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tonight on "war stories" -- >> how do you spend people to war and then pull the rug out from under them? >> the rules of engagement made a dangerous job deadly. >> it was a frustrating thing. we knew we had to fight within these rules of engagement. >> still in the skies over vietnam, they did their duty. >> it was like a football game. send me in, coach. i'm ready. >> "operation rolling thunder," that's coming up on "war stories." the men who flew this plane
call it the thud or the lead sled. it was the f-105 thunder chief, and during the veietnam war, it was a workhorse. i'm oliver north and this is "war stories." between 1961 and '73, over 3,000 aircraft like this one were shot down or destroyed in southeast asia. 1968, the last year of rolling thunder and 652 men piloting these planes lost their lives. from march of '65 to october of '68, air force navy and marine airmen dropped nearly a half million tons of bombs. rolling thunder was far from a triumph. as you'll see and hear, orders straight from the white house forced the men flying these missions to fight with one hand tied behind their backs. and those restrictions inevitably cost american lives. join us tonight as we pay tribute to the heroes of operation rolling thunder.
>> took this huge hit. every warning light came on. nothing to do. >> could this war have been won? >> of course it could. it could have ended any time we wanted it to. >> in 1965, vietnam was divided and at war. the south was democratic and america's friend. the north, communist and allied with our cold war enemies, the soviet union and china. ho chi minh ruled the north with a singular purpose. an independent, yun fid, and
communist vietnam. >> i thought it was the right thing to do, to take the communists on. >> george day grow up 7,000 miles from vietnam on the banks of the sioux river in iowa. after the war, he switched to the air force and had already flown combats in the korean war. >> it really started with charlie lindbergh. he was like an all-consuming hero. we used to throw parachutes up in the air, handkerchief with a rock tied to it and yell "charlie lindbergh." >> jackie cochran, who was the first woman to break the sound barrier, came to our little town of corona. she talked to me and invited me to her ranch. >> years later, jack would think cochran by giving her his first set of marine corps wings. his first assignment was in california. >> i said, i want to be a fighter pilot. he said, we have one slot left. they're going to vietnam in august.
i said, that'd be great. >> by 1965, the beatles and rolling stones had invaded america, and there were thousands of american military advisers in south vietnam. early that year, president lyndon johnson decided to increase america's commitment to the south and its leader. and the public agreed. polls showed that 80% of americans supported helping south vietnam. >> the advance of communism had to be stopped. >> jim mcer inny began his military career as a paratrooper in the 82nd airborne. by the korean war, he decided it was better to land them than jump out of them. >> i had the high honor indeed of getting the last kill of the korean war. >> rolling thunder reflecting the caution of the guy who ran it, the president of the united states, lyndon johnson. >> wayne thompson is an author.
>> the insurgency in south vietnam was being run from hanoi. so johnson reluctantly agreed to a very limited bombing campaign. >> gradualization basically violates every known rule of war. >> principal airfields in north vietnam had not been bombed in over two years. the capital city of hanoi was barely bombed so ships could come in and unload supplies. >> roughly two-thirds of north vietnam's imports came to the port. closing the port would have crippled the enemy. but white house restrictions allowed the supplies to keep flowing. and that wasn't all. pilots were virtually forbidden from attacking enemy surface-to-air missile sites. >> the inability to go after a
s.a.m. site before it was fully built and operational and fired at us, because of the political danger, we would pick up if we killed a couple russians. >> and we didn't want to hurt the russian advisers. >> that's right. >> when rolling thunder began in march of 1965, david, howard, and thousands of men like them were forced to fight by rules like these. >> who picked the targets? >> the tuesday lunch bunch. that's president johnson and secretary mcnamara. i think four or five other civilians. >> in the skies over north vietnam, texan bob parr doe would see the price of hesitation by the tuesday lunch bunch. this is a conversation between secretary of defense robert mcfor that mar ra and lbj on the eve of rolling thound ining th.
