Captain Mike Daciek’s stories
“Eject! Eject! Eject! (Continued)
Colonel Robert K. Mock
As told to
Michael R. Daciek
On 20 January 1972 a reconnaissance Phantom was shot down 15 miles south of the Ban Ban Valley in Northern Laos during a Barrel Roll mission. This began a day in the life of Major Robert K. Mock, World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot, and occasional hero.
In June of 1971, I arrived at Udorn, Thailand, my third combat tour of duty. I was assigned to the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, 14th Tac Recon Squadron, Worlds Greatest Fighter Pilot in my mind. At that time I wasn’t a hero yet. The Recce motto was: Alone, Unarmed, and Unafraid. At times you could substitute Unafraid with “Scared Shytless!”
The monsoon season had just started and there was nothing more exciting than “scud running” at about 480 knots below 500 feet. We carried no protective armament, missiles, or bombs. Speed, surprise, and evasive maneuvers keep us alive. We were doing visual reconnaissance with the RF4Cs called the Sports Model, because it was a sleeker, faster Phantom than the F-4 Fighter.
We were operating in Northern Laos an area designated “Barrel Roll.” I had my own secret call sign, Bullwhip 26. Lieutenant John Stiles was my Weapons Systems Officer or WSO. Also called Back Seater or GIB, Guy In Back. Frequently we encountered a large number of 37 MM Triple A sites firing rounds the size of golf balls. The rate of fire is tremendous! If one hits you, bye-bye birdie! Most are seven to nine level gunners with experience going back to 1964, so they’re very good.
A typical visual reconnaissance mission would require flying low at high speed over mountainous terrain, slipping through a mountain pass, and then dropping down into the jungle, a rain forest, where the normal trees are triple canopy. Every 100 feet is a canopy, 200 feet another canopy, and at 300 feet the top canopy.
Generally, after departing Udorn we would proceed directly to the tankers, KC 135s, orbiting in the Orange Anchor area, the border between Thailand and Laos. Six thousand pounds of fuel would allow us twenty-five to thirty minutes of high-speed patrol. We had very low drag without external stores on the RF-4. Not so with the F-4, carrying external fuel tanks and ordnance, which was similar to flying with the gear down.
After working my day job as Chief of the Command Post I went down to the 14th Squadron Operations room to brief with my Wizzo, Lt. John Stiles.
John asked, “Sir, did you get the latest Intel frag?”
A B-52 cell operating in the Fishes Mouth area had a missile launched against them. The Fishes Mouth was a section of the border between Laos and North Vietnam on a navigation chart, when highlighted, looked like the mouth of a fish. SAC immediately ceased all operations, announcing their bombers wouldn’t fly until someone neutralized the SAM site.
I said, “Yes, I had been briefed on it.”
Captain “Peppermint Patty,” our Intel Officer, and John Stiles exchanged glances.
John said, “We don’t think that missile site is in Laos.”
Peppermint Patty chimed in. “I agree with John. That’s a low threat area.”
I remember thinking at that moment, maybe there’s nothing in Laos, but chances were good that the site was across the border.
It was time to move on. “John, let’s make a run up the new road, and then we’ll hit the tanker. After that we’ll do some photo targets of opportunity, all visual.”
Once underneath the clouds we had to go visual because you can’t fly instruments at 500 feet cruising between 480 to 600 knots. We let down right on the deck and started rolling along the road. We weaved at four Gs, which would cause the experienced enemy gunners to lead us for six Gs; difficult to do.
If level with or below the first tree canopy we’re okay, but if higher, the second and third canopy can block us out. The guns and missiles are all under the trees. It’s not like going down a freeway.
When we started our run we went about three clicks and saw a white object, a transporter erector for a surface-to-air missile. It was an SA-2. John turned his side looking camera on.
I turned my head, looking back. “John, we’ve surprised them.”
There wasn’t a round fired so we proceeded on about seven clicks to make them think that we had departed.
“Brace yourself, John,” I called out and entered a wifferdill maneuver. Recce guys can do it and some of the bomber guys can also but with a load of bombs it’s difficult to do. I lit the burners. If I didn’t, by the time I loaded up the airplane to four Gs, my airspeed would decay. I pulled up like I was going to do a loop, did a half roll, pulled some Gs, and ruddered it right back down.
