Ken Burns - Viet Nam


For missions up into Package Five and Six … geographically, roughly Hanoi and Haiphong … with railroads, steel mills and shipping piers … divided between USAF strikes and USN strikes … , there was only about a 25% chance of completing one mission.

For a flight of four, at least one plane would be shot down; all four might be shot down … but at least one of you was not returning home.

The “problem” was that the generals were all veterans [or rather, the survivors] of the Eighth Air Force in World War Two. They flew B-17’s over Germany from England. Losses were so high, that sometimes the Americans ran out of airplanes and operations had to be suspended until the factories in the USA could construct and deliver more airplanes. They had the second highest losses of World War Two, excepting only the German U-Boats, which had 75% losses.

So, the American generals were unsympathetic to American F-105 losses. The orders were to fly predesignated flight paths and predictable flight takeoffs … same time every day … so if you got shot down, you got shot down. They didn’t have electronic countermeasures during WW2 so why did they need them now? [Actually we did have some minimal ECM during WW2, but the Germans’ radar was superior.]

So, as far as the American generals were concerns, it was straight ahead into the cauldron. No evasive moves. No anti-radar strikes. No jamming. White scarf massed attacks. Straight ahead.

Long story. So we lost a plane a day.

More later.

Secretary McNamara was appalled by the waste … surplus equipment left over after World War Two and only wanted up purchase JUST ENOUGH planes and vehicles to do the job. Which was why the people at Ford Motor Company were so happy to get rid of him. President Johnson stated that he didn’t want ANY Russian MiG’s shot down.

So our guys were screwed.

I remember the “deadline” … the magic date when McNamara stated the war would be won … based on his calculations.

Gosh … it didn’t happen.

Our planes didn’t have guided missiles or precision guided bombs [they had not been invented yet]; in fact, the bombs themselves were often left over from WW2. And McNamara was so enraged that our planes couldn’t hit a bicycle shop or a 2x4 bridge that he ordered one of the precious bomb hard points to be equipped with camera pods so that he could see home movies of each bomb as they fell.

The F-105’s had five hard points. Two under each wing and one under the belly.

So you add a Sidewinder on one side and a QRC-160 jammer pod to the other side and now you have only three hard points for bombs.

And now McNamara wanted another of the hard points to carry a camera pod.

Only two hard points left.

They made generous use of MER’s and TERS. Multiple ejection racks and triple ejection racks, so they could put lots of bombs on one hard point.

The F-105 did have a bomb bay, which was for the original mission, carrying a nuke.

So, they put a fuel tank in the bomb bay and then a MER or a TER outside of the belly.

If you look at the photos, you see these huge racks full of bombs almost dragging on the ground.


McNamara wanted statistics. He wanted data.

So, if there weren’t enough bombs available, then the bombs on hand would be “parceled” out among the aircraft TO ALLOW MORE AIRPLANES TO FLY STRIKE MISSIONS.

It would up the mission numbers.

Sometimes, there weren’t enough engines available,… they wore out after only 300 hours … so when the 7am morning strike returned, then one of the bombed-up airplanes for the 1pm afternoon strike, would be parked there with the tail on a rolling stand, with no engine, waiting. And if one of the morning planes had a good engine, they would put it on a dolly and run it over and slap it into the engineless airplane, slap on the tail … and … good to go!

One day an F-105 was taxiing out for takeoff and a vehicle would chase the plane down and the driver would hand a telephone up to the pilot … and it was Secretary McNamara himself … with last minute orders for the pilot.

Micro-management in the extreme!!!


Interesting article that includes interviews:

Scroll down … lots of interesting comments from pilots.


This version is longer and has a lot of comments from viewers:

Still searching for the name of the camera man.


Roger Tarpley is the name of the cinematographer.

He filmed an actual S75 / SA-2 SAM [ surface-to-air missile ] killing an American fighter. He had hitched a ride in the back seat of an American fighter. The bureaucrats deleted it from “There Is A Way”.

His son posted a comment on one of the You Tube videos of “There Is A Way”. So, Roger survived and had a son.

Seems to me Roger complained all the time about serving so much time … but in short TDY’s … it was called Temporary Duty. We didn’t have “deployments” back then. So he did many many TDY’s and never got credit for a PCS. If it was more than 90 days, then you got credit for a PCS … Permanent Change of Station. But Roger never got credit for a PCS.