>> len den johnson had well remembered the chinese and the korean war. they might bring in full divisions to combat american forces. >> where did you grow up? >> i was an army brat. my father-in-law was career army. my brother-in-law was west point class of '66. >> paul bucked family tradition and graduated from the naval academy in 1962. >> the cold war is very much on the minds of certainly people at the naval academy. >> that's what it was. we knew sooner or later we were going to cross horns with the chinese communists and bash heads have a big war with them. >> he flew the skies of north vietnam in an a-4. >> throwaway bomber, tinker toy.
official name was the a-4 sky hawk. >> but it also had a nuclear mission. >> oh, yeah. >> many of the aircraft that flew into vietnam were designed with an entirely different war and mission in mind. >> we got more and more and more embroiled with the so-called cold war. and the mission of the air force became one of nuke, retaliation, nuke, threat, nuke this, nuke that. there was a long period of where actual fighter tactics and conventional warfare were not really considered. >> 1943 west point graduate robin became an ace during world war ii. his experience dropping unguided so-called dumb bombs on the nazis wuould prove vital to the pilots flying jets over vietnam. >> the f-4 was a fighting
machine, built just for that. navy built as an intercepter, but it turned out to be a marvelous conventional warfare airplane. >> for vietnam, the f-105 thunder chief's nuclear bombay was turned into a fuel tank. and the b-52, designed for long-range nuclear strikes, was modified to carry scores of conventional bombs. >> 30 of those b-52s were sent to guam just before. and the air crews thought they were going to bomb north vietnam. >> we deployed on february 11th, 1965. >> don was a co-pilot in one of those bombers. >> the mission from that point was to go down to 500 feet, paralleling the coast of north vietnam, not gaining altitude, going over hanoi, probably 200 to 300 feet, and then pop up and vaporize the airfield northwest of hanoi about ten miles.
that is the only mission, the only mission in the vietnam war that had a chance of stopping the war before it got started. >> what might have been mattered little to the men tasked with flying north. restrictions are orders, and order are followed. >> you never work against your own country during wartime. >> it's the same old thing. just like a football game. send me in, coach. i'm ready. >> our pilots call it the flying telephone pole, and they closed in on their aircraft at more than 2,000 miles an hour. doing battle with the sa-2 is next on "war stories. building a website in under an hour is easy with gocentral... ...from godaddy! in fact, 68% of people who have built their... ...website using gocentral, did it in under an hour, and you can too. build a better website - in under an hour. with gocentral from godaddy.
sfx: loud poorly played electric guitar that sounds awful seriously, awful but a lot better than last week ♪rock guitar music ♪we weren't born to follow we cannot be defeated by force of arms. we will stand in vietnam. >> in july 1965, president johnson announced that u.s. troop levels in vietnam would rise to 125,000.
from the 24th, two u.s. air force captains were already at war. cruising at 23,000 feet, 40 miles west of hanoi, they and their f-4 phantom were in a part of north vietnam designated as route pack six. >> where did those terms come from? >> is they just draw a line across a map, route package one being near the dmz, route package five and six being the northern most part of north vietnam. >> route pack six probably became the most heavily defended real estate anyone had ever seen. >> they spotted smoke trails streaking toward their f-4. before they could react, a missile scored a direct hit. making them the first of many to be taken out by this weapon. after ejecting, they were both captured. like most pows, their treatment
was brutal. torture, limited medical treatment, and malnutrition were the norm. only cairn survived. >> you ever see a missile go by you? >> oh, yeah. >> how big is it? >> just like they say. about like a telephone pole. >> the russian sa-2 is quite the opposite of the low-tech pajama wearing vietcong in the south. it contained many weapons, being tested in the skies over vietnam. >> wild weasel was a very highly classified program. essentially, it was mating an experienced tactical fighter pilot with an electronic warfare officer. the electronic warfare officer played with his equipment to find out what it was doing. the pilot figured out how to handle the situation. >> we would keep them busy while the strike force went in.
