Norm was killed on 26 October '66. Exactly one year later, we were again back on Yankee Station.
After flying my 4th mission against Hanoi in 3 days, I rose from a restless night to scribble a note to Norm. I folded it into a paper airplane; then walked back to the Oriskany's fantail, lit the paper on fire, and launched it into the darkness above the ship's wake.
Norm and I would both have turned 80 in 2014 ... so, due to natural causes, this will be the last of the 47 annual letters I've written to him.
We made three deployments and launched over 44,800 missions from Yankee Station.
We lost 86 of our assigned 64 combat aircraft [that's not a typo - as aircraft were lost, they were replaced when possible, and some of those were lost as well] and 72 of our assigned 78 Naval Aviators; 59 were killed and 13 were captured or missing in action.
The odds of a pilot surviving all three of those deployments were less than 30 percent.
Flying combat from carriers is, by nature, totally voluntary. The sustained courage and dedicated professionalism of Air Wing 16 air crews, demonstrated during and after Rolling Thunder, convinced President Nixon that an all volunteer military was a viable option. He canceled the draft in 1973.
Sadly, we early volunteers have yet to receive acknowledgment or appreciation from the millions of American parents whose sons and daughters have been exempt from conscription for the last 36 years because of our patriotic sacrifices.
I lost two wingmen and two roommates during Rolling Thunder.
Realizing their loss would likely be ignored or forgotten by "modern-day" America, I began writing an <b>annual Memorial Day letter to the roommate whose Navy career had paralleled mine</b>.
From 1967 to 1997, I simply burned the finished letters; Fighter Pilots describe a comrade's loss by using the term "smoked."
However, thanks to Mr. Bill Gates, I've been able to email the last dozen letters to friends and other patriots who value their memories of those who died for our country.
Having passed the actuarial age, this will be my last letter. It hasn't changed much. With the help of friends and mutual acquaintances over the years, my original note has expanded into a perhaps "too lengthy" letter.
The cold hard facts of Vietnam and America's "protest generation" remain unchanged and, unfortunately, unrecorded.
Dr. Dick Schaffert
Captain USN (Ret.)
We'd like to express our gratitude to legendary naval aviator Dick Schaffert for granting us permission to publish his annual Memorial Day letter to his friend and fellow fighter pilot, LCDR Norm Levy.
The two men joined the Sundowners of VF-111 late in 1965. Just a few weeks
before perishing in the fire onboard USS ORISKANY, LCDR Levy had been
shot down and rescued.
A little more than a year after the fire onboard ORISKANY, Dick Schaffert became a legend in naval aviation.
The A-4 was
preparing to attack a radar with one of its Shrike anti-radar missiles
when Schaffert noticed two MiG-17s converging on the A-4. As Schaffert
turned to engage, he suddenly noticed two more MiG-17s attacking him
from out of the sun. Two MiG-21's would join the fight just long enough
to launch 4 Atoll missiles towards Schaffert's F-8. [If you're counting that's 6 v. 1!] Thankfully, they
all went wide.
For 10 minutes, 45 seconds (an eternity in aerial dogfights, which usually averaged about 45 seconds), Schaffert out-maneuvered the MiGs, and earned his well-deserved place in naval aviation history without scoring a kill.
Schaffert had fired his three Sidewinder missiles. The first should have been a kill, but failed to detonate due to a defective proximity fuze, the second went wide, and he didn't have time to see what happened to the third. The customary fourth Sidewinder had to be downloaded before takeoff, after failing its pre-flight check.
Schaffert switched to guns, only to learn that both
guns had jammed due to his high-speed maneuvering. [Ruh-roh!]
Thanks to his outstanding airmanship and the superior performance of an aircraft loved by those who flew her, Dick Schaffert out-maneuvered his experienced and determined adversaries, and lived to tell the story of one Crusader vs. 6 MiGs.
He landed onboard ORISKANY with 300
pounds of fuel remaining, not enough for another go-around. [If that
fuel gauge reading was accurate, he had about 3 minutes of fuel
remaining, as the F-8 burned around 100 pounds per minute in the
landing pattern. A typical go-around would take 4-5 minutes.]
men, and those who served with them, are heroes who should be honored
for their courage, their dedication, and their sacrifices, which enable
us to enjoy today the freedoms they defended for us and others.
Please join us this Memorial Day in honoring and remembering
all our fallen heroes, who sacrificed all their tomorrows
that you and I might enjoy ours in freedom.
Dick Schaffert flew 276 missions over North Vietnam and received 35 decorations, including three awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After serving in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Ambassador's Country Team in the Philippines, he served as Director of Policy Studies at NATO Military Headquarters. He is currently a consultant for Eastern European law enforcement officials.
His academic work, Media Coverage and Political Terrorists (Praeger: New York and London, 1992), was was recently cited by Harvard's JFK School of Government as a major book in the genre and is on the required reading list for Ph.D.'s at major universities. Schaffert reports he is honored that a copy of his book sits on the desk of Freddie Humphries, the FBI's Supervisory Agent on the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Tampa.
Schaffert is also the
author of several other books, including Loyalty, Betrayal,
and other Contact Sports, a fictionalized account of his
post-Vietnam exploits, first published in 1999.
We'd like to thank legendary Naval Aviator Dick Schaffert for allowing us to share with you his 47th Annual Memorial Day letter to his USS Oriskany roommate, LCDR Norm Levy.
We join him in remembering and honoring LCDR Levy, and all those thousands like him, who gave up all their tomorrows so that we might enjoy ours in peace and freedom. They've earned our respect and our gratitude.
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