This is when we took our first hit. As soon as my nose went through the horizon we started accelerating. At this point the aircraft shuddered and yawed violently. Suddenly, everything in front of me flashed white. The Triple A gunners protecting the site had begun firing at us! When we came in from the west, we surprised them. When we came back from the east, they surprised us!
For a few microseconds I glanced in my rearview mirror, and there ain’t no tail anymore! Damn! Why didn’t I go to Canada! The rounds were coming up, and they hit the fuel tanks between the cockpit and the tail. The fire erupted out the piccolo tubes, air-conditioning vents on the side of the cockpit. This meant the engines were sucking in flames and the fuel tanks were on fire. When a fighter starts to go, it doesn’t take very long. The whole airplane will explode very violently. I yelled, “Prepare to eject!”
“I can’t,” shouted John. “I’m jammed up against the canopy.” In order to perform his work it required loosening his seat belt and back strap. The G forces from the sudden shuddering and yawing had slammed him violently against the right side of the cockpit and upward numbing his shoulder and arm. “I can’t reach the handle!”
The Phantom had rolled inverted which would have caused a downward ejection into the ground. “Not yet,” I called. “Let me try something.” Somehow I rolled her over. I grabbed the ejection lever and yelled, “Eject, eject, eject!”
The Command Selector for the ejection sequence was in the vertical position which meant that if I pulled the handle we both ejected. I pulled the handle which automatically caused John’s back strap and seat belt to jerk him down into his seat securing him for ejection. We didn’t have much altitude because the aircraft was sinking. The ejection sequence is; back canopy, front canopy, back seat, front seat, so the back seater doesn’t get scorched.
We went out in that order. John was gone, and I quickly followed. The last thing I remember is that there wasn’t much airplane left. I closed my eyes because I figured we were goners. There was no way that we were going to live through this. If the exploding rounds didn’t get us the crash surely would. I closed my eyes and said the magic words, “Oh, crap!” two words all pilots say just before they die.
I could hear, but I had my eyes closed and my jaws were torqued. I felt and heard the cracking sound of tree limbs breaking–crack, crack, crack—as I battered my way through the trees. I must admit it jarred me a bit. All of a sudden – SWOOSH! I’m no longer in the air. I opened my eyes and I’d come down around a piece of karst, limestone out-cropping.
It looked like we had come down in a grove of aspens, except the trees were stripped and they looked like an antenna farm, straight buggy whips, forty or fifty feet high. That’s what we went into, almost supersonic, which gradually slowed us down.
As you come out of the aircraft the seat rotates because of the rocket motors. The rocket propelled me just far enough to clear the tail, which in this case didn’t matter because the tail was gone. I didn’t hear the aircraft explode or crash. I sat stunned for a couple of seconds and finally got my wits about me. I looked around, and son-of-a-gun, I’m sitting there in my seat with the lower ejection handle in my hand! The rocket motors had gone off otherwise I would not have cleared the airplane.
The parachute is encased in a kidney shaped affair above your shoulders, a plastic mounted arrangement attached to you and to the seat. The first thing that should happen is a little drogue chute about twelve to eighteen inches wide blossoms out to stabilize the seat and after X number of seconds an initiator fires and a bigger chute comes out to extract the twenty-eight foot canopy, a sequence of three. These shotgun like initiators are built into the side of the seat, which you check on every pre-fight to make sure you have them.
Suddenly I heard banging! “Damn, the Gomers are shooting at me!”
It was the initiator for my lap belt letting go so I could separate from the seat, which had never happened! Now the next initiator can fire releasing the 28 foot parachute. Two of these shotguns sounded and I struggled to find my 9 MM Browning automatic weapon so I could get even.
I was happy to be alive but my coccyx really, really hurt because I smacked the ground very hard. My first thought was to check my limbs. They are okay. My forehead was bleeding from the shrapnel. I figure that’s no big deal. It’s not a gusher. My carotid arteries and the groin arteries were okay. I looked for my survival radio and my 9 mm weapon.