>> dave was one of those electronic warfare officers affectionately referred to as the guy in back. >> you don't think about the fear, the danger, or anything else. because you can't hesitate. >> flying a wild weasel mission, what's the greatest vulnerability? enemy migs? >> all of the above. >> the sa-2 was a new threat. we had to look at it and come up with ways to beat it. now, it took us a while. we lost a lot of airplanes initially. >> in time, wild weasel flights routinely escorted strike aircraft. >> the strike force typically was 16 f-105s and escorted by what was called an iron-hand flight. the iron-hand flight typically had two wild weasel aircraft and two f-105 single seaters.
>> the weasels flew five minutes ahead of the strike package. their goal, to get the bombers in and out with bombs on target. but in order to target a s.a.m., the sight needed to turn on its radar. >> so they turned on their radars, you could actually fire back at that radar. >> that's right. the sa-2 sight commander could tell when he was being fired at. >> it was a very dangerous cat-and-mouse game. risking their lives to try to destroy a surface missile sight before that sight strikes them. >> the north vietnamese realized what we were doing. it didn't scare them anymore because they could keep their radar off until the last minute and put it back on. >> in late december 1965, president johnson temporarily halted the rolling thunder raids, hoping ho chi minh would agree to talk. the north vietnamese ignored the gesture and improved defenses
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june 1966, astronaut edward white took america's first walk in space. that month on mother earth, lyndon johnson allowed the first rolling thunder strikes near hanoi. this telephone call between secretary of defense mcnamara and the president occurred on 6th june. >> forces are ready and weather forecasts favorable for strikes against targets. >> later in the conversation, lbj raises concerns over a soviet tanker that might be caught in the cross fire.
>> it's going to be their response. >> i think that we have told the russians that we have put it in writing and done everything possible to avoid antagonizing them in this military conflict. so if we hit the tanker, i doubt that it would lead to military action. >> in the skies over vietnam, the pilots flying the missions wondered how they could win a war if we were going to avoid antagonizing one of our enemy's principle sources of supply. >> the restrictions were so ridiculous. >> june 17th, 1966. not a good day. >> paul was off the coast of vietnam aboard the "uss hancock" preparing for his second mission of the day. >> what was the target? >> we couldn't get in because of the weather. we went in to hit boxcars.
rolled in. i got hit right at the bottom of the dive bombing run. i looked down and saw the two hydraulic gauges go down to zero. i said, this is not good. tail blew off the airplane and i ejected. i pulled my radio out. i got down, looked around. they're all coming toward me. last transmission was, send the airplanes, send the helicopters back. see you after the war, thinking in my mind it was going to be another six months. >> that the point, 17th june, 1965, did you know anybody who was already a p.o.w.? >> a bunch of them. my friend john, one of our photo birds, he'd been shot down. we thought he was a p.o.w. >> you didn't know for sure who was and who wasn't? >> no, no. >> because they weren't telling anybody. >> at this point in the war, the
north vietnamese refused to disclose what pilots they held in captivity. torture and interrogations were a fact of life, as common as the sunrise. follow his shootdown, paul's fate remained a mystery for years. when an airmen went down in enemy territory, the race to rescue was on. >> the rescue people were unbelievable. the navy would actually fly across south vietnam to get to an air force pilot that had been shot down in laos. >> that's a pretty risky mission. >> it is. it certainly is. >> it was up to them to come in and clear the area. jolly greens would come in taking heavy fire. >> the jolly gereen giant hel helicopters and sandy were essential in many rescue missions. the a-1 flew low, slow, and loaded with armament.
it was great for attacking enemy ground troops searching for our downed flyer, but it was also vulnerable to ground fire. >> there were two navy pilots looking for major norman schmidt. >> norman schmidt's f-104 was shot down. the navy pilots ran low on gas. air force sky raider pilot and his wingmen took over the search. >> him and his wingmen started their zigzagging pattern looking for signs or parachutes or flares. that's when his plane was hit. and there was no other sign of my dad or no radio or parachute or anything. >> i answered the door when three air force officers were at the door. and they came in and my mom saw them and she said, carol, take jim out in the backyard and push him on the swing.
