group of Misty pilots.
Photo courtesy of Don Jones
pictured next to his airplane in Vietnam.
Photo courtesy of dickrutan.com.
In 1967, a group of combat-experienced
fighter pilot volunteers were brought together in South Vietnam to form
a top-secret squadron known as Operation Commando Sabre. With a call
sign of "Misty," their mission was to fly fast and low over
enemy territory - so low they could see targets like bridges, trucks and
Surface to Air missiles.
The call sign came from the famous jazz
standard written by Erroll Garner and made popular by crooner Johnny
Mathis, among others. The song had been a favorite of the unit's first
Armed with only their cannons and marking
rockets, their goal was simple: Disrupt the transfer of enemy supplies
and equipment down the Ho Chi Minh trail. When a Misty located one or
more of these targets, he directed Air Force and Navy fighter strikes
"When you fly over someone's country
and drop bombs on them, it easily pisses them off," said Dick
Rutan, a Misty pilot who flew the two-seat Super Sabre F-100F. If the
civilians found downed pilots before the military, they often killed
Yet Rutan said he was never scared.
"But I certainly was apprehensive before a mission…"
Rutan and seven other Misty pilots will
talk about their experiences Tuesday at Theater in the Woods at 8 p.m.
Before the program (7-7:30), the pilots will be signing copies of Bury
Us Upside Down, the book that tells their stories, at the EAA
merchandise tent near the Theater.
For a typical mission, Rutan said they'd
get up at 3 a.m., get dressed and eat creamed chipped beef. "It
would gag a maggot, but knowing it could be the last decent meal you
could have in years, you'd eat a full breakfast," he said.
Typically, Misty pilots would brief 2 1/2
hours prior to take off, studying targets and photos supplied by Intel
and previous Misty flights. Then, you'd go to your airplane, fly 20
minutes north to refuel off a tanker, and start the reconnaissance
mission. "It was so quiet and peaceful," Rutan recalled.
"There was not a ripple in the sky, and you'd see the coastline
ahead and the mist hanging around the rice paddies."
That peace was over as soon as the
Vietnamese spotted you. "The whole sky would be lit up with
tracers, and you'd be turning and pulling Gs and banking while we looked
for hidden targets," he said. While the front seat pilot flew the
aircraft, flying 350 to 550 mph while continually changing direction so
the enemy wouldn't know where to aim, the backseat pilot handled the
radios and carried maps and a hand-held 35mm camera with telephoto lens.
Of the 155 Mistys officially assigned to
fly missions over North Vietnam from June 1967 to May 1970, 34 (22
percent) were shot down. Eight others were shot down when flying
non-Misty missions, bringing the percentage of Misty pilots shot down to
28. And two Mistys were shot down twice. There were seven KIA (killed in
action) and four POWs.
Those statistics make one thing clear,
Rutan said. "Freedom isn't free."
Misty pilots scheduled to appear:
Dick Rutan - Misty 40
Kelly Irving - Misty 66
Lanny Lancaster -Misty 44
Chris Kellum - Misty 71
Paul Tacabury - Misty 148
Jerry Marks - Misty 155
James (Doug) Weidman - Misty 63
Family of Ed Risinger - Misty 32