Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pardo's Push


On the 10th of March, 1967, F-4 Phantoms of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Ubon Royal Thai Air Force) attacked a steel mill in North Vietnam, just north of Hanoi.

On this mission were Captain Bob Pardo with his WSO 1st Lt Steve Wayne in one Phantom and Captain Earl Aman, with his WSO 1st Lt Robert Houghton flying on their wing in a second Phantom. On the bomb run, both aircraft were hit by anti-aircraft artillery fire. Here is their story...


These four airmen went into combat, all four came home due to the heroic actions and superb airmanship of Captain Pardo and 1Lt Wayne. Captain Pardo said, "You never leave your wingman behind." There are pretty good accounts of this event here, here and here. (I liked all three write-ups, rather than choose for you, I gave you all three links. It's what I do. I'm a giver. I share.)


Now there were back in those days (and still are) Air Force bean-counters who were annoyed that both jets were lost. They also felt that Captain Pardo endangered himself and his WSO by coming to the aid of Captain Aman and Lieutenant Houghton. All four airmen could have been lost, moaned the hankie-wringing sissies back at the Pentagon. And, and both F-4s were lost. Hey, those things are expensive, whined the accountants at headquarters. (These types are still around, Hell I'm sure Caesar had bean-counters in Rome questioning his expenditures up there on the Rhine while he was surrounded by bands of screaming Teutonic tribesmen!)

Bob Pardo and Steve Wayne open the champagne to celebrate Wayne's 100th mission "Up North"

Captain Earl Aman at Ubon, 1967
(I could not find a photo of 1Lt Houghton, try as I might.)

So it wasn't until 1989 (!) that Big Air Force decided that "Hey, maybe Pardo and Wayne aren't so bad after all. Maybe we should hang a medal on them?"

So 22 years after the fact, these two exemplars of what all combat pilots should aspire to be were properly recognized by their country with the Silver Star.




General Horner presented the Silver Star to Bob Pardo (and Steve Wayne) in 1989.

From Veteran Tributes.org

From Veteran Tributes.org

Reunited for the first time since their flight in 1967 are (from left) Earl Aman, Bob Houghton, Bob Pardo and Steve Wayne in March of 2006.
(Another good account of that mission over at Tailspin's Tales!)

While researching this story (well, okay, Juvat did most of the leg work) I found a similar tale of aviation derring do from the Korean War. We'll take a look at that one soon.

So there you have it, Pardo's Push. What a story!


H/T to Juvat of the Juvats. Fellow 8th alumni will know what that means.

18 comments:

  1. Bean counters never seem to understand that the pilots are worth far more than the planes regardless of what it cost to build the planes!!!

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    1. Ya got that right Russ!

      I should also mention, that the guy who gave me the idea for this post (Juvat) was a Phantom driver at Kunsan when I was there. He later became an Eagle driver at Kadena.

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  2. The thing I liked about this story was Col Pardo NEVER abandoned his wingman. After retirement, when Capt Aman developed Lou Gehrig's disease, Col Pardo organized a fund raising campaign to get him a motorized wheel chair and a speech synthesizer so that he could at least get around and communicate. Continued supporting him until Capt Aman passed away.

    I went through F-4 school in 1978 and most of my instructors were Vietnam Veterans in the F-4. Discussing the "Push" was officially proscribed as unsafe and dangerous and OMG! However lot of my REAL flying ground instruction usually occurred at Friday Post Flying Hours hand flying demonstration episode fueled by fermented hops flavored beverages AKA Beer at Happy Hour. I distinctly remember my flight commander gathering his charges around a table and saying "OK, the situation is your flight lead has both engines flamed out at 20K in hostile territory 90 miles from the border. What do you do? The official answer is wait til he bails out, mark his spot and wait for SAR, But, here's another option and here's how to do it"

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    1. Colonel Pardo is the real deal. The way he took care of his wingman during the war and after is a thing of beauty.

      Hhmm, Friday at the club at the end of the shift. I learned a lot at those sessions. Some of it even covered maintenance procedures!

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    2. Are you allowed to ask how much you like that flight leader? Just saying...

      On the story though, Pardo was another one of those real men who got the job done when lives were on the line. And planes may be expensive, but trained pilots ain't exactly cheap, either.

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    3. The Germans had lots of planes towards the end of WWII. Just not many pilots who could adequately fly them.

      It's tougher to replace a good pilot. Ask the Japanese after Midway.

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    4. I had the great good fortune to fly with a lot of outstanding fighter pilots (some of whom were WSOs). Yes, Rubber Duck was one of them. Tactical Call Signs are a thing of beauty.

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    5. God created call signs so that fighter pilots might learn humility.

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    6. Sarge, now that statement was frickin' BRILLIANT!

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  3. From what I know . . . it's life in the military as usual.
    It's best described, in detail, by Anton Myrer in his novel, "Once An Eagle."
    It's a case of "Them what counts beans knowing what's best versus them what carries the spear guessing, 'cause they can't see the 'Big Picture.'"
    (Doncha know?)

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    1. "Once An Eagle".

      One of the best books ever written. My copy is pretty beat up I've read it so many times.

      Mr Myrer knew his stuff.

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    2. I have never read it, but am rectifying that starting this evening (Sam is in Mexico on his first campaign)

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    3. You are going to enjoy it Juvat.

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  4. When I first arrived at the 81stTFW @ RAF Bentwaters pipeline from my tour at DaNang I was briefly assigned to the 91st TFS (Bluestreaks) before being PCS's to the sister base RAF Woodbridge and the 78thTFS Bushmasters. While at the 91st as a young 1st Lt just prior to making 0-3 I flew in Bob Pardo's backseat.

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    1. That's pretty awesome Virgil. I'm guessing he was a pretty good stick.

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  5. PS: Notice that Pardo never made it past O-5 while Wayne made O-6. Pardo was pure old-school: a fighter-pilot first and an officer second. The Air Force wants it the other way round (at least if one wants any hope of making O-6 and beyond): Officer first; pilot second.

    (BTW, one of the things that make the Canucks and Israelis such shit-hot effective pilots is they follow the "pilot first" philosophy. Give you a classic example. The old F-101 had such almost fatal stall & spin characteristics (the big kids thought) that the US had a stick-shaker installed to warn USAF types that they were nudging up against dangerous angles of attack and to immediately drop the nose, etc. to avoid spins at all cost. The CAF? they ignored all that and actively used spins & spin recovery in the old Voodoo as standard check-list procedures to get new pilots checked out in the aircraft.

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    1. I did notice that. I assumed it was for the reasons you state. The "pilot first" philosophy wins wars, the "officer first" philosophy...
      Honestly, I'm unclear on the benefit of the latter.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)