Monday, March 6, 2017

Once a WSO


As another Lame Cherry exclusive in matter anti matter.

This is about American Heroes of the Vietnam War, and in making known the sacrifice of Major Bob Lodge, in riding his jet into the ground when shot down, as he ordered his weapon's officer to eject, because Major Lodge knew too many details for the North Vietnamese to torture out of him, this is the story of his WSO, Capt. Roger Locher.

Lodge and Locher were pioneers in fighter pilot tactics to lure MIGs into combat. They were the best team in the Air Force and when Lodge was KIA on May 10th, 1972, that left Locher downed in North Vietnam, and looking at torture by the North Vietnamese.

What follows is one of the fantastic tales of America fliers who were shot down and survived to be rescued.

Roger Locher, in all he went through never lost his ability to assess the situation calmly. When the jet was on fire and his cockpit glowed orange, he was calm. He was calm as the plane was about to crash, and he was calm as he was in his parachute, steering it away from the now burning jet on the ground with his dead Pilot buried there, to a little over a mile separation from the crash site.
Locher tangled up on a mountainside where his chute caught in the trees. He removed what he could, knowing SAR (search and rescue) was not going to be taking place that far inside North Vietnam, camouflaged his trail 100 yards from the chute, climbed the mountain to the peak, and hid on the western side.

For three days the farmers beat the eastern side of the mountain for him, as when Chairman Ho said find something, the Vietnamese did on penalty of their lives, but Locher remained hidden in a pile of brush, even when a searcher came within 10 yards of his location.

The best radio track he could obtain was American traffic 100 miles away. They could not hear him, so Lochner decided his only chance was to walk 45 days to the south, to the open farming country of the Red River Valley, climb the sparsely settled mountains there and try to be rescued there.

There was plenty of water, but only jungle berries and Locher lost 30 pounds quickly, moving only at dawn and dusk.

On day 10, Locher was on a well worn farming trail when the local farmers appeared. He covered himself with leaves and hid all day, almost having a water buffalo step on him, along with the boy sent to fetch the bovine.

The location was 5 miles from the heavily guarded Yen Bai Airfield which was bristling more from the American attacks, and Locher hid on a hill for the next 13 days hoping for American aircraft. On June 1st, he heard American aircraft and radioed:

"Any U.S. aircraft, if you read Oyster 1 Bravo, come up on Guard"

Pilot Stephen Ritchie heard the call and knew that Oyster 1 was Lodge and Locher's call sign, and had watched the plane crash.

Ritchie confirmed the call, and Locher asked if there was any chance of his being picked up as he had been down there a long time. Ritchie replied, "You bet".

Immediately, search and rescue launched two Jolly Green Giant helos, with fighter cover, but were driven off by anti aircraft fire and MIG's.

General John Vogt on June 2nd consulted General Frederick Weyand, and the entire war was put on hold that day. As General Vogt explained:

"I had to decide whether we should risk the loss of maybe a dozen airplanes and crews just to get one man out. Finally I said to myself, Goddamn it, the one thing that keeps our boys motivated is the certain belief that if they go down, we will do absolutely everything we can to get them out. If that is ever in doubt, morale would tumble. That was my major consideration. So I took it on myself. I didn't ask anybody for permission. I just said, "Go do it!"
Over 150 aircraft were designated to rescue Locher and with A1 E's in the lead for the rescue helo's they closed on Locher's position.

Locher signaled with a mirror and was seen. He next fired a flare which was not seen, and the rescuers overflew his position, and had to return, where they picked up the mirror flash again. This time the helos lowered a jungle penetrator with the NVA firing at them, and brought Locher up.

In this entire time, some personnel thought Locher had been captured and the NVA were forcing them into a trap. John McCain's songbird betrayal of Americans caused all types of damage to many operations.

In the historical part of the rescue of Capt. Locher, he would return to America, train as an F 4 pilot, and become an accomplished F 16 pilot, and graduate to the top secret testing of the F 117 Stealth fighter which changed American combat aviation.

It is always a matter of 'what ifs' in, "What if his pilot Major Lodge had not rode his plane in?" What if he had like Capt. Locher ejected and in calm and collected thought, evaded capture and been rescued by the Grace of God. No one knows, but it is a story of two Heroes who both made the right decision, and America was honored by their choices.

Nuff Said