Friday, March 29, 2019

Who They Are, Part XI - MiG Killers

Maj. Robert Lodge (left) and Capt. Roger Locher (right) in the cockpit of F-4D 65-0784.
Three MiG Kills.
Alright, the last four men on the masthead are...

Wait a minute Sarge, four? I thought there were only three left who you hadn't mentioned in this series. Well, yes, but...

I need to correct a most egregious error. I've added another fellow to the masthead, a certain Captain Roger Locher of the USAF, Major Lodge's WSO in Vietnam. The man who was in the back seat of Phantom 0784 when the team of Lodge and Locher, callsign "Oyster One," were shot down, not that far from Hanoi. Major Lodge lost his life and Captain Locher became an evader. Eluding North Vietnamese forces for 23 days until he was rescued. (His photo on the masthead is from shortly after his rescue.)

This fighting team has been written of before, here (by me) and here (by juvat). Two very brave men, two very capable aircrew flying my favorite jet, the F-4 Phantom II. After re-reading the accounts of their last fight together, it struck me, "Why on God's green earth did I not put Captain Locher up there on the masthead with his pilot. I mean, read this -
Locher reported later that the aircraft went into a kind of right slice. He noted that the right engine's RPM was at zero and the left was decreasing towards idle. It looked to him that the right engine had exploded. Lodge and his WSO discussed their options. They saw that the hydraulic pressure was low and falling. When Lodge tried the autopilot, it didn't respond. The rear of the jet was on fire, and as the plane yawed the slipstream pushed the flames up over Locher's canopy. Locher later recalled, "We immediately went out of control, flopping from side to side. Then fire started coming in the back of the cockpit. It seared my canopy with bubbles and I couldn't see out any more. The airplane slowed down and was approaching a flat spin." Passing through 8000 MSL, Locher told Lodge that it was getting too hot and he'd better get out. Lodge looked over his right shoulder at Locher and said, "Well, why don't you eject then?"

Lodge had about three weeks previously told fellow squadron members, as he had done several times before, that he would not allow himself to be captured because of his extensive knowledge of classified and sensitive information. Locher successfully ejected at about 8,000 feet but because the remaining planes were busy with the other MiGs, and due to smoke, no one saw his parachute canopy. Two MiG-19s buzzed Locher as he descended, so he knew the enemy was aware he had survived. He estimated it took about 30 seconds for the jet to impact the ground, but never saw Lodge's chute.

Locher was afraid to use his URC-64 rescue radio as he parachuted because it was difficult to remove from the zippered pocket of his survival vest and he was not sure he could get it back in. He figured out his rough location and managed to steer his chute about 2,000 yards away from the plane burning below him and towards a nearby mountain side. After he landed, he couldn't hide his parachute because it was stuck in the trees overhead.

He removed a couple of essential items from his survival pack and left the remainder behind. His survival vest contained a pistol, two pints of water, a first aid kit, insect repellent, mosquito netting, and a knife. He knew from prior briefings that he could not expect SAR this deep in North Vietnam, north of the Red River. Once on the ground and under the trees, he could not hear any jets overhead. He also knew his radio could not penetrate the dense jungle canopy overhead.

Locher listened to hear if a search party was looking for him. He camouflaged his trail for about 100 yards and then climbed the eastern side of the mountain to its peak. He got his bearings and then hid in bushes on the west slope. For three days, Locher listened as a search party of local farmers beat the bushes up and down the east side of the mountain, searching for him. He hid in a brush pile and at one point over the next three days, a boy came within 30 feet of his hiding place. In the evening he returned to the peak. On the second day he picked up radio traffic from American aircraft almost 100 miles to his south, but they did not hear his radio beeper or voice.

He decided his best chance for rescue was to cross the forested, hilly terrain and get to the heavily cultivated Red River Valley, swim the river, and work his way to the sparsely inhabited mountains to the south. He figured it would take him 45 days. He traveled only at first light and at dusk, avoiding the local farmers, and living off the land.