and i was back there pushing him, and i knew something was wrong. >> she was told not to talk about it because the north vietnamese government would use any information like that and use it for propaganda. >> i pretty much cried myself to sleep every night of my life. when i was in grade school and high school, just thinking he was being tortured. >> i assumed he was captive and in a prison camp somewhere. >> when "war stories" returns, we'll take you inside one of the war's greatest deceptions, operation bolo is coming up.
he would call them by name. this was his standard method of gaining entry. >> in january of '67, the so-called boston strangler was sentenced to life in prison. operation rolling thunder was approaching its second anniversary. increasing increasingly, raids to the north were being intercepted by communist migs. our heavily laiden planes often had to jettison their planes short of their intended target. >> they were getting more and more aggressive. >> then colonel robin, who was based in thailand. >> my boss was there. i said, sir, i'm sure you know the migs are getting kind of frisky.
i have an idea of what we could do about it. >> the key to bolo, newly introduced into operations. >> slung under the wing, these pods jammed enemy radars, making it harder for s.a.m.s to lock on. in limited supply, the pods were usually hung on the airplane's principle bomber. >> we knew their ground controllers would see these emissions from this pod. >> they went in as if they were f-105s loaded down with bombs. >> that was north vietnam's major mig base. so far johnson hadn't allowed it to be bombed. we could only engage migs in the
air. >> came up through the cloud deck behind us, and we had a nice little fight. >> loud and clear. >> i managed to get two that day. >> the most important job was preparing his men for combat. >> my first batch of replacements after i got there were five guys. only one of them had flown real fighters before. >> a lot of the most experienced air crews had already rotated home. so he was beginning to get fighter pilots who might have even been transport pilots or heavy bomber pilots. >> i looked at these kids and said, jesus christ, i need fighter pilots. they sent me a bunch of guys like you. i bet you guys don't even know how to drink, follow me.
so we went to the bar. >> the bar was just one of the many diversions for the air crews. another was the mustache. >> everybody started growing them. not everybody, but boy, there were some magnificent mus staffs. what it really was, was kind of a joke. it was also a rigid middle digit held up in the face of united states air force. what are you going to do about it? >> mustaches, did you have one? >> oh, sure. i had this mustache, and i looked meaner than hell. i used to send around to all my friends in an e-mail, this is why we won the cold war. >> we all had our australian bush hats. every time you flew, you put a mark on it so you keep track of how many missions you flew. >> once you flew 100 missions north, your tour of duty was supposed to be over. >> a lot of the pilots i talked to wore the same neckerchief or carried a silver dollar. do you have any of those? >> not flying on my birthday. when i was a second lieutenant,
my best friend over in england flamed out over the english channel and ejected and died of exposure on his birthday. and i said, that's it, i'm not ever going to fly on my birthday again. and up until that point, i hadn't. >> that point was march 10th, 1967. bob's birthday. and president johnson had authorized a new target. like it or not, he'd be flying. >> tell me about it. >> we started trying to hit that target on march the 1st. i think two or three times we -- the whole strike force had to abort. we had the exact same route every day. at the exact same time. and so the gunnersi ining ininis could sit down there drinking
their tea. >> did the enemy adjust? >> the first day they briefed it, if i remember correctly. within five miles of the steel mill, they had about 185 guns. each day when the intelligence officer would give us his brief, it went up 100 to 150 guns. so by the 10th, he says, there are roughly 1,000 guns within five miles of the target, and they've brought in six mobile surface-to-air missiles. >> it sat within route pack six, 30 miles north of hanoi. bob and his backseater, steve wayne, were about to strike one of north vietnam's most heavily defended sites. >> we were inbound to the target. we had just turned over our ipr, initial point. >> from what altitude? >> we had pulled up to about 14,000 feet. we'd released the bombs
somewhere between 7,000 and 7,500 feet. down we go, drop our bombs. start to pull out. right at the bottom of the pullout, steve and i got hit. one of the first things we do after we come off the target is get a check. >> one of the other f-4 was piloted by earle ayman. both aircraft were hit and leaking fuel. >> i was only short at that time about 2,000 pounds. but earl, he only had 2,000. that wasn't enough to get him out of vietnam. it's going to be really bad to sit here and watch these guys flame out and glide until they have to get out of the airplane and then see them get captured. >> if ayman and his backseater went down in this part of north vietnam, there was little chance of rescue. but if they could make it to laos, their chance of survival skyrocketed. >> so i asked earl to get his drag sheet. i attempted to put the nose of
the airplane right in the drag sheet. there was so much turbulence coming off his airplane, i couldn't get close enough to even touch him. so i backed away. we dropped down underneath him. i said, okay, we'll try to put the top of our fuselage up against his belly and just piggy back him a little bit. we'd get within a couple feet, and it felt like a vacuum, pulling us into him. i said, well, we can't do that. >> he tries again, this time by pushing the crippled f-4 by its tail hook. will his push succeed? find out when "war stories" continues. hi, i'm the internet!
