cover for strike flights heading into North Vietnam.

Using the call sign Oyster, the four Phantoms engaged in a dogfight with four North Vietnamese MiGs, destroying three. However, another MiG shot down Oyster 01. Its pilot, Major Robert Lodge, did not escape, though his weapons system operator, Oyster 01 Bravo, Captain Roger Locher, ejected safely. Unfortunately, no one saw Locher eject.

Locher landed near a major North Vietnamese airfield at Yen Bai. Sensing that the area was too dangerous for a rescue, he did not use his survival radio. Instead, Locher evaded the enemy so the rescue forces could come for him. He evaded for twenty-two days before he finally made radio contact with USAF fighters passing the area.

They notified rescue forces orbiting over northern Laos. Led by Capt. Ron Smith, flying the A-1H The Proud American, from the 1st Special Operations Squadron, along with his wingman and two Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giants from the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron flew towards Locher’s location.

However, heavy anti-aircraft fire, SA-2 missile sites, and more enemy MiGs prevented an immediate rescue effort. Captain Smith aborted the attempt, returned to base, and began planning a major effort for the next day. Smith requested support from the Seventh Air Force for the rescue. The commander, Gen John Vogt, directed all strike and support missions on June 2 would support the Locher rescue effort.

Captain Smith once again led the rescue. He and his wingmen guided HH-53 pilot Capt. Dale Stovall and his crew to Locher’s position and orbited as they rescued Locher from his twenty-three day ordeal.

Both Capts. Smith and Stovall were awarded the Air Force Cross for the rescue mission, having performed the deepest penetration into North Vietnam to rescue a downed Airman.

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