I called John. “Bullwhip 26 Bravo, this is Alpha, how do you read?”
He immediately responded, “Five by!”
“I don’t know where you are because of the velocity during our crash,” I said. “I’m okay, are you okay?”
“Well, yeah, but I’m in a tree.”
I learned later that John ejected almost horizontally. He had a streamer. It helped him to slow down even though it never fully blossomed. His parachute caught a limb and stopped him, where he dangled about 100 feet above the ground.
I couldn’t stay in my present position because there wasn’t much cover within the Antenna Farm. The slope was pretty steep. I crawled on my hands and knees dragging my survival Kit. Suddenly it became increasingly hard to move. I looked back and saw that my parachute had deployed. Just what I didn’t need, a drag chute! I used my survival knife to cut the parachute loose and left it.
The one thing I remember besides the buggy whips were the vines that had thorns like hypodermic needles. They broke off from the limbs and stuck into my entire body which hurt like hell and soon began to burn. Now I thought about the ants and the snakes. What else could go wrong today?
Thirty minutes had passed, so I checked in with John. “What’s going on?”
“Well,” he said calmly, “I’m not up in the tree anymore. The lowering rope got me down close to the ground and I dropped the rest of the way to the ground. I’m okay.”
Many years later I learned that he had parachuted into the center of the exploding and burning aircraft. He had descended down a chimney forged by his ejection seat falling through the trees, escaping birds, debris, and heavy smoke. Getting down from the tree he hooked up his tree lowering device backwards and instead of coming down slowly in chunks of ten feet he did a very fast freefall. Along the way his thumb got caught in the cord which he managed to extract without injury.
On the ground he became aware that one leg of his flight suit had melted from the flames and was stuck to his leg. The enemy soldiers were spraying his area with AK-47s and shotguns and he could hear the pellets falling through the leaves before striking the ground.
“I don’t know what’s going on here.” I scanned the area. “John, you maintain your route. We don’t want to get together until nightfall.” It was now about 1430 hours.
We kept evading and I made a broadcast in the blind, “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. This is Bullwhip Two Six Alpha. Bravo is okay.” I gave the UT coordinates in the clear. “Anyone hearing this message, acknowledge.”
A couple of hours had elapsed, and every thirty minutes I transmitted. John’s doing okay. I’m awfully tired and the thorns are really a drag. They’ve torn my G-suit and vest but to guard against an infection I didn’t want to pull the darn things out.
I called John again. “So far, no radio contact, how about you?”
“Not a thing.”
John would listen for about fifteen minutes and shut his radio off. That’s what we had briefed to conserve battery power.
Back at the Command Post, one of the Gibs (guy-in-back) from the Triple Nickel Squadron was Roger Locher, a Weapon Systems Officer for Major Bob Lodge. Roger called the SAC Command Post and checked the status of Bullwhip 26. “Oh yes,” they said, “he took on 6000 pounds and departed.”
Another hour passed and Bullwhip 26 should have returned to Udorn. However, no one had heard from Bullwhip. Roger started checking. SAC was wrong. The “Whip” had not checked in!
At Ma Gia Pass an OV-10 from Naked Fanny was operating at 10,000 feet. On board was a navigator, Gary” Moon” Mullins, who had flown with me many times and was the first one to call me “Uncle Bobby,” (I was ancient, a 38 year old major) heard my familiar voice call out Mayday.
“My God, that’s Uncle Bobby!” He used his HF radio to call Naked Fanny and said, “The Whip is down. If the coordinates are right he’s in the Fishes Mouth area.”
The command Post at NKP used a secure phone to initiate a Search and Rescue, coordinating with Lt. Roger Locher.
Roger reported to Colonel Gabriel and shared his find. “I know where there are two Air America choppers that can handle the job. I’ve been checking with the command post next door and I discovered that there are two Slick Hueys northwest of the downed aircraft. They can attempt the rescue.”
“Set it up!” Colonel Gabriel ordered.
Roger again called the Air America Command Post.
“Our Hueys are about one hour away from the downed airmen,” they replied.