They called his film: “There Is A Way” … because originally the pilots all said: “There is NO WAY”. Because survival rates were so low.

Wild Weasel survival rates were very low. I initially thought they suffered 100% losses. It was terrible. Improvised equipment. Tactics that had to be improvised as well. But someone just posted that they had 63% survival … or maybe it was 63% losses. I have to relook it up.

Their “motto” was YGBSM … trolling to make the SAMs shoot you and then having to jink and jink and jink until the SAM runs out of energy. You have ten seconds to live, basically. YGBSM. “You Gotta Be Spitting Me.”


I know that most airplane jet engines last many thousands of hours.

But the F-105 engines only lasted 250 hours or so, because they were running on afterburner most of the time, or the pilots used RAPID throttle motions, slamming it open and closed constantly. So, the engines overheated or suffered cracks. Long engine lives were not the goal. The goal was to avoid a SAM or get behind an enemy fighter or avoid an enemy fighter. Or get off the ground while overloaded.

Seems to me that they established a local “factory” to overhaul “hot sections” so that they would not have to ship the engines back to the states and have to wait many many months for a turnaround.

Afterburners dump raw fuel into the tailpipe.

One guy “pushed it” … and in full afterburner, he used up two hours of fuel in 15 minutes, flamed out and ejected. Don’t know if he made it back or not.

The F-105’s originally were parked “funny” … so that the gas caps were at the high spot, so they could cram every ounce of fuel into the fuel tank. But then as they increased from two squadrons to four squadrons and then installed the steel revetments, they had to park in a more orderly manner, and couldn’t accommodate the airplanes parked at odd angles, to take advantage of the slope of the pavement. It wasn’t flat.

[Gosh, we had so many fights about how to park the airplanes.]


Originally, the F-105 was designed to carry a nuclear weapon in the bomb bay. It had four hard points, two on each wing, for fuel tanks.

So, you would fly it FAST to the target, punch off the external fuel tanks, lob the nuke, and race home.

BUT, someone decided that since the F-105 was all we had, that we could adapt it to carry conventional bombs.

That became the F-105D model.

Still only had the two hard points on each wing.

Secretary McNamara couldn’t get over it.

He wanted to WILL the inappropriate hardware to carry out his will.

He established a mathematical date in his head for when we would win the war.

He did share the date with us.

And when it didn’t happen.

He was shocked. We weren’t shocked, but he was.


If you get a chance visit Amazon and read the reviews of

The Hunter Killers: The Extraordinary Story of the First Wild Weasels, the Band of Maverick Aviators Who Flew the Most Dangerous Missions of the Vietnam War Paperback – June 7, 2016
by Dan Hampton (Author)
4.6 out of 5 stars 179 customer reviews

Or visit your library and read the book.

Or buy the book.

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Dan Hampton flew 151 combat missions during his twenty years (1986–2006) in the United States Air Force. For his service in the Iraq War, Kosovo conflict, and first Gulf War, Col. Hampton received four Distinguished Flying Crosses with Valor, a Purple Heart, eight Air Medals with Valor, five Meritorious Service medals, and numerous other citations. He is a graduate of the USAF Fighter Weapons School, USN Top Gun School (TOGS), and USAF Special Operations School. A frequent guest analyst on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC discussing foreign affairs, military, aviation, and intelligence issues, he has published in Aviation History, the Journal of Electronic Defense, Air Force Magazine, Vietnam magazine, and Airpower magazine, and written several classified tactical works for the USAF Weapons Review. He is the author of the national bestsellers Viper Pilot and Lords of the Sky, as well as a novel, The Mercenary.

He said that the purple heart was kind of strange. He was in his room when a terrorist truck bomb went off outside the gate and blew him through a wall and he was injured and got a purple heart.


It’s audio.

Here he is in a video:


Wars against Communist expansion are ALWAYS criticized.


There was never any intention to win the war in Vietnam.

We expended a stupendous number of American lives just to be there.

Any time, we showed signs of winning, those efforts were canceled.


A relative of mine knew Ho Chi Min during WW2, when he was in China and aiding downed pilots escape the Japanese…

I’ll need to watch this series.


