As a college senior and an avid light plane pilot, I wanted some excitement before settling down to a civilian career. It was peacetime, and I was was tired of school, so I decided to join the Air Force and fly fighters - jet fighters.
I graduated from flying school at Williams AFB two days before the Korean War started. Originally slated for Japan, my orders were changed to the 4th Fighter Group at Langley AFB. With my thirty-five hours of jet experience in T-33s and F-80s, I became part of the 335th Fighter Squadron in July 1950. Shortly thereafter the squadron moved to Andrews AFB. Now it was up to our flight commanders to make fighter pilots out of us. The 4th Group was an interesting mixture of pilots with WW2 combat experience (including a number of aces), and youngsters like myself who were as green as green apples and knew nothing of fighter pilotage.
In October, on a routine takeoff, I lost all hydraulic power and the nose gear would not retract fully. After talking to our fellows on the ground, we concluded that I would have to land with the two main gear extended and the nose gear partially retracted. Not knowing what to expect, I braced for the crash after touchdown by putting my feet up on the instrument panel. To my amazement, the Sabre went gently onto her nose and gracefully slid to a stop. I was rushed off to the flight surgeon, and he took a look at me, gave me a couple of shots of booze, and sent me on my way.
In November 1950, the 4th Wing received orders (secret at the time) to K-26, Pyongyang, North Korea. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the Far East , the Chinese had pushed down to central Korea, and our destination was changed to Johnson All in Japan. I was fortunate to be airlifted to Japan, and celebrated Thanksgiving in Fairbanks, Alaska. The initial combat with the MiGs was flown around Christmas time from K-14 by the older heads with combat experience, while the rest of us remained at Johnson. There, our flight leaders continued to train us, mostly concentrating in how well we protected there 6 o'clock during mock combat. Unfortunately, none of us greenhorns had ever fired a gun! This was remedied by loading one gun, one time, and permitting us to make two passes on a sleeve (ammunition was needed for the war). Needless to say, I didn't score on the sleeve.
Johnson AB was loaded with fighter units recently pulled out of Korea as the Chinese advanced. As a consequence there were some wild parties in the O-Club with guys letting off stem. I recall South Africans who were gifted as 'wall walkers', i.e. with enough to drink one would run at a wall and demonstrate how far up and across he could run. The championship was conceded to the guy who walked across the top of the fireplace. Following one such party, after returning to the BOQ, a small earthquake shook us up quite a bit. Lon Walter came streaming out of his room in his under shorts with his .45 strapped on and shouting, "The Chnese are coming, the Chinese are coming"
Billy Hovde was our squadron commander. Unfortunately, he was involved in a buzzing incident over the golf course while the base commander happened to be playing. Billy went to the maintenance group, and Ben Emmert became our squadron commander.
Thus prepared, we went to war. Part of the squadron was sent to K-2 (Taegu) to fly air to ground missions to stem the Chinese advance. The front lines at that time were between Seoul and Taegu. We were armed with two five inch rockets and our six .50 caliber machine guns. My ignorance of how to fire the rockets was complete. I asked Capt. Ernie Mack, our armament officer, two questions; How do I arm and fire the rockets? And, How does one aim them? Ernie was very helpful.
The first time I ever fired all six guns was in combat. It was awesome! I was really impressed with the power of those guns and the racket they made in the cockpit. On one mission, flying with J.0. Roberts, he spotted some gun emplacements at the end of a bridge. We strafed the area, and I tried to aim where J.0. had fired. After the mission debriefing, I told J.0. that I hadn't seen the guns he said were down there. His response was, "Dick, look back over your shoulder when you pull off the target. That's when they shoot at you!" On the next mission, I did just that, and was absolutely amazed that so many guns were all shooting at me.
As I taxied in after another mission, my crew chief started jumping up and down to tell me to shut down. A hydraulic line was leaking and had blackened the aft fuselage. That was the only real problem I had on any combat mission - a real tribute to my crew chief, who's name was Gus Miller. A recalled reservist, he had owned a restaurant in Poughkeepsie, NY, and candidly told me he knew nothing about taking care of an F-86. Gus turn out to be a real jewel. What he lacked in experience he made up for with dedication. After the first, uncertain weeks, my airplane was maintained as well or better than any of the others. Gus liked scotch, so I made sure he always had an ample supply.
End of Part One.
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