Roger was elated. He gave the coordinates, the call sign, and the survival codes along with a description of Major Mock and Lt. Styles.
Air America had assigned the rescue mission to two Huey crews flown by pilot Nikki Fillipi, copilot Lee Andrews, and crew chief Ron Anderson. The second crew was pilot John Fonberg, copilot William Phillips, and crew chief, Bob Noble.
At about 1600 hours the enemy soldiers had began spraying the jungle with their AK-47s. Between bursts of fire I could hear their voices and the clanking of their tin cans, mess kits and helmets, a practice meant to flush us out.
I mumbled, “Okay, you retards, John has a .38 caliber hand gun, and I’m going to be the biggest surprise you have ever seen because I am a master of the 9 mm with fourteen rounds and I’m going to take down fourteen Gomers.”
I made another radio call in the blind. “There are enemy soldiers in contact.” I gave out my coordinates in the clear. I had hoped there was someone from the 13th Fighter Squadron or anyone from Udorn flying in the Barrel. It was very frustrating that several aircraft had passed over but none responded to our calls.
I called John again whose voice had changed just a bit. I told him, “We need to evade up a little bit higher. We’ll go north, using our survival compasses. They’ll be expecting us to go low, down toward the highway.” Then I said something to bolster John’s spirit, “I’m sure help is on the way.”
John responded, “Right!” which made me laugh.
The OV-10 had flown north about 100 miles, and when I came up on the radio I heard Moon Mullins, my ex-Gib say, “Help is on the way. I have their call sign. Are you ready to copy, over?”
And that was it. I immediately informed John.
The soldiers were getting closer. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a barracks of NVRs nearby which housed enemy infantry that had moved into our area. They’re taking their time, very leisurely spraying the area as they approached our position. The guns kept going off and the sounds became closer. There were hundreds of rounds and they were hoping to accidentally hit us with their random shooting.
I called John. “Let’s conserve our bodies and our radios.” I didn’t know what kind of choppers were coming. “Let me do the talking. You just monitor, because your receiver doesn’t use as much power as a transmitter does. If my radio quits, you take over.”
The rescue choppers checked in. “We know where you are but we have to refuel. We’ll pick you up in about one hour.”
I was breathing a little better, and my hopes soared.
When they returned I reported to them. “My Gib is in the deep jungle below a 300 foot canopy. He’s on a 360° heading, climbing up a karst. I guess we’re about 1 1/2 clicks from the road. Pick up John first.” That was the toughest decision I had made in my whole life. “He’s more exposed than I am.”
“Roger that, but it’s not necessary. We’re in two Hueys, so we’ll make individual pickups but we can only make one attempt.” There was a couple minutes of silence followed by an excited call. “We have a parachute in sight!”
A Huey (HU-1) was a Bell UH-1H Iroquois Utility Helicopter.
Now the rounds are getting rather close. Minutes passed before I heard one of the choppers say, “We’ve got Bravo in sight.”
“I’m under your prop wash!” yelled John, quickly jamming his gun and radio into his flying suit. They dropped the penetrator above his head and at that very moment John spotted a figure in black clothing ten to fifteen feet away. His AK-47 was strapped across his chest and he had a wide grin, seemingly unconcerned about the situation.
John shouted at Bob Noble in the helicopter door. “There’s an armed soldier down here!”
“Shall I spray the area?” called Bob.
“No!” John grabbed the penetrator. “You’ll hit me.”
The pilot gunned his engine and off they went.
“We got Bravo!” reported the Huey.
The second Huey barked, “We don’t have Alpha yet!”
“Okay,” I answered, as I searched for a flare. “I’m firing a flare right now.”
The flare went off, traveled twenty feet, hit the canopy trees, and fell back down, setting the area on fire “Oh, crap!” I stomped around trying to put out the fire. They quickly did a 90° turn, and another 90° turn. I could hear them and I felt a down wash!
I looked up and yelled, “You’re right over me!”
Suddenly a rope fell down through the trees. I could hear the engine starting to race which meant it was moving out!