"When came back from France, (Ngô Đình) Nhu (younger brother and chief political advisor of South Vietnam’s first president, Ngô Đình Diệm) was passionate about the Personalism of Emmanuel Mounier, a prominent French Catholic philosopher,[6] and believed that Mounier’s ideology which rejected Liberalism and Communism (materialism) could be a “third path” to be applied for social development (and Spiritualism) in Vietnam. The Ngô brothers also believed that Personalism could go well with their Third Force which was not in line with French colonialism or the communism of the Việt Minh. For Diệm’s regime, Personalism was treated as the only doctrine which restored the best traditional values of Asia and combined them with Western values to innovate the state and serve public interests. It can be a counterbalance to communist doctrine.[7]

From April 1952, Nhu’s ideas on Personalism were delineated in his speech at Vietnamese National Military Academy in Đà Lạt city. He contended that, initially, Personalism was a Catholic ideology, though it had universal relevance and was compatible to Vietnam, which had to suffer from the devastation of wars. For Nhu, Personalism was a form of Revolution which was more transformative than Marxist socialism, and he described himself as an advocate of “personalist revolution”. Ngô Đình Diệm also understood the term “Personalism” in the etymology of nhân vị, which could mean either “humanity” or “human being”. The Ngô brothers used the term Personalist Revolution to frame their nation-building programs.[7] On 26 October 1956, the Republic of Vietnam’s Constitution was promulgated. Its preface declared that “Building Politics, Economy, Society, Culture for the people basing on respecting Personalism”. Simultaneously, Diệm’s regime laid down as a policy the teaching of Personalism in universities and the propaganda of the doctrine in South Vietnam . . .

In the early years of 1950s, Sir Diệm and Nhu used the party to mobilize support for Diệm’s political movements. The cadres of the party were Catholic organizations such as the Union of Catholicism, Catholic Youth, and Catholic Society, with Catholic dignitaries and followers, officers in the army. Ngô Đình Nhu was the general secretary of the Central Committee Board including Trần Trung Dung, Nguyễn Tăng Nguyên, Lý Trung Dung, Hà Đức Minh, Trần Quốc Bửu, Võ Như Nguyện, and Lê Văn Đông.[17] The Party also declared the goals of struggling for the revolutionary ideology: Personalism; constructing the nation in four aspects: spirit, society, politics and economy. The principle of the Party was centralized democracy. In its political manifesto, it criticized both Capitalism and Communism.[17] In less than a year, the Can Lao had all the key positions in the national security government, like and Ministry of Defence offices. With the military’s support, the Can Lao started a dominant-party rule."


There is a very comprehensive review of the movie by Stephen J. Morris in the October 23, 2107 issue of “The Weekly Standard”.


That’s an excellent read. I do quibble with one of Mr. Morris’s points, that the antiwar movement “had a minimal effect on public opinion”. I came of age before the height of the Vietnam War, and was in uniform during the war’s last four years and beyond. In my experience, the movement’s impact on public opinion wasn’t exactly humongous, but it was definitely more than minimal.

I haven’t yet finished watching the series (four eps to go), but I do agree with his analysis that the series leans to the left and is flawed, the latter perhaps because of the former.



Here is another outstanding memoir … very comprehensive … about the Vietnam War:

Mohawks Lost: Flying in the CIA’s Secret War in Laos Paperback – May 21, 2016
by Gerald Naekel (Author)


Naekel’s book got criticized because it was not organized like the Great American Novel.

But it is true to the way it really was.

I am having to read it three times … partly because the depiction of the action is so realistic that you really get pulled into it.

Suggestion: read from the back first … his “bio”. And then the terms/definitions.



Posting here to remind me to refer to a couple of additional authors.

The Hunter Killers: The Extraordinary Story of the First Wild Weasels, the Band of Maverick Aviators Who Flew the Most Dangerous Missions of the Vietnam War Hardcover – June 2, 2015
by Dan Hampton (Author)
4.6 out of 5 stars 179 customer reviews

I was at Korat during the time period when the QRC-160 jamming pods were introduced. As Dan discusses in a quote from then Colonel Chairsell, those pods made a HUGE difference.

We were losing, on average, a plane a day prior to those QRC-160 pods. Really bad, terrible, awful, horrible. Still get nightmares. Afterwards, we went six weeks without a loss, as I recall. The day I got to Korat the only discussion was of the 13 U.S. planes … seven Navy and six Air Force … or vice-versa … … that were shot down while attacking a SAM site. McNamara had publicly decreed we would take out that SAM site. However, what the North Vietnamese did was to replace the missiles with wood replicas painted white … and then they ringed the site with every available anti-aircraft gun. Our guys got slaughtered in a tribute to McNamara’s hubris. This might be the “Spring High” episode. Somebody had tacked a cartoon from a magazine to the right of the door where we ate; it showed King Kong on top of the Empire State Building crunching a fighter plane in his hand; in the foreground, there were two pilots yelling across at one another: “when we get back, how’s about getting together for a beer”; someone had handwritten “Package VI” on the bottom.