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works. on the bomb on an f-4, crippled by enemy fire. their tank was torn open, leaving them without the fuel they needed to get out of enemy air space. on their wing also flying a damaged phantom were bob and steve. >> i thought that's just going to be really bad to sit here and watch these guys get captured. >> he pushed them out of north vietnam so they could bail out in relative safety and be rescued. >> i was looking at the bottom of his airplane and saw the tail. i said, one last try here. put the hook down. so we eased in and put the hook in the middle of our windshield because that was the only flat spot on the front end of the airplane. sure enough, his vertical speed decreased by half. by this time, he was completely
flamed out. we could hold it on there about 30 seconds at a time and it would slip off to the side. we just eased back, put her to, and go back in. we finally got down to about 6,000 feet, which is as close to the ground as i wanted to get. >> how many minutes and how many miles had it been since you were hit? >> the distance involved in the push was only about 88 miles. >> you're over laos. >> yes. we watched earl and bob eject and saw both their parachutes open. we turned towards the tanker, but it became obvious within a minute that we weren't going to make it to the tanker. >> when you ejected, you and steve talk, time to go? >> as soon as the engines flamed out, i said, okay, steve, it's time to go. i said, we got to get out. i said, i'll see you later, and he was gone. >> it says a lot about the way pilots and others try to care for each other, the risk they
would take to bring back a comrade. >> did any other planes go down in that mission? >> three others. >> did any of the other guys ever make it? >> no. there were a total of five airplanes shot down that day. the four of us were the only ones that made it back. >> on 16 may, johnson authorized the bombing of hanoi's power plant. he was convinced the navy's new tv-guided bomb could reduce the chance of unintended damage of casualties. on 19 may, the navy made its first raid on hanoi itself, targeting the power plant and other key enemy sites. deep inside the infamous hanoi hilton, paul and the other p.o.w.s had ringside seats. >> that happens to be ho chi mi minh's birthday. we're under the beds for the tenth time. we're lying down there.
you hear boom, boom, boom, boom. my roommate was under the bed and goes -- every american in the entire camp cracked up. the guys couldn't think of what we were so happy about. >> a major step forward, the wa walleye still relied on clear weather and daylight for accuracy. >> we had almost no night capability. the only aircraft was the a-6. >> new tactics were developed in the field. george bud day led the unit that implemented the fast fac. >> fac is basically an ak kro anymore for forward air controller. idea putting some eyes on the battlefield at some fairly low altitude where you could define targets and then get some 105s, f-4 bombers in to take out the targets. >> they called themselves misty super facs and flew into battle in a two-seat f-100.
>> a fast airplane at low altitudes. >> in late august, '67, they were topping off their f-100 tanks and preparing to take out a s.a.m. site. >> kept saying i got the target. i said, i got it too. boom, right on the target. took a huge hit. the airplane just felt like it stopped. got the nose up, tried to do some things to see if i could get the airplane flying again. it didn't work. don't know what happened. i just went unconscious. then 20, 30 seconds, here was about a 13-year-old kid with a really old rusty bolt-action rifle pointed right at my head. so i reversed the american
dream. went from riches to rags with the pull of an ejection handle. >> he was rescue kd, but bud day was taken prisoner. >> the next day they took me over, hung me by my feet for the entire day. really horrible experience when your arm is all fractured up. it's just barbaric. >> rolling thunder ends much like it began. find out how when "war stories" returns.
