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Coward: one who, in a perilous emergency, thinks with his legs

-- Ambrose Bierce
Search and Destroy7190 Reads  Printer-friendly page

KoreaIt was 15 May 1951 and I was a 1st Lt. assigned to the 12th Sqdn, 18th FBW flying F-51Ds. This was my 44th mission. Assigned as element lead (no. 3) in a flight of four. Flight commander was Capt. AE Rice. His wingman was Lt. Forrest Strange. My wingman was Lt. Luther A. Webb.
Pre-mission briefing was about 15 minutes of weather, possible targets and enemy anti-air capabilities. Essentially we were on what was called "search and destroy". There was no specific target just an area to be "looked" at. Emphasis was made that there were no "friendlies" in our assigned sector, and also, there were no known enemy forces.

The area we were to reconnoiter was adjacent to the Yellow Sea and not many miles north of the bomb line...good survival probabilities, if we did run into something "hot".

The weather was CAVU , we were flying wide-spread finger formation at about 4,000', (this altitude being deemed fairly safe from small arms fire)..when shortly after arriving in our targeted area, someone in the flight transmitted:

"There's a lot of people in that field at one o'clock".

We circled the field. It was about a mile long..1/2 mile wide of cleared farmland surrounded by low hills. There were approximately 50 people, scattered through out, seemed to be doing farm work.

However, the briefing was specific, no friendlies and destroy anything of military value. We discussed the possibility that they could be military. I advised Capt. Rice, that I would drop down and take a close look. Also told Lt. Webb to stay with the flight. As there was no objections, I proceeded down to about twenty feet above the ground, at the western edge of the clearing indicating around 325mph and looked at faces and clothing, looking for military age men.

Saw nothing but old men, old women and a few young kids. Surprisingly (to me), none of the workers made any defensive moves or even "looked up" as I flew by, they simply continued to work.

Nearing the end of the field, I radioed my observations to Rice, and started a fairly sharp pull-up, to rejoin the flight. When I was at about 200 feet, saw a circular dug 50 caliber machine gun position (assumed it was 50 cal) at eleven o'clock, roughly 200 yards.

Clearly saw several men and the gun, red flashes from the muzzle pointed straight at my aircraft. Thought..."he's got me" didn't seem possible that the gunner could miss.

Since I was committed to a climb, I pulled straight up, rammed the throttle hard forward, tried to shrink my body "ribbon thin".

Thought, "hope that steel armor plate behind the seat works" and spent ten, fifteen or so seconds (seemed like about ten minutes) waiting for "something" to break loose.

When I reached about 4000', started to think maybe "he hasn't got me", terror eased. Then evaporated, running out of airspeed, I nosed over, leveled out, looked down, damn, if that gunner was not still firing at me.

I remember thinking, "you SOB, you scared the hell out of me, I'm coming back". There was no doubt in my mind, that I would "get" the gunner. I'd been shot at before, on previous missions, had been "happy" to escape, but this was different I was irate that I had been so frightened and tired of "fleeing" from the enemy.

I rolled over, headed as straight down as I could. Put my fixed sight on that still blazing gun and had at it. "walked" my six fifties into that circular gun position. His gun stopped firing before I did. As I pulled out of my firing run, Lt. Webb called me, with words to the effect of:

"I saw another gun position ...firing at you as you made your pass".

I rogered him and said 'well, knock it out'. To his credit he acknowledged and hit the gun position. As he rolled in on the second position, I saw another (third) gun firing at him which I proceeded to eliminate (at least they stopped firing).

At this point, Lt. Webb and I departed the scene rejoined the flight did a little more reconnoitering Found nothing.

Returned to base. After landing the crew chief (and I) noted several bullet holes in my aircraft (all in non-vital spots, "sheet metal" damage). Lt. Webb debriefed "his" gun position as a quad 50

Both guns that I hit were singles. There was an aftermath to that mission, about three weeks later, I was leading a flight of four, we were strafing some warehouse type buildings. Lt. Strange, after the first pass, kept making unusually wide circling turns messing up the flight pattern .

Despite my objections he flew his own pattern. Later, back on the ground, I asked "what the hell were you doing?" He answered "on my first pass, I saw a machine gunner shooting at me" which, was to me startling news.

"what", I asked, "why didn't you tell me?" He replied "I was afraid you'd say 'hit it'. So I flew around him". We agreed to "coordinate" better on later missions.
Note: by Richard T. Gruber, LtCol (ret), 12th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 18th FBW.


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