The QRC concept was interesting. One of my friends was in charge of administering that program. Quick Response Contract. A contractor would be called in and they would discuss a project. They discussion went up on a “white board”. The terms were photographed with a Polaroid camera. THAT was the actual contract! And the contractor had to deliver the hardware in 30 days! It was very successful. Recently I viewed a video of an Army colonel who discussed the current program and the contract discussions could drag out for THREE YEARS! Maybe there is still a 30-day QRC program “out there”, but I don’t know. My friend died a couple of years ago.

Anyway, this book took me back to the bad old days; I really relived what was going on back then.


This book is outstanding and extraordinary!

Please buy this book; it explains everything. And bring with you a LOT of those little stickies to mark places of special significance to you.

I will come back and write more when I get a chance.

I apologize for writing so much, but I could not deal with our senior officials deliberately sabotaging the war effort. If you read my reviews of other books, you will find that I learned that the target selection was based on a weekly luncheon by President Johnson, Secretary McNamara and Secretary of State Rusk and they make their target picks while eating. Then they notified the Russians/ Soviets a week in advance. I guess Johnson didn’t want any of the enemy to get hurt. [Who exactly was he working for?]

Read “Life in the Wild Blue Yonder” by John Lowery … exceptionally interesting … until I got to Chapter 15 “The Thunderchief At War”… On page 174 alone, I inserted four bright red stickies. And on page 175 I added another. Why? Because these sections were horrific … have not found these aspects any where any where else! " … the Administration [President Johnson & Defense Secretary McNamara] was providing the forthcoming week’s target list to the North Vietnamese …" The author refers to this as treachery; but, I would call it an act of treason. In Chapter 22, I added six more bright stickies because the author describes how our pilots who became POW’s were deliberately abandoned.
We are indebted to Mr. Lowery for putting these revelations into print for future reference.

The other day I got a Christmas card in which I was notified that one of my former work-mates from Korat had died. So, I wanted to get this in before I fade away. He had been at both Korat and at NKP.


One of my hootch-mates was tasked with filming a SAM actually killing an American fighter plane. He hitched rides in the back seat of any plane that could accommodate him, that had not yet been equipped with Wild Weasel equipment. He got the footage which became part of the film “There Is A Way”. [There was a sort of play on words … as in “there is no way” to survive this.] I saw it when I returned to the States. Afterwards I bought a copy of the film, but they had deleted my friend’s footage. Recently, I saw a post from a fellow who said that it was his father who was the photographer. So I guess he survived the war. [I found “There Is A Way” on YouTube … and the poster who said his dad did most of the filming was named Tarpley … so check it out.]

If you get interested in the role of the F-105’s in the Vietnam War, please read books by Billy Sparks and Ed Rasimus. Both men survived the war, but died young … probably from the acute stress they experienced. You can visit YouTube and view Ed’s burial service at Arlington which includes many many insights; we were the same age within three months.

There was also a serious “disconnect” from reality … when both enlisted men and officers arrived and demanded that we use stateside peacetime training rules in a combat situation. In fact, when I was seriously pushed to do make-work I told them that if they could find the rules, I would do it and it turned out that even under peacetime rules, it was optional. I was working 18-hours a day, 7 days a week, and these REMF’s were working 9-5. There was one bizarre day when a very senior full colonel [he had his eagles embroidered on his 1505 collars] picked me out arbitrarily and said I would be reporting to the Wing Commander [Col. Sams]; I had no idea who he was because I was at the bottom of the food chain. So, I reported as ordered to the “5-oclock standup” … seemed like 400 pilots in stadium seating … and witnessed the daily results of that day’s flying. It was all Top Secret. And I was blown away by the magnitude and chacterization of our losses. And it went on and on and on, very bad day after very bad day, week after week. So, when I worked to get things done quickly and ran afoul of the state-side mentality, I felt as if I had one foot on the dock and the other on the boat. One fellow brought charges against me; in the end, the IG arranged for him to be sent home on the first plane out the next day.

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