“Damn!” I lunged for the rope and captured it with both hands as the helicopter began to pick up speed and off we went. We weren’t more than twenty feet above the ground as the bullets zinged by. The 37 MMs were firing and the only way a helicopter can survive is to stay right on the treetops.
Coming out felt just like my arrival coming in – pow, snap, crack, pop. I hit the tops of the antenna farm, ricocheting like a pin ball, spinning left, then right, hanging on for dear life. I don’t know how I hung on but I did.
As I was being pulled up into the helicopter the crew member scooped me up and sat me down inside the chopper and offered me a cigarette. I didn’t smoke but I was happy as hell to be rescued. I lit up, took a good deep drag and started coughing and wheezing.
My new found friend stared at me. “Are you okay? You look like a porcupine.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Actually, I was in shock and one tired puppy.
We finally came to a bend in the river, which had to be the Mekong. We spotted an Air America C-123J, a STOL aircraft, made for short take-offs and landings, configured with two props and two jet engines. It waited anxiously on a short dirt strip along the river bank with the engines running.
We landed next to it and John and I sprinted from the Hueys and ran up the ramp of the waiting provider. Before the ramp was closed the C-123s engines were at full power, and we were quickly airborne.
Now it was 2000 hours and we were back in Udorn–we were home. When our C-123 taxied into the parking area John and I bolted out of the plane’s rear end, down the ramp into Colonel Gabriel’s arms and bottles of champagne. The men of the 13th Fighter Squadron came down to greet us.
We drank up a storm, shook hands, and laughed until my squadron commander, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Brown said, “Well, Bob, I guess we better take you two guys to the hospital.”
Two days later John and I were back flying again. How lucky can we be?
Someday, John and I will look back on this, laugh nervously and change the subject.
It was quite a day.
Colonel Robert K. Mock, USAF(RET), resides in Highlands Ranch, Colorado and currently serves as Professor, Aviation and Aerospace Science Department, Metropolitan State College of Denver.
Update: Bob took his final flight on Sunday 15 June 2008. He died in the hospital two days after an automobile accident in which his vehicle’s air bags deployed. His resulting head injuries at first did not seem serious, but ultimately proved fatal.
John L. Stiles completed pilot training and flew RF-4Cs. He retired from the USAF in 1993 as a Lt/Col and resides in Goldsboro, North Carolina where he just completed his Doctorate.
But that is not the end of my story…
At some point during Dan Cherry’s visit to Vietnam, Hong My asked Dan how he had conducted the research that had brought them together. Hong My’s curiosity was based on the fact that he was credited with the shootdown of an F-4 during January 1972. Dan told Hong My to give him all the details he could recall about date, time, place and circumstances. When Dan returned to the United States he began attempts to verify Hong My’s recall with records kept at the Air Force history establishment at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. In the process of sorting out the dates an F-4 shootdown that stood out was the Bob Mock/John Stiles RF-4 loss in January 1972. Dan contacted John Stiles. (Bob Mock had deceased in a tragic auto accident.)
Finally, after consulting various sources and reconciling dates Dan was convinced that Hong My was very likely the attacker that had shot down Bob Mock and John Stiles. Further, the possibility of a Hong My visit to Bowling Green and the F-4 that had shot him down began to take shape. The trip was arranged, with some help from Dan Cherry and others, and Hong My arrived in Bowling Green. He was able to sit in the cockpit of the very aircraft that had done him in. A side trip to Washington D.C. was arranged in order for John Stiles and Hong My to meet and remember. This meeting put the question to rest. John and Hong My, after an exchange of details, finally determined and agreed they had met before in the skies of Southeast Asia.
The pictures which illuminate these meetings in Vietnam and the United States were all provided by John Fleck, (not shown here) generously and graciously, for our use. John Fleck is a very accomplished photographer whose work appears on the web at (http:www.johnfleck.com). The rest of the credit is directly attributable to Brig Gen Dan Cherry who has gone the extra mile and then some to bring closure to so many people. We also recognize Mike Daciek of the “Eject, Eject, Eject” story for recognizing the potential in this saga in the first place.
Contributed by: Editor, Daedalus Flyer, Winter 2009.
END – Mike Daciek STORY #2