He was able to find plenty of water but only occasionally fruit and berries to eat. He evaded capture and covered over 19 km, gradually losing 30 pounds and his strength. On the 10th day he came within 5 feet of being discovered. Following a well-used trail early one morning, he suddenly had to evade local farmers. He hid in a nearby field where there was little concealment, but pulled leaves and debris over himself. He lay there all day as children from a village he discovered a short distance away played in his vicinity. At one point a water buffalo nearly stepped on him, and a boy came to fetch the animal, only a few feet from Locher. That evening he spotted a hill near the village alongside the Red River, the last hill before the wide open fields of the Red River basin. He was about 5 miles from Yên Bái Airfield.

He hid on the hill for the next 13 days and watched for American aircraft. On June 1, 1972, he was finally able to contact a flight of American jets overhead, calling, "Any U.S. aircraft, if you read Oyster 1 Bravo, come up on Guard". R. Stephen Ritchie, in one of the F-4 aircraft overhead and who had witnessed Locher's jet fall out of the sky, remembered Locher's call sign and answered his call. Locher calmly responded, "Guys I've been down here a long time, any chance of picking me up?" Ritchie replied, "You bet!" Locher's transmissions left some Americans who did not hear his call in doubt about the authenticity of his message, and they believed that the NVA may have manipulated a POW into impersonating him, setting a trap for the would-be rescuers.
Egregious error, corrected.

Now Major Lodge was leading Oyster Flight that day, four F-4D Phantoms of the "Triple Nickel" - the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand (my very first assignment in the Air Force, subsequently cancelled when Udorn's Phantoms went to Okinawa, as did Your Humble Scribe). So Lodge and Locher were flying "Oyster One," the element lead for Oyster Flight (Oyster Three) was Captain Steve Ritchie, with his WSO Captain Chuck DeBellevue right behind him.

Capt. Steve Ritchie (left) and Capt. Chuck DeBellevue (right) in the cockpit of F-4D 66-7463.
Five MiG Kills.
Another little detail I missed back in the day when I wrote of Major Lodge. Odd that I would miss that. On the same mission where Major Lodge was lost and Captain Locher was forced to evade the enemy on the ground, Ritchie and DeBellevue scored their very first MiG kill -
At 0942, forewarned 19 minutes earlier by the EC-121 "Disco" over Laos and then by "Red Crown", the US Navy radar picket ship, the guided missile cruiser USS Chicago, Oyster flight engaged an equal number of MiG-21s head-on, scattering them. Oyster flight shot down three and nearly got the fourth, but fell victim to a MiG tactic dubbed "Kuban tactics" after those of the Soviet World War II ace Pokryshkin, in which a GCI*-controlled flight of MiG-19s trailed so that they could be steered behind the American fighters maneuvering to attack the MiG-21s. Maj. Lodge was shot down and killed, despite clumsy flying by the MiG-19's. (He might have been able to eject, but had previously told his flightmates that he would not be captured because of his extensive knowledge of classified and sensitive information.) Almost simultaneously Ritchie and Capt Chuck DeBellevue, his WSO, rolled into a firing position behind the remaining MiG-21 of the original 4 with a radar lock, launched two Sparrows and scored a kill with the second. (Source)
That team went on to shoot down four more MiGs during their tour in Vietnam.

It's worth noting that Captain Locher went on to become a pilot, first in the F-4 then later in the F-16. He eventually retired from the Air Force (though at what rank I was unable to ascertain, perhaps a kind reader can help us out here) and is still alive at the young age of 72.

Captains Ritchie and DeBellevue are on a very short list of U.S. aces to come out of Vietnam -
Two WSOs are listed among the aces, Chuck DeBellevue is one, he and Captain Jeff Feinstein both have six kills. I'm sure LUSH loves that little fact. As juvat has often mentioned, fighter pilot is an attitude, not just an Air Force Specialty Code!

So that's all those folks on the masthead, heroes of mine. I am working on a special page to act as a one stop reference to this series of posts, also as a place to honor other individuals. Reader suggestions will be entertained. So put on your thinking caps. That page is coming soon. I know Beans can't wait.


  1. Well done wrap-up Sarge. Reading about men like Maj. Lodge and the ultimate sacrifice he made is sobering reading but needed. Looking forward to your revision to the masthead.

    1. Major Locher is already up there. The masthead itself isn't being revised, there will be a new page on the sidebar to honor more people.