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resigned. >> mcnamara formally resigned, but he was obviously pushed out. >> it was mcnamara's testimony before congress that ended the defense secretary's tenure. >> mcnamara persuaded him to launch the rolling thunder campaign to begin with. he was now telling the senate committee that the bombing campaign in north vietnam was virtually worthless. >> two months after his resignation, in south vietnam the enemy mounted the offensive. fierce battles raged in cities across the country, including the capital saigon. removed from the jungle of their safety sanctuaries, the vietcong was defeated and lbj had enough too. >> i shall not seek, and i will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president. >> he also announced that he was pulling back the bombing in
north vietnam. >> after 2 1/2 years, over half a million tons of bombs dropped, 900 planes lost, and more than 1,000 airmen killed, missing, or captured, rolling thunder finally ended in october of '68. >> 58,249 names on that wall. i attribute many of those to johnson and mcnamara. >> why were they called the river rats? >> they were called the river rats because of the red river, which goes through hanoi. >> i know what kind of kept me going on some pretty dark days. what kept you going? >> my upbringing. and i would give my dad more credit. he would expect nothing but the best. that's why with earl, i couldn't just fly away and leave. couldn't do it. >> decades after bob pushed earl and robert's f-4 to safety, he
was stricken by a cruel, debilitating, and ultimately fatal disease. >> earl became ill with lou gehrig's disease, so we got busy and started raising money to get a few things he needed. he lived about 4 1/2 years. lost him in '99. >> the river rats take care of their own. today they maintain a scholarship fund for the children of military air crew members killed in the line of duty. >> we've provided somewhere close to $1.6 million worth of scholarships to many, many kids. >> when "war stories" returns, america leaves vietnam and our p.o.w.s come home.
some of the war's few joyous moments came in february, march, and april of '73 with the release of 591 american p.o.w.s. among them, paul, bud day, and four future members of congress, pete peterson, jeremiah denton, sam johnson, and john mccain. paul endured over six years of hell. >> we appreciate everything. we all take stuff for granted. >> he left the navy in 19 3i8 as a commander. jim retired from the air force in 1980 with two stars. robin olds retired as a brigadier general. david, joe, and scrappy johnson all rose to the rank of colonel. while bob left the air force as a lieutenant colonel and don hearten as a major. after being shot down, colonel george bud day spent over five years in captivity. for his service, he was awarded
the medal of honor. receiving hour nation's highest honor is a close second to the day he came home to his wife doris and their children. >> i look over there, there she is. looks like an angel. and grabbed her. oh, just absolutely heavenly. >> i was so happy for them. it's almost like those people won the lottery ticket. because their dad is coming home. >> hubert nichols didn't come home. his wife patricia raised their five children alone. >> i think about my dad every day. and reallisticly, he died in the crash. >> in 1978, military declared colonel nichols died in action, body not recovered. >> i really wish i knew my father other than from stories. he's the kind of stand-up guy you really want to know and meet. >> for the american airmen who flew during rolling thunder, one
word describes their experience. frustrating. these well-trained, remarkably brave aviators were willing to fly through enemy skies swarming with anti-aircraft, migs and missil missiles. the foe they most feared, washington. they doomed rolling thunder before the first aircraft lifted off the runway or from the deck of a carrier. yet, these young americans still strapped in, lit their engines, checked their gauges and flew into harm's way. the hard lessons of rolling thunder haven't been forgotten. today we no longer send 16 or 20 planes and crews to attack a target. one plane, one pilot, and one guided bomb can do the job, day or night, in almost any weather. the heroes who flew in rolling thunder paid a painful price to teach those lessons. theirs is a war story that deserves to be told. i'm oliver north. good night.
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