    2. It's also nice to have another Green One up there, not that it will last forever. But....

  2. Once you have your special page, have them rotate through the masthead.

    1. That's a lot of work Scott. But I won't say never.

  3. Well, there's four others, but they were all very recent, and not pilots. Though their indomitable souls have flown very high.

    Thanks for making the correction and adding Locher. A great story and a great man.

    I sincerely hope that Lodge died quickly and wasn't tortured, but the suspicious way his body was 'discovered' may show he suffered unspeakably.

    Great job. Let us hope there is no need or ability to add many more heroes any time soon.

    1. The four others who aren't pilots? Covered in Part II I believe. According to my records everyone on the masthead is covered, including Captain Locher (Major Lodge's backseater) who I added yesterday.

      As for that "discovered" remark in that older post. Some of the sources I used back then were a bit flaky, later sources seem to indicate that he died in the crash, he had remarked earlier that he wouldn't be taken prisoner. Odds are he went in with his jet.

    2. Other than losing reading comprehension today (removing egg off of face. Where the heck did you get ostrich eggs?) you are correct.

      "Discovered" during Jimmuh Cahter's reign of terror? I wonder what he (Carter) gave away for the body...

    3. Well, it has been a long series, I had to double check myself.

      One does wonder regarding the timing.

  4. When I first reported to F-4 RTU, we were flying the F-4C. This was in 1979, just 4-6 years after the Vietnam Festivities ended (depending on how you define "ended"). ALL my IP's and WSO's had participated, several had significantly more prestigious trinkets on their chest than mere participation ribbons. As was expected, much of the "real" learning occurred in the O'Club with beer. One thing I noted was whenever one of four names came up, voices were lowered and conversations became quite serious. Those names were Richter, Locher, Lodge and Sijan. At the time, (pre-internet) it was difficult to find out information about them and all most of the folks that knew them would say things along the lines of "Clanked when he walked" and change the subject. That was a sure sign the the young whippersnapper had better not ask about it again. When Ras' first book came out, that was my first indication of what had happened to LT Richter. I learned about LT Sijan when I did the MOH posting on him. Same thing with Maj's Locher and Lodge.

    I wish I'd known back in RTU what I know now, I'd have asked a lot more questions. So, Thanks Sarge, for letting me post here.

    1. There are many times I say to myself, "I wish I'd paid more attention back then." How could I know that I'd be a blogger some day, heck, blogs and the Internet didn't exist yet!

      The four names you mention, yup, they clanked when they walked.

      Juvat, your posts are pearls of great price, you give more than you get.

    2. On a separate note, I took note of your list of Aces and recognized all but one name, Captain Jeffrey S. Troy. My google-fu may not be quite up to speed, but I could find nothing on him on Google, other than the "Dirty Little Secrets" source you cited.

      I have never heard of him or that there might have been another ace other than Cunningham, Driscoll, DeBellevue, Ritchie and Feinstein. I'm pretty sure I would have heard his name mentioned, even if he'd done something untoward. 'Tis a puzzlement.

    3. Yeah, puzzled me as well. Couldn't find hide nor hair of him other than that one reference.

      I did to come up with a different search approach, must be some way to dig that info up. Of course, the source could be wrong, it happens.

  5. Re; special page - let me just give you 5 Poles that I think could be honored for their bravery in WW2... - the final one is a boat, but what a story she had!

    1. All worthy of a place in the proposed "Hall of Honor" page. ORP Orzeł will be included as her crew represents the thousands of Poles for whom the word "surrender" didn't exist.

      Thanks Paweł, they're in.

  6. Thanks for the information on these fine men. May we live to the standards that they set.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

  7. Thanks for a great post Sarge! Looks like Locher retired as a Colonel.

    I also got this from the 2016 Footprints (the magazine of the Jolly Green Association): Jolly Green Association Reunion 28–30 April 2016 The Beautiful Ramada Plaza Beach Resort Honored Guest - Banquet Speaker Colonel Roger Locher, USAF (Ret)

    It was in PDF and I remembered that you didn't trust online PDF files. Anyhow, here's the link:

    - Victor

  8. Locher's evasion is the stuff of legend, and movies. I'm surprised his story was never recreated for either TV or the big screen. Similar in some respects to BAT-21, but I'd say that rescue was far more compelling than the one in Rescue Dawn.

    1. Now there's a good point, would've been a great movie.


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